Emotional Problems - Part 1

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

Taken (with slight adaptation) from The Mature Mind by H.A. Overstreet

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An insight that profoundly illumines the problems of man's maturing may be stated thus - that whenever, in the formative years of life, an intense emotional conflict is left unresolved, it does not disappear but remains as a festering element that later takes the form of a severe emotional disturbance or of a pervasive uneasiness in the handling of life.

What this insight comes to, in its simplicity, is that a human being does not grow beyond a problem (Neo, we can never see past the choices we don’t understand - The Matrix II) that has deep emotional significance until we comes to terms with that problem; until we understand it; accommodate it in our life arrangements; and, if possible, resolve it entirely. Instead of growing beyond such an unresolved problem—and of growing beyond its power to hurt—the ‘individual’ becomes fixated at the point of development where we encountered the problem. This fixation leads to stasis, the mismanagement of local energetic resources and the eventual erosion of the body’s essential beingness.

If we were mature, we could engage this problem by developing a competent humility and by establishing personal relationships with people outside our own family with which to disperse the accumulated conditioning. But we are immature; that is, helpless either to understand the problem or to solve it by rational means. Thus we do the only thing we can do: we try to resolve it by the means at our command, and these, by the nature of things, are immature means, for these ’means’ are the results of our fixations and aversions. We may get what we want by aggressiveness—or we may retreat into fantasy, building the habit of seeing ourself a hero in every situation and of seeing other people as incapable of appreciating us in the ways we feel entitled and deserving. We may become outwardly submissive—at the same time developing unconscious hostilities that circulate internally wreaking havoc and disturbing the natural stillness. Gearing our life to such immature methods of problem-solving, we unwittingly halt our growth toward emotional and social maturity.

With the audacity of a logic larger and deeper than they were prepared to understand, the Nazarene spoke to His fellowmen: "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you. And to him that smiteth thee on one cheek offer also the other: and him that taketh away the cloak forbid not take the coat also." This must have sounded like utter nonsense. It still sounds like nonsense to those who have not entered the new dimension of life conceived by the speaker: the dimension in which man affirms his fellowman.

We need consider this as the essence of love - utterly and completely inclusive to all elements, in all spaces, all the time. This is what love means, whether spoken by Jesus or by some modern psychologist. The love of a person implies, not the possession of that person, but the affirmation of that person. It means granting them gladly, the full right to their unique beingness. One does not truly love a person and yet seek to enslave them—by law or by bonds of dependence and possessiveness. The psychiatrist, Eric Fromm, has developed this idea with notable effectiveness in his book, Man for Himself.

Whenever we experience a genuine love, we are moved by this transforming experience toward a capacity for goodwill. Or we might put the matter inversely: if what we call love in relation to one person or to a few people creates in us no added capacity for goodwill toward many, then we may doubt that we have actually experienced love. In all likelihood what we have experienced is some form of immature ego-aggrandisement or some equally immature will to make security for ourselves in a dangerous world by clinging to the role of the dependent.

Most people—and this applies as much to those who call themselves Christians as to others—have grown to adulthood without developing a generous, spontaneous capacity to love: to affirm others. Instead, they have grown to adulthood carrying with them fears and hostilities born of childhood failures and intensified by a continued effort to effect a childish, not a responsible and mature, relationship to life. By and large, they have been unable to apply the insight of Jesus of Nazareth because what they have called love, even in their most intimate associations, has not been love.

The following quotations and inspirations are from the book, "Understanding Fear - In Ourselves and Others" by Benare W. Overstreet (Harper Bros., New York 1951). This book examines the nature of many of the fears of mankind.

The Marks of Growth

One mark of our growth beyond infancy and childhood is the power to invest our interest in an objective situation: to turn our attention spontaneously and productively outward from the self.

A second mark of our human maturing is the power to live with reality. To live with reality means to recognise reality, to tolerate it emotionally, and to build sustainable and revelatory habits and attitudes suitable for dealing with it.

A third mark of maturity is the power to affirm another person: to treat them as real-in-themself, possessed of unalienable rights, and valuable in their unique beingness.

Fear and Seeing

The clue to the "problem person's" misbehaviours—and, broadly speaking, to all human misbehaviour—lies in faulty seeing. The "problem person" does what he sees to do. No person, in fact, does more than that, or can do more. But since the self-centering that he brings with him into every situation limits his awareness of that situation, the "problem person" sees far less than enough of what is actually involved in it and sees even that little from a distorting angle.

