At the Age of Four or Five, Giving Up, We Become “Them”: Life Is Passed Performing Rituals and Mouthing Incantations in the Service of Others’ Requirements

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The Natural Self Slain, the Ego “Is Rewarded for Being Obsequious While the Real Self Seethes in the Prison of Loneliness”: The Third Fall, the Primal Scene, Part One — “Child Sacrifice”

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The Primal Scene

The primal scene occurs at around the age of four or five years. It corresponds exactly with Wilber’s tertiary dualism, as also it correlates with the beginning of the Oedipal struggle (in Freudian terms). It consolidates the formation of the ego against the body, severing the Centaur into “a horseman divided from his horse” (Wilber, 1977, p. 149). It may be likened to a third shutdown, a third stage in the removal of self from divinity, a third denial of God—this time under the terrorizing influence of what might be called social or relationship trauma.

The Natural Self Is Slain

According to Arthur Janov (1970), at around the age of four or five there occurs a point at which the child perceives the hopelessness of ever being loved for him- or herself and becomes instead what the parents (and, by proxy, society) want. Their needs become her or his needs.

The real self—the “child within,” the natural self, the God within—is slain and buried in the unconscious (once again) and becomes the unconscious self. Janov (1970) explains this process of losing the real self in a systematic and detailed manner. He writes brilliantly and poetically in his description, and I will let his words do most of the talking here.

Janov points out, first of all, that

We are all creatures of need. We are born needing, and the vast majority of us die after a lifetime of struggle with many of our needs unfulfilled. These needs are not excessive—to be fed, kept warm and dry, to grow and develop at our own pace, to be held and caressed, and to be stimulated. These Primal needs are the central reality of the infant. The neurotic process begins when these needs go unmet for any length of time. . . .

Since the infant himself cannot overcome the sensation of hunger (that is, he cannot go to the refrigerator) or find substitute affection, he must separate his sensations (hunger; wanting to be held) from consciousness. This separation of oneself from one’s needs and feelings is an instinctive maneuver in order to shut off excessive pain. We call it the split. (p. 22)

The split evolves into the permanent disconnection between the real and the unreal selves—between the real, needing, “feeling” self and the self we must pretend to be in order to try to get some our needs satisfied.

Demands for the child to be unreal are not often explicit. Nevertheless, parental needs become the child’s implicit demand. The child is born into his parents’ needs and begins struggling to fulfill them almost from the moment he is alive. He may be pushed to smile (to appear happy), to coo, to wave bye-bye, later to sit up and walk, still later to push himself so that his parents can have an advanced child. As the child develops, the requirements upon him become more complex. He will have to get A’s, to be helpful and do his chores, to be quiet and undemanding, not to talk too much, to say bright things, to be athletic. What he will not do is be himself. The thousands of operations that go on between parents and children which deny the natural Primal needs of the child mean that the child will hurt. They mean that he cannot be what he is and be loved. . . . (p. 25)

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Becoming “Them”

The upshot of this process, then, as Sam Keen (1972) described it:

He knows he cannot both be himself and be loved. So he splits into a real and an unreal self. His real feelings are sealed in the throbbing vault of the lonely inner self and he begins to tailor his conduct to the expectations of his parents. His watchword becomes: I will be what you want me to be if you will only love me. Although I feel hurt, alone, fearful, and unlovely, I will act trustworthy, loyal, helpful. . . . Henceforth the budding neurotic child gets plastic approval but no genuine love. His unreal self is rewarded for being obsequious while his real self seethes in the prison of loneliness. (p. 46)

Body Snatchers

The primal scene itself, however, is that crystallizing event that for the child symbolizes the essential truth of all the accumulated interactions that from birth on have demonstrated that in order to get a semblance of one’s needs fulfilled one cannot simply be oneself but must instead struggle to please another—for now a parent or parents, later it will be a lover, a spouse, a boss, society in general.

