Anthony Cavuoti, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Torrance, CA
A thousand years ago, in my intro to psychology workbook, I read quotes by authors from the ’60s and ’70s stating that many young individuals with mental health issues wish to end this life and experience rebirth. Based on my clinical experience and other readings, I know that the biological system can detect when it’s being affected, stunted, or off-course. Even the most lovely, espaliered arrangement is a destructive insult to the integrity of a being’s real nature that they cannot indefinitely tolerate. Anthony De Mello wrote about how people often ask questions about life after death. “Is there life before death? — that is the question!”
Society stands with us
Other reading assignments I was given in my early years of studenthood included Escape from Freedom? Man for Himself? The Sane Society, The Art of Love by Erich Fromm. Fromm offers many examples of how people can live a pseudo-life that is self-alienation. He discusses how society can support and lift us, but also subjectify us. Instead of helping us come to a deeper understanding of our intrinsic, subjective nature, society cuts us off from our internal reality and distracts us from the important task of using our powers wisely, to utilize our abilities to the utmost in this life — that is, to fully give birth to our self. Unfortunately, a disproportionate amount of society’s forces use us as instruments to serve a dysfunctional status quo that interferes with our becoming whole, integrated human beings able to live in harmony with others.
The benefits of being fully yourself
Erich Fromm outlines several synergizing points: By letting go of culturally sanctioned dysfunctional dependency, we can be ourselves and realize that we are the embodiment of our power. Then, we can use those powers wisely to give life to ourselves as fully possible. In saying yes to life, we’re able to more accurately reflect life (something all our lives do), to actually show up for ourselves in this life. When we use our abilities wisely to help rebirth, the birth our true self, not only are we more fulfilled, but we also live more positive lives. Saying yes more to life can transform your life. You become less destructive. We can be a life-affirming, reflective, catalyst for others to learn and emulate by being true to ourselves in this life. They too can use their abilities wisely to give birth and not throw away life. Fromm states that this increased freedom brings with it increased anxiety. All too often, we blindly adhere to outdated and destructive processes that destroy our freedom, making our individuality intolerable. This is how we become conformists rather than doing the work of transcending our selves productively and lovingly in harmony with our natural nature.
The Consequences of Abandoning Your Self
A brilliant friend of mine was interested in physics while in college. He was very proficient in it and enjoyed it tremendously. His parents, though seemingly well-meaning, insisted that he start a business. 35 years later, this person is a troubled alcoholic with multiple divorces and family issues, an affluent but self-destructive, sad person who is held captive by his public image. At first glance, he appears happy on his Facebook page as well as in person. He appears to be generous and jovial — he is always picking up the tabs at restaurants and bars — but take a closer look, and you’ll see there are cracks in the statue. He is slowly falling apart. He was a good citizen of his society and culture, but he never made it a priority to listen to his own self. He continues to be a prisoner of others’ expectations, most of whom never listen to their own selves, either.
Therapists aren’t immune to mental health concerns. Learn more about therapy and why you should be a therapist.
Society as Mother
Many people experience an unconscious conspiracy against themselves. This is similar to a child who lives with a borderline mother. The child is forced to give up their self for false security. They are living in an unacceptable situation where being true and honest to themselves is seen by the mother as a betrayal. Such a double bind of any attempt at healthy separation/individuation leads to vicious attacks by the stronger mother, who the child depends on in the maturation process. The child often tragically denies their natural, healthy impulses for freedom and autonomy, essential for the rebirth of self, for the sake of taking care of their caretaker, who, with all their stunted development issues, is threatened by the child’s natural autonomy. In such a scenario, the child is forced not to live but to die, and to prioritize progress over regression. This creates a living death, which may explain our current obsession with zombies. Client comes to us with anxiety and depression, possibly bipolar issues and substance abuse issues. All this is about self-destruction.
Evolution and growth
There are many assumptions built into society. Some are detrimental to society as an entire (or large sections of it). Others are outdated; they look ridiculous when challenged by the latest generation. Sometimes people go too far when trying to correct unhelpful beliefs from the past. This can lead to extremism which can be dangerous, misused and make the next generation laugh. This same principle can sometimes be observed in individuals as people change.
Our role as therapists is to support our clients on their path to becoming a better version of themselves. As therapists, we help our clients find their voice and stand on their own feet. This applies to all progressive, righteous, and politically minded people. The client’s task is to find their own voice and balance; our job is to facilitate and support that discovery and rebirth process. Sometimes the external influences are ambiguous, sometimes more obvious, but until our clients learn to differentiate themselves from those influences, they’ll struggle to fully express themselves.
Start Points for Growth
Kids often listen to rap music, punk, and hard rock because it wakes them up from their slumber. It allows them to escape the limiting, narrow or false self they have been living with. It dissolves like the June fog. For them, it is just one of many starting points to discover their intrinsic power and uniqueness. But, just as sugar, many of these initial spurts of starting points can only make the person dependent upon pseudo-nourishment. These music choices, for example, may be a starting point if the listener puts in the effort to understand the meaning behind the lyrics and find their own answers.
Therapists as Midwives
Our clients don’t need to wait for the next life metaphorically; they don’t need to be reincarnated in order to live the life they are meant to. They can return to their true alignment in this lifetime. They can experience rebirth. We are midwives, ready to assist in the emergence of our clients’ true selves.
Therapists are essential in helping clients identify their true preferences, power and abilities. We can also be there to support them emotionally. With our support, clients can complete their separation-individuation process in their own way and quit limiting They are subject to the wrong standards imposed on them by the misguided minds that they were exposed to in their formative years.
They say it’s easy to blame parents rather than society. This misses what the point is. As parents, society punishes those who don’t believe in its false assumptions and rewards those who do. If someone’s parents are still acting as instruments of society’s backward assumptions in their life, it is perfectly rational and necessary to establish boundaries. There is no reason to continue eating fruit from a tree that poisons you more often than it nourishes.
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