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 593 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Friday, 10 May 2013

What Might Happen If We Weren't So Scared of Sex?

What is sex when we strip away the sometimes confusing beliefs and emotions which surround it? It can be a reproductive activity, but that is only in the minority of instances. If we only had sex to produce offspring it would be something which occurred no more than a handful of times for most of us and never for others. But sex is also a form of pleasure usually generated by the rubbing of one or more erogenous zones. More often than not the source of pleasure is the genitals. Sometimes this involves the penetration of an orifice by a part of the body, sometimes, but not always, the male genitals. If we leave aside the pleasure which may be experienced, this is no different from picking our nose or receiving a rectal exam from a doctor. There isn't anything inherently serious on a physical level about any of this, unless it results in pregnancy or disease. Of course it is possible to do damage through sexual activity by trying to put something too big into an orifice which isn't big enough to accommodate it. But the physical element of sex, in and of itself, is not serious in the way that violence is serious. Stroke someone's genitals and it is unlikely to do much long-standing physical damage.

So if sex has a special mystique for us, it is not an obvious part of the physical act itself. Which leads to the question – Why do we treat genital pleasure differently from oral pleasure? We get oral pleasure from eating chocolates. Why is it socially acceptable to talk about enjoying a delicious chocolate, but not about enjoying an orgasm? If one of our friends gave another a box of chocolates for his birthday we would think it appropriate. If they gave him a hand job we might not. Sex can carry the risk of spreading disease, but so can eating contaminated food. And sex can lead to an unwanted pregnancy. But there are forms of erotic activity, such as mutual masturbation, which are completely safe, and yet we still act as if there is something about these activities which makes them essentially more serious than a hug or a kiss on the cheek.

One difference is that sex is not always equal and consensual. Coercion or force can be involved. But coercion and force are themselves a problem. If someone were running around grabbing people and ramming their mouths full of chocolate we wouldn't view the chocolate as the problem.

Sexual behaviour and sexual desire can also be a currency for the ego. Some think in terms of sexual conquests" or knots on the belt" rather than loving encounters with other equal and complete human beings. And some use their ability to attract the sexual interest of others as a power trip.

What are the consequences of viewing sex as something more than a physically trivial way of giving ourselves or others pleasure?

We live in a society where a man who makes children laugh by exposing his genitals to them may be viewed as a monster but we have no legal way to protect a child from the lifelong trauma which can result from being told by a parent that he might burn in hell for eternity if he masturbates or if he grows up to be a homosexual.

I recently discovered that a friend of mine has lived with crippling shame and fear of the judgement of others for about 25 years as a result of the response of his psychiatrist to a confession that he had engaged in acts of mutual masturbation with a male work colleague and had experimented by hiring a couple of adult male prostitutes. The psychiatrist told him he had done something very very bad. He said that, if his work colleagues knew that he had seen male prostitutes they would ostracise him. And he said, apparently out of the blue, that if my friend had sex with a fifteen-year-old boy he would be put in jail for life and that the other inmates might force him to eat his own faeces. As a result of this event twenty-five years ago, my friend was afraid to tell me about the incident lest I responded angrily like his psychiatrist.

Perhaps the area where our irrational attitude to sex does the most damage is in the area of rape and child sexual abuse. Unpleasant experiences which end when they end in a physical sense are usually not hard to recover from as long as we don't suffer permanent physical damage. Traumatic events are traumatic because, in some way, they put a rent in our relationship with our self or between ourselves and others.

Non-judgemental communication is love, and love heals. This idea is at the heart of the psychotherapeutic relationship and also the institution of the confessional in the Catholic Church. If something happens to us which causes us emotional suffering or leaves us with desperately confused feelings, it is talking about it honestly and openly with sympathetic people which allows us to recover. But because we treat sex, whether pleasurable or abusive, as something embarrassing if not shameful, and because the consequences of talking about sexual offences can lead to traumatic trials for survivors and a harsher punishment than they may want for perpetrators, especially if the perpetrator is a family member, there is a tendency for them to lie or remain silent about what happened. I think it is the lies and the silence and inability to receive the loving comfort that would come from openness, which is the major factor in the trauma. Without this element, the effects of the event would probably disappear fairly quickly. And this must be particularly true where an individual has mixed feelings about the event, such as the case of an adolescent who may have taken sexual pleasure and emotional comfort from an inappropriate relationship with an adult. If other adults try to deny such an adolescent's experience and insisted that they view the incident exclusively as an act of abuse, then they may be doing more harm than good. Healing requires that our experience by listened to without demands.

