Leadership with Consciousness

Other Titles by Tony Humphreys

A Different Kind of Teacher

Self-Esteem, the Key to Your Child’s Future

Leaving the Nest

The Power of ‘Negative’ Thinking

Myself, My Partner

A Different Kind of Discipline

All About Children

Children Feeling Good

Examining Our Times

Whose Life Are You Living?

Work and Worth, Take Back your Life

The Mature Manager

Book Titles with Helen Ruddle

The Compassionate Intentions of Illness

Relationship, Relationship, Relationship, The Heart of a Mature Society


Self-Esteem for Adults

Work and Self

Raising Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Tony Humphreys is Founder/Director of the newly formed Institute of Co-creational Psychotherapy & Education and is Director of several National University of Ireland courses. He is also a National and International speaker, columnist for a leading national newspaper and feature writer for several professional journals.

Leadership with



First published in 2011 by Attic Press

© Tony Humphreys

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording or otherwise, without either the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying in Ireland issued by the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency Ltd, 25 Denzille Lane, Dublin 2.

The right of Tony Humphreys to be identified as author of this Work has been asserted by him in accordance with Copyright and Related Rights Acts 2000 to 2007.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

    ISBN-13: 978-185594-219-9




1.   Genius of Unconsciousness

        The Story Behind What We Do

        The Power of Vulnerability

        The Roots of Inferiority

        Mis-taken Identity

        A Person Always Knows What’s Going On

        Uncovering The Intentions of Stress

        Stressing the Not So Obvious

        The Intelligence of Stress

        The Heart of the Matter

        The Truth in the Lie

        Mind Without Heart is Not Mind At All

        Each Person is a Genius!

        Is There More to Your Career Than You Realise

        After All, It’s Only Human To . . .

2.   Men on Top

        Men on Top

        Leaders are Neither Born Nor Made

        Are Leaders and Managers Different?

        Falling Off Pedestals

        The Addiction to Success

        Addiction To What Others Think

        Dangerous To Be Male

        MALEs Ireland

        Gender Inequalities

        What Lies Behind the Mars–Venus Myth

        A Matter of Time

3.   It’s Not the System, It’s the Individual

        Are We Victims or Creators?

        It’s Not the System, It’s the Person

        Banking on the Banks to be Mature

        The Seven Deadly ‘Sins’ of Work Organisations

        The Business of Education

        Beyond the Usual Politics

4.   Quest for Consciousness

        Recession: Opportunity for Progression

        To Question or Not to Question: That is the Question

        Creating a Better Society

        Is Unconditional Love Possible in the Workplace?

        Is Compassion Possible in the Workplace?

        Emotions Call for Motion

        The Power of Anger

        Guilt Trip

        Mining the Diamond

        The New Profession of Relationship Mentoring

5.   People-Managing with Consciousness

        Management Without Relationship

        The End to Insensitivity

        Lean-to Relationships

        Who Knows You?

        Revolutions and Inner Resolutions

        Safety at Work

        Examining Relationships

        Dangerous to be Real

        ‘CAVE’ Dwellers

        The Inner Terrain of Relationships

        People Care!

        Resolving Bullying and Passivity

        Nobody Asks to be Bullied

        The Difference Between Boundaries and Defences

        Feedback and Wellbeing

        Facing Up to Facial Expression

        Asking For What You Want

6.   Genius of Consciousness

        The Genius of Consciousness

        The Truth Will Set You Free

        What Arises in Me is About Me

        What People Say is About Themselves

        Is it Me, You or We?

        Being Affective in Your Profession

        Unconditional Love is the Sine Qua Non of Conflict Resolution

        Trusting Times

        The Governorship of Self

        Take Note of Tone of Voice

        On Being Responsible

        The Path to Accountability

        The Uncomfortable Challenge of Accountability

        East Meets West on Stress Reduction

        The Place of Dignity and Compassion in the Medical Care of People

        Meditation or Medication: That is the Question

7.   Training for Consciousness

        Training for Raising Consciousness

        Step One: Identifying Unconscious Processes

        Step Two: Raising Consciousness of What Has Been Identified

        Step Three: The Development of Compassionate Understanding

        Step Four: Making New Conscious Choices

        Step Five: Conscious New Actions

        Management with Consciousness: An Overview


Please hear what I’m not saying

Don’t be fooled by me.

