Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Search for Serenity Chapter 10 - WARNING: Loooong Post

This is a really long post.

In an AA meeting last year, a fellow friend of Bill W. read from this book; he had inherited from an old timer who died. It is out of print, but I found a copy on Amazon. Presnall's hypothesis is that serenity cannot be reached without achieving emotional maturity. The following chapter hit home for me. Bolding is mine and points out nuggets that are meaningful to me. I'll expand upon their meaning to me in another post.

Search for Serenity by Lewis F. Presnall, Copyright 1959

Chapter X (Pages 95-104)

Those who work with the emotionally disturbed tend to develop a philosophical attitude about the percentage of individuals who make a start toward maturity, only to slip back into old patterns. Like the physician, they soon learn to realize that a certain percentage will get well, while others will die of their illnesses. This does not make them less sensitive to the tragedy of failure. Often they ponder the reasons why some promising individual failed to continue his growth. There are no pat answers to this question. In the case of emotional disturbance, there are no quick solutions or easy panaceas, which will produce a miracle by taking a pill.

People of the future will undoubtedly look back with amusement upon our feeble attempts to help the emotionally disturbed. Perhaps in the future we shall discover ways to produce a society in which little children will develop better emotional patterns to equip them for adult life.

In spite of our limited knowledge, there are some reasons for failure that are quite clear to us. It might be well to suggest some of the more common ones.

A great many people fail to achieve emotional maturity as adults because they have never learned to distinguish between respectability and sanity. Or, to put it another way, respectability is more important to them than sanity. They fail to realize that true sanity will produce its own respectability. A good example of this peculiar twist in the thinking of some people is often seen in alcoholics when they first start to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. During their drinking days, they were under the delusion that families and acquaintances were unaware that they had a problem. For years, they fooled themselves so well that they imagined the neighbors had noticed nothing peculiar. It is hard to imagine how far this self-deception can go. An alcoholic can have a battle with his wife, during which they scream at each other and at the children. Furniture may be broken. The police may be called to quiet the disturbance. Yet the alcoholic never seems to realize that a good deal of this is apparent to the neighbors. Naturally, he is in such a deep alcoholic fog much of the time that he is unaware of the world around him. He likewise imagines that the world is unaware of him and his behavior. He may be irritable and unreasonable at work. He may develop antisocial behavior. He can insult his friends, borrow money from his relatives without paying it back, let the household bills accumulate and drive erratically down the highway from one side to another, yet he thinks that very few people observe this, simply because he is careful to chew great quantities of chlorophyll gum and sprinkle his person profusely with shaving lotion.

Finally, he comes to the end of his rope, decides he has a problem, and makes a tentative approach to a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. When he is invited to attend his first meeting, he suddenly develops a great self-consciousness about his problem. He sometimes refuses to accept help because he feels that now everyone will know that he is an alcoholic. It often takes considerable persuading to convince him that everyone has known for a long time that he was an alcoholic. He, alone, was oblivious to his problem.

If a man continually behaves in an objectionable fashion, there is no point in trying to cover it up. Everyone usually knows there is something wrong a long time before he is willing to admit it. What respectability he may have possessed at one time was lost long ago. Still he imagines that people associate with him because they like him when, in reality, they cannot avoid him. An individual in this position, who insists on clinging to the tattered threads of his respectability, will not get well. He will not get well because he has really not accepted the fact that he is sick. Naked and alone, exposed to the winds of social disapproval, he cannot clothe himself in the garments of sanity until he is willing to recognize his own nakedness, honestly face the shame of the past and seek a new set of clothes, wherever they can be found.

Every individual who has ever been released from a mental hospital knows that upsurge of fear, which comes at the prospect of facing his associates in the community. Like the trapeze artist who has slipped from the wire and suffered serious injury, his self-respect, and social courage can only be restored by climbing again boldly to the high wire and conquering his fear. He will be helped in this if he realized that he has joined the vast company of those whose successes have been built upon failures.

When we are faced with this adjustment to society, we must decide whether it is social approval or sanity, which we wish. It does no good for us to say to ourselves that we care not what others think. We care a great deal for the good opinion of our acquaintances, but most of us imagine we are held in higher regard by our acquaintances than we are.

Part of this problem is created by a general attitude of society. For most of us, respectability is a part of our economic structure of trade. Our society exacts a far higher penalty upon those who are not considered respectable than it does upon those whose emotions may be immature. The idea that we can do as we please, as long as we do not get caught, is widely accepted by a great number of people in society.

These attitudes carry over to those whose problems are emotional. If one suffers a nervous breakdown or discovers he is an alcoholic, it is helpful to realize that mental illness is now the largest public health problem in the nation. This means that within one's immediate neighborhood there are usually several people who, through personal experiences, are sympathetic toward these problems. Also, it is encouraging to know that some of our most outstanding citizens are numbered among those who sought and found help from mental disturbance to mental health.

