Sep 20, 2016

The Enemy Within the Codependent Heart

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

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BBC America has been celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek by playing full, uncut episodes of the original show. I must confess that it dominated my television screen for an entire weekend. I think I may have even begun to convince my teenage daughter of its genius.

A standout episode for me is "The Enemy Within." Captain Kirk is split in two after a transporter accident. His "strange alter-ego," his dark half, becomes a sentient Kirk look-alike. But, no one sees this Mr. Hyde materialize on the platform moments after a very normal appearing Kirk has left the transporter room. He goes about functioning much as our internal shadow does, with neither Kirk, nor anyone else aware of his existence. Yet, a drunken, rampaging lout, who looks a lot like Captain Kirk, begins acting out his worst impulses.

Kirk's better half seems at first to be in every way the Kirk they all know – the split-off shadow like some foreign monster, "a thoughtless brutal animal" that the apparently normal Kirk would rather live without. But, it rapidly becomes clear that this calm, reasonable Kirk has lost some key components of his personality. He's indecisive. His instincts are dulled. "Good" Kirk is unqualified for command.

Eventually, the disowned shadow does what it will do. It overpowers the weakened, good-natured Kirk and takes command. It takes all that's left of his strength and support from his crew for the saner Kirk to confront and embrace his dark nature and reintegrate it.

"I've seen a part of myself no man should ever see." 
~ Capt. James T. Kirk

I have often referred to this episode in discussions of the shadow, both its challenges and its indispensability. Suppression of the shadow, denying its existence, leaves us weakened and vulnerable. One of the things we're most vulnerable to, in this state, is predation. Our instincts are hobbled, the very instincts we need to recognize danger. It makes us much easier prey for sociopaths, psychopaths, and malignant narcissists.

As I have been increasingly focused on cult dynamics, I have also been thinking a lot about how the disowned shadow plays out in them. A signature feature of toxic, mind control cults is that Cluster B personality disorders tend to sit at the heart of them.

From my studies of cults and cult leaders during my time in the FBI, I learned early on that there are some things to look for that, at a minimum, say caution, this individual is dangerous, and in all likelihood will cause harm to others.

Having studied at length the life, teachings, and behaviors of Jim Jones (Jonestown Guyana), David Koresh (Branch Davidians), Stewart Traill (The Church of Bible Understanding), Charles Manson, Shoko Asahara (Aum Shinrikyo), Joseph Di Mambro (The Order of the Solar Temple aka Ordre du Temple Solaire), Marshall Heff Applewhit [sic] (Heaven’s Gate), Bhagwan Rajneesh (Rajneesh Movement), and Warren Jeffs (polygamist leader), what stands out about these individuals is that they were or are all pathologically narcissistic. They all have or had an over-abundant belief that they were special, that they and they alone had the answers to problems, and that they had to be revered. They demanded perfect loyalty from followers, they overvalued themselves and devalued those around them, they were intolerant of criticism, and above all they did not like being questioned or challenged. And yet, in spite of these less than charming traits, they had no trouble attracting those who were willing to overlook these features.

What kind of people overlook pathological narcissism? This is a hard question, not one I have the answers to, but I increasingly think it has something to do with a lack of awareness of our own shadow. The people who are drawn to cults are some of the most high-minded and altruistic of people. They're drawn in because cult leaders articulate high ideals and offer hope for world change. They're drawn in by the merging and unity experience. They are drawn in, at a conscious level, by things that reflect the best in them. But, they are blindsided by reflections of their hidden shadow aspects.

In the new documentary Holy Hell, one of the survivors of Buddhafield observes the toxic synergy between narcissists and codependent personalities.

There's this social interplay that happens between highly codependent people and pathological narcissists. Who is going to give a person who needs constant adoration and attention, who is going to give that to them, ceaselessly? Somebody who relies on him as the source of their self esteem. And, they'll say, You seem like a normal, rational, intelligent human being. How did this happen to you? ... It's what we do every time we come into a religion. We take on their beliefs as truth. You will do anything to defend that truth. You subjugate your best interests to the interests of the religion, the group, the corporation ... And so the better you feel, the more you get committed. And then, somebody can get you to do anything. I mean I would have killed or died for him.

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What could possibly make an idealistic, gentle, loving person homicidal? This is one of the trickiest aspects of the dynamic between a codependent and an addict or malignant personality. The codependent person, having disowned the shadow, expresses those impulses vicariously through the toxic person with whom they have become enmeshed. If the person displays appalling behavior, the codependent finds a million ways to accommodate, justify, and excuse it. When they do, they share in responsibility for that behavior. As uncomfortable as it may be, sometimes, we also need to acknowledge what our "cookie" is, what benefit we derive from that experience. And, sometimes, the association with a toxic personality is a kind of permission slip to act out suppressed shadow aspects. It's okay if I kill someone, if I'm doing it to support this person that I love. Part of healing codependency means taking responsibility for those dark impulses and admitting that they are part of us.

I have been primarily focused on religious abuse in cults and cult-like groups with a spiritual focus, rather than political and statist movements, because the overarching focus of my blog is spirituality. And, spiritual movements tend to be rife with spiritual bypassing.

Spiritual bypassing, a term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984, is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. It is much more common than we might think and, in fact, is so pervasive as to go largely unnoticed, except in its more obvious extremes.

