Feelings of Distress

Anger and fear are primal survival emotions, with roots deep in our evolutionary past. Guilt and shame are also key emotions supporting survival for humans as social animals. However there are other, more subtle feelings that indicate to us that all is not well, and these feelings can be difficult to pin down and define. Although we all have a clear sense of what someone means when they tell us they are upset or hurt, we may well find it hard to be more specific about what this means, and if we do get down to details we may find that our definition disagrees with theirs.

The names we use for many of these feelings make direct connections between our psychological and physiological experience, so that we describe ourselves as being bruised, hurt, wounded, etc. without anyone being confused that the place of the injury is somewhere in the flesh. Alternatively we use metaphors for disorganisation or disturbance, such as shaken up, mixed up, rattled, etc. suggesting a destabilisation or loss of equilibrium.

The descriptions below do not seek to be definitive, and you may find that you would give a different name to the experiences that are described. This is not important; the way you choose to describe your emotions will depend mostly on your beliefs about yourself. What is important is that you are able to recognise and identify your individual feeling patterns, and that you are able to respond to them in a way that keeps you free to make creative choices.

Hurt and Upset

These two words can be catchall phrases to describe an experience of emotional difficulty, and as such can mean everything or nothing! They can also be dismissed as irrelevant all-too-easily by a busy leader, or denied as being unworthy or signs of weakness. This is a mistake. Such feelings are a sign that something you value is under threat or has been lost or damaged, or that your resources are diminished. Such information is valuable and to deny or ignore it is foolhardy. This is because they provide powerful indicators of what is important to you, and if you deny them then you will be unable to learn from them.

The desire to negate such feelings may be rooted in a desire to avoid seeming weak or vulnerable to yourself or to others. However we all have vulnerabilities, and accepting your vulnerabilities so that you can make allowances for them is the best way of adapting to reality. To deny feelings of hurt and upset is a declaration that you do not care sufficiently about yourself, and if you do not care about yourself it is unlikely that you will be able to genuinely care about anyone or anything else.

To accept one’s vulnerabilities also means to be open, and it takes great emotional maturity to be able to do this without quickly moving back into defensiveness. This kind of maturity requires you to have a profound knowledge of yourself, knowing your strengths and weaknesses without believing that either mark you out as particularly special, and having a deep trust in your own resourcefulness.

Clearly there will be circumstances when it is appropriate to protect yourself, as certain individuals or circumstances will call for you to exercise appropriate self-defence. However such protection needs to be a conscious choice in response to particular circumstances, as protection takes up energy. The habitual denial of your weaknesses and vulnerabilities to yourself and others will be a waste of energy, meaning that it is not available to you for other more constructive purposes.

The denial of vulnerability is a manifestation of self-delusion, an attempt to see oneself as perfect. This process is much more subtle than it sounds when written down in black and white. Coming to know oneself fully is a lifetime’s work, and you need to be constantly seeking to learn more about yourself. One particularly useful way to do this is by noticing the little hurts and upsets that one experiences on a day-to-day basis. The things that ‘press our buttons’ or irritate us about our colleagues and competitors are, almost without exception, aspects of our own personality or behaviour that we deny or fail to recognise. This presents a fantastic opportunity to learn more about yourself, and so to integrate the denied and projected aspects of your personality. There is a certain irony in the fact that one of the qualities most commonly projected in this way in the workplace is vulnerability, as evidenced by the feeding frenzy that can be stimulated when an individual is overwhelmed by stress or manifests incompetence in some way.

Of course not all hurt is the result of projection. One other significant cause is the experience of not getting what you expected, especially in terms of care and support from those closest to you. Once again it is easy to see this feeling as being too trivial to take seriously, but once again it is the source of useful information, in this case about the kinds of support, acknowledgement and appreciation that you need. While it is essential to be able to look to yourself to validate your work and achievements, we all need some external validation as well. While it may not always be possible to get such validation, to deny the need for it will result in emotional ossification, and so you will need to ensure that you have appropriate support systems by way of mentors or confidants to meet such needs, at least to some degree. Acknowledging such feelings may also present the opportunity to learn more about their roots. It may be that there are issues of self-worth underlying them that can be addressed directly and so reduce the need for external supports.

An associated feeling is that of feeling slighted. This arises when you are not shown the expected level of respect, esteem or appreciation by others to whom you are not particularly close. This will inevitably be the case from time-to-time, as few others are able to fully witness the real achievements of a leader, and so you must bear the hurt and move on. In can be the case that as a leader you may be in receipt of a great deal of positive projection, with some people seeing only the best of themselves in you. You will inevitably fall off this pedestal in time, and so it is best not to allow yourself to be seduced by excessive appreciation, and definitely to avoid becoming dependent upon it. Leaders often receive unreasonable amounts of appreciation for their good qualities, and unreasonable amounts of criticism for their failings. Allowing yourself to develop a sense of entitlement to support or appreciation will inevitably result in you experiencing much hurt and disappointment.

Feeling upset can also arise as a secondary response to the more primal emotions. In this context it may well denote that an emotional experience has left us with fewer resources to address the issues of our lives and work. An example might be that you have been angry with a colleague about something they have done, and this upsets your equilibrium so that you are more easily raised to anger by issues that would not normally bother you. It is common to describe this kind of upset as irritability, which in its technical sense means having a high sensitivity to stimulus. This also demonstrates the way that feelings of upset can act as a gateway or catalyst to the primary emotions in addition to manifesting as a consequence of them, reminding us of the feedback loops that operate in our emotional systems.

The destabilising emotion may be guilt, which can result in defensiveness, or fear leading to a nervous or edgy feeling. Each of these suggests that an issue is not fully resolved or assimilated. This may be because there has been a strong experience that has had a substantial effect on the psyche, or conversely that the original stimulus was insufficient for it to have made an impression on us at a conscious level. If you find either of these experiences happened to you on a regular basis then some further investigation is likely to be necessary. To feel upset is to receive a warning that one’s emotional thresholds are lowered, and it is wise to heed such a warning.

Another section from the Emotional Competence section of the book on the Inner Work of Leadership that I worked on a few years ago. Re-reading these pieces I’m reminded how difficult I found it to write in someone else’s voice, using source material that they had suggested. If I found these pieces somewhere other than on my hard drive I would not know that I had written them – perhaps I’m a better ghost writer than I realised!

Feeing Good

William Blake - Glad Day

William Blake - Glad Day

On the whole, psychiatry has paid more attention to dis-ease than to wellbeing; perhaps it is easier to be clear about how things have gone wrong than how they have gone right. As a consequence it can be hard to clarify what it means to feel good. We all know that we feel good when we are relieved of anxiety, freed from despair, or recover from being upset, but we also know that to feel good is much more than just the relief of not feeling bad.

The characteristics of feeling good are very broad and can include experiences of lightness, buoyancy, aliveness, optimism, peace, relaxation, hope, connection and involvement. Perhaps the easiest way to summarise the pleasurable aspect of feeling good is to say that when we feel good we experience an expanded and enhanced sense of self.

Feeling good may arise as a direct result of a success or positive experience, and yet we all have experiences of feeling good for no apparent reason. We also know that our expected sources of pleasure can be rather fickle, sometimes failing to provide the pleasure we have expected, usually when we have tried to pursue pleasure as a way of avoiding some unpleasant aspect of our experience. Nevertheless we can identify a number of different ways in which we can come to feel good.

The first and most primordial of these is the gratification of our senses. We can feel good when we touch and are touched, and when we have the opportunity to see, hear, and taste things that are enjoyable to us. Perhaps this is the most obvious area in which the misguided pursuit of feeling good can easily lead to excess.

The second thing that can create a feeling of wellbeing for us is learning and discovery. Here the experiences of the senses are combined with the intellect, as we see in the delight of a child when it discovers something new, or our pleasure can be born simply from intellectual discovery. The fortunate amongst us retain the capacity to find delight in learning new things, however ‘useless’ they may be. It is a sad indictment of our educational system that so many people come to see learning as a boring or even painful experience, rather than one of pleasure and expansion.

The pleasure of learning about is the forerunner to the pleasure of learning how. Here the sense of self is expanded through the development of a new skill, or expertise, or through problem solving, leading to a sense of accomplishment and mastery. There must be some degree of challenge and difficulty in a task for it to provide pleasure in the completion, a task easily achieved offers little gratification. In this respect the cliché that there is no gain without pain is true, showing that pleasure and pain are not simple opposites.

The fourth type of experience that can help us to feel good continues along the same line as the previous two, where the mastery of a skill moves into the expression of creativity. To know that one has brought into being something that did not previously exist, be it a painting or a corporation, can be a tremendous source of delight and satisfaction.

