An Open Letter to Norway . . . Don’t Make the Mistake We Made

I had been planning to write a post with the heart of the one below
in honor of September 11th, ten years later.
But after the tragedy in Norway on the 22nd, I know the time is now.

Dear citizens of Norway . . .

My heartfelt empathy is with you as you mourn the attacks – whatever the source – on your country, your people, your children, your democracy, your peace, your safety!

From my experience on and after September 11, 2001, and from being witness to the experiences of others at that time as well . . . I can just imagine what is going on within you in response.

Mourning is a very complicated process. Grief compounded by violence, all the more complex. You have a long road ahead of you. Please, I urge you, as you go through your mourning, do not make the same mistake we made. Not all of us. But most of us.

We only consciously grieved the events of the actual day of 9/11. We didn’t understand that when people experience grief in the present . . . it opens up all the grief they have not yet grieved from the past, even the grief that is no longer conscious. We didn’t understand that when people feel terror today, it opens up all the terror they have felt in their life, since the very beginning of their life. We didn’t understand that this is true of all our feelings. We certainly didn’t understand that this is true for all of us!

We didn’t understand that if a person doesn’t discern which grief is from the current day and which grief is from the past, and if a person doesn’t tease the here-and-now grief away from the grief-of-long-ago, and if a person doesn’t work through the grief at its origins . . . none of the grief will ever end. And the next experience of grief will just be added onto all the previous grief. We didn’t understand that the result is deep caverns within each of us and within us as a society – deep caverns of buried feelings filled to the brim, seeping out, and ready to explode.

We didn’t understand the reason we don’t feel our grief, our terror, our other feelings is that we are terrified of our own feelings, and as a result expend huge, limitless amounts of energy defending ourselves against those raw, vulnerable feelings . . . regardless of the consequences of our defending.

And we didn’t understand that we will use anything or do everything we can to defend ourselves against those feelings. To defend against our fear and grief, both current and especially ancient . . . we will numb ourselves; we will become enraged; we will lash out at people – even those closest to us, especially those closest to us, our partners and children; we will fight for causes – both justified and unjustified causes, without being able to distinguish the difference; we will torture others under the guise of goodness or rightness or self protection . . . yes! Self protection, which unfortunately has become a twisted guise for those misusing their power and authority . . . which unfortunately has been falsely used as a guise for defense – defense not against a real threat from the outside world, but rather – for defending ourselves against our own feelings, especially our own feelings from long, long ago.

Imagine thinking you are defending yourself against a real threat in the present day, when you are actually not! When you are actually defending yourself against the feelings you had in the face of a real threat when you were a little child. When you are actually defending yourself against the  feelings you had as a little child in the face of a threat that either felt like or truly was a life and death threat — perhaps a threat to your physical safety, or perhaps a threat to your mental and emotional safety.  Now imagine a whole society of people thinking we are defending ourselves  against a real threat in the present day, when we are actually not! When we are actually defending ourselves against the feelings we had individually, each of us in our own childhoods, in the face of a threat way back then.  Imagine our all acting out to defend ourselves against the feelings and memories of what happened back then, as though it were what is happening now. That is exactly what we did, and are doing to this day.

How many wars are we fighting under the guise of defense! In order to defend ourselves against our own feelings?!? We’ve been fighting, are still fighting, are actively fighting, are on the verge of fighting . . . a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, a war in Libya, a war on drugs, a war on poverty, a war on recession, a war on debt (not yet named as such). All of these wars are defenses . . . not against what they purport to be against, but against our own feelings. And the war on terror takes the cake!

While focusing all our energy, effort, awareness on fighting and defending against the things that create terror in us today – bombings, killings, recessions, and more – we are really making war on our terror from long ago that we have buried and that drives us blindly in our lives today, the terror that is triggered or evoked by the terror of today.

I worked with many people after 9/11 on the intense, raw, ancient terror that was unconsciously interwoven with their 2001 terror about the attacks. As the people discovered and began to work with the long-ago terror from their childhoods, they were better able to tease the young terror away from the adult terror. They were better able to see what was happening in 2001, decide how to make conscious, responsible safe choices for their lives in 2001, and also know when their child fears were evoked, what to do with them and how to work with them.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example . . . Milt was afraid of his father, who threatened and hit Milt’s mother, and who threatened Milt from very young. Milt was always waiting, wondering, not knowing when his father would threaten or attack. Milt was constantly terrified, beneath whatever else was going on in his young life. On 9/11 a lot of that young terror starting pouring forth into his consciousness. But Milt didn’t know it was the terror from his childhood. He thought it was just the terror of 9/11 and the future.

Until he began to work with a therapist to feel and work through the terror of his father, he couldn’t assess much of the present day danger or safety with any accuracy or even clear headedness. As Milt did his work with his childhood terror, he was more and more able to discern in the present day. He knew very clearly that it was not a good idea for us to be giving up our civil rights to defend ourselves in 2001! He knew it wasn’t a good idea period. And he knew it wasn’t a good idea to give up civil rights in 2001 because of terror from years long past that was still alive inside us today. He knew this about our civil rights, our power in relation to those who govern us, our relationship with money, and more . . . After working diligently and committedly on his terror from his childhood, he concluded from his own experience “if only everyone would do this work within themselves . . . our country wouldn’t be going down a path that is so destructive to itself, its citizens, and our world!” Of course, I agree with him.

Citizens of Norway . . . I urge you not to make the same huge mistakes we have made. Get the help to tease apart today’s terror and grief from that still alive within you from long, long ago. If there is some way I can help . . . it would be my deep honor.

© Judith Barr, 2011.

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About Judith Barr

Judith Barr has been a depth psychotherapist in private practice for over 30 years. Her unique and innovative work helps people make a connection between our own individual relationships and experiences, and the state of our nation and our world. Judith has helped many see how their relationship with such things as money, power, fear, elections, grief, healthcare, themselves and others has had a communal impact greater than they ever imagined. She offers her healing expertise in an array of formats: working with individuals, groups, workshops, consultations for the public, and training and supervision for healing professionals. Through her book Power Abused, Power Healed, her dozens of articles for both professionals and the general public, her blog PoliPsych and her blog on Huffington Post, and her speaking engagements, media appearances and teleconferences, Judith teaches about how we can help heal the misuse and abuse of power in all arenas of life – from the inside out – and how we can help to create sustainable safety in our world.
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