Many Ears Make Light Listening

Chaya Grossberg
19
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Public speaking helps me to put burdens down more than therapy did, as it reinforces my unwillingness to be silent! Therapy, though it involves talking, is still silencing (politically) since the SECRETS are shared confidentially. They are told to only one other person, so others and society at large are still “protected” from our truth to some degree, and the status quo isn’t pointed out (or disrupted). Public speaking with authority and vulnerability about my experiences and truth, on the other hand, creates more widespread change. It rocks the status quo. It reminds me I’m not silenced and it feels more supportive to have a group of people listening and benefiting than just one person (who is being paid to listen).

Let’s remember that therapy started as a way for women to talk about their problems with their imbalanced marriages privately, in secret, with one other male “doctor.” Therapy began as an institution to preserve the status quo of keeping women relatively silenced, in the house, subservient to men, only turning to other men for “help” with their dissatisfaction, and ultimately dis-empowered. Real change happened when women joined together, spoke aloud to the masses and wrote their stories and ideas for the general public to read. This is exactly what those who have received a mental health diagnosis are starting to realize they need to do!

Having a group of people who are choosing to listen to and learn from me is liberating. Telling them my secrets is tampering with the locks, whether they understand or not. I may never know who gets what out of what I say but I trust that what needs to be said and heard will come through the group. I know first hand that many have experienced trauma and virtually all of us adults are still holding things for our parents/other family members. We are still perpetuating family myths; they are insidious and we are terrified to tell a new story. Who will act in our new play with us? My family dynamics are built on a whole series of stories that are so far from my truth you’d think my family and I were from different planets!

My parents perpetuate the story that they were excellent parents, very generous providers, and anything that “went wrong” in my life is my own lack of responsibility. I should be ashamed of any under-functioning. This is hard to admit publicly since I love my parents very much, they love me very much, and I’m protective of them. Yet the silence must end somewhere. My experience was that, while my physical needs were mostly met, and sometimes very generously, I was more often than not relied upon to be an emotional parent for both of my parents at a young age (not to mention an emotional support for my younger brother). I was an emotional parent for everyone in my family, and the weight, burden and heaviness of this often made me feel sick, both physically and emotionally.

Empathetic as a child and blessed/cursed with a compassionate, healing nature, everyone in the family turned to me for comfort. Whether or not they realized it, I felt it and knew it. I held it. I have held it my whole life! I also felt it was my role to be stable amidst everyone else’s emotional upheaval, to pretend I was fine and everything was fine and I had only appreciation for all of the good my parents did. I also held onto heart for my father who seemed to have lost it when my mom divorced him.

Where did all of this leave me today? I’m unwilling to be that nurturer for people I don’t resonate with, for people who don’t emotionally nurture me in return. My father and brother have generally been incapable of providing nurturing, and my mother erratic, sometimes able to do very well, other times critical, emotionally manipulative and abusive. As a kid I was the good daughter. The first kid. The well-behaved one. The one who gave her family hope and pride. Today I refuse to be, but I don’t know another way to relate with them, so I withdraw and distance mostly.

I live my own life, certain I must, but in my body and relationships those old patterns emerge. I still feel like the sick child who is holding everything for her family. Certain they will crumble if I’m displeased with them, I’ve made myself small so I can squeeze between whatever cracks are available for me. So I don’t rock anyone else’s boat. I see this in my body, in my emotional body and energy body – how I’ve held onto all the guilt my family had over not being emotionally adult enough to give me an emotional childhood. I’m holding their guilty feelings. I’m putting them down. I feel so light when I put them down, and tears well up in my eyes, as I know I’ve held all this in my body for 30+ years. It’s a lot to lay down. And sharing publicly is the best way to do so as I am both supported by and supporting my wider community when I do.

Were I to share this with a therapist, I would likely still feel the weight of it, and how I would feel would depend on their reaction. That one persons’ reaction would have way too much power over me. In sharing my story publicly, there will be infinite reactions and infinite opportunities to grow as well as facilitate deeper understanding for myself and others.

There was a time I thought I had to wait until my parents died to share any of this publicly. To mention how my dad violently abused my brother and my mom has had substance addiction for most of my life. Now I believe that’s unfair. Not only for me but for them. They deserve to know the bright shining me that isn’t weighed down by holding their guilt or silencing myself. They deserve the opportunity to work through their guilt and face themselves, as we all do. They deserve to be treated as responsible, capable adults who can face their own demons. There’s still a part of me that says it’s too much for them, they can’t handle it. But the truth is, I’ll never know unless I let go.