Not only this, but the very act of creation can be one that provides us with a fifth source of pleasure: that of immersion. When all of our energies are fully aligned and engaged in a task so that there is no conflict or distraction, this ‘flow’ of effortless concentration is deeply pleasurable.

A sixth way in which we feel good is when we experience our connection to others. We can experience this collectively through playing sports or music with others, or working together in a team. Singing in a choir provides the metaphor of harmony that encapsulates this experience. We also experience this sense of connection individually in our intimate relationships with loved ones.

In connecting with others we experience an expanded sense of self through including others in our sense of who we are. Perhaps we feel the most good when our sense of self expands to include the whole of existence. This seventh category of pleasurable feeling has been described as ‘peak experience’ or ‘oceanic feeling’ and is characterised by a comprehension of the universal order of things, great joy and delight, awe and wonder, groundedness as well as limitlessness. It is possible for each of us to experience such states, and they tend to have a profound effect on us, sometimes being interpreted as mystical or religious experiences. They can be triggered by intensely positive experiences of nature, art or love, and occasionally by acute trauma, and they can also be actively cultivated through practices such as meditation and deep reflection.

It is regularly observed by people travelling in the developing world that people who have very little often seem happier than their wealthy counterparts in the developed world. While it is also these people who experience the greatest risk from climate change and other natural disasters, it is a salutary lesson for us that we often overlook in our busy and ambitious lives. To fully feel that one is alive is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and one that we are usually too busy to appreciate.

Here are links to the other emotions that I’ve posted so far.

Feeling Bored

Guilt and Shame

Anger – and Emotional Competence

Tiredness, Grieving and Depression

Another in the series of explorations of emotions – this one’s a bit shorter, so hopefully it can sustain your interest!

Feeling Bored

There are two different modes of boredom: the first is an active form, a kind of agitated dissatisfaction with our experience or the task we are undertaking; the second is a passive form that is more like a resigned dissatisfaction with life itself, which I will call ennui in this analysis. One way that you can distinguish these two forms from each other is in the way in which you describe them to yourself. The active form is usually accompanied or signalled by the declaration “I’m so bored!” often spoken aloud even when no one else is present. If you can even be bothered to offer any description of your experience in a state of ennui, then it will be far from a declaration, and the word ‘bored’ may sound tired and drawn out.

Boredom can arise when we lose touch with the reason that we are doing whatever it is that we are doing. If this is because the task we are undertaking has little or no inherent interest and is largely a means to a greater end, then it means that we have lost touch with the connection between the current action and the end towards which we are striving. In these cases you need to find a way to remake the connections, so that you can have not only an intellectual connection with your task, but also an emotional one.

The correlation between the loss of a sense of meaning and the state of boredom is reminiscent of the development of depression, and the more passive form of boredom has been described as a melancholic languor, making this connection explicit. Ennui is an aspect of depression, showing the same characteristics of disengagement and disinterest, and a resigned acceptance of a meaningless and pleasureless existence.

We can also become bored because we are so used to experiencing high levels of activity and entertainment that we cannot stand a reduction in our level of stimulus. It may be that we have developed an ill-founded expectation that the world should consistently engage and entertain us, and if this is the case then it is important to undermine this expectation and take responsibility for your own experience. This is one of the issues addressed in Chapter @ where we look at intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.

Boredom is another warning feeling, signalling dissatisfaction with your experience and through its very discomfort providing a stimulus to action. However, a note of caution should be sounded here. Boredom of the more agitated sort can be a mask for painful, difficult or inconvenient feelings, seeking some sort of distraction from the underlying emotion. Here the desire to distract yourself from the emerging painful experience may well manifest in similar behaviours to those that we use to distract ourselves from anxiety. While the experience of boredom is a call to action, it is important to remember that the required action may be simply to pay more attention to yourself.

Another section from the chapter on Emotional Competence in the book on The Inner Work of Leadership I worked on a few years ago. Rereading these pieces I’m struck by how dense they all are – they could do with a few stories and a loosening of the language to make them a little less intense, and in the context of a blog, a few images. Nevertheless I think the material is useful, so I’m putting it out.

Guilt And Shame

Like anxiety and anger, guilt and shame are twin emotions, although in this case the distinction between them is not temporal in nature, but social: we feel guilt individually and we feel shame in relation to others. It is also true that like many emotions the experiences of guilt or shame can be a wholesome sign of a healthy emotional life, or the unhealthy manifestation of neuroses. This complexity has led some commentators to dismiss both guilt and shame as unhelpful and unhealthy, whereas a sensitivity to them can be a useful guide in decision making – if only to alert one to the likely reactions of others!

Guilt is the experience of falling short of our values and of the standards of behaviour that we expect of ourselves.  It is the sense or feeling that arises when you do something that you feel or believe you should not do. Complexity begins to arise because the reason for feeling guilt or shame may be well or ill-founded, and may be compounded by the fact that certain behaviours may be culturally taboo without being morally reprehensible. Such complexities can make these feelings difficult to recognise, especially as they are likely to be mixed up with other feelings.

One near enemy of guilt is that of guilty fear, which is the emotion felt when we fear being caught for something that we know is not accepted, but about which we feel little personal concern. A good example is the swirl of nausea we feel when we see a police car with its lights flashing in the rear-view mirror when driving a little over the speed limit. If the feeling passes when the police car zooms straight past then it was guilty fear, as genuine and healthy guilt requires expiation to disperse.

Such expiation seems to require confession, and such confession must be to someone who can receive the confession appropriately, usually a wronged party or a superior. If you feel a genuine sense of guilt at having manipulated an expense claim in your own favour it will not clear your conscience to confess to an embezzler. What it might do is subvert the feeling of guilt through rationalisation – if he does it then why shouldn’t I? – and the desire to do this is testament to the level of discomfort that the feeling of guilt engenders. Another attempt to sidestep guilt  (and shame) is seen in the passing of the ‘hot potato’ of blame. Leaders must avoid getting caught up in such games, and accept or allocate responsibility appropriately without colluding in a blame culture.

Unhealthy guilt has also been described as the result of anger turned against oneself, perhaps because the catalyst of the anger is someone who you feel you should not feel anger towards. It is important to clear the air as soon as possible in such situations, as there is a risk of a feedback loop creating ever-greater feelings of incapacitating guilt. On those occasions when you do act in a way that causes another harm or pain, take responsibility for your actions and where appropriate apologise and make amends – while remembering that how another person feels is primarily their own responsibility.

Shame is the feeling we have in response to the public exposure of wrongdoing, and as such is strongly culturally determined. Highly homogeneous cultures, those with high standards of civic responsibility, and groups seeking to define themselves strongly against perceived threats to identity will be likely to have strong shame cultures. Those in more individualistic and heterogeneous situations will be likely to experience less shame, as there will be fewer collectively held values.

Shame is perhaps most familiar to us from our adolescent years, when any minor divergence from accepted group norms is the cause of genuine anguish. It is both a product of strong group identity, and also a force that encourages it. As such it can be an effective way for a leader to engender good practice within an organisation. Of course the near enemy of this is collusive group-think, where a folie a deux becomes a folie a corps such as we have seen in a number of corporations in recent years.

In order to be able to work effectively with these feelings you need to have a clear sense of your own value system, and of the ways in which your values might come into conflict with the value systems of the organisation for which you are working, those of your upbringing and those of the broader culture. Such a sense of values will be constantly evolving as you learn, develop and mature. Leaders are constantly making choices, and almost all of these choices will disappoint or adversely effect one party or another. While it is important to remain sensitive to the human consequences of your decisions, if you allow yourself to be hobbled by guilt or shame you will cease to be a leader.

Like my previous post on Tiredness, Grieving and Depression, this piece is part of the chapter on Emotional Competence from a book on the Inner Work of Leadership  that I worked on some years ago.


Still from the movie "12 Angry Men"

Walk into pretty much any bookshop in the developed world and it will soon become evident to you that there is a very substantial body of contemporary literature on anger. This fact probably reflects both that anger is the emotion with which we have the most complex relationship, and that it is the feeling on which the widest range of perspectives is held. These opinions range from the view that you should seek to express anger fully so as to avoid bottling it up and doing yourself damage whatever the damage to others, through to the belief that anger is completely without justification and should always be avoided. While there are doubtless times and individuals for whom both of these extremes are true, the former perspective runs the risk of you simply creating more and more anger so that you are constantly angry, blow your top at the slightest thing and are a nightmare to work with. The latter risks denial and repression that can result in illness and unacknowledged and destructive shadow expressions of anger. In the same way that you need to develop your own model of leadership, you will need to develop your own model of how to respond creatively and constructively to your emotional experience, and to do this you will need a clear idea of how to work with anger in yourself and others. Consequently this is an important issue for leaders, and it may well be the case that it is more important for you to read this section if you do not believe you have a problem with anger than if you do!

