So much is being said and felt about healthcare reform. But do we know if our fears surrounding the issue of healthcare reform are from the here-and-now, or from once-upon-a-time long, long ago?
As a psychotherapist I see how often our ancient terrors are enmeshed with our current fears, such that the fear we feel over current events is magnified by the unresolved fears from our childhood. This happens not only on an individual scale, but also a cultural, national, and even global scale. This enmeshment of ancient and current fears (and other feelings) blinds us to the truths that are present today and to making wise decisions for lasting solutions.
On an individual level, if you were attacked by a dog as a child, it is quite likely that anytime a strange dog approaches you as an adult, you will be frightened. Your fear from childhood will be triggered, whether the dog is going to attack you or simply come over and lick your hand. Because this kind of experience happens with all of us human beings, it can also be multiplied into a communal experience.
For example, in the time following 9/11, many of us were feeling the terror of the attacks. But we also felt the terror of our childhood wounds . . . and we didn’t even know it. We couldn’t answer the question: Is this terror from today or from once upon a time? As a result, we couldn’t make wise choices related to crucial decisions that had to be made. For example…
• When the War in Iraq first began, we couldn’t discern current from ancient terror. We also couldn’t discern current from ancient response. And so we attacked Iraq from a primal place within us – communally and individually – making the “War on Terror” a war on inner terror at a very real level, keeping our inner terror repressed so it could be fed upon.
• When the recession hit, many of us were afraid…and many of us still are. Yes, there are real, present day concerns we need to deal with…but much of our fear, the fear that can make us take desperate and potentially disastrous action, is actually rooted in our childhood fears, such as the fear of never having enough.
Now we are faced with choices and feelings about healthcare reform. Just as after 9/11, after the Iraq War began, and after the economy began to crumble, so many feelings have been triggered in each of us. We need to find and resolve the feelings from childhood, teasing them away from the current feelings and from our thinking, feeling into, making choices, and deciding. If we don’t do this, those ancient feelings will keep tugging at us as we look at the issues, and haunt us as we create our future with healthcare.
Most of us feel strongly about healthcare reform. Here are some examples why:
• In times of uncertainty, many among us feel powerless. This feeling of powerlessness brings to the surface ancient feelings from our childhood experience. The roots of these feelings may go as deep as infancy…the time in our life when we are the most vulnerable and the most powerless. Imagine making our decisions about healthcare reform from the feelings of the powerless baby still alive within us! Without even being aware we are doing that!
• The issues of healthcare reform also evoke our young feelings about change. The more frightening and difficult our experiences of change as children, the more frightening and challenging our experiences of change will be as adults, without our realizing why, until we do our own healing to change that.
Many different things can be triggered. Some general examples:
• Perhaps when you were a child you were ill and were afraid you would never get well, or afraid you would not be taken care of. These feelings from long ago may now be triggered.
• Or perhaps you were ill and your mom or dad wasn’t allowed to be with you in your time of illness. Those feelings may now rise and enmesh with your current feelings about healthcare reform. The separation from mom when we are very young creates intense feelings of danger and insecurity that last a lifetime, unless we work through them consciously.
• Perhaps your mom got very sick, and you overheard your father saying he wasn’t sure where he would get the money to pay her doctor. The fear you felt then may be evoked unconsciously.
• Perhaps your little brother would go into your room and take your toys, and when you told your mom, she scolded you and insisted you share. And maybe your internal (unconscious) response was “I’ll never share again.” The current discussion of healthcare reform could evoke feelings of resentment and not wanting to share.
• Or perhaps your parents tried to control you and take over your life…The fear of being controlled by authority of any kind could be evoked (whether by a spouse, a friend, an employer, a doctor, a government).
And here are some specific examples of people with here and now fears and the roots of those fears:
• Bob was very sick as a small child, and was hospitalized often. Forced to be away from his mom and dad, and spending his nights by himself, in pain in a hospital bed, he felt alone and wondered if his parents would ever come back to take care of him. Now, as a grown-up, Bob fears the rising cost of healthcare, fears his premiums will go up so high he will no longer be able to afford to have the doctor take care of him, and fears that, if he loses his job, he will lose his insurance and thus access to healthcare. These fears, although legitimate concerns, are so strong in him that he would do anything and everything to make sure he can visit a doctor if he feels he needs to…and would support any legislation that looks like it may help him (and the small child still alive within him) feel safer.
• Sally’s young life was full of unsettling and traumatic changes…from the death of her beloved grandfather to being bullied at the new school she attended when her family moved. Young Sally decided, unconsciously, “Change is painful. When I grow up, I want everything to always stay the same!” Now, Sally is a U.S. Senator. She carries with her this fear of change in general, tied in with her concern over the possibility of changes that bring with them more governmental control over patients’ choices of doctors and insurance. Unaware that she is being driven by the decision about change she made so long ago, she routinely votes down any healthcare reform bill that’s brought up, no matter how beneficial it could be for our nation.
If we don’t tease away the ancient feelings from the current ones, if we don’t heal the wounded feelings from our childhood, we will be unable to make clear, conscious choices about healthcare reform. Our choices will instead be made by the wounded child inside of us, of whom we are unaware, leading us to act out in counter-productive, and often destructive, ways.
Try to visualize this… Imagine a lawmaker in a 40-year old body sitting at a child-sized table working on his or her laptop, reading the latest version of a proposed healthcare bill. Or imagine a man or woman in a 50-year old body trying to decide what to support in healthcare reform, but sitting in a child-sized rocking chair, or a tot-sized swing. And if we try to bury or push down these feelings, rather than deal with them, they will simply keep rising again and again to haunt us from our inner underground, affecting not only our own individual lives, but also the life of our country.
© Copyright 2009 by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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