Don’t be fooled by the face that I wear. For I wear a mask.

I wear a thousand masks that I am afraid to take off, and none of them is the real me.

So don’t be fooled by me, I’m good at pretending.

I give the impression that I’m cool and confident, but inside, it’s different.

I’m not in command.

I’m often confused, lonely and desperately need someone to understand me.

But I hide and I don’t want anyone to know.

That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,

I’m afraid to show the real me.

I’m afraid that you will not accept me.

I’m afraid that you will think less of me and laugh at me.

You see, deep down, I’m afraid that I’m nothing, that I’m no good,

And if you knew me, you would reject me.

So I play my game, my pretending game, and thus begins my parade of masks.

My life becomes a front to protect the real me.

I chatter idly to you about everything but tell you nothing of what’s going on inside me – my fears, my worries, my doubts.

So when I’m talking, please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying, what I’d like to say but I can’t.

I’d like to be genuine, honest and sincere, but I cannot without your help.

My trust grows very slowly, so you will have to be patient with me.

Each time you are kind, gentle and encouraging, each time you try to understand, I am given new hope and I start believing in myself in a new way.

You let me see it’s o.k. to be me.

So I can take off the mask and be happy in your company, I can let you see the real me.

Who am I, you may wonder? I am someone you know very well. For I am every man and woman you meet.

Charles C. Finn

(abbreviated version)

September 1966


When giving a presentation at an international conference on human resources management I was asked several times ‘what’s a clinical psychologist doing at a HR conference? My reply was to say that in preparing for the conference and in studying the prevailing ideas that determine the attitudes and practices of HR personnel, I found absolutely no reference to the fact that we have an unconscious and that the very troubled and troubling behaviours that people show are created in that sphere of the mind. A further reality is that unless what is in the unconscious comes into consciousness no change in an individual’s behaviour can occur – be he or she a CEO, a manager, an employee, an entrepreneur. Another reason I put forward for the dire necessity for a clinical psychologist to speak with HR personnel is that there appears very little recognition that it is not a system – a work organisation – a bank, a multinational organisation, a financial institution – that perpetrates unethical, unfair, arrogant, superior and aggressive strategies – it is individuals. It has been a very cleverly designed unconscious strategy to blame the system – be it government, health services, church, work organisations, schools and colleges – for society’s ills. But if truth be told – if truth comes to consciousness – it was individual politicians, bankers, leaders, pope, cardinals, bishops, priests that have brought our country to its knees spiritually, socially and economically. It was very apparent that the economic recession was not due to economic factors alone but arose from powerful emotional processes that have not been even remotely addressed.

What has also been so apparent since the recession started is the absence of accountability and authenticity by the key individuals who are responsible for the troubled state we are in. These absences are not surprising; the most powerful unconscious defence mechanism that individuals form is denial. When a person is in a state of denial, no matter how devastating their actions are in the eyes of others, he or she does not even remotely see the havoc they are creating. This is very difficult for those people who are at the receiving end of the neglect, and unless they come to understand the power and genius of the unconscious mind, they will continue to judge, blame, condemn and witch-hunt those who have and are perpetrating such devastation. The irony of it is that those of us who blame and judge others and are waiting for them to change are also operating from an unconscious defensive place – known technically as projection – and that we are just as stuck as those who are in denial. No change is possible unless a shift in consciousness occurs either in those who are in denial or those who are projecting.

The reality is that those individuals who are in denial are in terror of being judged, blamed and abandoned by everyone. Such terror of abandonment would have arisen in the childhood years where unconditional holding was not present and the terror of not being loved would have driven them to do anything to please their parents and teachers – ‘be perfect’, ‘be clever’, ‘be a good boy’, ‘be the best’, ‘don’t let us down’, ‘prove yourself to me’, ‘live your life for me’. Any possible fall from these impossible conditions would evoke inward turmoil and the necessity to unconsciously escalate defences that would eliminate or reduce the possibility of falling off their pedestals. Examples of these defences would be perfectionism, obsessions and compulsions, superiority, addictions to study, to getting things right, extreme upset when something goes wrong (it is very difficult to be aggressive with a child who is overwhelmingly upset – what a clever defence!) or major temper tantrums and destructive responses when things go wrong (again a powerful defence that distracts the parents and teachers from the ‘failure’ and puts their attention on managing the aggressive outbursts). The question to ask here is: how many of these defensive responses do you recognise in yourself and in many of our leaders and managers? The most common type of management is of a bullying, arrogant, superior and critical nature and the most common experience of employees is of anonymity. Indeed, most employees, when possible, leave their jobs, not because of the job itself, but because of the manager’s aggressive and depersonalising behaviours.