Physiologically anger is effectively the same experience as anxiety. Under a perceived threat the body releases hormones such as adrenalin that prepare it for fight or flight. The distinction between the two arises depends on the perceived nature of the threat: if the threat is in the future and so has yet to fully present itself then the experience is one of anxiety, if the threat is present in the here and now then the response is one of anger. This distinction makes evident the fact that there is a cognitive role in the development of anger, whereby your body produces hormones that develop a somatic affective response, and your cognitive faculties make a decision about how to respond. This ‘thinking’ aspect of anger is a feedback mechanism that leads to the production of more of the hormones associated with anger, and allows you to feel angry about things that have happened in the past, and also to develop feelings of anger with some degree of selectivity. The positive aspect of this is that it gives you the opportunity to choose whether you feel anger or not, and offers you the possibility of reprogramming your responses to be more helpful to us, so as to ensure that when you feel angry it is both appropriate to the circumstances and open to you to choose how and if you express it.

Our cultural ambivalence to anger, and perhaps to emotionality in general, can produce two apparently contradictory consequences. On one hand, many people’s family and cultural conditioning place a taboo on anger, so that their expressions of anger have received such a negative response that they eventually cease to express it, and ultimately deny to themselves that they even experience it. In this case anger is often expressed very indirectly and unconsciously, in things like passive aggressive behaviours or through inertia as the blocked energy in the anger results in the person shutting down. On the other hand, some environments accept or even encourage anger but do not accept grief or distress (‘big boys don’t cry’), so that distress is manifest inappropriately as anger. One example of this might be kind of anger a parent might show when their child has been put in danger, so that a mother may scold her son for falling and injuring himself as she unable to fully feel and express her fear and concern.

Many of us need to do a lot of work in order to be able to fluently understand the language of our emotions, as our usual methods of understanding are largely conceptual and our emotions speak to us in an entirely different way. The first stage is to learn to experience and recognise your emotions, and there will some tools to work on this later in this chapter. Anger has a huge range of levels of intensity and euphemisms and it is important to recognise that irritation, annoyance, feeling miffed, being teed, pissed or anything else-d off, irked, etc. are all the same experience at root. It is important to be aware that you also need to develop the capacity to be in relationship to your emotions and feelings in a way that allows you to fully accept and acknowledge them as part of your experience, yet without getting lost in an emotion so that it becomes the whole of your experience and you have no choice other than to express it.

Having this kind of perspective on your emotions allows you to choose the most effective and appropriate mode of response to the circumstances you are in. This degree of emotional competence offers you six possible ways of responding to an emotional experience:

The 6 modes of positive emotional process, from John Heron

  1. You might decide to control your feeling of anger (or any other emotion) to allow you to accomplish the task you are engaged in, or to allow you to interact with another individual or group This is a conscious form of suppression, in contrast to unconscious repression.
  2. You might chose to redirect the angry energy into problem solving or vigorous activity such as competitive sport.
  3. You can choose to switch your attention to another aspect of your experience, which will drain the energy from the anger and allow you to focus on another activity or state. This brings out the important point that emotional competence allows you to experience your feelings in a broad perspective so that when anger arises it does not dominate your experience – you experience anger but do not ‘become angry’.
  4. In certain circumstances you might choose to sublimate and refine the anger to a subtler state. This form of transmutation is related to spiritual practices, and is unlikely to be something that is a regular choice in most working environments.
  5. If the anger triggers issues from the past or touches other issues, it might be appropriate to express the emotion in a process of catharsis – the conscious discharge of painful emotion.
  6. The final option is that of a simple expression of your experience in a way that connects you to your own and other’s humanity.

The case for managing anger is a strong one, with clear links established between those who have a propensity for anger and increased likelihood of high blood pressure, heart disease, and digestive problems. It is also linked to reductions in creativity and flexibility, isolation and diminished self-view.

While there is a range of choices to be made in the moment about how to deal with anger or any other feeling, there is also investigative work to be undertaken to explore the nature of the experience, what you can learn from it, and how you can utilise this learning in your continued development as a leader and an individual. It has been suggested that anger is an appropriate response to frustrated volition: when you are unable to act in the world in the way that you would choose then anger arises. From this perspective, anxiety can be seen as a response to frustrated comprehension, manifesting when you are unable to understand or to make yourself understood, and you can see grief as a response to a frustration of the need to express and receive connection, affection and love. Like all models, this is of course a simplification, not least because it is seldom the case that these things happen quite so neatly – to be frustrated in one’s capacity to act inevitably includes a degree of experience of personal negation and a sense of being misunderstood, so that all emotional experiences are a complex mixture with anger being fully recognised as an important stage in the process of bereavement or change. Nevertheless it can be helpful to use this simple schema to look at your experience, because if you notice that you have a predisposition for feeling misunderstood to the exclusion of other feelings, for example, this provides you with an indication that some further work in this area would be useful to free you to respond more effectively.

When we display anger in response to circumstances that do not appear to warrant it there can be a host of different causes and underlying processes, and there is a wide range of strategies for simplifying and clarifying your experience. Much unhelpful patterning is rooted in irrational and archaic beliefs and thinking patterns which we have developed through our lives. The section on personal myth offers one way of working with these self views, and we will move on to looking at some straight-forward ways of ensuring that the messages that you give yourself are ones which are accurate, rational and helpful.

Anger can be seen as a way of avoiding stress through distracting or blocking difficult experiences. These can include:

  • painful emotions like fear and anxiety, loss, depression, hurt, guilt and shame, and feelings of unworthiness and failure.
  • physical sensations such as physical pain, muscle tension, overstimulation, tiredness and overwork
  • frustration resulting from blocked needs or want, things not being the way they ought to be or how you would like them to be, or the sense of being forced
  • the experience of threat created by being abandoned, overwhelmed or attacked

The problem with the use of anger as a defence against these experiences is that it clouds the issue, making it more difficult to address the causal issues directly and straight-forwardly. One useful perspective to maintain is that you and you alone are responsible for your emotional experience. Whatever happens in the world or anyone does to or around you, the way that you feel and respond is entirely up to you.

Another great book summary from my friends at Coaching on Call which explains the consequences of a lack of mindfulness.

Leadership Insights from Coaching on Call

The phenomenon of multitasking has been defined by psychiatrist Dr Edward Halliwell as “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously!”You Can’t Multitask (so stop trying!)- by Paul Atchley
Atchley reports that neuroscientists at the University of California monitored interruptions among office workers and found that it took an average of fifteen minutes to recover from interruptions such as phone calls or answering e-mail and return to their original task.
It was also found that multitasking contributes to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline, which can cause long-term health problems if not controlled, and contributes to the loss of short-term memory.
Multitasking adversely affects how we learn
Research by Professor Russell Poldrack shows that people use different areas of the brain for learning and storing new information when they are distracted: brain scans of people who are distracted or multitasking show activity in the striatum, a region of the brain involved in learning new skills; brain scans of people who are not distracted show activity in the hippocampus, a region involved in storing and recalling information. So even if you do learn while multitasking, that learning is less flexible and less accessible afterwards.
So why do we try?
There are various reasons why multitasking is more and more widely assumed to be desirable. These include:
  • Increase in technology – remote distractions and modes of communication (email, texts, messaging, internet searches,  etc.)
  • We’re hard wired to respond to social messaging and expanding our awareness of the group(s) we relate to – so we unconsciously scan for information all the time
  • We crave information because it makes us feel more comfortable – multiple sources of confirmation increases our confidence in our choices
  • The illusion of achievement – the buzz of activity makes us feel productive and needed
What can you do to avoid overload?
  1. Consciously approach one task at a time and stick with it. If the task is too large, chunk it down into sub-tasks and aim to complete these one at a time
  2. Take regular short breaks – preferably in the outdoors as frequent exposure to nature is shown to enhance receptivity and even increase IQ
  3. Know when to close your door to avoid interruption and use this time to focus intently on the task in hand
  4. Be clear about what information is useful and be on guard against just seeking more and more confirmation of what you have already decided in order to make you feel good – rather, seek out information that challenges you and therefore helps you make better decisions
  5. Check email / voice messages at pre-determined times rather than being constantly interrupted by them throughout the day
There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time
Lord Chesterfield – advice to his son in 1740


I have a conundrum with my website, and I’m wondering if I should remove the most popular part of it.

On my Buddhist Coach website I have a (still incomplete) section on different types of Buddhism. This is by far the most popular part of my site, receiving vastly more traffic than the rest of the site combined, and generating something like 95% of the search engine traffic to my site – it comes about 4th on on a Google search for the term. It looks like I’m providing a useful service in explaining some of this stuff, and at the time that I wrote it, it seemed far clearer an explanation of this complex topic than anything else I could find on the interwebs.