Sexual self-control and sexual repression are not the same thing. Sexual repression does not require that we act on our sexual desires, only that we accept them and enjoy them. We might not actually have sex with anyone other than a chosen partner, but, if we are emotionally healthy, we will feel sexual feelings for many other people. To be unrepressed is to allow ourselves to feel such exciting feelings fully. And if we are masturbating we can feel free to fantasise about any kind of act with any individual. There are no consequences in the imagination. If we feel sexual feelings which it would be problematic to act on then we can have a really good time by getting off to fantasies about them in our imagination. There can be a tendency, because of our cultural fear of sex, to think that indulging in taboo fantasies during masturbation will lead to us losing our ability to behave appropriately in real life. The opposite is true. If a man has truly depraved desires, such as having sex with his mother-in-law, he will find that, if he indulges these fantasies during masturbation, his relationship with his mother-in-law will improve because he will not be weighed down by the anxiety generated by trying to hold such desires in when in her presence.

Fear of the erotic can undermine our ability to enjoy non-sexual pleasures as well. Anyone who has ever gone for a walk on the beach or eaten a delicious meal after having an orgasm knows that sexual release opens up the full treasure chest of pleasures in the world around us.

When we think of the bonobos, those most sexually uninhibited of primates, and their happy, healthy and peaceful existence, one wonders if the root of our aggression, our mental illness and vulnerability to physical illness does not come down to pleasure deprivation. If our lives were more filled with pleasure would we build up the level of frustration which overflows into violence. One of the defining features of mental illness is living more in our head than in our body. And it stands to reason that a body which feels good will work more efficiently to heal.

Now I'm not suggesting that we need to participate in orgies. Only that we take a more common-sense, practical approach to sex, that we be less afraid and more tolerant, and that we create an environment in which sexual experiences, loving or abusive, can be more easily talked about rather than becoming a potential source of life-long trauma.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Anti-Christ Psychosis

I just noticed today that Nicolas Cage has signed on to star in an Apocalyptic sci-fi thriller called Left Behind, due for release next year. This is a remake of a 2001 film based on the first of a series of best-selling novels. These books, and the previous films, have been very popular with a certain section of the U.S. Christian audience. I haven’t seen any of them, but they appear to be based on a very literalist interpretation of The Book of Revelations. The rise of a seductive and powerful Anti-Christ occurs after all of the Christians have been taken off to a better place by The Rapture. The message is that you better hurry up and accept Christ as your personal saviour or you may be “left behind” in this horrific world.

This got me thinking about people who believe in this sort of thing. Apparently 13% of U.S. voters believe that Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ. This is not something which just affects a few guys wearing “The End Is Nigh” sandwich boards. So lets look at it both from a historical and psychological perspective.

The first five books of the New Testament were written to spread a message to anyone who would listen. They were not addressed only to those who were already believers. This is not true of The Book of Revelations. This book, like the epistles of Paul and others, was aimed exclusively at members of the established Christian churches of the time when it was written. It was a prediction about problems which were likely to occur within the Christian churches. And it was not to be taken literally. It was presented as a record of a dream. Dreams are not literally true, though they can contain valuable truths expressed symbolically. A beast isn’t going to come out of the sea with ten horns and seven heads. We don’t live in a Godzilla movie. (Anyway, how would you distribute ten horns over seven heads and not have it look like a mistake?)

So the warnings about false prophets are warnings about those who teach something false within the Christian churches. And the warnings about great tribulation when hidden secrets are revealed is a warning that the crimes of those who take the wrong path into a false form of Christianity will be exposed and that they will be greatly mortified by that revelation. Hence the book of “Revelations”.