When leaders and managers are stuck in a defensive cycle – and it appears the majority are – no consciousness of their unconscious defences will emerge, unless they encounter non-judgement, understanding, unconditional regard and encouragement to be authentic and real. How wise – any hint of judgement and rejection only serves to escalate their childhood fears of abandonment.

The challenge is: who is going to provide such a safe holding? Certainly, those of us who blame and judge them – who are unconsciously projecting – are in no mature place to help. The reality is that we are in need of as much help as those who are in denial. It follows from this that it is necessary for most of us to encounter a non-judgemental and unconditional relationship before a shift to consciousness and maturity will emerge. There have been wonderful unconsciously formed illusions that most people are party to – that education, age, wealth, status are indices of maturity. Not so, what is characteristic of maturity is a solid sense of self, a belief and confidence in self, independence, and a responsibility for self and all of one’s actions, towards oneself and others. Such a maturity is a rare phenomenon but is direly needed if we are to progress from the very troubled Ireland we are currently experiencing. The fostering of personal maturity is a key aim of this book – the unrestricted personal growth of each individual person – and how this can be achieved in the key holding worlds we live in – family, community, school, workplace and third-level educational institutions.

It is not just leaders and managers who need to be targeted for personal maturity, but each and every one of us. There is none of us who do not need to examine our lives – how we feel, think, what we say and do – and those of us who claim that ‘I’m alright Jack’ need the most help! It is a fact that personal effectiveness and personal maturity determine professional effectiveness. While this book’s primary focus is on leaders and managers – because it is how they are in themselves and the amount of emotional baggage they carry that largely determines the ethos of an organisation – the book is a must for each and every one of us.

The genius of our unconscious – how it powerfully and creatively protects us from emotional pain – when released into consciousness becomes an immense driving force for good in the world. Those leaders and managers, who achieve a shift in unconscious genius moving to consciousness will have advantages far and away beyond the colleagues who are still imprisoned by their fears and insecurities and hidden behind the walls of their defences. The tragedy is that while there is a comfort in being hidden – it protects – it is an absolute calamity not to be found, not to come into consciousness of your profound and powerful unique and individual human nature. Indeed, it is a great threat to all of us when people present themselves wearing a thousand masks and not revealing their true nature.

I’m sure it is becoming clear that leadership and management with the genius of consciousness present is a radically different phenomenon to leadership and management with the genius of unconsciousness present. The latter is highly threatening, the former majorly empowering, respectful, equal, loving, understanding, compassionate and patient. Management with consciousness does not excuse irresponsibility, but what it does is provide the safe opportunities for responsibility to emerge. In the waiting period it ensures that nobody is at risk from the defensive behaviours of the person who requires a shift to consciousness.

What is also addressed in the book is training for managers and leaders – indeed training for all employees. Training needs to provide the safe opportunities by trainers who largely operate from a place of consciousness. In this regard, a list of the qualities of conscious management is provided. It is a matter of these qualities emerging, as the manager experiences a shift from a defensive unconsciousness to an open place of consciousness. These qualities cannot be rote learned; they are parts of our nature that have lain hidden in response to the threats of giving expression to them. Ultimately, conscious self-management becomes the basis of effective conscious management of others. Furthermore, the shift to consciousness, especially in males, leads to a management that involves both head and heart. Men’s fear of emotional expression and difficulty with emotional receptivity has significantly limited their effectiveness as leaders and managers. It is accurate to say that affectiveness leads to greater effectiveness, as a person is operating out from the fullness of their nature. Women have tended to operate more from heart than from head and this reduces their effectiveness. Effective management is not a gender issue – it is a human issue and a matter of maturity, and the challenge to come into maturity applies to both men and women. The fact that the top leadership and management positions have largely been occupied by men has created a reaction to males as leaders, but there is no guarantee that women will do any better, unless they are at a higher level of consciousness.