My main problem is that this page doesn’t lead people to my site who are very likely to  make use of my services, and all this site traffic makes it impossible for me to make sense of the analytics to the rest of my site – so I can’t tell if the people who are looking for me and/or the services I provide are getting what they want from my website. By contrast, my Helping Change website gets very little traffic. On the whole, the only people who visit it are specifically checking me out, or looking for the kind of service I offer. This makes it easy for me to see which pages are read, and which are ignored or skimmed, and thereby improve the site.

Arthur Quiller-Couch is said to have advised writers to ‘murder your darlings’ – that is, delete their favourite phases or passages in their work, to benefit the whole piece. Is it time for me to murder (or at least relocate) my website darling, or is all traffic good traffic?


You ask me why I entered the mountain deep and cold,
Awesome, surrounded by steep peaks and grotesque rocks,
A place that is painful to climb and difficult to descend,
Wherein reside the gods of the mountain and the spirits of trees.

Have you not seen, O have you not seen,
The peach and plum blossoms in the royal garden?
They must be in full bloom, pink and fragrant,
Now opening in the April showers, now falling in the spring gales;
Flying high and low, all over the garden the petals scatter.
Some sprigs may be plucked by the strolling spring maidens,
And the flying petals picked by the flittering spring orioles.

Have you not seen, O have you not seen,
The water gushing up in the divine spring of the garden?
No sooner does it arise than it flows away forever:
Thousands of shining lines flow as they come forth,
Flowing, flowing, flowing into an unfathomable abyss;
Turning, whirling again, they flow on forever,
And no one knows where they will stop.

Have you not seen, O have you not seen,


That billions have lived in China, in Japan,
None have been immortal, from time immemorial:
Ancient sage kings or tyrants, good subjects or bad,
Fair ladies and homely – who could enjoy eternal youth?
Noble men and lowly alike, without exception, die away;
They all have died, reduced to dust and ashes;
The singing halls and dancing stages have become the abodes of foxes.
Transient as dreams, bubbles or lightening, all are perpetual travelers.

Have you not seen, O have you not seen,
This has been man’s fate, how can you alone live forever?
Thinking of this, my heart always feels torn;
You, too, are like the sun going down behind the western mountains,
Or a living corpse whose span of life is nearly over.
Futile would be my stay in the capital;
Away, away, I must go, I must not stay there.
Release me, for I shall be master of the great void;
A child of Shingon must not stay there.

I have never tired of watching the pine trees and the rocks at Mount Koya;
The limpid stream of the mountain is the source of my inexhaustible joy.
Discard pride in earthly gains;
Do not be scorched in the burning house, the triple world!
Discipline in the woods alone lets us soon enter the eternal Realm.

We all know what it is like to feel tired: everything we need to do, however small, feels like a struggle that will require far more resources than we have available. It is noteworthy that we usually describe psychological tiredness in terms of physical tiredness, although the two are very different experiences. To be tired usually suggests a feeling of being drained or depleted, while for those us not exhausted by manual labour, physical tiredness is often a rather exhilarating experience associated with enjoyable feelings. It can be argued that our failure to make this distinction is a sign that we are reluctant to accept the reality of tiredness as an emotional rather than physical phenomenon, denying the fact that our psychological wellbeing is under stress and thus our psychological health is under threat.

It can be difficult to admit to an experience of stress in the workplace, as such an admission may be seen as a sign of weakness by others our ourselves. However an experience of tiredness is a sign that the demands of our situation are exceeding our resources, and if we consistently fail to address such a condition then depression or physical illness are the almost inevitable outcome.

Mental illness carries a strong stigma in our society, and yet when we read the symptoms of depression there can be very few of us who do not recognise that we have experienced them. It is often the case that a person suffering from what is clinically defined as depression will not feel ‘depressed’ as such, you are more likely to complain of exhaustion, fatigue, boredom and weariness. If you start to experience disruptions to your sleep patterns or changes in your weight in association with an ongoing feeling of tiredness then it is quite likely that you are depressed. Depression is experienced as a feeling of hopelessness or helplessness, or more acutely a loss of feeling altogether, rather than in feeling dejected or down.

What we now call depression was known historically as melancholia, and was seen as a distorted and prolonged form of grieving. Grieving was traditionally seen as being stimulated by the loss of a loved one, with the sufferer experiencing progressively a sequence of dejection and sadness, a withdrawal of interest from the world, a reduction in physical activity and the loss of the capacity to feel or relate in a caring way.

Grief is an unfolding or developing process, and the Change Curve commonly used as a tool in organisational change management was originally developed to describe the phases passed through in the course of bereavement. The way that this pattern of experience and behaviour can be seen to manifest under such a broad range of circumstances, reflects the fact that we experience grief whenever there are changes in how we experience and understand the world. It is often the case that such experiences of grief are marked with feelings of anger. It is also useful to remember that both grief and depression can also manifest in signs of severe agitation and anxiety.

Unlike grief, which will naturally move through a process of resolution, depression is often much more persistent, with the sufferer collapsing into a masochistic phase of acute self-blame. Here the sufferer sees the worst side of everything they have or have not done, seeming to actively undermine any sources of self-esteem. It is as though the depressed person feels the need to be punished in some way for a harm that they have done, although it is unlikely that it will be apparent what the nature of this harm may be. When we feel threatened it triggers responses of anxiety or anger, under the influence of depression such anxiety may be heightened and anger is turned back on ourselves.

Not all depression develops through a gradual erosion of resources; a first experience of depression is sometimes caused by a cataclysmic change in circumstances. It is noteworthy that more men commit suicide over the loss of a job than the loss of a wife or child. It is unlikely that this reflects that men value their jobs more highly than their families, but more an indication that they have a greater investment in them as the source of meaning and status in their lives. While it is essential that we engage wholeheartedly with our work, if we over identify with it or make too much of our self-worth dependent upon it, then we expose ourselves to the risk of profound trauma when things go against us.

In depression all sense of meaning in life may be lost, as may any optimism or confidence in the positive outcome of any activity or turn of events.  Such a breakdown may be a sign that the beliefs and stories that we use to give our lives purpose and meaning have become out of date, or no longer hold value for us. We may need to develop a new sense of who we are and what our life is for, and I will explore this elsewhere in a post on personal myths. Such work may not be possible in the throws of depression, where there is likely to be a surrender to the apparent meaningless of existence, but it is a sign of the positive aspect of depression whereby it demands of us that we are more real about ourselves and our place in the world, calling for a radical re-evaluation.

To feel tired then is a warning of lowered reserves, which we assign to the body to reassure ourselves that our psychological health is not at risk. However we need not be scared of the feeling of tiredness, for in the same way that athletes train themselves to near exhaustion so as to create greater strength, flexibility and stamina, leaders need to develop psychological resilience to become more emotionally robust, flexible and resourceful, and you can only do this by consistently testing your limits.  Nevertheless, feeling consistently tired shows that you are spending your resources faster than you are earning them, and is an indicator that you need to act in ways that will generate more resources rather than deplete them.

Depression is both rooted in, and manifests as, a loss of confidence in our ability to face and affect the future in a way that can provide reward or pleasure for us. It is a deeply painful and lonely experience, and is included here so as to offer support in identifying and accepting the full range of emotional experience, so as to avoid repression or projection onto others. There are many differing possible causes of depression: in addition to those outlined above there may be genetic or physical causes, dietary influences, or it may be rooted in childhood or other intense traumas. Whatever its source, it is strongly recommended that you seek appropriate professional support if you or someone you know appears to be suffering from depression.

This pieces isn’t written in my usual ‘voice’. I wrote it some years ago as part of some work I was doing with a Professor at a business school for a book on the inner work of leadership. I don’t believe the book was ever published, so have decided to post pieces here – many of which are explorations of different emotions as part of a chapter on emotional intelligence.

The complete version of this excellent and important article has been out of print for some time, although there is an edited version in A Blue Fire, Hillman’s ‘greatest hits’ collection. I’m indebted to Black Sun Journal, for posting this and hope that they don’t mind me reposting it – it is, of course © copyright James Hillman, and I encourage you to buy and read his published work.


There is a Jewish story, an ordinary Jewish Joke. It runs like this: A father was teaching his little son to be less afraid, to have more courage, by having him jump down the stairs. He placed his boy on the second stair and said, “Jump, and I’ll catch you.” and the boy jumped. Then the father placed him on the third stair, saying “Jump, and I”ll catch you.” Though the boy was afraid, he trusted his father, did what he was told, and jumped into his father’s arms. Then the father put him on the next step, and the next step, each time telling him, Jump, and I’ll catch you, and each time the boy jumped and was caught by his father. And so this went on. Then the boy jumped from a very high step, just as before; but this time the father stepped back, and the boy fell flat on his face. As he picked himself up, bleeding and crying, the father said, “that will teach you: never trust a Jew, even if it’s your own father.”