When my brother was a young child, my mom did all kinds of things for him. She tied his shoes, made his lunch, kept track of his schedule, things she didn’t do for me, perhaps because I didn’t let her. I wanted to do them MYSELF. I wouldn’t let her tie my shoes for me because I wanted to learn how, even if it took me all day. I used to tell her not to do things for my brother: “He’ll never learn to do things himself.” And now I need to take my own advice. I need to let go of holding my stories back, let go of protecting my parents so much, so they can emotionally mature THEMSELVES. Or not-I can’t be attached to the outcome either.

I wrote these equations to represent why I have held these things like my life depended on them:

Not being liked = violent abuse = terrifying

Holding others guilt = being liked = safe

When we share our stories publicly, whether in speaking, writing, or another art form, we acknowledge we are part of something bigger. We are aware we aren’t the only ones who have been abused or witnessed abuse, or who are scared to let go of our ancestral shame and fear. We are, rather, part of an entire generation, an entire society that is moving away from silence, blame and abuse. In sharing our stories, we instantly recover from a big hunk of loneliness, loneliness that might not be so easily resolved sitting in a room across from a professional, with a few non-offensive art pieces on the walls. We acknowledge that every single one of us who experiences physical or emotional symptoms is holding onto things for others, in our bodies, and together, word by word, we can break free.

The picture gets bigger. We start to see a larger stage, a larger audience, more players to work with and a sense of safety we never knew. A safety that doesn’t require anyone to hold onto anything for anyone else(!) but instead the liberation to be like children in the best sense, allowing feelings to move through us freely. Most of us who have been given a diagnosis find prescribed “adulthood” challenging – and many of us didn’t get to be kids when we were young.

I find my current challenge is to allow myself that guilt-free mentality I came in to the world with, and to put down any heaviness or burden. If it feels heavy and burdensome, it probably isn’t mine to do. It’s probably the child in me still feeling like she should hold everything for her family, thinking that will keep her safe.

Letting go (and supporting myself to do so) is its own reward. Therapy and coaching helped me take some steps towards expression – but ultimately I need to set my truths free for the world at large. It feels lighter to do so. Many hands make light work. Many ears make light listening. Many eyes make light reading.

If a therapist or friend or family member is the only one to hear your story, they may feel a heaviness, a sense of responsibility to help you or solve your problems. If a wider audience hears or reads it, the heaviness virtually vanishes. Each person holds a listening ear and that’s it. There’s no burden or weight or sense of responsibility in most cases. The community holds each member together; many hands make light work.

19 COMMENTS

  1. “If a therapist or friend or family member is the only one to hear your story, they may feel a heaviness, a sense of responsibility to help you or solve your problems. If a wider audience hears or reads it, the heaviness virtually vanishes. Each person holds a listening ear and that’s it. There’s no burden or weight or sense of responsibility in most cases. The community holds each member together; many hands make light work.”
    When I realized I received so much psychiatric abuse I felt like letting the public know it happened so much, Chaya. This in turn helped me to feel good again. It is why I wrote ‘Soul Survivor – A Personal Encounter with Psychiatry’ with my husband Jim and one of the first songs I composed was ‘I am one who was abused’ It is why I became an activist, joined organizations like MindFreedom International, other organizations and co-founded MindFreedom Ireland ten years ago. It is so good to break the silence of oppression as you then you can find true peace of mind, body and spirit. When we hold each other the universe is in harmony.
    Thank you so much for writing this powerful, enlightening article.
    http://www.mindfreedomireland.com

  2. Wow, thanks for that moving story of growth! I related on so many levels. While I did not experience much in the way of overt abuse, I was definitely the secret-keeper and confidante and caretaker in the family, and learned early to be “not very demanding” in order to feel safe and feel liked and valuable. I was the “good kid” and made my parents happy that I didn’t make a lot of trouble for them, and I bought into that role.

    I agree 100% that most of what passes for “mental illness” is the result of children needing to play adult-like roles and in some way care for their own parents’ emotional well being. This goes well beyond “trauma-informed” practice – it is about the day-to-day strain of having to be a certain way in order to feel safe or accepted. Have you ever read anything by Alice Miller? She articulates this idea so very effectively, she’s definitely worth reading.

    I have also seen the healing power of people speaking out about their experiences. I work a lot with foster kids, who have generally been through hair-raising experiences beyond most people’s comprehension, both before and after entering foster care. I’ve seen real transformations when these kids are put on a panel to talk to adults about what it’s like to be in foster care and how the grown ups can do a better job. Finding their voices and having people actually listen and want to hear what they have to say is tremendously powerful and healing for many of them.