Training to effect personal maturity needs to be of a face-to-face nature, and post-training follow-ups are essential. Training needs to be directed at the whole person so that trainees will come to consciously see:

•  that the unconscious exists

•  how to raise consciousness in self and others

•  how to recognise and understand the creativity of unconscious defensive responses in self and others

•  how to create a work ethos where employees are engaged, rather than disengaged or ‘constantly against everything’ (CAVE dwellers)

•  how to communicate from the inside (an ‘I’ place) out

•  how to create an ethos of emotional and social safety so that employees can speak openly about their fears, ideas and values

•  how to develop a person-centred approach in their management practice.

The suffocation of individuality and the aggressive depersonalisation of employees and, indeed, of customers, creates a dark work ethos. Employees largely complain of anonymity and a fear of bringing their individuality, own beliefs and values inside the organisation’s door! Managers can only create a ‘people before profits’ approach when they operate out from a sense of their individuality. The responsibility for managers and leaders to inhabit their individuality is an urgent one.

This book reflects a synthesis of theory and practice and rests on the solid theoretical foundation of the psychology of the self. This theoretical approach has been validated and deepened through my long professional practice with individuals and groups in a wide range of settings, including the family, the school, the community, the workplace and third-level educational institutions. Some of the insights presented originated in earlier writings of mine.

The book is a collection of published articles and some unpublished material, grouped under seven chapter headings, and the width and breadth of the topics are as follows:

•  the nature of unconsciousness and consciousness

•  the defence mechanisms that seriously interrupt political, social and economic progress

•  the concept of individual responsibility as opposed to blaming the system

•  the concern that males dominate leadership and managerial positions!

•  what lies hidden behind defence mechanisms and the process of bringing these to consciousness

•  the amazing power of the human psyche

•  the need for leadership and management that is both affective and effective

•  the fact that both managers and leaders are constantly spilling the beans on their hidden vulnerabilities for those who have the mature ears to hear and eyes to see!

•  the differences between leaders and managers

•  the addictions to success, work, status, power and money

•  gender issues in management

•  training for mature leadership and management

•  mature people-managing

•  the effects of bullying and passivity on individuals and organisational progress

•  the difference between boundaries and defences

•  mature communication

•  governorship of self

•  the healing power of stress

•  the creativity of conflict

•  the nature and challenge of accountability.

Chapter Seven presents an outline of training for consciousness and concludes with an overview.

1 Genius of Unconsciousness

The Story Behind What We Do

Everybody has a story and each person’s story is a unique autobiography and only that person fully knows their story.

However, some aspects of a person’s story may be known only at an unconscious level and this hidden world will only become available to consciousness when the person finds adequate emotional and social safety, initially with another and, subsequently, within self.

The story of a person’s life is not the events he or she encounters – for example, difficult birth, loving mother, emotionless home, conditional loving, violent father, possessive mother, kind grandparent, affirming teacher. The story consists of the person’s inner responses to these events. What is amazing in a family or classroom or workplace is that each person responds in a unique way to situations that arise. This means that each child has a different mother and a different father, each student a different teacher, each employee a different manager and each voter a different politician. This makes total sense because when two individuals interact, inevitably, their interaction will be of a unique nature. Parents are powerful witnesses to how each child is completely different from the other and this happens whether children are reared in benign or difficult circumstances.

However, when children are reared in violating circumstances their individuality is expressed through the unique formation of very powerful defensive behaviours that are designed on the one hand to reduce the frequently encountered threats to their wellbeing, and on the other to bring to the attention of any mature adult in their lives their deeply troubled interiority. Children who experience a stable and loving family also express their individuality and develop a repertoire of open and creative responses that are different to those of the other siblings. Another way of putting it is that children whose wellbeing is jeopardised daily are ingenious in the ways that they repress (hide away) what aspects of their individual self that they dare not exhibit, while children whose wellbeing is unconditionally held are ingenious in the ways that they express and manifest their individuality, ensuring that they are not confused with anybody else within the family.

