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Transforming the Mind ~ by Peter Shepherd


Towards, Against & Away

Karen Horney analyzed the ways in which an individual moves towards, against and away from others and the world around him. These "flows" are reflected in healthy attitudes of extroverted interest, assertiveness to overcome obstacles, and reflection upon results. If these flows become compulsive however, neurotic dependency, aggression and introverted withdrawal may result.

As a child grows, a sense of intrinsic separateness appears. Conformity, to belong to the herd, is a prevalent solution to being alone; the more causative way is by communicating, to forge understanding with others, whilst retaining integrity by staying true to one's own view of what is right and wrong.

The most basic action, in being alive, is to reach and withdraw; it is the basic survival dynamic, to reach out for food or to withdraw from danger. It is also the basis of communication. If sufficient intention is used and another is paying attention and duplicates that which is being put across, then communication is taking place. The basis of communication and interaction, then, is: reach - withdraw; speak - listen; give - receive. If viewpoints are shared through a process of two-way communication, affection and empathy may be built up, resulting in mutual understanding.

In practice of course, people have different objectives and viewpoints in life and these can conflict. "Reach toward" becomes "fight against". Conflict may be between one's self (or any part of one's self or environment that is being identified with, such as parental "shoulds", child insecurities, family, friend, boss, lover, teacher, footballer, politician, pop star, possession, or fixed attitude, belief, idea or feeling) opposing any element of the outside world that is felt to counter the intention of self.

This conflict only becomes a problem if one can't confront (face up to with equanimity) or experience comfortably, the confusion it creates; otherwise it could be handled and the situation viewed (realistically) as part and parcel of the "game" of life.

Reach TOWARD, when rational is togetherness, affinity; when neurotic it is dependence.

Face-up AGAINST, when rational is confront (with equanimity), when neurotic it is agression.

Withdraw AWAY, when rational is to simply be apart, when neurotic it is avoidance.

Two-way COMMUNICATION, when rational is to interact, when neurotic it becomes an obsession

To the extent that these movements are flexible and spontaneous, the individual is free. When they are inflexible and rigid, he has become entrapped. If one direction has become compulsive, e.g. "towards" may be compulsive between lovers, then the other flows are likely to be repressed, e.g. between the lovers, repressed "against" may include anger, and repressed "away" may include the desire to be with other people. These repressed factors may suddenly and seemingly inexplicably erupt.

If "against" has become stuck, as in an irresolvable problem, this will tend to hang up in time, floating in a no-time rather than in a location on the time continuum of experiences, and cause a mental compaction or ridge of opposing energy flows - a feeling of heaviness and tension around the head.

Creative causation becomes reduced to a fixated compulsion as a safe solution, or defense, to unfaced pain, fear, anxiety, confusion, change or guilt. A solution may involve dominating others, pleasing them or attracting sympathy. It is internally rationalized as being "right" or "ideal" behavior, with other points of view being "wrong". The solution becomes a fixed pattern and the rationalization is a self idealization; these connected ideas are held unconsciously alongside the traumatic experience that originally necessitated them. When the unconfrontable circumstances reappear, or similar ones, the pattern is replayed automatically, and the person does not realize he is dramatizing reactively or that his true self is "asleep". His views become unrealistic, mystifying and idealizing how the world is or should be.

“False-pride and self-hate are two sides of the same coin: the compulsion to be right, and this is the cause of so much misery and suffering.”
Early character moulding, where parents imposed a set of "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts", causes a child to derive a picture of what he should be like to be secure, to get over the basic anxiety of being "not OK". This is later reinforced by other dominant personalities among friends, teachers and so on.

Idealizations, and the claims on others that result, conform to this internal "should be" image, e.g. that "people should do things my way because naturally my way is right", or "this shouldn't happen to me because I'm special". Frequently claims contain the expectation that things will come to you without having to make any effort. Indignation when such claims are frustrated may cause self-pity or victim feelings or be repressed and surface as psycho-somatic symptoms.

Internal demands on self (e.g. "I should be independent"), result in external demands on others ("leave me alone to do it"), using pride as a defense against self-hate, which is the result of constant unrealistic internal demands that cannot be fulfilled.

False-pride and self-hate are two sides of the same coin: the compulsion to be right, and this is the cause of so much misery and suffering.

When a person is operating on basic anxiety and uncertainty about his real capability and worth, failure to live up to his idealizations leads to unconscious self destructive impulses and actions, symptoms of self-hate. Such things as recklessness and drug abuse, as well as self-contempt ("No-one could possibly love me"), still further demands on the Self ("I shouldn't get upset"), self-accusations ("I'm just a fraud"). Morbid dependency or "acting victim", are means to get reassurance by refusing all responsibility.

Detachment may be seen as a solution to this conflict - anything to cut off sensitive feelings, "leave me alone"; not giving a damn about anybody else; or "Don't try to change me".

The self hate may be projected against other people, ideas, institutions or life itself, with generalizations used to protect the untruth from scrutiny, e.g. "politicians are stupid", or "there's no justice in life".

Or in an effort to "be right" idealizations may be identified with, a false pride, resulting in a never ending search for glory, being perfectionist, ruthless, arrogant, devious, etc., to prove the ideals are truth. Because they are not founded on reality, however, life is likely to be disappointing and undiluted self-hate reappears.

On the other hand when a person operates with a confidence based on realistic self-knowledge, he will not mind making mistakes and will be willing to learn from them. Integrity, wholeness of self, is based on respect for self and others. Discriminating loving, principled struggling and taking time and space for oneself, are free choices, far from the compulsions of false-personality.

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