This story–for all its questionable anti-Semitism–has more to it than that, especially since it’s more likely a Jewish story. I believe has something to say to our theme–betrayal. For example: Why must a boy be taught not to trust? And not to trust a Jew? And not to trust his own father? What is it mean to be betrayed by one’s father, or to be betrayed by someone close? What does it mean to a father, to a man, to betray someone who trusts him? To what end betrayal at all in psychological life? These are our questions.

We must try to make a beginning somewhere. I prefer in this case to make this beginning “In the beginning”, with the Bible, even though as a psychologist I may be trespassing on the grounds of theology. But even though a psychologist, I do not want to begin at the usual beginnings of psychologists, with that other theology, that other Eden: the infant and its mother.

Trust and betrayal were no issues for Adam, walking with God in the evenings. The image of the garden as the beginning of the human condition shows what we might call “primal trust”, or what Santayana has called “animal faith”, a fundamental belief–despite worry, fear, and doubt–that the ground underfoot is really there, that it will not give away at the next step, that the Sun will rise tomorrow and the sky not fall on our heads, and that God did truly make the world for man. This situation of primal trust, presented as the archetypal image of Eden, is repeated in individual lives of child and parent. As Adam in animal faith at the beginning trusts God, so does the boy at the beginning trust his father. In both, God and father is the paternal image: reliable, firm, stable, just, that Rock of Ages whose word is binding. This paternal image can also be expressed by the Logos concept, by the immutable power and sacredness of the masculine word.

But we are no longer in that garden. Eve put an end to that naked dignity. Since the expulsion, the Bible records a history of the trails of many sorts: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Laban, Joseph sold by his brother’s and their father deceived, Pharaoh’s broken promises, calf worship behind Moses’ back, Saul, Samson, Job, God’s rages and the creation almost annulled–on and on, culminating in the central myth of our culture: the betrayal of Jesus.

Although we are no longer in that garden, we can return to it through any close relationship, for instance, love, friendship, analysis, where a situation of primal trust is reconstituted. This has been variously called the temenos, the analytical vessel, the mother-child symbiosis. Here, there is again the security of Eden. But the security–or at least the kind of temenos to which I refer–is masculine, given by the Logos, through the promise, the covenant, the word. It is not a primal trust of breasts, milk and skin warmth; it is similar but different, and I believe the point worth taking that we do not always have to go to mother for our models as the basics in human life.

In this security, based not on flesh but on word, primal trust has been reestablished and so the primal world can be exposed in safety–the weakness in darkness, the naked helplessness of Adam, the earliest man in ourselves. Here, we are somehow delivered over to our simplest nature, which contains the best and least in us, the million year old past and the seed ideas of the future.

The need for security within which one can expose one’s primal world, where one can deliver oneself up and not be destroyed, is basic and evident in analysis. This need for security may reflect needs for mothering, but from the paternal pattern within which we are talking, the need is for closeness with God, as Adam, Abraham, Moses, and the patriarchs knew.

What one longs for is not only to be contained in perfection by another who can never let one down. It goes beyond trust and betrayal by the other in a relationship. What one longs for is a situation where one is protected from one’s OWN treachery and ambivalence, one’s own Eve. In other words, primal trust in the paternal world means being in that garden with God and all things but Eve. The primeval world is pre-Eve’l, as it is also pre-evil. To be one with God in primal trust offers protection from one’s own ambivalence. One cannot ruin things, desire, deceive, seduce, tempt, cheat, blame, confuse, hide, flee, steal, lie, spoil the creation oneself through one’s own feminine nature, betray through one’s own left-handed unconsciousness in the treachery of the anima who is that source of evil in Eden and of ambivalence in every Adam since. We want a Logos security where the word is truth and it cannot be shaken.

Of course, a longing for primal trust, a longing to be at one with the old wise Self, where I and the father are one, without interference of the anima, is easily recognized as typical of the puer aeternus who stands behind all boyishness. He never wants to be sent down from Eden, for there he knows the name of everything in creation, there fruit grows on the trees and can be had for the picking, there is no toil, and long interesting discussions can be carried on in the cool of the evening.

Not only does he know; he expects to be known, totally, as If God’s omniscience is focused all upon him. This perfect knowledge, this sense of being wholly understood, affirmed, recognized, blessed for what one is, discovered to oneself and known to God, by God, in God repeats itself in every situation of primal trust, so that one feels only my best friend, my wife, my analyst truly understands me through and through. That they do not, that they misperceive and fail to recognize one’s essence (which must anyway be revealed through living and not concealed and turned in on itself), feels a bitter betrayal.

It would seem from the Biblical tale that God recognized that he is not help enough for man, that something other was needed more meet for man than God himself. Eve had to be created, evoked, pulled out of man himself, which then led to the break of primal trust by betrayal. Eden was over; life began.

This way of understanding the tale implies that the situation of primal trust is not viable for life. God and the creation were not enough for Adam; Eve was required, which means that betrayal is required. It would seem that the only way out of that garden was through betrayal and expulsion, as if the vessel of trust cannot be altered in any way except through betrayal. We are led to an essential truth about both trust and betrayal; they contain each other. You cannot have trust without the possibility of betrayal. It is the wife who betrays her husband, and the husband who cheats his wife; partners and friends deceive, the mistress uses her lover for power, the analyst discloses his patient’s secrets, the father lets his son fall. The promise made is not kept, the word given is broken, trust becomes treachery.

We are betrayed in the very same close relationships where primal trust is possible. We can be truly betrayed only where we truly trust–by brothers, lovers, wives, husbands, not by enemies, not by strangers. The greater the love and loyalty, the involvement and commitment, the greater the betrayal. Trust has in it the seed of betrayal; the serpent was in the garden from the beginning, just as Eve was pre-formed in the structure around Adam’s heart. Trust and the possibility of betrayal come into the world at the same moment. Wherever there’s trust in a union, the risk of betrayal becomes a real possibility. And betrayal, as a continual possibility to be lived with, belongs to trust just as doubt belongs to living faith.

If we take this tale as a model for the advance in life from the “beginning of things”, then it may be expected that primal trust will be broken if relationships are to advance; and, moreover, that the primal trust will not just be outgrown. There will be a crisis, a break characterized by betrayal, which according to the tail is the sine qua non for the expulsion from Eden into the “real” world of human consciousness and responsibility.

For we must be clear that to live or love only where one can trust, where there is security and containment, where one cannot be hurt or let down, where what is pledged in words is forever binding, means really to be out of harm’s way and so to be out of real life. And it does not matter what is this vessel of trust–analysis, marriage, church or law, any human relationship. Yes, I would even say relationship with the divine. Even here, primal trust would not seem to be what God wants. Look at Eden, look at Job, at Moses denied entrance to the Holy land, look at the newest destruction of his “chosen people” whose complete only trust was in him. [I am implying that Jewish primal trust in God was betrayed by the Nazi experience, requiring a thoroughgoing re-orientation of the Jewish attitude, of Jewish theology, in terms of anima, a recognition of the ambivalent feminine side of both God and of man.]

If one can give oneself assured that one will come out intact, maybe even enhanced, then what has been given? If one leaps were there are always arms to take one up, there is no real leap. All risk of ascent is annulled–but for the thrill of flying through the air, there is no difference between the second step, the seventh or the tenth, or 10,000 meters up. Primal trust lets the puer fly so high. Father and son are one. And all masculine virtues of skill, of calculated risk, of courage, are of no account: God or Dad will catch you at the bottom of the stairs. Above all, one cannot know beforehand. One cannot be told ahead of time “this time I won’t catch you”. To be forewarned is to be forearmed and either one won’t jump or one will jump half-heartedly, a pseudo risk. There comes that one time where in spite of a promise, life simply intervenes, the accident happens, and one falls flat. The broken promise is a breakthrough of life in the world of Logos security, where the order of everything can be depended upon, and the past guarantees the future. The broken promise or broken trust is at the same time a breakthrough onto another level of consciousness, and we shall turn to that next.

But first let us return to our story and our questions. The father has awakened consciousness, thrown the boy the garden, brutally, with pain. He has initiated his son. This initiation into a new consciousness of reality comes through betrayal, through the father’s failure and broken promise. The father willfully shifts from the ego’s essential commitment to stand by his word, not to bear false witness by lying to his son, to be responsible and reliable come what may. He shifts position deliberately allowing the dark side to manifest itself in and through him. So it is a betrayal with a moral. For our story is a moral tale, as are all good Jewish stories. It is not an existentialist fable describing an acte gratuit; nor is it a Zen legend leading to liberating enlightenment. It is a homily, a lesson, an instructive piece of life. The father demonstrates in his own person the possibility of betrayal in even the closest trust. He reveals his own treacherousness, stands before his son in naked humanity, presenting a truth about fatherhood and manhood; I , a father, a man, cannot be trusted. Man is treacherous. The word is not stronger than life.