Many people, who are supposedly well educated, find it necessary to build their own egos by a self-righteous pride in the fact that they have been able manage their own lives without ever becoming emotionally ill. Some of these are mature enough to recognize that what has happened to others might well happen to them, but there are many who like to imagine they are mature and sane in every way because they are respectable. They attribute mental illness to a failure of the will, to some moral fault, or some weakness of character. They do not recognize that it is often the perfectionist, the man of stubborn pride, or the woman of superior imagination who cracks under the pressures of daily living. Perhaps they fail to see in themselves the little quirks and compulsions—minor immaturities—which make it difficult for others to live with them. At the same time, they condemn those whose compulsive behavior happens to be of a kind that is socially unacceptable.

Often the many who clings stubbornly to a certain point of view long after he has been proven wrong, suffers from as tenacious a compulsion as any alcoholic. The husband who practices sadistic mental torture upon his family is mentally as far off base as the Wild Beast of Buchenwald Prison. His crime is only one of lesser degree; his emotional immaturity is only tolerated because it is practiced out of the eye of the public. The individual whose humor is primarily concerned with smutty and unfunny stories is just as much the sexual exhibitionist as the mental case who cannot resist the compulsion to expose his body to the opposite sex in public.

It is high time that we stripped the mask from these little perversions of the mind that prevent us from seeing ourselves as we are seen. It can almost be said without exception that the individual who is smug in his own strength has no justification for feeling superior to those whose emotional immaturities are more obvious.

The individual who needs to recover his own sanity must achieve enough emotional maturity to recognize that the sneers of such people are products of immature minds. He will only achieve such an objective when he learns that his own sanity, his own inner peace of mind, is far more important than gaining universal approval. If we must wait for our sanity until everyone accepts us and treats us with understanding, we will never become sane.

There is another kind of problem that prevents many people from finding the goal of their inner serenity. These are the ones who continually seek what has been called "the geographical cure." They have never quite been able to accept the fact that their problems lie within themselves. The "geographical cure" can take the form of a new job, a new location, a new family, or perhaps a new fad. Always the pasture looks greener on the other side of the fence. Those who seek to solve emotional problems by an external change often admit their difficulties are partly caused by inner tension, but they blame external conditions for most of the trouble.

It is certainly true that many people can and do find their solution in a new situation. It is quite possible that a man may be working at a job for which he is not fitted. If he has the courage of the spirit to seek a different employment, many of his conflicts and tensions might disappear. But aimlessly seeking the same kind of a job in a different location is not the answer to inner pressure.

We have all seen the futile struggle of those whose lives are a continuous history of going from one job to another, or from one town to another, always finding themselves eventually faced with the same problem as confronted them in the last location. They only solution is to stop and face reality with a willingness to recognize the internal nature of the problem. As long as one considers his whole problem to be external, he will make no effort toward self-improvement.

Some years ago, a young man came to me for counseling with a personal problem. He realized that his emotional attitudes were producing a severe and chronic discontent. After several interviews, he came to understand that many of his pressures became noticeable at the time he was in the armed forces during World War II. While he was in the service, his fiancée married another man. When the client returned from the war, he found himself unable to forget the girl and could not make a satisfactory adjustment to civilian life. He had tried dating a number of other women, but did not become seriously interested in any of them because of the emotional turmoil within himself. At the same time, he wanted very much to find a young woman with whom he could fall in love and make a home. He kept insisting that if he could find the right girl, all of his immaturities would disappear. I attempted to lead him toward a realization that until he had faced his own emotional conflicts, he could not expect to make a satisfactory marriage, even if he found what he considered the right girl. After several more counseling sessions, he terminated the interviews. About a year later, he thought that he had met the right girl. They were married. The marriage soon ended in divorce ant the young man found himself in even worse emotional condition than before. So far as I know, this man, who is now middle-aged, is still running away from his problems.

There are a great many persons who are caught in this particular kind of frustrating pattern. When they find themselves in deep enough trouble, they seek a little help. When they discover that the solutions to their problems demand a radical change within their own personalities, they begin to dodge the issue. Their failure to make a good recovery results from an apparent unwillingness to admit the extent of their own emotional illness. To admit that ninety per cent of their problems are internal seems to threaten their inner security to such an extent that they are unable to face fully the facts about themselves. In seeking counseling or psychotherapy, they make what appears to be a very promising start, only to drop the whole thing after the going gets rough. If they have money enough to afford it, they go from one psychiatrist to another and when they run out of psychiatrists, they are apt to be found pursuing some new religious fad or some new avocation about which they have become temporarily very enthusiastic. Their behavior is the despair of their families, since their recurrent crises are usually expensive and their techniques for gaining sympathy are highly developed. They are not able to maintain long-standing friendships, because they ride very new friendship to death in the same way that they consume their new fads and interests.