Part of the reason for this is that we tend not to have very much tolerance, both personally and collectively, for facing, entering, and working through our pain, strongly preferring pain-numbing “solutions,” regardless of how much suffering such “remedies” may catalyze. Because this preference has so deeply and thoroughly infiltrated our culture that it has become all but normalized, spiritual bypassing fits almost seamlessly into our collective habit of turning away from what is painful, as a kind of higher analgesic with seemingly minimal side effects. It is a spiritualized strategy not only for avoiding pain but also for legitimizing such avoidance, in ways ranging from the blatantly obvious to the extremely subtle.

. . .

The explosion of interest in spirituality, especially Eastern spirituality, since the mid-1960s has been accompanied by a corresponding interest and immersion in spiritual bypassing—which has, however, not very often been named, let alone viewed, as such. It has been easier to frame spiritual bypassing as a religion-transcending, spiritually advanced practice/perspective, especially in the facile fast-food spirituality epitomized by faddish phenomena like The Secret. Some of the more glaringly plastic features of this, such as its drive-through servings of reheated wisdom like “Don’t take it personally” or “Whatever bothers you about someone is really only about you” or “It’s all just an illusion,” are available for consumption and parroting by just about anyone.

I was not familiar with Welwood, or the term spiritual bypassing when I wrote this review of The Secret, but it was precisely the phenomenon I was trying to articulate. Our spiritual aspirations can provide an escape from uncomfortable feelings. Spiritual ideals can also shame us out of identifying and articulating things that are lurking in our subconscious. We are urged to suppress and disown our shadow. In this wonderful article, Jeff Brown has compiled a short list of the bypassing belief structures that are prevalent in modern spiritual movements.

Perhaps the emergence of people like teal and James Ray, in the new age arena, is the predictable result of all that "love and light" and relentlessly positive focus. The collective shadow of high-minded new agers has to erupt somewhere, and becomes localized around personalities like this.

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The more honestly we can look at our own shadow, the more clearly we can see dark aspects in others, and make conscious choices about what is and isn't acceptable behavior. We stop rescripting and apologizing for glaringly inappropriate, even destructive, behavior when it's staring us in the face. And, we take our power back, the instinctual responses that may not be particularly nice or polite, but are crucial to our survival.

I'm reminded of a story Debbie Ford told many times about an event that catalyzed her subsequent shadow work.

The other piece was -- there's a story in Dark Side of the Light Chasers -- after spending this five years and $50,000 -- I went to another workshop, but it was leadership intensive. It was for business people. There were like 20 people there. And I was standing at the the front of the room -- you had to stand up and say what you're committed to in the world -- and, at the time, I was committed to bringing self-esteem into the school system. And from the back of this room, as I'm giving this lecture, this woman screams out: You're a bitch. And I thought: Well, I know that, how did she know? Because I had spent all that time and all that money trying to get rid of that part of myself and really creating a new persona and becoming overly nice trying to compensate for it.

To make a long story short, she started asking me: Well, tell me something good about being a bitch. And I thought: Oh, there's nothing good about it. Then she said: Let me ask you a couple of questions. If you were remodeling a house and you were $20,000 over budget and five weeks late, do you think it might help to be a little bitchy? And she knew I had just done that and it was true: When I'd really gone into the contractor's face, he got my house done and he stopped spending money. And I was a retailer at the time and she said: Do you ever get damaged merchandise? And I said: All the time. And she said: Does the manufacturer ever not want to take it back? I said: Absolutely. She said: Does it help you to be a little bitchy? And this light went off and I said: Wow! This part of me that made me feel so small and so ashamed actually came bearing some gifts.

Either you're going to use it or it's going to use you and anything you don't embrace about yourself gets to use you. I describe it in my work: It's like a beach ball. all [sic] these parts of ourselves that we don't like, we try to suppress, we try to hide, we try to overcompensate. So if we don't want to be a bitch, we become overly nice. We try to always show people this fake side of ourselves. Or if your mother told you: Don't be so selfish, maybe you'll try to show how selfless and serving you are. We try to suppress that other part. Most people suppress it with drugs or alcohol or cigarettes or shopping: we each have our own way. And what happens with the shadow is that it pops up and hits you in the face.

. . .

The objective is to integrate everything that you can't be with. Anything that you don't like. Anything that you resist, regret, that you wish away. To integrate it and to make it a healthy part of you.

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  2. Word to the wise. If you're trying to get your cult of the ground don't recruit James T. Kirk.

  3. You wrote: "The more honestly we can look at our own shadow, the more clearly we can see dark aspects in others, and make conscious choices about what is and isn't acceptable behavior."

    Yes, and yes again.

    (And I was delighted to see the inclusion of Navarro's words at the start! Reading his book now which I believe you would enjoy.)

    Robert Augustus Masters, who also has a beautiful book on spiritual bypassing, has said:

    "Turning toward our pain is about bringing into our heart all that we have rejected in ourselves, all that we have ostracized, disowned, neglected, bypassed, shunned, excommunicated, or otherwise deemed as unworthy in ourselves. Our heart somehow has room for it all" (from Meeting the Dragon: Ending Our Suffering by Entering Our Pain).

    The center of this, its key, is "bringing into our heart." That is the entry point of the integration of shadow.

    Teal Swan's work feels bereft of heart energy. To my read, she's all in the throat, but often in an unbalanced way—by bypassing the heart. And I have very much related to this, not so long ago. As writers, we tend to have our strengths and our trials in the throat chakra.

    I suspect this imbalance in Teal is the reason for the wooden communication and the nasal tone you hear.

    To me, her process relies on intellectualizing shadow, rather than embracing it; others agree. I see her heart region as though it's walled behind stone or razor wire. Her work could use the creativity that comes when heart energy is more balanced, and I believe this is what her audience is needful to see.

    - Julie


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