And he also says, “Never trust a Jew,” so that the lesson goes yet one step further. He is implying that his fatherhood is patterned after Jaweh’s fatherhood, that a Jewish initiation means as well an initiation into an awareness of God’s nature, that most untrustworthy Lord who must be continually praised by Psalm and prayer as patient, reliable, just, and propitiated with epithets of stability–because he is so arbitrary, emotional, unpredictable. The father says, in short, I have betrayed you as all are betrayed in the treachery of life created by God. The boy’s initiation into life is the initiation into adult tragedy.

The experience of betrayal is for some as overwhelming as is jealousy or failure. For Gabriel Marcel, betrayal is evil itself. For Jean Genet, according to Sartre, betrayal is the greatest evil, as “the evil which does evil to itself”. When experiences have this bite to them, we assume an archetypal background, something all-too-human. We assume that we are likely to find a fundamental myth and pattern of behavior by which the experience can be amplified. I believe the betrayal of Jesus to be such an archetypal background, which may give us further understanding of the experience from the point of view of the betrayed one.

I’m hesitant to talk about the betrayal of Jesus. So many lessons may be drawn. But that is just the value of a living symbol: from it can be drawn an endless flow of meanings. And it is as psychologist in search of psychological meanings that I again trespass on theological grounds.

In the story of Jesus we are immediately struck by the motif of betrayal. Its occurrence in threes (by Judas, by the sleeping disciples, by Peter) — repeated by Peter’s betrayal thrice–tells us of something fateful, that betrayal is essential to the dynamics of the climax of the Jesus Story and thus betrayal is at the heart of the Christian mystery. The sorrow at the supper, the agony in the garden, and the cry on the cross seem repetitious of a same pattern, restatements of a same theme, each on a higher key, that a destiny is being realized, that a transformation is being brought home to Jesus. In each of these betrayals he is forced to the terrible awareness of having been let down, failed, and left alone. His love has been refused, his message mistaken, his call unattended, and his fate announced.

I find that our simple Jewish joke and that great symbol have things in common. The first step of betrayal by Judas was already known beforehand. Forearmed, Jesus could accept this sacrifice for the glorification of God. The impact must not yet have fully hurt Jesus, but Judas went and hanged himself. Peter’s denial was also foreknown, and again it was Peter who went and wept bitterly. Through the last week, the trust of Jesus was in the Lord. “Man of sorrows”, yes, but his primal trust was not shaken. Like the boy on the stairs, Jesus could count on his Father–and even ask His forgiveness for his tormentors–up until the last step; he and the Father were one, until that moment of truth when he was betrayed, denied and left alone by his followers, delivered into the hands of his enemies, the primal trust between himself and God broken, nailed to the irredeemable situation; then he felt in his own human flesh the reality of betrayal and the brutality of Jahweh and His creation, and then he cried the 22nd Psalm, that long lament about trust in God the Father:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? Oh my God, I cry in the daytime and now answerest not; and in the night… Yet thou are holy… Our fathers trusted in thee: They trusted, and thou didst deliver them… They trusted in thee, and were not confounded… Thou art He that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me trust when I was on my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from my birth: thou art my God from my mother’s belly. Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help…

And then come these images of being set upon by brutal bestial forces:

Many bulls have compassed me, strong bulls have beset me round. They open wide their mouths against me as a lion… the dogs have compassed me. The company of evil doers have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and feet…

This extraordinary passage affirms that primal trust is in the paternal power, that the cry for rescue is not a cry for mothering, but that the experience of betrayal is part of a masculine mystery.

One cannot help but remark upon the accumulation of anima symbolism constellated with the betrayal motif. As the drama of betrayal unfolds and intensifies, the feminine becomes more and more apparent. Briefly, may I refer to the washing of the feet at the supper and the commandment to love; to the kiss and the silver; to the agony of the Gethsemane–a garden, at night, the cup and the salty sweat pouring like drops of blood; to the wounded ear; to the image of the barren women on the way to Golgotha; to the warning from a dream of Pilate’s wife; to the degradation and suffering, the gall and bitter sop, the nakedness and weakness; the ninth hour darkness and the abundance of Marys; and I refer especially to the wound in the side at the helpless moment of death, as Eve was torn from Adam’s side. And finally, the discovery of the risen Christ, in white, by women.

It would seem that the message of love, the Eros mission of Jesus, carries its final force only through the betrayal and crucifixion. For at the moment when God lets him down, Jesus becomes truly human, suffering a human tragedy, with his pierced and wounded side from which flows the water and blood, the released fountain of life, feeling, and emotion. (This blood symbolism has been amplified extensively in the works of Emma Jung and M.L. von Franz on the Grail.) The puer quality, the position of fearless safety of the miracle preacher, is gone. The puer God dies when the primal trust is broken, and the man is born. And the man is born only when the feminine in him is born. God and man, father and son no longer are one. This is a radical change in the masculine cosmos. After Eve was born from sleeping Adam’s side, evil becomes possible; after the side of the betrayed and dying Jesus was pierced, love becomes possible.

The critical moment of the “great let down”, when one is crucified by one’s own trust, is a most dangerous moment of what Frances Wickes would call “choice”. Matters may go either way for the boy who picks himself up from the floor; his resurrection hangs in the balance. He may be unable to forgive and so remain fixated in the trauma, revengeful, resentful, blind to any understanding and cut off from love. Or he may turn in the direction which I hope to sketch in the rest of my remarks.

But before we turn to the possible fruitful outcome of betrayal, let us stay awhile with the sterile choices, with the danger which appear after betrayal.

The first of these dangers is revenge. And eye for an eye; evil for evil; pain for pain. Revenge is natural for some, coming immediately without question. If performed directly as an act of emotional truth, it may be cleansing. It may settle the score without, of course, producing any new results. Revenge does not lead to anything further, but counter-revenge and feuding. It is not psychologically productive because it merely abreacts tension. When revenge is delayed and turns into plotting, lying low and waiting your chances, it begins to smell of evil, breeding fantasies of cruelty and vindictiveness. Revenge delayed, revenge refined into indirect methods can become obsessional, narrowing the focus from the event of betrayal and its meaning to the person of the betrayer and his shadow. Therefore, Saint Thomas Aquinas justifies revenge only when it is against the larger evil and not against the perpetrator of that evil. The worst of revenge, psychologically, is its mean and petty focus, it’s shrinking effect on consciousness.

The next of these dangers, these wrong though natural turns, is the defense mechanism of denial. If one has been let down in a relationship, one is tempted to deny the value of the other person; to see, sudden and at once, the other’s shadow, a vast panoply of vicious demons which were of course simply not there in primal trust. These ugly sides of the other suddenly revealed are all compensations for, an enantiodromia of, previous idealizations. The grossness of the sudden revelations indicates the previous gross unconsciousness of the anima. For we must assume that wherever there is bitter complaint over betrayal, there was a background of primal trust, of childhood’s unconscious innocence where ambivalence was repressed. Eve had not yet come on the scene, was not recognized as part of the situation, was repressed.

I mean by this that the emotional aspects of the involvement, especially the feeling judgments–that continuous stream of evaluations running within every connection–were just not admitted. Before betrayal the relationship denied the anima aspect; after betrayal the relationship is denied by the anima resentments. An involvement that is unconscious of the anima is either mostly projected, as in a love affair, or mostly repressed, as in an all-too-masculine friendship of ideas and “working together”. Then the anima can call attention to herself only by making trouble. Gross unconsciousness of the anima is simply taking the emotional part of the relationship for granted, in animal faith, a primal trust that there is no problem, that what one believes and says and “has in mind” about it is enough, that it works all by itself, ca va tout seul. Because one failed to bring overtly into a relationship the hope one had for it, the need for growing together in mutuality and with duration–all of which are constellated as ultimate possibilities in any close relationship–one turns the other way and denies hopes and expectations altogether.

But the sudden shift from gross unconsciousness to gross consciousness belongs to any moment of truth and is rather evident. And so it is not the main danger.

More dangerous is cynicism. Disappointment in love, with a political cause, an organization, a friend, superior, or analyst often leads to a change of attitude in the betrayed one which not only denies the value of the particular person and the relationship, but all becomes a Cheat, causes are for Saps, organizations Traps, hierarchies Evil, and analysis nothing but prostitution, brainwashing, and fraud. Keep sharp; watch out. Get the other before he gets you. Go it alone. I’m alright, Jack–the veneer to hide the scars of broken trust. From broken idealism is patched together a tough philosophy of cynicism.

