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CHAPTER SIX Competitiveness as the struggle for recognition and respect

Barbara Dowds Karnac Books PDF

CHAPTER SIX

Competitiveness as the struggle for recognition and respect

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

—Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”, 1867

Out there, under the shining vault of heaven,

Men tell each other: ‘Man, be thyself!’

But in here, among us trolls, we say: ‘Man, be thyself—and to Hell with the rest of the world!’

—Ibsen, Peer Gynt, trans. M. Meyer, 1994, p. 65

The political and the personal—Brenda’s story

In all of us, the personal and the political are intertwined: individual and social change may support or may undermine each other. In

Brenda’s case, her self-esteem was, in her youth, crippled because of the denigration of women in her family and the wider Irish society; later, the success of the feminist movement was vital in supporting her personal work towards developing self-worth. Our current climate of

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CHAPTER FIVE Time, space, and silence: regaining our capacity to experience

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CHAPTER FIVE

Time, space, and silence: regaining our capacity to experience

The time–space–silence continuum

In childhood, at her grandmother’s house, there was an infinity of time, space, and silence. The hours and the days stretched expansively ahead, not empty but without the impingements of struggling, clashing egos. The men on the farm seemed to work without an inner battle between what they wanted and what they should or had to do. It was midsummer, so the hay was cut, dried, and stacked in the barn or in hay cocks or ricks in the fields. It was late summer, so the combine harvester appeared and the barley was cut and threshed and the baled straw was brought in. It was morning, so the hens and pigs, dogs and cats were fed and the hens were let out into the comparatively fox-free safety of the daylight hours. It was midday, so the cattle were counted and the men came in for dinner. It was evening, so the animals were fed again and the hens locked up for the night. The rhythms of the day and the season determined what one did so that few existential decisions had to be made. Furthermore, in her memory, there was no jostling for dominance: every man had his place and all were valued and accepted in their differences. Just as the time and space were not empty but felt infinite, so the silence was not absolute but felt abundant. In reality, the

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CHAPTER THREE Attention and the soul: the scientist versus the poet

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CHAPTER THREE

Attention and the soul: the scientist versus the poet

Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?

—Oscar Wilde, 1905, De Profundis

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.

If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

—The Gospel according to Thomas

It is creative apperception more than anything else that makes the individual feel that life is worth living.

—Winnicott, 1991, p. 65

O

nce she was a child and never imagined that the magic could end. But, the science project began aged fifteen as a bull-like effort of will, forcing herself to engage with the rebarbative, abstract, impersonal detail of chemistry, physics, and maths. Brenda was slapping herself awake out of the misty gaze of childhood, the romantic dreamer in a treetop, in ecstatic merger with the natural environment.

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B E YO N D T H E F R U S T R AT E D S E L F

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CHAPTER ON EHow attachment styles are mirrored in energy regulation patterns

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CHAPTER ONE

How attachment styles are mirrored in energy regulation patterns

A

t the beginning of a long period of therapy, Brenda’s therapist experiences her as very polite, distant, self-analytical, and unemotional—apart from her eviscerating embarrassment about self-revelation and her crippling guilt about being in therapy at all when “there are so many people out there with real problems”. She distrusts warmth or compassion—what she spittingly labels as pity but is exquisitely sensitive to a therapist’s attunement and understanding.

The slightest hint of not being heard or seen accurately or of unempathic analysis or rigidity sends her into retreat. Her presenting issue was lack of meaning in her life, and it was clear that she believed that she could analyse herself out of the problem if she—or her therapist— thought hard enough. The fact that she had been trying to figure out the point of life since her teens and still hadn’t by the age of thirty-eight caused her despair. But it has never occurred to her that there was any other approach to the problem than through thinking. She worked in IT and was quite good at it but found it soul-destroying and didn’t know how long she could continue to make herself do it; she wanted to return to college to study philosophy, anthropology, or English literature.

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CHAPTER NINE Integration: perspectives from complexity theory and neuroscience

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CHAPTER NINE

Integration: perspectives from complexity theory and neuroscience

S

o far, we have gained some insight into Brenda’s attachment style and how this manifests in the way in which she manages her energy, so that her inner charge is constantly fighting with her muscular armouring. The blockage in her energy flow impacts on her capacity to cathect—or alternatively, to be bored. Her over-focused attention and energy affects her receptiveness to experience, which leads to her craving more soulful living, along with more time, space, and silence. Brenda’s anxious attachment also generates poor selfesteem, which causes her to obsess about competitiveness and power and her place in the pecking order. Her avoidant style means that she is understandably resistant to feeling her hurt and humiliation. She keeps the world at bay and takes in little. Consequently, Brenda has a poor “memory”—though in reality she hasn’t taken in things in the first place—and her life narrative is patchy and lacks cohesion. When she experiences judgement or disrespect from another, she simply cuts them out of her life, while she keeps people she loves at arm’s length to protect her fragile boundaries. She is resistant to digesting her past, but is driven by dreams of a better future. As a result, she changes career, partner, and home at regular intervals, and refuses—indeed panics in the face of—commitment to anyone or anything. All of this change and

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