    My biggest complaint about the psychiatric system isn’t the drugs per se – it’s the constant message that we need to shut up about our uncomfortable feelings and experiences. Being labeled and drugged reinforces earlier experiences that say, “These are the authorities and they must be right, I must not upset or disagree with them, I must not anger them or I will be hurt.” The psychiatric industry appears to be bent on getting people to be quiet and act “nice,” whereas the real path to healing helps people get a whole lot louder and, if not less nice, more willing to let other people be upset if they so choose. It’s a long road and can be lonely but leads to a better kind of life, in my view.

    So thanks for sharing, and keep walking that path. So glad you’ve found your voice and are letting it be heard!

    — Steve

  3. Chaya, I really like this article and the concept of “many ears” and not remaining silent or “secret,” but I have to wonder if it’s a good idea to publicly tell others’ stories, which may shame them? (Particularly your brother being abused, although perhaps you know he doesn’t mind?)

  4. Thank you, Chaya, for this beautiful account of your journey. We are opening the closed doors that we have lived behind for generations for discussion. Kudos to you!

    I appreciate Mary E. Maddock’s reply! I can so relate and recently I had written that “we are now moving from oppression to expression” and I guess this is why I happened upon this article this evening!

    We are all moving through the birth canal as Barbara Marx Hubbard has written in the Evolution of our species towards a higher consciousness. It can be painful in the cleansing process, however, we are being born into a new world of oneness as opposed to separation (of which we have lived for thousands of years).

    I thank all of your for your expressions from our societal depressions! May we all find our way back to our joy filled state of being, the childhood innocence that was taken from us so early on from our parents, educational systems, religious systems, medical systems, etc.

    All is well and working out for our highest and grandest good, not only for ourselves but for our future generations to come.

  5. A wonderful essay Chaya, and a fine example of how life is not a Hollywood movie, and that so many children are not raised in a “Mary Poppins,” environment? I found this paragraph the most powerful statement about the reality of maturing;

    I find my current challenge is to allow myself that guilt-free mentality I came in to the world with, and to put down any heaviness or burden. If it feels heavy and burdensome, it probably isn’t mine to do. It’s probably the child in me still feeling like she should hold everything for her family, thinking that will keep her safe. Please consider an excerpt from my own journey, to let go the cover-up needs of the family group and come into my own;

    “Just as I am now estranged from my family, my mother was estranged from her family of origin, and entirely dependent on another’s extended family, my father’s. This unbalanced emotional arrangement played its part in the further chaos, chance and circumstance, which resulted in my first episode of bipolar disorder, mania. Essentially, the current estrangement with my family, which is following the same generational pattern as my mother’s estrangement from her family, is based on a subconscious need for movement, both physical and emotional, towards or away from. A subconsciously stimulated movement towards support and protection, and away from a subconscious sense of threat. Like the threat my public airing of mental illness within the family, posses to my mother, my brother and my children, its embarrassing. Embarrassment, being a milder expression of shame, yet nonetheless stimulating a need to move away from the threatening source. Consider Franz Kafka’s brilliant critique of the human family, and our need for support and protection:

    The Metamorphosis

    “We have to try and get rid of it”, said Gregor’s sister, now speaking only to her father, as her mother was too occupied with coughing to listen, “it’ll be the death of both of you, I can see it coming. We can’t all work as hard as we have to and then come home to be tortured like this, we can’t endure it. I can’t endure it any more.” And she broke out so heavily in tears that they flowed down the face of her mother, and she wiped them away with mechanical hand movements. “My child”, said her father with sympathy and obvious understanding, “what are we to do?” His sister just shrugged her shoulders as a sign of the helplessness that had taken hold of her, displacing her earlier certainly when she had broken into tears.

    “If he could just understand us”, said his father almost as a question; his sister shook her hand vigorously through her tears as a sign that of that there was no question.

