PinocchioMax BaucusIn a previous post, I was accused of partisanship because I suggested that people were angry at Obama because of emotional wounds they suffered in their lives. In order to dispel the notion that I believe that only conservative Republicans have been damaged by their negative experiences, I offer a psychological interpretation of some of the self-destructive behaviors of our Democratic leaders in Congress, and to a certain extent, President Obama.

My contention is that these politicians are like bad parents. What do I mean? In order for children to realize their inherent potentials, they need parents who will consistently meet their needs. Now meeting a child’s needs does not mean meeting their wants. A child may say, “I only want to eat ice cream! I don’t want the vegetables!” They may scream, “I don’t want to share my toys! He’s going to take everything I have and I won’t have anything!” They may protest, “I don’t want to play with my brother because he is bad!” They may shriek, “I don’t want to go in my room because there is a boogie-man under my bed!” In each of these cases, (now don’t get all metaphorical on me — I never suggested that these are thinly disguised reactions of people to the health care proposals) the parent would not be giving their children what they actually needed if they succumbed to their child’s demand. The child may want to indulge their immature appetites, selfishness, cruelty, or anxious ignorance, but the parent is doing no service to the child by meeting these desires. What the child needs is for the parent to use their maturity and wisdom to make better judgments and set appropriate limits. They must help the child internalize such wisdom, prudence and courage themselves. They must teach the child that though it might seem fun to eat only ice cream, doing the harder thing — like eating a balanced diet and postponing gratification — leads to a better outcome. They must teach that our purpose on this planet is to share because we have the best individual lives when things are best for all. We must teach our children to see others with understanding and compassion and to recognize that under the skin we are all brothers and sisters. We must teach our children to face their fears and see reality as clearly as possible.

Because the world has a lost heart, in many ways the body politic is like a three-year-old. And so we hope that our leaders, while showing love, regard and respect for the mass, can also show it the love required of the good parent for a toddler. Unfortunately, all too often, Democratic politicians fail in this task. Rather than setting limits, and giving us what we really need, they become frightened themselves, and indulge their constituent’s unrealistic demands. The electorate says like a petulant six-year-old, “If you don’t give me what I want, I’m not going to like you anymore!” Because we don’t want the kids to get mad, no one dare say there is a limit to what we have, and we must decide like grownups how we are going to pay for, and share, the finite pie. Democrats won’t just come out and say that the fair thing to do is take some money from the rich so that we can end the injustice of people living without basic health care. Democratic politicians all too often say, “Oh! Don’t get mad at me! We’ll do whatever you say whether it is good for the country or not.” When people cry that this country is going to turn into a Nazi, Communist, Socialist state if everyone has health care, instead of telling the children that they must eat their vegetables, share their toys and face the boogie-man, the Democrats start talking about removing the public option. This indulgence makes the kiddies happy for a while, but like Pinocchio teaches us, when we live in a land where every day is Saturday except for Sunday, we end up turning into asses. This is the kind of bad parenting that has prevented us from really tackling the kind of economic and political pickle we find ourselves in today. The only thing worse than the Democrats being bad parents is when the children actually run the show, like when the Republicans are in power –whoops I guess I got a little partisan there.

Now why would Democrats act this way, when clearly it is against everyone’s interest? Because we learn how to be parents through the parenting we receive. Parents who did not get what they needed growing up do not develop the skills required to give their own children what they need to realize their best selves. Many people enter a public arena, in part, because they didn’t get their basic needs for love and attention met when they were young. They are dependent on the adoration of the masses for some sense of inner fullness. Without it, they would face an empty void so terrible that they will do anything to avoid it. Alice Miller taught us that this often happens when parents unconsciously use children to get their own emotional needs met. This reverses the way of nature, where parents are supposed to be there for their children, not the other way around. When this happens the children rule the house. They know that they control the parents, because they recognize that their parents need them for emotional sustenance. Though the children may get what they want in these circumstances, they don’t get what they need to truly mature.

I can only assume that this was the case for all too many politicians. Many people who get used by their parents become highly accomplished, but at their core they are emotionally desperate for an authentic sense of self. This is one manifestation of what it means to have a lost heart. In an attempt to not be abandoned, these people will do anything to keep people loving them, even if it means lying to them, or capitulating to their destructive and unreasonable demands. Then, in a repetition of what happened to the politicians as children, the constituents become like spoiled children, knowing they can get whatever they want out of their leaders. But they end up sad, because they only get what they want in the moment, and not what they really need.

2300 years ago, the Sage Mencius spent his life trying to convince the leaders of China to cultivate themselves because he was certain that this was the key to the happiness of all the people in that country. He stated that if leaders had lost hearts, that is, if our political leaders were not psychologically and emotionally strong and healthy, then everyone would suffer. Our Democratic leaders could benefit from this advice.

Hopefully in the coming weeks our leaders will find it within themselves to stand up to their petulant children, the people of America, and do the right thing. Every parent knows that it may cause immediate protest, but in the long run, everyone is happier.

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Obama Nazi communistObama claims to want to help Americans by improving health care. He states that he wants to create a system where health care would be available to the 50 million people in this country who don’t have it, and reduce costs for the rest of us. He says that he wants to insure the long term viability of Medicare and Medicaid. He wants to provide more preventative care so that we live healthier, longer lives, reducing the need to manage debilitating diseases like diabetes. He makes the case that all of this would improve our long-term economic outlook. Now what could be wrong with all of that? Well, then, why has he provoked such anger with this plan?