The Anti-Christ is a symbol for something within Christianity. There are two basic ways to be someone’s enemy. One is to do something against them while they are alive. No-one can be the enemy of Jesus in this way any more. He died two thousand years ago. The only way we can be the enemy of someone who is dead is to betray their legacy. We are ourselves and we are the ideas or works we may leave behind when we die. If we make no claim to being Christians then we can do no serious damage to Jesus’ legacy, whether we be atheists, agnostics, wiccans, Muslims, Hindus, or anything else. To reject or even attack someone’s ideas still leaves them intact. I suppose, in theory, we could try to destroy the record of that person’s ideas, but in the case of the words of Jesus that would be a very big job. No, if Christ has enemies they are Christian enemies. There is no worse betrayal than to claim to represent someone while preaching the very ideas they abhorred. I think the warning that John gave in the Book of Revelations was a warning that some Christians would betray Christ by preaching intolerance and hatred in his name.

The central message of Jesus was that love is the thing which really matters. Love is God manifested in human affairs. We should even love our enemies. And we shouldn’t judge anyone if we do not wish to be also judged. He told his followers to love each other as he had loved them. Love is any form of communication characterised by openness, honesty, spontaneity and generosity. It requires that we accept the other person unconditionally and not try to exercise control, physical or psychological over them.

Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, promiscuity (as opposed to adultery which is the breach of a promise), abortion, voting for the Democrats, etc. If these are trespasses, then he recommended that we forgive them. He even asked God to forgive those who crucified him. There are clearly some Christians whose behaviour is in opposition to the philosophy preached by Jesus. The Anti-Christ is a symbol for this pathological tendency, just as Satan is a symbol for the pathological tendency of dishonesty, hence his being referred to as “the Father of Lies”.

The poet William Blake (1757-1827) viewed the Bible as a fictional document which was of interest because it depicted in a symbolic way the deep psychological conflicts which go on in the human psyche. He saw all the angels and demons as representations of internal psychological archetypes. And he used this same kind of symbolism in his own writing. In his poem The Everlasting Gospel he says “For what is Antichrist by those / Who against Sinners Heaven close.” He understood what the Book of Revelations was really warning against. By contrast his view of Christ’s message is summed up in a line from The Gates of Paradise : “Mutual forgiveness of each Vice, Such are the Gates of Paradise.”

Paranoia is an anxiety disorder in which we project the disowned part of our psyche onto others or onto the world around us generally. Belief in an Anti-Christ of the kind portrayed in Left Behind is a classic case of paranoia. We can see that such a literal figure is not what was intended by the author of the Book of Revelations. And we can see that many, if not most, of those who exhibit a belief in such an Anti-Christ also exhibit behaviour which places them within the category of the Anti-Christian that Blake described and the Book of Revelations warned Christians about.

If this belief can be seen as a paranoid delusion then it fits the definition of a psychosis. I know what it is to have a psychotic episode. I’ve had a few of them. They are characterised by irrational beliefs which are not supported by the evidence of the senses or, in some cases, a disturbance of the senses so that one hears or sees something which is not heard or seen by anyone else in the vicinity. The cause of this disjuncture with reality is an extreme state of emotional confusion arising from what is called a double bind situation. This is a situation in which we feel we have two options neither of which is acceptable. A case of damned if we do and damned if we don’t. An example given by the psychiatrist R. D. Laing was of a woman who had an absolute need to believe in the trustworthiness of her husband. When she came home and found him having sex with another woman she began hallucinating. There was no rational way for her to face her dilemma so her mind temporarily abandoned rationality.

Most cases of psychosis which are so defined are individual in nature. I had delusions. I behaved in bizarre ways. I was locked up in a hospital and given anti-psychotic medication. This is what normally happens as our delusions are experiences which are contrary to the experience of those around us. We may try to maintain these delusions but it is us against the world and the world wins, partly because the delusions are unrealistic and partly because the world outnumbers us and has access to a mental hospital and anti-psychotic drugs.

But there is also such a thing as a collective psychosis. If a whole bunch of people are caught up in the same double bind situation and there is a cultural precedent for the delusion they develop as a result then the world may not win, at least for a long time, as the delusion in each individual gets reinforcement by the others who share it.

