“… being told by a parent that they wished one would die are more traumatic to the self than, say, more painful accidents.113 Without a well-developed, enduring private self*, people feel threatened by all progress, all freedom, all new challenges, and then experience annihilation anxiety, fears that the fragile self is disintegrating, since situations that call for self-assertion trigger memories of maternal abandonment. Masterson calls this by the umbrella term “abandonment depression,” beneath which, he says, “ride the Six Horsemen of the Psychic Apocalypse: Depression, Panic, Rage, Guilt, Helplessness (hopelessness), and Emptiness (void) [that] wreak havoc across the psychic landscape leaving pain and terror in their wake.”114 Whether the early traumas or rejections were because the mothers were openly abandoning, over-controlling and abusive, clinging, or just threatened by the child’s emerging individuation, the results are much the same-the child learns to fear parts of his or her potential self that threatens the disapproval or loss of the mother. As Socarides has observed,115 fears of growth, individuation and self assertion that carry threatening feelings of disintegration lead to desires to merge with the omnipotent mother literally to crawl back into the womb desires which immediately turn into fears of maternal engulfment, since the merging would involve total loss of the self. When Socarides’ patients make moves to individuate-like moving into their own apartment or getting a new job-they have dreams of being swallowed by whirlpools or devoured by monsters. The only salvation from these maternal engulfment wishes/fears is a “flight to external reality from internal reality,”116 a flight in which social institutions play a central role, as we shall shortly discover. Many people who have been in psychotherapy become conscious of this individuation panic and flight to external reality when they begin to grow, break free of old emotional patterns and start to feel their freedom. These fears can be characterized as an all-pervasion growth panic that traumatized individuals (nearly everyone) constantly carry around during their daily lives. Masterson quotes one of his patients:
I was walking down the street and suddenly I was engulfed in a feeling of absolute freedom. I could taste it. I knew I was capable of doing whatever I wanted. When I looked at other people, I really saw them without being concerned about how they were looking at me…I was just being myself and thought that I had uncovered the secret of life: being in touch with your own feelings and expressing them openly with others, not worrying so much about how others felt about you.
Then just as suddenly as it came, it disappeared. I panicked and started thinking about the million things I had to do at the studio, of errands I needed to run after work. I began to feel nauseous and started sweating. I headed for my apartment, running most of the way. When I got in, I felt that I had been pursued. By what? Freedom, I guess.117
It is this manic flight to action a flight that is a defense against growth panic that is the emotional source of much of social behavior. Manic acting-out in social activity is a universal addiction, similar in its effects to the dopamine agonistic effects of cocaine. That’s why leaders so often take manic drugs, like John F. Kennedy during the Gulf Crisis (amphetamines) and George Bush during the Gulf War (Halcion). Like drugs, grandiose manic social activities such as war and political domination produce a temporary elation and a dopamine surge, but not the lasting joy of self-discovery and love. “
* the irony is not lost on me; that said, if you think you have privacy in this digital age … i’ve got some bad news for you …