So far as restricted seeing is concerned, every person is in some degree a “problem person”. That is, our awareness of reality is always a limited awareness. We see with our knowledge—or lack of it; with our interest—or lack of it; with our passing moods and with our lasting hopes and anxieties. Our responses, geared to our awareness, always leave much out of conscious account.

All of us are thus in some measure consciously obtuse. More obtuse in some areas than in others; and more obtuse at some times than at others—when we are so preoccupied, for example, that we scarcely know what is going on around us; or when we are touched on some particularly vulnerable point; or when we are in a situation where we lack essential knowledge and are seeing with our prejudice and ignorance. On such occasions, we can all put on a fair show of being “problem people”. We do inappropriate things that we would not do if our awareness were more adequate. The person who persistently blunders and breeds tension is simply the person who is never free enough from inner conflict to invest their interest, imagination, intelligence and creativity within the magical world of Ideas. We are consistently obtuse; and because the emotions that narrow our seeing eye are fear and hostility, we also become destructively obtuse. We create problems for others because we can enjoy no respite from being a problem to ourself.

Here, then, is our working clue to the behaviours and misbehaviours of human beings. People always do what makes sense to them in terms of what they see. They do not do things which, from their point of view, in the moment of action, are stupid and uncalled for. They obey the imperative of their own perceptions (even if these perceptions are by their nature limited and distorted). Behaviour changes only as seeing changes—only as some expanded awareness makes the individual take into account what we did not notice before.

A man who angrily defends a statement he has made even when overwhelming evidence proves him in error may, within a few minutes, wonder in an agony of self contempt, "Why do I always have to make a fool of myself?" Yet the fact remains that at the time when he is stubbornly defending his statement, he sees nothing else to do. He sees the situation as threatening to his self-respect; his status as a thinker. Therefore—and inevitably—he acts out his seeing. Later, when the immediate fear occasion has passed, he can extend his awareness a little. Then he may see that he would more surely have fortified both his self-respect and reputation by welcoming new evidence with interest and good grace. But in the moment of threat he cannot see as friends-in-thought those whom he is seeing as enemies-in- thought.

The chances are, moreover, in spite of his tardy self-reproach, that when he again finds himself in a like predicament, he will repeat his performance. He will do so because he will still be carrying around with him, as part of his character structure, the same fear and the same identification of strength with dominance which, on the previous occasion, made him see danger where another man might see only a chance for stimulating give-and-take.

Long before the psychological age, Shelley wrote "The eye sees what it brings to the seeing." We, now, can both affirm and expand this insight. As personalities at large in the world, we are what we do; we do what we see to do; and we see what we see because of what our individual portion of native human stuff has become under the pressures of life-conditioning. We change our behaviours, briefly or permanently, only as we change our seeing; only as we accommodate within our awareness hitherto unperceived or unaccepted aspects of reality.

We discover in ourself a previously unsuspected power to think our way into other people's frames of reference and to look at life from their angle. We learn to listen—not merely to watch for some point of disagreement where we can take over. Because, in brief, we have grown to a stage where we can, with less acute anxiety, live with ourself. Thus, we can lend our environing world a more generous portion of our infinite attention. Almost overnight, it sometimes seems, such an adolescent changes from a "problem person" to a warm, tolerant, responsive human being well on the way toward emotional as well as intellectual maturity.

What happens in such a case gives a clue to what we can reasonably mean by improved seeing and improved behaviour. Seeing improves—that is, provides a more adequate, less conflicted basis for action—as it becomes more realistic and less a product of subjective fantasies and wish-thinkings; as it becomes more flexible, and less automatically geared to some stereotyped method of self-defence; as it becomes more independent, and less a product of anxiety about what other people think; and as it becomes more inclusively generous, and less a process of picking flaws in others in order to enhance the self-distrustful ego.

Realism, flexibility, independence, generosity—these are the marks of emotional soundness. These are the most important qualities of the new age in which we are living. These are qualities, then, in perception and in consequent behaviour, that we want to encourage wherever we can. It is to their promotion that we must gear our techniques and methods as we take on the problem of the destructive fears and hostilities that seek to enthrall and hypnotize the infinity that is our genetic mind.

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