Many Christians have a deep sense of ambivalence about Jesus. They need him desperately. They feel he offers them the only way to salvation. They need to be seen to be his supporters. This is central to their self-image. But, deep down, probably below the level of consciousness, they hate him. They hate him because he asks the impossible of them. He asks them to love everybody. And they feel, falsely, that he expects them to live a radically disciplined life. This puts them in a double-bind. They feel they must love Christ. But the more they try to love him the more they hate him. It is a negative feedback loop, and a double-bind. I think that one reason why the film The Passion of the Christ (2004) had such a powerful cathartic effect on some Christians, in a way which was distinct from their response to previous cinematic depictions of the story of Jesus, was because it provided an outlet for the hatred of Christ which they did not even dare to acknowledge to themselves. It let them share in the crucifixion of the man they felt, on some level, had crucified them. After all, the film portrayed very little of the loving message of Jesus and an awful lot of flayed flesh and spurting blood.

Of course, many Christians are not judgemental, nor are they paranoid. Many appropriately respond to Jesus’ message. They recognise that love and non-judgement are to be practiced with oneself as well as others, and they are able to live in the real world. These are the quiet Christians. The more of a song and dance someone makes about a belief the more they are trying to silence that contrary voice inside. It would not surprise me to find that Christian literalism or fundamentalism is something which has grown since Jesus day. They didn’t have science like we do, but that doesn’t mean that talk of angels and demons was always taken literally. You don’t need science to not believe in the literal existence of such creatures. You only need never to have seen one. And do we really think hallucinations were more common then than now? But poets talk in these kinds of terms all the time. It is possible that the key difference between now and then was that most people spoke poetically then while now we tend to speak literally. There is every reason to believe we are more prone to mental illness now than then. And in the area of religion this is especially true as the kind of double-bind I describe here has been with us for a long time now, spiralling further and further out of control.

So we can see that the Anti-Christ Psychosis is the projected fear of those who, on a subconscious level, know that they themselves are anti-Christ.

What will happen when this delusion collapses, as it inevitably must? This is what is warned of in the Book of Revelations as the time of great tribulation for many Christians. A time when people will feel so bad they want to die. There is no Hell in a literal sense. The warning that taking the wrong path would lead to a “Lake of Fire” is a description of the emotional pain of being confronted and exposed by the revelation that we were the thing we abhorred. The separating of the goats from the lambs describes what happens when the world at large can see clearly which Christians were real Christians and which were not.

I view Jesus not as a supernatural being and not as a religious leader, but rather as a psychiatrist operating through the medium of traditionally religious symbols and parables. I don’t think he performed literal miracles, in the sense of anything contrary to the normal laws of nature. But I do believe that he “cast out devils”. What is our image of the possessed individual? Linda Blair in The Exorcist (1973). What kind of behaviour does she exhibit when possessed? Lets forget about the Hollywood nonsense of green skin and spinning head. She is uninhibitedly sexual and she is verbally abusive and blasphemous. What do we repress within ourselves? Aggressive feelings toward others. Sexual feelings especially of a taboo nature. And, if we are religiously disciplined, blasphemous thoughts. What we see here, if we ignore the supernatural trappings, is the return of the repressed – the cathartic spewing out of psychological or emotional poisons. Exorcism has nothing to do with demons, it is what Freud called the Id – the repository of repressed angers and libidinous drives - which is being expelled. You’ve heard of speed dating? This is speed therapy. Transference, counter-transference and liberating catharsis all in a matter of minutes.

This is how I imagine it happening. Jesus is preaching when this angry man approaches him.

I’ve had enough of your hippy drivel you long-haired pig-shit-eating pustule on a whore’s cunt! I’d like to cut off your diseased cock and shove it up your mother-fucking asshole. I can’t wait for them to nail you to a cross. I’ll be there eating popcorn, you piece of shit,” he says. And then he falls to his knees with tears streaming from his eyes.

Jesus calmly places his hand on the man’s shoulder and says “It’s going to be okay. You’ll feel better now.”