    “If he could just understand us”, repeated Gregor’s father, closing his eyes in acceptance of his sister’s certainty that that was quite impossible, “then perhaps we could come to some kind of arrangement with him. But as it is …”

    “It’s got to go”, shouted his sister, “that’s the only way, Father. You’ve got to get rid of the idea that that’s Gregor. We’ve only harmed ourselves by believing it for so long. How can that be Gregor? If it were Gregor he would have seen long ago that it’s not possible for human beings to live with an animal like that and he would have gone of his own free will. We wouldn’t have a brother any more, then, but we could carry on with our lives and remember him with respect. As it is this animal is persecuting us, it’s driven out our tenants, it obviously wants to take over the whole flat and force us to sleep on the streets. Father, look, just look”, she suddenly screamed, “he’s starting again!” In her alarm, which was totally beyond Gregor’s comprehension, his sister even abandoned his mother as she pushed herself vigorously out of her chair as if more willing to sacrifice her own mother than stay anywhere near Gregor. She rushed over to behind her father, who had become excited merely because she was and stood up half raising his hands in front of Gregor’s sister as if to protect her.

    He did not turn his head until he had reached the doorway. He did not turn it all the way round as he felt his neck becoming stiff, but it was nonetheless enough to see that nothing behind him had changed, only his sister had stood up. With his last glance he saw that his mother had now fallen completely asleep.

    He was hardly inside his room before the door was hurriedly shut, bolted and locked. The sudden noise behind Gregor so startled him that his little legs collapsed under him. It was his sister who had been in so much of a rush. She had been standing there waiting and sprung forward lightly, Gregor had not heard her coming at all, and as she turned the key in the lock she said loudly to her parents “At last!”.

    “What now, then?”, Gregor asked himself as he looked round in the darkness. He soon made the discovery that he could no longer move at all. This was no surprise to him, it seemed rather that being able to actually move around on those spindly little legs until then was unnatural. He also felt relatively comfortable. It is true that his entire body was aching, but the pain seemed to be slowly getting weaker and weaker and would finally disappear altogether. He could already hardly feel the decayed apple in his back or the inflamed area around it, which was entirely covered in white dust. He thought back of his family with emotion and love. If it was possible, he felt that he must go away even more strongly than his sister. He remained in this state of empty and peaceful rumination until he heard the clock tower strike three in the morning. He watched as it slowly began to get light everywhere outside the window too. Then, without his willing it, his head sank down completely, and his last breath flowed weakly from his nostrils.” An excerpt from Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka Translated by David Wyllie.

    No longer a source of support and protection within the family group, Gregor is shunned, even by his sister, who had benefited most from his, father-like support. In Murray Bowen’s seminal ideas on family therapy, this paternalistic nature of the nuclear family group, becomes the structuring force of mainstream society. Hence, we often describe government and other institutions as “paternalistic and condescending.”

    The Motor Act, Is The Cradle of The Mind? -Sir Charles Sherrington.
    Hence our implicit, subconscious-self, is based on the survival need of physical movement.

    Just as my mother’s family physically “moved” away from a source of family embarrassment. A family secret my mother had kept to herself for so many decades, until we sat down to review our “family tree,” in 2006. Perhaps she was hoping that those sharing moments together would help to heal the void created between us, in our mutual experience of birth trauma? I’m certain she’d never spoken with my father about our family secret. Such emotional intimacy was not the “style,” on that side of my family tree. Perhaps she’d recalled the mother-child relationship which briefly blossomed between us, in Wallingford, England, when I was the responsible, caring son, on a day when she almost died. Or perhaps my deceased father’s lost presence allowed a more sensitive and open emotional “style,” indicative of our shared genetic heritage, from the maternal side of my family tree?

    But alas, these subconscious patterns of motivation are not easily dislodged, until brought to our conscious awareness. The very purpose, of my efforts here, unless read with a quick defensive judgment, as a subconsciously stimulated need of projecting blame? Am I really just blaming and shaming my family here, in a need to avoid responsibility for my current circumstances? This is certainly my family’s perspective, on these complex explanations of subconscious motivations. And what do I really mean, in this notion of a subconscious need for physical movement, and its strange recurring patterns, within everyone’s family tree?

    In Murray Bowen’s seminal approach to family and society, he describes a notion of “sinning,” perhaps reflecting the Christian culture in which he was immersed:

    “The force that drives the family projection process is intense. It is an automatic emotional force that functions to keep the patient sick. The full power of the force is most clearly seen in “action language” in families with severely impaired patients, when family anxiety is high. The family will overextend itself to do anything for the patient as long as treatment is for the patient.

    The process can be aptly described by the following analogy. The family approaches the psychiatrist with a problem in one family member that, from a systems point of view, is the product of years of “sinning” throughout the family. The group is adamant in its demands that the product of the “sinning” be removed without doing anything to disturb the family patterns.

