March 24, 2013 ~ Despair Circles

I was reminded of despair/restorative-empathy circles this past week while listening to Jesse Wiens and Catherine Cadden of  ZENVC  during Alan Seid’s NVC and Social Change telesummit.

Credit: the image at the top is “Burning Injustice Voiceless” by Nolan Lee, on exhibit here at the Tikkun Daily art gallery.

Sunday, March 24, 2013 ~ Despair Circles

“…My practices around compassion are about raising my ability to be with suffering.” ~ Catherine Cadden speaking of the word compassion and its Latin roots (i.e. ‘com’ meaning ‘with’ & ‘passion’ meaning ‘pain’).

In the YouTube video clip beneath, Catherine describes ‘despair circles’ in Afghanistan:

Catherine Cadden & Edwin Rutsch: Dialogs on How to Build a Culture of Empathy

Culture of Empathy Builder: Catherine Cadden

A decidedly non-NVC, but/rather psychoanalytically inclined view referencing the Freudian repetition compulsion (as a raison d’etre for mourning):

 
Excerpted from above text:  “I was tempted to argue on rational grounds that his fear of dwelling on the past was misguided.  I wanted to remind him that ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’  Santayana’s well-known aphorism applies just as much to the history of individuals as to the history of nations.  Just as wars result from not remembering the lessons of personal experience.  Of course, remember is a complicated business.  Even when we do remember the past, most of us have a difficult time learning from it.  History too often remains a collection of unintegrated facts and impressions that do not touch us where we live.  Personal experiences, surprisingly, can be much the same.  Even when they are recorded in the form of conscious memories, many of our own personal experiences fail to touch us where we live.  The memories remain disconnected, emotionally shallow, distant or distorted, and consequently difficult to learn from.  Psychoanalysis allows us to understand why it is so difficult to learn from history and from experience.  It teaches that the most important lessons of personal experience (and of history) are embedded in the unconscious and cannot be remembered except through reenactment.  In one of his most important clinical papers, ‘Remembering, Repeating and Working Through’ Freud describes neurosis as the compulsive repetition in action of a personal past that cannot be consciously recollected.  This reenactment of the past is a reliving not of childhood events as they actually occurred but  rather of emotionally patterned interactions learned in childhood, motivated ‘scenarios’ that tell a story based both on actual events and on attitudes, emotions, and fantasies that were developed around those events…Freud argued that these childhood scenarios are kept unconscious – repressed – because they are unacceptable to the child’s parents and/or in his own conscience, but they exert a constant emotional pressure to become conscious.  This pressure toward consciousness – the drive – the provokes internal opposition by the repressive force, or resistance, whose task is to prevent anxiety, shame, and guilt buy keeping the repressed scenario unconscious.  Inner conflicts, then, involve a drive toward expanded consciousness and a resistance against it.  This results in a compromise that Freud described as typical for neurosis:  repeating the past (more precisely, a scenario based on the past) as a substitute for remembering it.  The compulsion to repeat a behavior pattern (like divorcing one alcoholic spouse only to marry another) is a sign of the unconscious trying to become conscious, against resistance, through enactment.  It is as if our unconscious were saying to us, ‘I’m going to make you keep repeating this unhappy scenario until you wake up and pay attention to where it is coming from in yourself.’  In most cases we can be freed from the grip of habitual enactment only when we can consciously experience in the present the repressed childhood emotional situation that the scenario represents.  Freud emphasized that the repressed scenarios of the unconscious are emotionally charged, and that repression is aimed not so much at blocking cognitive awareness of the scenario per se (a woman might be very much aware that each of her husbands has turned out to be alcoholic, like her father), but at blocking the painful, frightening, or otherwise unacceptable feelings associated with it (she may have forgotten how alternatively excited, frightened, and ultimately devastated she was by the unpredictable doings of her father when he was drunk).  Fully remembering the repressed scenario means fully experiencing – ‘getting in touch with’ – the painful emotions embedded in it.  The trend in modern psychoanalytic thought is to shift the emphasis even more from the cognitive to the emotional, from the idea that we enact (repeat) what we cannot remember to the idea that we enact what we cannot feel.  In the most general terms, then, mental illness is a limitation of consciousness due to inner conflict, in which the symptoms and disturbed behavior patterns (compulsively repeated enactments) represent unconsciously organized ways of avoiding awareness of anxiety-, shame-, and guilt-provoking emotions.  The goal of ‘dynamic psychotherapy’ – the kind that deals with the unconscious forces (dynamics) of inner conflict – is to get in touch with these repressed emotions, and thereby resolve inner conflict.  The goal is not simply to figure out intellectually where your problems came from in the unremembered past (though this is part of what happens) but also to experience where they are coming from now, in the present moment – to bring into full conscious awareness the emotions that are unconsciously shaping your current attitudes and behavior.  Psychotherapy provides the opportunity for this kind of experience through what is called transference.”

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