As an adult, each of us has a responsibility to occupy our own individuality. To do that, we need to become aware of our unconscious and conscious responses. You may well ask, are we not always conscious of what we feel, think, say and do? Certainly, you may notice that you can be aggressive, violent, shy, timid or manipulative but you may not be conscious of the sources of those defensive responses. Unless these sources are uncovered, your threatening responses towards yourself or towards others will continue. Consciousness requires that we own, understand and are accountable to our inner and outer behaviours and that, when the responses are defensive (as opposed to mature) in nature, that we make new mature choices and take new mature actions.

Take the example of a manager in the workplace that bullies and intimidates other employees. When confronted, he is likely to justify and rationalise his threatening responses by, for example, ‘nobody would do anything around here without being shouted and ranted at’ or ‘being bullied did me no harm as a child’. However, when that manager compassionately understands the bullying behaviour as an unconscious creation arising from unresolved fears within himself – for instance, fear of failure, fear of what others think, fear of letting down his parents – it is likely that a consciousness will emerge of the real threat that he is posing to the wellbeing of employees. Once that consciousness is present, new choices and new actions are now possible towards himself and the employees. Uncovering the story of what led to the bullying is not an attempt to dilute the serious emotional threat that bullying poses – sadly, over sixty suicides occur annually in Ireland as a result of bullying in the workplace. On the contrary, it is my belief and my experience that unless the person who bullies becomes conscious of his hidden self-esteem issues, his defensive behaviour will continue and is likely to escalate when outside pressures increase. Change is only possible when what lies hidden is brought to the surface and what it was in his story that led to the creative development of bullying as a means of withstanding hurt. Individuals who bully need the support to stand with themselves, so that they are no longer dependent on others standing with them. The overt intention of bullying is to ensure control, but the covert intention is to draw attention to the urgent need to be in control of self and to support others to do likewise.

Whatever the threatening behaviours in which we engage, either towards self or others, the unravelling of their purpose can only be found in the examination of one’s story and the discovery of what the defensive responses are doing for you that you need to be doing for yourself.

The Power of Vulnerability

I hesitate to use the word ‘vulnerability’ because it is generally associated with weakness and helplessness. Nevertheless, some individuals describe themselves as ‘vulnerable’ most probably knowing that others will perceive them as weak, dependent and not able to stand on their own two feet. However, there is a wonderful wisdom and strength to this unconscious strategy – making it far from being weak – in that it powerfully places the responsibility on others to ‘look after’ the person. As creative, ingenious and unique human beings I believe that we are never weak, but in the face of threats to our wellbeing we unconsciously form protective strategies to reduce or offset such threats. It is important to understand that these protectors are formed unconsciously and it is at some later stage when we encounter the emotional, social and intellectual safety to be real and authentic that we will allow such knowledge to rise to consciousness, make new choices and take alternative and progressive actions.

Is what I’m saying true? Can we actually believe that people’s passivity, anxiety, helplessness, manipulation, emotional and physical withdrawal and hypersensitivity are powers beyond measure? Many people in the caring professions also refer to such individuals as being vulnerable and I believe miss the point that, within the threatening context these people have lived and are still encountering, they have found the best possible means of surviving the defensive behaviours of significant individuals in their lives – mother, father, sibling, teacher, grandparent, peer (as a child), or mother, father, sibling, employer, friend, lover, partner (as an adult). Whether it is a professional helper or another person who labels the person as ‘vulnerable’, they too do so unconsciously, and thereby their labelling has the effect of reinforcing the protectors of that person. What is happening here is that professional care workers or others are in a protected place themselves and when protectors meet protectors, inevitably they will escalate. However, were the observer to notice and affirm the creativity and power of the protective behaviour, the person seeking help, rather than encountering further threats, would experience emotional, social and intellectual safety. In experiencing such safe holdings, the person who is undoubtedly suffering may now allow what is unconscious to rise to consciousness so that authentic rather than further protective action can be taken. For example, a person who has asthma, in the embrace of unconditional love may allow consciousness to emerge of how she was rarely, if ever, allowed to breathe her own life and had always felt fearful and constricted by the perfectionism and lack of warmth displayed by her mother. The new choices to be made are to create inclusive ties with herself and, as that happens, to cut the restrictive ties with her mother, to be determined to live her own life and to love herself in the ways, sadly, that her mother was not in a place to offer.