    The same projection process operates in psychiatry. There have been reports about family therapy in the literature for almost twenty years. One of the best family research studies in the past decade was designed to keep mental patients out of hospitals. It was carefully designed and controlled, and it demonstrated that about eighty percent of patients already approved for admission to a public hospital could be kept at home and treated with a fraction of the professional personnel and time and expense required for the control group, and that the end result after a five year follow-up was much superior to the conventionally treated group. The scientific reports about it appeared periodically until the final book report five years ago.

    Reviews of the work in professional journals described the work as “interesting and worthy of further study,” etc. One could say that innovations in thinking and procedure require time for acceptance. There is evidence that this force in psychiatry is part of the same force in all families, and also in society. Society probably spends more time and energy in futile attempts to remove the products of “sinning” than in trying to stop the “sinning.” ” Excerpts from “Family Therapy in Clinical Practice,” by Murray Bowen.

    In my opinion, Bowen’s “sinning,” is our subconscious need to “shun” any sense of “otherness,” like the experience of so-called mental illness, which no longer lends support to group function, on a family and societal level of implicit needs.”

    Read more here: http://www.born2psychosis.blogspot.com.au/p/chp-17_16.html

    I wish you well in your journey and take great comfort in the maturity of such a young voice. I wish the internet had been available at the time of my first diagnosis, and lent me the support and guidance, it now renders possible to so many, in communities like this.

    Sincerely,

    David Bates.

  6. Beautiful and moving article, Chaya. I think it’s right and just (to say nothing of healthy) to tell the truth. Following your lead, I’d like to say here that although I came from a very loving environment there was emotional violence, the effects of which I struggle with to this day. I feel that I was betrayed twice: first, by not being protected from the emotional violence I experienced as a child and then, second, by my family colluding with the psychiatric industry which utterly ignored all obvious factors for my so-called mental illness. Just wasn’t discussed; never came up.

  7. Interesting: I wrote this piece quite a long time ago which echoes what you wrote:

    OUT OF THE SUPPORT GROUPS AND INTO THE STREETS.

    (Thoughts on the C.R.O.S.S. march – Campaign for the Rights Of Survivors of Sexual Assault – autumn 93)

    “Out of the support groups and onto the streets,” this could have many meanings. It could mean, that although we may need somewhere confidential and anonymous to talk and cry and rage about the injustices the world has heaped upon us, maybe there comes a time when we need to let the world know about these injustices and to say, “No more. I will take no more of this shit, we will take no more of it. Stop these injustices, let us fight them together.”

    And maybe, “Out of The Support Groups And Into The Streets,” means, that although sometimes we may need small groups of intimate friends with whom we will, behind closed doors, share our pain, maybe on days like these why should we not cry, and shake with the fear, and howl with the pain of the injustices heaped upon us. In the streets, in our hundreds and thousands, together.

    Let us heal our own and each others pain and in doing so gather the strength to stand up and say we are survivors of child sexual assault. We have been silent long enough. For I will not bear this burden of shame and guilt any more, it was not mine to bear in the first place.

  8. Chaya, Thanks for the good and sensible thoughts. I haven’t been there yet. I think my intrinsic energy does something other than yours does. Your way has not been the way for me to work this stuff out. I am not a public speaker nor comfortable in large anonymous groups and have accepted this about myself. For me it is not the quantity of people who listen but the quality of the connection.

  9. Thank you so much for being brave enough to write and post this. These experiences so closely mirror mine, from childhood to the present–I was the child who bore all the expectations to make the family proud, who was only supposed to express appreciation and to silently bear my father’s abuse and my mother’s neglect, to be the one emotional adult of the family, who had to hold and protect my younger sibling in the bitter struggles and manipulations of my parent’s divorce. I’m emboldened that I can heal by being this honest about the truth of my journey. “They deserve the opportunity to work through their guilt and face themselves, as we all do.” Yes! We’re not doing them any good by holding it for them; they need the chance to hold it themselves and grow. We love them. So: drop it and give it back to them!

    And it’s also powerful and healing, by speaking your truth, to find another kind of family in those who share such a similar journey. I find that in you, Chaya. Keep being so beautifully bold.

  10. Thank you, Chaya. Thank you so much for daring to tell the truth. It can’t have been easy, but I think it is more important that any number of research papers or academic discussions. Without people like you daring to speak out in the open of these painful and uncomfortable truths there can be no meaningful discussion of “mental illness” and no real progress.

    I cannot really convey in words how important I think your post and your story is, and how desperately the world needs to stop and listen to it. So please, keep telling it. And thank you again.