It is well possible that we encounter this cynicism–especially in younger people–because enough attention has not been paid to the meaning of betrayal, especially in the transformation of the puer eternus. As analysts we have not worked it through to its significance in the development of feeling life, as if it were a dead end in itself out of which no phoenix could arise. So, the betrayed one vows never to go so high again on the stairs. He remains grounded in the world of a dog, Kynis, cynical. This cynical view, because it prevents working through to a positive meaning of betrayal, forms a vicious circle, and the dog chases his own tail. Cynicism, that sneer against one’s own star, is a betrayal of one’s own ideals, a betrayal of one’s own highest ambitions as carried by the puer archetype. When he crashes, everything to do with him is rejected. This leads to the fourth, and I believe main, danger: self betrayal.

Self-betrayal is perhaps what we are really most worried about. And one of the ways it may come about is as a consequence of having been betrayed. In the situation of trust, in the embrace of love, or to a friend, or with a parent, partner, analyst, one lets something open. Something comes out that had been held in: “I never told this before in my whole life”. A confession, a poem, a love-letter, a fantastic invention or scheme, a secret, a childhood dream or fear–which holds one’s deepest values. At the moment of betrayal, these delicate and very sensitive seed-pearls become merely grit, grains of dust. The love letter becomes silly sentimental stuff, and the poem, the fear, the dream, the ambition, all reduced to something ridiculous, laughed at boorishly, explained in barnyard language as merde, just so much crap. The alchemical process is reversed: the gold turned back into feces, one’s pearls cast before swine. For the swine are not others from whom one must keep back one’s secret values, but the boorish materialistic explanations, the reductions to dumb simplicities of sex drive and milk hunger, which gobble everything up indiscriminately; one’s own pig headed insistence that the best was really the worst, the dirt into which one casts away one’s precious values.

It is a strange experience to find oneself betraying oneself, turning against one’s own experiences by giving them the negative values of the shadow and by acting against one’s own intentions and value system. In the breakup of a friendship, a partnership, marriage, love affair, or analysis, suddenly the nastiest and dirtiest appears and one finds oneself acting in the same blind and sordid way that one attributes to the other, and justifying one’s own actions with an alien value system. One is truly betrayed, handed over to an enemy within. And the swine turn and rend you.

The alienation from one’s self after betrayal is largely protective. One doesn’t want to be hurt again, and since this hurt came about through revealing just what one is, one begins not to live from that place again. So one avoids, betrays oneself, by not living one’s stage of life (a middle-aged divorcee with no one to love) or one’s sex (I’m through with men and will be just as ruthless as they) or one’s type (my feeling, or intuition, or whatever, was all wrong) or one’s vocation (psychotherapy is really a dirty business). For it was just through this trust in these fundamentals of one’s own nature that one was betrayed. So we refuse to be what we are, begin to cheat ourselves with excuses and escapes, and self betrayal becomes nothing other than Jung’s definition of neurosis uneigentlich leiden, inauthentic suffering. One no longer lives one’s own form of suffering, but throughmauvaise foi, through lack of courage to be, one betrays oneself.

This is ultimately, I suppose, a religious problem, and we are rather like Judas or Peter in letting down the essential thing, the essential important demand to take on and carry one’s own suffering and be what one is no matter how it hurts.

Besides revenge, denial, cynicism, and self betrayal, there is yet one other negative turn, one other danger, which let us call paranoid. Again it is a way of protecting oneself against ever being betrayed again, by building the perfect relationship. Such relationships demand a loyalty oath; they tolerate no security risks. “You must never let me down” is the motto. Treachery must be kept out by affirmations of trust, declarations of everlasting fidelity, proofs of devotion, sworn secrecy. There must be no flaw; betrayal must be excluded

But if betrayal is given with trust, as the opposite seed buried within it, then this paranoid demand for a relationship without the possibility of betrayal cannot really be based on trust. Rather it is a convention devised to exclude risk. As such it belongs less to love than to power. It is a retreat to a logos relationship, enforced by word, not held by love.

One cannot re-establish primal trust once one has left Eden. One now knows that promises hold only to a certain point. Life takes care of vows, fulfilling them or breaking them. And new relationships after the experience of betrayal must start from an altogether different place. The paranoid distortion of human affairs is serious indeed. When an analyst (or husband, lover, disciple, or friend) attempts to meet the requirements of a paranoid relationship, by giving assurances of loyalty, by ruling out treachery, he is moving surely away from love. For as we have seen and shall come to again, love and treachery come from the same left side.

I would like now to leave the question of what betrayal means to the son, the one betrayed, in order to return to another of our earlier questions: What might betrayal mean to the father? What it meant to God to let His son die on the cross we are not told. What it meant to Abraham to lead his son to sacrifice we are also not told. But they performed these actions. They were able to betray, just as Jacob the patriarch entered into his estate by betraying his brother. Could it be that the capacity to betray belongs to the state of fatherhood? Let us look further at this question.

The father in our story does not merely show his human imperfections, that is, he does not merely fail in catching his son. It is not merely weakness or error. He consciously designs to let him fall and cause him pain and humiliation. He shows his brutality. The same brutality is shown in the treatment of Jesus from his capture to his crucifixion, and in the preparations of Abraham. What happens to Esau and to Job are nothing else than brutal. The brutality comes out again in the animal skin Jacob wears to betray Esau, and the great beasts God reveals to Job as the rationale for his torment. Also, in the images of Psalm XXII as we saw above.

The paternal image–that just, wise, merciful figure–refuses to intervene in any way to ameliorate the suffering which he himself has brought about. He also refuses to give an account of himself. The refusal to explain means that the explanation must come, if it comes at all, from the injured party. After a betrayal one is in no position to listen to the explanations of the other anyway! This is, I believe, a creative stimulus in betrayal. It is the betrayed one who must somehow resurrect himself, take a step forward, through his own interpretation of what happened. But it can be creative providing he doesn’t fall into and stay in the dangers we have sketched above.

In our story, the father does explain. Our story is after all lesson, and the action itself as educative as an initiation, whereas in the archetypal tales and in much of daily life betrayal is not explained by the betrayer to the betrayed, because it happens through the autonomous left side, unconsciously. In spite of the explanations, our story still shows brutality. The conscious use of brutality would seem a mark common to the paternal figures.The unjust father reflects unfair life. Where he is impervious to the cry for help and the need of the other, where he can admit that his promise is fallible, he acknowledges that the power of the word can be transcended by the forces of life. This awareness of his masculine limitations and this hardheartedness imply a high degree of differentiation of the weak left side. Differentiation of the left side would mean the ability to carry tension without action, going wrong without trying to set things right, letting events determine principles. It means further that one has to some extent overcome that sense of uneasy guilt which holds one back from carrying out in full consciousness necessary though brutal acts (By conscious brutality, I do not mean either deliberately perverse brutality aimed to ruin another, or sentimental brutality as found sometimes in literature and films and the code of soldiers. )

Uneasy guilt, tendermindedness, makes acts double-binding. The anima is not quite up to the task. But the father’s hard heart is not double-binding. He is not cruel on the one hand and pious on the other. He does not betray and then pick up his son in his arms, saying, “Poor boy; this hurt me worse than it hurt you.”

In analysis, as in all positions of trust, we are sometimes led into situations where something happens that requires a consciously brutal action, a betrayal of the others trust. We break a promise, we’re not there when needed, we let the other down, we alienate an affection, betray a secret. We neither explain what we do, nor pull the other off his cross, nor even pick him up at the bottom of the stairs. These are brutalities – and we do them, with more or less consciousness. And we must stand for them and stand through them, else the anima renders our acts thin, listless and cruel.

This hardheartedness shows an integration of brutality, thereby bringing one closer to nature — which gives no explanations of itself. They must be wrested from it. This willingness to be a betrayer brings us closer to the brutish condition where we are not so much minions of a supposedly moral guide and immoral Devil, but of an amoral nature. And so we are led back to our theme of anima-integration, where one’s cold-heartedness and sealed lips are as Eve and the serpent whose wisdom is also close to nature’s treachery. This leads me to ask whether anima-integration might not also show itself not only in the various ways we might expect-vitality, related news, love, imagination, subtlety, and so — but whether anima integration might not also show itself in becoming nature-like: less reliable, flowing like water in the paths of least resistance, turning answers with the wind, speaking with a double tongue – conscious ambiguity rather than unconscious ambivalence. Supposedly, the sage or master, in order to be the psychopomps who guides souls through the confusion of creation where there is a fault in every rock and the paths are not straight, shows hermetic cunning and a coldness that is as impersonal as nature itself.