It is the truth, and only the truth, which sets anyone free. This is not some mystical truth. It is the factual truth. So, while the realisation that one is a part of what was labelled the Anti-Christ by John in the Book of Revelations, may be a painful shock at first, akin to a dip in a lake of molten lead perhaps, it is really a liberating realisation. Christ forgave those who crucified him, so that loving element in the human spirit of which he was an expression will also forgive those who, through fear and confusion, turned against it. In truth, nobody gets left behind.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Parental Guilt and Mental Illness

At one point, during the early days of my bouts with severe adolescent depression, I accused my parents of being responsible for my mental illness. Looking back I hate to think what it must have been like for them. My father was a psychologist and my mother a nurse. They were completely supportive of me even when I made this accusation. And I know they were terribly frustrated that they couldn't do more to help me than they did.

I've always been a big admirer of the psychiatrist R. D. Laing, who, like his predecessors in the psychoanalytic field, viewed mental illness as something which is socially generated. Laing did a lot of work on trying to understand schizophrenia as an adaptation to unhealthy forms of social interaction in families. Critics accused him of blaming parents for the fact that their children became mentally ill. He tried to point out that he didn't feel it was anyone's fault, but that the problem had to be treated holistically and that other family members also needed the therapist's help. More recently the theory that mental illness is socially generated has fallen into disfavour. The concept of mental illness arising through genetically determined chemical imbalances has become the predominant one. I believe that one reason for this is that it is comforting to parents. There is no doubt that mood changes and anxiety states are expressed through changes in the brain chemistry, but I see no reason to think that those mood changes or feelings of anxiety are not responses to social experiences and unhealthy learned ideas.

But perhaps we can untie this knot that was at the heart of Laing's rejection.

The negative feedback loop is central to the problem of mental illness. A simple example of this would be the situation of a young woman who feels she is unattractive and seeks comfort from her depressed feelings by over-eating. The more she eats, the fatter she gets, and the fatter she gets the more unattractive she feels, and the more unattractive she feels, the more depressed she gets, and the more depressed she gets the more she feels the need for the comfort of food. This kind of pattern can be found in depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias and, I believe, schizophrenia.

Now lets go back to me as a depressed teenager. I remember what it felt like, but when it comes to understanding the thinking which underlay it I have to speculate. This can seem false to me. I put myself back into the situation and look at it almost as if it were a mathematical equation to be worked out. But I think this is part of the nature of depression. Thinking is the key, but sometimes it is below the level of consciousness. We spend so long thinking about how we are depressed, that the short time in which we had the thoughts which generated the depression are lost to us in retrospect.

There were no doubt many factors involved. But lets just isolate the question of my parents and feelings of guilt, and lets assume that they did feel guilty about the fact that I was depressed. I don't know if this was true in their case. But parents generally have a strong predisposition to feelings of guilt even if they don't have a child with a mental illness. Central to the human neurosis is that we are incredibly hard on ourselves as individuals. We very easily resort to punishing ourselves if we don't meet our high self-expectations and this must be even harder to resist when we are responsible for the raising of children.

What if I felt very unhappy about something and my unhappiness made my parents feel unhappy. Not knowing how to shake my unhappiness, and noticing that it was making my parents unhappy, I would have become even more unhappy. If my parents felt, on some level, that they might have made a mistake which led to my depression, then they would feel guilty. I would notice that they were feeling guilty and feel that it was my fault and thus become more depressed.

Since feeling guilty is a problem for parents anyway, perhaps we should tackle it head on rather than trying to run from it.

The reason that guilt has been a persistent problem for humans is that we have a strong cultural belief that it is appropriate. We feel that we are supposed to feel guilty if we make a mistake or accidentally hurt someone's feelings. We feel we would be heartless or selfish if we didn't have these feelings. But the truth is that guilt is a profoundly selfish emotion. When we feel guilty it becomes all about us. Am I good enough? Our attention is on ourselves not those we feel we have let down. This is natural. Selfishness is the natural self-directedness of the suffering individual. Make ourselves suffer and we will make ourselves more selfish. If we want to not be selfish, then we have to let go of guilt and practise unconditional self-acceptance. We always do the best we can in the circumstances. What keeps us from doing better is that we won't accept this.

If the cause of mental illness is negative feedback loops, then the solution is positive feedback loops. If we accept ourselves unconditionally and allow ourselves plenty of the healing balm of pleasure, then our warm, loving and playful nature will reassure others and help them to heal. Even if some people have problems which can't be fully solved, we will help to take them as far as they can go.