Giving Up, We Become “Them”

Janov (1970) describes this primal scene:

As the assaults on the real system mount, they begin to crush the real person. One day an event will take place which, though not necessarily traumatic in itself—giving the child to a baby sitter for the hundredth time—will shift the balance between real and unreal and render the child neurotic. That event I call the major Primal Scene. It is a time in the young child’s life when all the past humiliations, negations, and deprivations accumulate into an inchoate realization: “There is no hope of being loved for what I am.” It is then that the child defends himself against that catastrophic realization by becoming split from his feelings, and slips quietly into neurosis. The realization is not a conscious one. Rather, the child begins acting around his parents, and then elsewhere, in the manner expected by them. He says their words and does their thing. He acts unreal—i.e., not in accord with the reality of his own needs and desires. In a short time the neurotic behavior becomes automatic.

Neurosis involves being split, disconnected from one’s feelings. The more assaults on the child by the parents, the deeper the chasm between real and unreal. He begins to speak and move in prescribed ways, not to touch his body in proscribed areas (not to feel himself literally), not to be exuberant or sad, and so on. The split, however, is necessary in a fragile child. It is the reflexive (i.e., automatic) way the organism maintains its sanity. Neurosis, then, is the defense against catastrophic reality in order to protect the development and psychophysical integrity of the organism.

Neurosis involves being what one is not in order to get what doesn’t exist. If love existed, the child would be what he is, for that is love—letting someone be what he or she is. Then, nothing wildly traumatic need happen in order to produce neurosis. It can stem from forcing a child to punctuate every sentence with “please” and “thank you,” to prove how refined the parents are. It can also come from not allowing the child to complain when he is unhappy or to cry. Parents may rush in to quell sobs because of their anxiety. They may not permit anger—”nice girls don’t throw tantrums; nice boys don’t talk back”—to prove how respected the parents are; neurosis may also arise from making a child perform, such as asking him to recite poems at a party or solve abstract problems. Whatever form it takes, the child gets the idea of what is required of him quite soon. Perform, or else. Be what they want, or else—no love, or what passes for love: approval, a smile, a wink. Eventually the act comes to dominate the child’s life, which is passed in performing rituals and mouthing incantations in the service of his parents’ requirements. (pp. 25-26, emphases mine)

In Myth: Isaac’s “Primal Scene”

A good mythic reflection of the dynamics of this third fall from grace is the Abraham and Isaac story in Genesis. In the story, God “tempts” Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Therefore, the altar Isaac is to be sacrificed on is that of the parent’s own misapprehended growth needs.

What Is Meant by “Child Sacrifice”

Moreover, just as Isaac, the son, the child, is to be offered in sacrifice to Abraham’s relationship to the divine, to his supposed spiritual needs; so also we, most of us, are asked to forego our own dreams, our own unique directions, for the unfulfilled dreams, desperate hopes, and ego vanity of another—usually the same-sex parent.

Continue with Having Become “Them,” We Are Left Forever Asking “Who Am I?” The Third Fall From Grace, The Primal Scene, Part Two — The Philosophic Bands

Return to Becoming Not Yourself: The Centaur Stage of Infant and Toddler Learning Involves Learning You Are Not OK and Continues the Separation from Innate Divinity

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Continue with Having Become “Them,” We Are Left Forever Asking “Who Am I?” The Third Fall From Grace, The Primal Scene, Part Two — The Philosophic Bands

Return to Becoming Not Yourself: The Centaur Stage of Infant and Toddler Learning Involves Learning You Are Not OK and Continues the Separation from Innate Divinity

To Read the Entire Book … on-line, free at this time … of which this is an excerpt, Go to Falls from Grace

Invite you to join me on Twitter:
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About sillymickel

Activist, psychotherapist, pre- and perinatal psychologist, author, and environmentalist. I seek to inspire others to our deeper, more natural consciousness, to a primal, more delightful spirituality, and to taking up the cause of saving life on this planet, as motivated by love.
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2 Responses to At the Age of Four or Five, Giving Up, We Become “Them”: Life Is Passed Performing Rituals and Mouthing Incantations in the Service of Others’ Requirements

  1. Pingback: Becoming Not Yourself: The Centaur Stage of Infant and Toddler Learning Involves Learning You Are Not OK and Continues the Separation from Innate Divinity | Becoming Authentic

  2. Pingback: Becoming Not Yourself: The Centaur Stage of Infant and Toddler Learning Involves Learning You Are Not OK and Continues the Separation from Innate Divinity | The Great Reveal by SillyMickel & the PlanetMates

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