Are they familiar habits that it would be hard to imagine living without? Are they so firmly implanted in your way of being that to extract them would mean major psychic surgery? Does the extreme discomfort they cause remind you that you somehow don’t deserve to know peace? Is that self-chastisement in some obscure way comforting?
We often deal with anger in group therapy: Anger at the past, anger at ancient perpetrators, anger at the unfairness of life. Anger is a natural reaction to being denied our inalienable rights. We have the right to be left alone, the right to find our own way, the right to simple dignity. But the damaged caretakers so many of us were entrusted to by the giant, impassive, mysterious hand of fate were ill-equipped to treat us fairly. And most of them were only doing what they’ve been shown when they were small, perpetuating the unfairness, angrily.
What, then, is the price of growth? This is an old theme in literature (and therapy). We considered a quote from Aeschylus' play Agamemnon:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
Senator Robert Kennedy cited these words as he sought to comfort a troubled crowd the night Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, on April 4th, 1968. Barely two months later, Kennedy was dead and these words were carved at his gravesite.
Ask anyone who's tasted success: the price of triumph is failure. To warriors, victories come at the cost of defeats. Those terrible things that befall us, either at the hands of others or by our own doing—those tragedies we euphemistically call "life lessons"—those are where wisdom comes from. And the ticket price for freedom? It's taking responsibility. Responsibility to either create our own future, or relive the suffering of the past.
Together, we looked at the continuum of fear and love: two polar opposites, balanced on the fulcrum of our fragile sense of self—such a tricky high-wire act. Some of us learned to fear our loved ones; some of us cannot love without creating fearful conditions.
We store up all this unfairness and hold on to our resentments like teddy bears. The reptilian nugget of our survival-oriented brain prejudices us in favor or self-protection and away from vulnerability. And so we file away into deep storage all the wrongs, ideally to avoid similar situations, but instead, these historical artifacts fester and grow claws that pierce us and hold us fast.
What stops us from letting go of old resentments? Is it fear of wielding such awesome power? Is it freedom's opposite we fear most: responsibility? I was not responsible for my suffering yesterday. That was the hell my caregivers prepared for me. But I am responsible for setting that useless baggage down. And that's a big responsibility. Without that heavy burden, who am I? I am free to—to what? Such pressure to fulfill our purpose.
Many of us have come to believe we have no purpose. Do we prefer this nihilistic, static way of looking into the mirror over having to show up for the unknown? But without all the familiar years of failing to claim our birthright, of distracting ourselves and avoiding having to step up—without all that suffering, how can we know the satisfaction of triumph over ourselves?
A new member brought us a quote from Winston Churchill: "If you're going through hell, don't stop." This became our theme for the night. Going through the suffering—or symptomatology, or journey or whatever you want to name it—is the best way out.
We took a shot at interpreting a dream presented before the group. The plot involved power, control, judgment, and abuse, but the characters were in disguise. The message seemed clear, after we thought for awhile: “You will never be free of the damage done by others if you continue to pile on after they’re gone.”
As the Zen proverb advises, “Let go, or get dragged.” I would add that when you do decide to let go of whatever is possessing you, be prepared to forgive yourself for waiting so long. We are ready for such momentous changes when we are ready, and not before.