In other words, our conclusion to the question: “What does betrayal mean to the father? ” results in this – the capacity to betray others is akin to the capacity to lead others. Full fatherhood is both. Insofar as psychological leading has for its aim the other’s self-help and self-reliance, the other will in some way at some point be led down or let down to his own level, that is, turned back from human help, betrayed to himself where he is alone.

As Jung says in Psychology and Alchemy (pp. 27-8):

I know from experience that all coercion – be it suggestion, insinuation, or any other method of persuasion – ultimately proves to be nothing but an obstacle to the highest and most decisive experience of all, which is to be alone with his own self, or whatever one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.

What then is trustworthy in the good father or psychopompos? What in this regard is the difference between the white magician and the black? What separates the sage for the brute? Could we not, by means of what I have been presenting, justify every brutality and betrayal that man might commit as a sign of his “anima-integration”, as a sign of his attainment to “full fatherhood”?

I do not know how to answer this question other than by referring to the same stories. We find in all of them two things: the motif of love and/or the sense of necessity. The Christian interpretation of God’s forsaking Jesus on the cross says that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son for its redemption. His betrayal was necessary, fulfilling his fate. Abraham so loved God that he prepared to put the knife to Isaac in offering. Jacob’s betrayal of Esau was a necessity already announced in the womb. The father in our story must have so loved his son that he could risk the broken bones and broken trust, and the broken image of himself in his son’s eyes.

This wider context of necessity or love leads me to believe that betrayal – going back on a promise, refusing to help, breaking a secret, deceiving in love – is too tragic an experience to be justified in personal terms of psychological mechanisms and motives. Personal psychology is not enough; analysis and explanations will not do. One must look to the wider context of love and fate. But who can be certain when love is present? And who can say that this betrayal was necessary, fate, a call of the Self?

Certainly a part of love is responsibility; so too is concern, involvement, identification – but perhaps a surer way of telling whether one is closer to the brute or the sage is by looking for love’s opposite: power. If betrayal is perpetuated mainly for personal advantage (to get out of a tight spot, to hurt or use, to save one’s skin, to gain pleasure, too still a desire or slake a need, to take care of Number One), then one can be sure that love had less the upper hand than did the brute, power.

The wider context of love and necessity is given by the archetypes of myth. When the event is placed in this perspective, the pattern may become meaningful again. The very act of attempting to view it from this wider context is therapeutic. Unfortunately, the event may not disclose its meaning for a long, long time, during which it lies sealed in absurdity or festers in resentment. But the struggle for putting it within the wider context, the struggle with interpretation and integration, is the way of moving further. It seems to me that only this can lead through the steps of anima differentiation sketched so far, and even to one further step, towards one of the highest of religious feelings: forgiveness.

We must be quite clear that forgiveness is no easy matter. If the ego has been wronged, the ego cannot forgive just because it “should”, notwithstanding all the wider context of love and destiny. The ego is kept vital by itsamour-propre, it’s pride and honour. Even where one wants to forgive, one finds one simply can’t, because forgiveness doesn’t come from the ego. I cannot directly forgive, I can only ask, or pray, that these sins be forgiven. Wanting forgiveness to come and waiting for it may be all that one can do.

Forgiveness, like humility, is only a term unless one has been fully humiliated or fully wronged. Forgiveness is meaningful only when one can neither forget nor forgive. And our dreams do not let us forget. Anyone can forget a petty matter of insult, a personal affront. But if one has been led step by step into an involvement where the substance was trust itself, bared one’s soul, and then been deeply betrayed in the sense of handed over to one’s enemies, outer or inner (those shadow values described above where chances for a new living trust have been permanently injured by paranoid defenses, self-betrayal, and cynicism), then forgiveness takes on great meaning. It may well be that betrayal has no other positive outcome but forgiveness, and that the experience of forgiveness is possible only if one has been betrayed. Such forgiveness is a forgiving which is not a forgetting, but the remembrance of wrong transformed within a wider context, or as Jung has put it, the salt of bitterness transformed to the salt of wisdom.

This wisdom, as Sophia, is again a feminine contribution to masculinity, and would give the wider context which the will cannot achieve for itself. Wisdom I would here take to be that union of love with necessity where feeling finally flows freely into one’s fate, reconciling us with an event.

Just as trust had within it the seed of betrayal, so betrayal has within it the seed of forgiveness. This would be the answer to the last of our original questions: “What place has betrayal in psychological life at all”? Neither trust nor forgiveness could be fully realized without betrayal. Betrayal is the dark side of both, giving them both meaning, making them both possible. Perhaps this tells us something about why betrayal is such a strong theme in our religions. It is perhaps the human gate to such higher religious experiences as forgiveness and reconciliation with this silent labyrinth, the creation.

But forgiveness is so difficult that it probably needs some help from the other person. I mean by this that the wrong, if not remembered by both parties – and remembered as a wrong – falls all on the betrayed. The wider context within which the tragedy occurred would seem to call for parallel feelings from both parties. They are still both in a relationship, now as betrayer and betrayed. If only the betrayed senses a wrong, while the other passes it over with rationalizations, then the betrayal is still going on – even increased. This dodging of what has really happened is, of all the sores, the most galling to the betrayed. Forgiveness comes harder; resentments grow because the betrayer is not carrying his guilt and the act is not honestly conscious. Jung has said that the meaning of our sins is that we carry them, which means not that we unload them onto others to carry for us. To carry one’s sins, one has first to recognize them, and recognize their brutality.

Psychologically, carrying a sin means simply recognizing it, remembering it. All the emotions connected with the betrayal experience in both parties – remorse and repentance in the betrayer, resentment and revenge in the betrayed – press towards the same psychological point: remembering. Resentment especially is an emotional affliction of memory which forgetting can never fully repress. So is it not better to remember a wrong than to surge between forgetting and resenting? These emotions would seem to have as their aim keeping an experience from dissolving into the unconscious. They are the salt preserving the event from decomposing. Bitterly, they force us to keep faith with sin. In other words, a paradox of betrayal is the fidelity which both betrayed and betrayer keep, after the event, to its bitterness.

And this fidelity is kept as well by the betrayer. For if I am unable to admit that I have betrayed someone, or I try to forget it, I remain stuck in unconscious brutality. Then the wider context of love and the wider context of fatefulness of my action and of the whole event is missed. Not only do I go on wronging the other, but I wrong myself, for I have cut myself off from self-forgiveness. I can become no wiser, nor have I anything with which to become reconciled.

For these reasons I believe that forgiveness by the one probably requires atonement by the other. Atonement is in keeping with the silent behavior of the father as we have been describing him. He carries his guilt and his suffering. Though he realizes fully what he has done, he does not give account of it to the other, implying that he atones, that is, self-relates it. Atonement also implies a submission to betrayal as such, its transpersonal fateful reality. By bowing before the shame of my inability to keep my word, I am forced to admit humbly both my own personal weakness and the reality of impersonal powers.

However, let us take care that such atonement is not for one’s own peace of mind, not even for the situation.Must it not somehow recognize the other person? I believe that this point cannot be overstated, for we live in a human world even if victims of cosmic themes like tragedy, betrayal, and fate. Betrayal may belong within a wider context and be a cosmic theme, but it is always within individual relationships, through another close person, in immediate intimacy, that these things reach us. If others are instruments of the Gods in bringing us tragedy, so too are the way we atone to the Gods. Conditions are transformed within the same sort of close personal situation in which they occurred. Is it enough to atone just to the Gods alone? Is one then done with it? Does not tradition couple wisdom with humility? Atonement, as repentance, may not have to be expressis verbis, but it probably is more effective if it comes out in some form of contact with the other, in full recognition of the other. And, after all, isn’t just this full recognition of the other, love?

May I sum up? The unfolding through the various stages from trust through betrayal to forgiveness presents a movement of consciousness. The first condition of primal trust is largely unconscious and pre-anima. It is followed by betrayal, where the word is broken by life. For all its negativity, betrayal is yet an advance over primal trust because it leads to the ‘death’ of the puer through the anima experience of suffering. This may then lead, if not blocked by the negative vicissitudes of revenge, denial, cynicism, self betrayal and paranoid defenses, to a firmer fatherhood were the betrayed can in turn betray others less unconsciously, implying an integration of a man’s untrustworthy nature. The final integration of the experience may result in forgiveness by the betrayed, atonement by the betrayer, and a reconciliation – not necessarily with each other – but a reconciliation by each to the event. Each of these phases of bitterly fought and suffered experiences which may take long years of fidelity to the dark side of the psyche, is also a phase in the development of the anima, and that has been, despite my emphasis upon the masculine, the main theme of this paper.

From the (out of print) collection Loose Ends by James Hillman ©1975 Spring Publications.

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