This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 611 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Anorexia, Armouring and Objectification

Adolescence is a very emotionally difficult time for most people. Severe depression and suicide among teens is on the increase.

The reason why this time in our lives is so difficult and distressing is that it is the time we begin to feel the pressure to put on our masks and adopt the bullshit game of adulthood. Never again, we may feel, will we be able to truly be ourselves. This is a time when image comes to take precedence over experience. And, as R. D. Laing puts it, "To adapt to this world the child abdicates its ecstasy."

At the time of puberty, our capacity for sexual pleasure becomes very important to us. But during adolescence a change tends to occur, particularly for girls, in which the body's power to attract sexual attention from others comes to supersede in importance for the individual its capacity to experience sexual and other forms of pleasure.

For boys this can also be true, but what is often more important for males is the image of being "cool" or strong. In the game of adulthood there can only be winners and losers, and the maintenance of a viable self-image requires either the invulnerability of the winner or a cultivated air of indifference about whether or not one is perceived as a loser.

This is armouring, a rigid emotional construction which has the purpose of protecting us from threats both internal and external. The problem with this armouring is that it ends up becoming more of a threat to our wellbeing than any of the things against which it is intended to protect us. We need to convince the world that we are sexy or strong or cool so that we can feel good about ourselves, but we wouldn't feel so bad about ourselves if it weren't for the fact that we know that this front is a hollow lie.

What characterises childhood is spontaneity. We do and we experience, and think little about how it will be perceived by others. We are unselfconscious. We lose this when we reach adolescence and it has to do with more than the onset of acne.

One particular problem in which the devastation of this process can be seen in a very concrete physical way is in the condition known as anorexia nervosa. This is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder in which the sufferer is unable to accept their own body. (In other forms of OCD it is an inability to accept certain thoughts or emotions which lead to anxiety and obsessional thinking and behaviour.) While this condition sometimes effects adolescent boys and also some adults (particularly those in the entertainment industry) I'll concentrate here on the issues relating to the majority of sufferers who are teenage girls.

Following puberty a girl's body begins to develop in ways which indicate sexual maturity. She grows breasts, etc. This can lead to a dramatic change in the way some adults look at her. Some adult males will begin to feel uncomfortable about these changes and tend to avert their eyes from parts of her body. Unaware of the imperative for adults to repress their sexuality and, in particular, to fight against any possibility of being sexually drawn to someone under the age of consent, she may conclude that this avoidance is evidence that there is something wrong with her body, that it is in some way repellant.

Because we have a particular cultural obsession with weight loss and the concept that we have to be slim to be sexy, a natural conclusion for this girl to jump to is that if her body is repellant it must be repellant because it is too fat. So she starts to dramatically restrict her eating. Because she is relying on others to give her her idea of whether or not she is repellant and she assumes that to be repellant is to be fat, she will become fixated on the idea that she will know when she is no longer fat by whether or not men look at her body with pleasure. Of course this doesn't happen. The thinner she gets the more her body genuinely repels others. She is caught in a self-reinforcing downward spiral that all too often leads to death.

Starvation has a strange effect on the mind. It breaks down the ability to conform the inner world of the imagination to the evidence about the outside world collected by the senses. Historically mystics have used fasting as a way to disconnect with the external world and get in touch with the perceptions of the deep unconscious. This can lead to visions (i.e. hallucinations) in which the individual cannot distinguish between something which is happening outside of themselves and something going on inside. Lack of nutrition is not the only thing which can have this effect. Certain kinds of extreme emotional distress can also lead to this phenomena in the form of what we call psychotic episodes. And drugs can have this effect also. But the point is that the anorexia sufferer comes to actually see herself as fat when she looks in the mirror because the commitment to that theory about how people respond to her body has taken precedence over the mind's need to accurately process visual information and the chemical changes brought on by starvation make it easier for the hallucination to occur.

