Updated 05 June 2008
This poem illustrates an unhappy feature of modern society that too rarely works itself out. Composed "online," so to speak, it has a real author; she has requested anonymity and reserves the copyright.
Once there was a little boy
Who could never best his papa.
Not in any way could he.
He was after all, "too wee."
Frustration built with each defeat.
Games and races lost,
Beaten in brain and body, he unconsciously
Stopped trying, resigned to his fate.
When this little boy became a man,
He finally did best his father.
'Twas victory unfelt for his image of self
Remained, "Can't be, you always lose."
"Loser" ingrained forever it seemed;
He continued acting the part,
His self-image hung on,
Again and again, knocking him down.
Second best became -- like nature.
When papa died his head concluded:
"Now I have really won."
His gut protested "no I haven't".
His self-image of defeat
Allowed him no peace.
Avoiding that bully seemed hopeless;
Led to bad dreams, sleepless nights.
One hot day he ran into Lady Dragon!
He shivered, "Will she eat me alive?"
"No!" for she saw something
Through his terror-filled eyes.
She saw hunger, a longing just to be.
A somebody, loved, and worthy,
A real person of potential
Beneath that mask, denials and all.
Lady dragon, reached out, touched;
Became the love of his life.
Her questions, his labored answers,
Food for thought, and more.
On and on they went.
Pillow-case dialogue easier,
Clearer with each cloud lifting until
A new child birthed from her gifting.
New feelings registered,
Slowly, little boy reprogrammed,
Feeling, "not yet quite right," while
"Knowing" his new self was true.
Lady dragon would have been proud,
For well she knew what could be.
Too early, doctors ran out of miracles;
She gave up the ghost one Valentine's day.
Little boy, gradually, tested new waters,
Reached out, found acceptance;
Realized his purpose, life-work;
In far places he met new friends.
A special friend among friends,
As friends do in need and in trial,
Tested his new mettle, his "could be,"
In ways he himself could feel.
Nightmares faded into pleasant dreams,
Found energy, life, reality. This little boy
Came to believe: "Hey! I'm me!
I know; for this little boy was me."
As children develop, they are negatively affected, too often permanently, by inexperienced parents and/or teachers, even well-intentioned ones. A child's early coping methods, developed to deal with unhappy or stressful experiences, may come to be as habitual and automatic as they are unconscious. At that point they technically become defense mechanisms. When stressed in adulthood, these programmed responses may emerge as full-blown hang-ups, as if on autopilot, to their owner's detriment. Unfortunately, many such adults unknowingly pass their own hang-ups on to their own children. So on and on it goes.
Alice Miller has a web site Narcissism 101 from which we excerpt two paragraphs to help illustrate how hang-ups develop and work to our detriment.
"One of the things my Wise Woman told me was the story of the flea circus. 'If you take young fleas and put them into a glass aquarium then place a cover on top, the fleas learn that they will hit the top (fleas are the world's champion of jumpers) so self limit their jumping. When the fleas are older you can remove the top from their cage, and the fleas will not jump out because they have learned they can't. People have similar experiences when they are young. (In some poor countries, parents break the legs of their children so they can beg.)"
"The second story she related was how a man would walk down the same street over and over, and every time he would fall into a hole. She asked me to place myself in the man's position; what would I do? I replied I would see the hole. But what if you couldn't, what if you were like the fleas in the circus, trained not to. So we worked on seeing. Then she related the second part of the story, how the man would walk down the street, see the hole, but still fall in. What to do? The third and final part of the lesson was not only to see the hole, but to avoid it. Mental blindness is like a bad habit - hard to break."
An editor of this website had this to offer:
"We once had a neighbor who owned a vicious dog about three feet tall. His name was Perro and he lived in the back yard enclosed by a four-foot cedar fence. I soon noted something curious: although he barked and showed his teeth-- while the hair on his back stood straight up--he never once tried to jump the fence, though he obviously wanted to and could have easily. So I asked my neighbor about this curiosity. It seems that as a puppy he had been kept in a similar enclosure--long enough to learn he couldn't jump the fence. When he came to live at our neighbor's house with fence, he remembered what he could not do as a puppy and never once tried to get out.
These stories ranging from fleas, to dogs, to human beings not only illustrate our oneness in yet another way with animals, but the fact that hang-ups are part of nature's way. And they have been around for hundreds of millions of years! Initially they are effective and healthy. It is when they go underground that they may surface later in some less-than-social way.
Hang-ups plague world leaders as well as the rest of us. They come in many different forms. For more, see in particular, Locus of Control, Authoritarian Personality. See Dialogue and Conflict Resolution for how to deal with hang-ups.
Monotheism seems to foster hang-ups and correlates strongly with terror incidence while Buddhism and the Eastern philosophies (that build individual identity and purpose in ways foreign to classical monotheists) correlate poorly or not at all with terror. Terror itself is a typical manifestation of hang-ups (along with extreme personalities, and sociopathology). Hang-ups, as the term is used on this site, are basically distorted views of life and times. They are Defense Mechanisms, and typically arise as in the above poem, but they can also arise as an expression of, or experience with, extremism from any quarter. Hang-up owners are rarely so lucky as Little Boy; professional intervention is often required.
Hang-ups take various forms. Some of the more prominent include Denial, Rationalization, Projection, Reaction Formation, Regression, and Displacement. See the Horney link below for a more complete and professional rendition.
Karen Horney provides some of the best reads of Anna Freud's great insights into the defense mechanisms popularly known as hang-ups. See also Planetpsych.com and our take: Defense Mechanisms.
See Religion and Violence for more on the religious element.
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Posted by RoadToPeace on Thursday, August 04, 2005.