They launch into any new project with immense enthusiasm, which quickly turns into resentment and dissatisfaction as they fail to receive the satisfaction that they seek. Each new location, each new job or interest is soon dropped for what appears to be a more promising prospect.

There was a man of my acquaintance who exhibited this pattern in the form of a series of hobbies. He filled his garage with the equipment he had purchased for various hobby interests. After a number of years, he had to move the overflow into an old barn on the back of his lot. On the pretense that he might want to return to one of the hobbies, he would never dispose of any of the equipment. He literally impoverished his family by these expensive experiments in various interests, which included among the other things a large rock collection, a great deal of wood-working equipment, some expensive fishing tackle, a darkroom full of photographic equipment, a lapidary wheel, and an expensive loom for weaving rugs.

He suffered from a number of psychosomatic illnesses, which led him from one doctor to another until every physician in town hated to see him knock on the door. Periodically, this man would seek counseling from his clergyman, but would quickly lose interest in this also. He would then return to a pattern of blaming his problems on anyone except himself.

Closely akin to those seeking the so-called geographical cure are the people who receive clinical treatment or psychotherapy before they have hit what recovered alcoholics call the “bottom.” Perhaps through the urging of friends or relatives or because they see some major part of their lives threatened by emotional immaturities, they are persuaded to seek help. They have not reached the point of being willing to correct heir emotional patterns for the sake of their own inner integrity. A man who seeks help for his emotional problems merely to save his family or his job will not get well. The will to improve and to grow must come from the desire to make radical changes for the sake of one’s own better self.

It is true that the man who is sick may be motivated to seek therapy in part by a desire to save his family. He may feel that for the sake of his children, he must do something about himself. But the real motivation must be based upon an earnest desire to become a better person. For the emotionally disturbed individual, things may frequently have progressed so far that the family life or the professional status is already destroyed. At the very least, these things may be greatly threatened. Nevertheless, each man must grow within himself for himself, not for any external gain that he hopes will come from his development.

Before a man can reconstruct his emotional life on any firm basis, he must go to the very core of his own being, where he will fully appreciate his own aloneness. The process of emotional growth is such a rigorous discipline that, for a time, one must turn almost all of his thoughts inward. An almost complete focus of attention is required to affect any radical or permanent change.

In most things that we attempt, we can see some definite goal in sight. This goal assists us in our efforts. It also gives us some clues as to the methods we must use in achieving the goal. But the individual who is seeking emotional maturity does not know his goal. If he knew what it felt like to be in possession of a degree of emotional maturity, he would not need to make the change. The person who starts out deliberately to seek the roots of his own self is reaching in the dark toward a development that he neither knows nor understands. He is going beyond his present to a totally unknown future. He is not even sure that the effort will be worthwhile. He knows with certainty that the present is unsatisfactory. He has somehow been led to believe that the future can be more satisfactory, He may have a vague idea of where he is going, but little notion of how he is to get there. Like Abraham in the Land of Ur, he sells his possessions of the past, liquidates all of his assets, and goes out not knowing his destination.

No one likes to find himself in this kind of situation. No one will willingly seek it, unless he has reached the point of realizing that the past has been so completely unsatisfactory that he must take a chance of finding a better future. This is what is meant by “hitting bottom.” The individual has reached the end of all his own resources. He has decided that he would rather die than remain as he is. He is willing to make any change that is necessary to achieve his end. Possessions, position, in fact everything which he has, must be regarded as secondary. Health and peace of mind are what he seeks. Inner serenity is his goal, but he can have many hours of doubt as to whether any of these things will be achieved.

It is as though a man were stripped naked of all the past and of all that he has achieved. In order to attain his vaguely comprehended objective, he is willing to bare his soul down to the inner core in a process of self-examination. The person who makes this kind of a start has a very good chance of achieving all the things that he desires. On the other hand, if he cannot bring himself to seek emotional growth above all else, his chances of achieving it are very poor.

False pride plays a very large part in all of these obstacles to emotional growth we have mentioned. False pride clings to a pert of the old self. False pride seeks to maintain a part of the old self unchanged. It is the thing which makes us say, “I want peace of mind, but—.” There can be no “ifs” and no qualifications for the individual striving for maturity. Successful living demands many compromises, but a man cannot compromise with himself if he is to find his inner serenity.

This is a choice that only one person can make—the person who is involved. No one can make it for him. No one will push him into it. It is his decision to make. If he does not make it, the universe will batter him against the hard wall of his own frustrations. He will be beaten senseless by emotional pressures of his own creating. His problems will continue with him unabated, while the years roll along, bringing less and less vitality with which to cope with realities. The universe leaves him no choice at this point. He can hit bottom and grow, or he can hang on to his little pretenses and decay.

1 thoughts:

Syd February 3, 2009 at 3:13 PM  

Great insight here. It seems that there are many people who play the part rather than get honest with themselves. And then they also have to get honest with others. But it's a relief when it's done.