Like other forms of mental illness the prevailing approach to treatment for anorexia is through attempts to control the symptoms rather than look deeply at what is really taking place. Very often when we try too hard to control something we only succeed in making it worse. If an individual is suffering from low self-esteem then forcing them to eat when they don't want to, while it may end up keeping them alive, can only have the effect of making them feel worse about themselves, as being forced to submit to another's will is always humiliating and disempowering.

The answer to any form of obsessive compulsive disorder is to learn to accept ourselves unconditionally. A powerful tool for learning to love our bodies is to return to their capacity to give us pleasure. Masturbation is a powerful therapy for lack of body acceptance. And, no doubt, gentle affectionate touching and gazing from loved ones can help an individual to feel that their body is not something disgusting.

Some blame the media for anorexia. Or perhaps a tendency in men to view women as sex objects. But these are superficial assessments. If the magazines weren't full of pictures of skinny sex symbols then insecure individuals would find something else to feel inferior about. And the sex object comes from within as much as without. The sex object self is armouring.

And here a distinction has to be made between sexual desire and objectification. If a man feels attracted to a woman because she has large breasts or a woman to a man because he has a muscular torso this is not objectification. Objectification is what happens when someone is valued for only one thing and everything else about them is considered irrelevant. It is quite possible to love a woman's big breasts while also admiring her intelligence, her courage and her skill at badminton. Sexual desires need not dictate how we relate to each other. As Betty Rollin said : "Scratch most feminists and underneath there is a woman who longs to be a sex object.  The difference is that is not all she wants to be."

While men are sometimes sexually objectified, more often the objectification of men takes other forms. In wartime men have often been used as cannon fodder, valued only as weapons and not as full human beings. And some employers treat their workers, male and female, as nothing more than tools for the production of wealth, like so many robots. When we interact with someone only on the basis of what we can get out of them, that is objectification.

When it comes to the relationship between the sexes it is not erotic desire which is the problem, but armouring. If a woman wants acceptance and ego reinforcement from men so desperately that she betrays her true self and does things she despises, then this will have a corrosive effect on her emotional wellbeing. But if she only does what conforms to her view of what is right and what gives her pleasure, then this is healthy. Pleasure, if it is not gained in a way which brings physical damage, is healing. If we look at the example of the sex industry we can see individuals who go on a downward spiral and we also see those who thrive in this world, the difference is whether they are following the beat of their own drummer or are driven by some form of desperation (poverty, addiction, insecurity) to degrade themselves by doing something they don't really want to do.

For men the problem is the need to maintain the front of strength or cool. This amounts to a kind of self-objectification, a reduction of one's self to the ability to conform to an image. It is this which leads to misogyny. For a heterosexual man to feel sexually attracted to very many women is a sign of health, but for a man to end up feeling that "a woman is just a life-support system for a vagina" or "if they didn't have a vagina you'd throw rocks at them", is not healthy, and yet it is unfortunately prevalent enough. This kind of misogynistic attitude is a product of armouring. Sexual desire is the armoured man's Achilles Heal. It is the chink in that armour. For years he has had to stifle his vulnerable, spontaneous child self, and pretend that the armour is all that there is to him. But when he sees the soft flesh of a woman he is transported back to the erotic feelings of early adolescence before he donned the armour. His emotional self-discipline is under threat. Fear comes out as hatred. And often, even when he does have sex with the woman, he has armoured sex – perfunctory or even brutal sex – which denies a true erotic experience not only to his partner, but also to himself. Orgasmic sex is too much like that ecstasy from which he abdicated so long ago. He dare not give in to homesickness for that paradise, and so sex becomes an empty thing.

But, in truth, we can let the armour dissolve. We can return to that long lost paradise. This is not some kind of regression for the immature or cowardly. To rediscover our ability to love, to be playful, to be spontaneous and full of joy, doesn't mean we can't, at the same time, be responsible, brave and intelligent problem solvers, after all it is that armour which, paradoxically, makes us so vulnerable and which most impedes the effective operation of our intelligence.

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