Psychiatrist D. W. (Donald) Winnicott once observed regarding his clients, “The breakdown that is feared has already occurred.” He knew that his clients’ reluctance to forthrightly address their issues was because the pain was too great for their conscious mind to undertake…at least initially. Many of his clients had been subjected to trauma and had every reason to fear buried memories of the anguish. Others, though not overtly traumatized, had not been able to successfully adapt to the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” and their denial system had compounded the problem to the point that often it approached “trauma.” (Scott Peck in “The Road Less Traveled” noted that, “Neurosis is a substitute for legitimate suffering.”)
All of us have fears though many of them do not amount to the terror of Winnicott’s clients. But our reluctance to face these fears can be equally intense and lock us into attitudinal and behavioral patterns that keep us from reaching the point where our life is in full flow. We are like Hamlet and “cling to those ills that we have rather than flee to others that we know not of.”
Some whose “breakdown” was acute and merit the description “traumatic” will be prone to see catastrophe “out there” in the world rather than to address their own that are within. Furthermore, some whose pain can only be described as “plain vanilla” still prefer to project it “out there” as their narcissism prevents them from recognizing that they have any faults. This applies to individuals as well as groups as even groups can have a narcissistic dimension to the ideology that holds them together.
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Furthermore, if you will indulge my penchant for the esoteric, I even conjecture that even the healthiest individual has deep-seated memories of the catastrophe which was the birth of the ego, that primal differentiation of the ego from its matrix which in the depths of the unconscious parallels the big bang. None of us have actual memory of this event and never will and don’t have to worry about the possibility. We are hard-wired to have no memories of that psychic catastrophe in which the ego was born. But I do think that sometimes refracted memories of this event filter into the pre-conscious and influence our dreams and conscious thoughts, often providing an explanation to why an individual can see so clearly why the problem is with “them” when to us looking on we muse to ourselves, “Oh, if they could only see.” But for them to “see,” i.e. “withdraw their projections,” would entail more pain than they can bear. Shakespeare had this denial in mind when he had Macbeth declaring, “My dull brain is racked by things forgotten.”