I believe the most significant reason is a strange phenomenon that I have recognized through doing couple’s counseling, which I call “couple trap number two.” Here is how it works. One of the partners has a long standing need that has gone unmet. Let’s say the wife wants her husband to say “I love you.” For years, she has railed in pain and frustration about how he never says those words. Utilizing my techniques, the husband finally softens, and says the magic words, “I love you.” Now we would expect that the wife, having finally gotten what she wanted, would be grateful, thrilled, excited. Oh, no. As soon as he speaks, I start counting backwards from 10. By the time I get to 7, almost without fail, the wife gets furious. She says, “You didn’t say it the right way! You didn’t mean it! You’ll never say it again!” and the like. The husband gets angry and says, “You think I’ll ever say that again? You’ve got another thing coming!” It is as if I tipped a see-saw out of balance, and within a few seconds everything goes right back to where it had begun. The status quo is reestablished. The wife returns to complaining, the husband to withholding. Why do people get mad when they finally get what they want?

When we are emotionally hurt enough times, we not only learn that we shouldn’t trust the world, but we also come to believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with ourselves. The feeling that goes along with this belief is shame. This feeling and belief may be so pervasive that we are barely aware of it.

Let’s say we are a child and have an alcoholic father who treats us cruelly when he gets drunk. We know we can’t fight him, and so we simply hide the terrible humiliation we feel. This humiliation festers within us. This results in us feeling like there must be something wrong with us. That is why Dad treats us so bad.

Finally, after 8 years, mom gets rid of this guy and marries someone who is sober and really nice. This new guy wants to do good things for us. He makes big promises. The promise of getting what we want brings up not having had our needs met in the past. All the buried anger that we have kept inside comes bubbling up to the surface. We feel the kindling of hope within that we are finally going to be treated well and get what we need. This hope brings up fear. If we allow ourselves to want, we risk being disappointed again. We must reject this hope and tell ourselves it is all a lie. It will never come true! Our dad always made promises he never kept. Why would it be different now? We get angry at ourselves for being such a fool.  Since we have become convinced that we are bad, we know that we don’t deserve good treatment anyway. When someone offers us something positive, we can’t take it in, because it doesn’t conform to our negative view of ourselves. Why would Obama really want to do anything good for me? It’s all a sham! Irrespective of the treatment we may have received from our cruel father, we are also loyal to him. To accept this new, loving treatment is also to betray our rotten father. Out of loyalty, we would rather suffer than change.

So, when we are presented with a man who is offering us a positive change that will improve our lives, instead of responding with joy, many of us respond with fear and anger. Underneath that fear and anger is shame. This means that all too many of us have been continuously hurt and disappointed both in our personal lives and in our political lives. Seeing the possibility of good makes us feel things we would rather bury: our humiliations, our hurt, and our disappointment. Rather than feel those things we reject in anger. Since on a deep level all too many of us loath ourselves, we would rather destroy ourselves with obesity than accept the help that Obama’s new plan would provide. We find all the good reasons in the world why it just won’t work. When we have been so badly hurt in the past, our reaction to something good is to reject it. When people get angry at Obama, it is like the old story of the tiger who has been beaten in the circus. When the poor animal was finally offered food and kindness he attacked the giver.

If we want to gain people’s trust when they have been so wounded and feel so badly about themselves, like the tiger, we must approach them very gingerly. Until they can heal their shame their likely reaction will be to snap.

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ObamaIn President Obama’s ASU commencement speech on May12, 2009 he said,

“In all seriousness, I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven’t yet achieved enough in my life. I come to embrace it; to heartily concur; to affirm that one’s title, even a title like President, says very little about how well one’s life has been led – and that no matter how much you’ve done, or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to do, more to learn, more to achieve.”

In this statement, Obama achieves the ancient Chinese Sage Mencius‘s definition of the worthy leader. The Confucian project, of which Mencius was the greatest mind, was to cultivate virtuous leaders by teaching them that they needed to work on self-cultivation, on improving themselves, ceaselessly. These philosophers believed that the good of all was dependent on the good of the individual — especially our leaders — and that this required continuous effort and learning.

Obama goes on to encourage every student to use this as their guiding principle in life. Rather than getting caught up in the shallow rewards offered by materialism he inspires them to commit themselves to the harder, nobler path of the new Bhakti Marga, a devotion to the daily work. He goes on to say,

“That is what building a body of work is all about – it’s about the daily labor, the many individual acts, the choices large and small that add up to a lasting legacy. It’s about not being satisfied with the latest achievement, the latest gold star – because one thing I know about a body of work is that it’s never finished. It’s cumulative; it deepens and expands with each day that you give your best, and give back, and contribute to the life of this nation. You may have set-backs, and you may have failures, but you’re not done – not by a longshot.”

The wisest human beings to have graced our planet, from Mencius through Obama carry the same message. Will we listen? It all begins with you. With working on yourself. Are you willing to commit to working on yourself every day for the rest of your life? What are you going to do today to improve yourself? What are you going to do today to make the world a better place?