What is interesting is that when it comes to describing a person who is vicious, aggressive, dominating, controlling, arrogant and authoritarian, we do not use the term ‘vulnerable’, even though the person is every bit as fearful. This is, true to what I believe, equally clever because aggressive-type responses are more obviously threatening to our presence and authentic actions than the more passive-type responses that fall under the motivated ‘misnomer’ of ‘vulnerable’. The labels we put on those who are aggressive are counter-aggressive in nature, the hope being that these will stop the person in their violating tracks and, thereby, reduce the threats to our wellbeing. However, individuals who are aggressive and violent equally need our understanding and compassion because they too are hiding their wholeness and certain aspects of self-expression.

In examining any human behaviour, unless a person is in a heightened state of consciousness, what you see and hear is not what you need ‘to get’ – on the contrary, it is what you don’t see that needs to be uncovered. Protective responses are designed to cover up what you dare not show. Uncovering what is hidden is only possible when unconditional love and belief in the person is present. This is as true in understanding ourselves as it is in the understanding of another. The word ‘understand’ when hyphenated – under-stand – indicates the necessity to get below the ‘stand’ (the protective behaviour) of self or another. Responding to the face value of what you or another says or does results in what needs to come to consciousness receding further into darkness. The reality is that such defensive responding is common in most homes, classrooms, workplaces, the Dail and churches. We are complex beings, powerful in guarding the unique diamond of Self and we will only allow spontaneous and authentic expression of our true and individual nature where there is the persistent presence of safe holdings.

The Roots of Inferiority

When Eleanor Roosevelt (Roosevelt, 1950) made her now famous quote ‘Nobody makes me feel inferior without my permission’, she missed an important aspect of human behaviour and that is that we have an unconscious mind that the Self employs creatively and powerfully in times of threat to our wellbeing.

The implication from Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote is that the person who encounters a ‘putdown’ from another person consciously internalises it and, thereby, allows the other to define his worth. Carrying this understanding to its logical conclusion, it would equally be true to say that ‘Nobody makes me feel good without my permission.’

It appears to me that a deeper observation is required which looks to answer the question: What is it that leads a person to react and seemingly internalise another person’s comments – derogatory or complimentary – as being about him? The mature person knows that whatever another person says is 100 per cent about that person, belongs to and is for that person. For example, if somebody calls you ‘A moron’ and you are in a solid place of knowing and valuing self, you will in a kind and firm way return the verbal missive (missile!) to the person with the mature response, ‘I’m wondering what makes you say that?’ Because the person is more used to people reacting to his judgemental behaviour, he is likely to be surprised by the mature response and attempt to make light of or play down what he has said. The pity is that he misses an opportunity to explore the source of his verbal taunt and to discover what the behaviour is saying about himself. A possibility is that he feels ‘small’ within himself and any difference to what he feels, thinks, says and does touches (not causes, as Eleanor Roosevelt would have us believe) the raw nerve of what is already there within.

When you understand the behaviour of the person who uses a ‘put down’ as arising from his own internal sense of misery and inferiority, it follows that the person who is at the receiving end of the ‘insulting’ comment and who feels humiliated by the message also has an inner disconnection from his own true worth. It is a case of darkness meeting darkness, inferiority meeting inferiority and quiet desperation meeting quiet desperation. The person’s aggressive reaction or physical and emotional withdrawal or self-harming responses are all protective ways of trying to ensure that the person does not attempt a ‘putdown’ again. What Eleanor Roosevelt needed to ask was: What is it that has led a person to perceive himself as inferior even before another person’s derisive comment?

The answer to this question lies in the early years of that person’s story when he experienced harsh criticism and emotional abandonment from a significant adult – parent, teacher, grandparent or childminder – and nobody championed his sacred worth in the face of those serious threats to his wellbeing. The frequency, intensity and endurance over time of these rejection experiences are important indices of the severity of the threats experienced.

Children are dependent on parents, childminders, grandparents and teachers to love, cherish, nurture, care, support, empower and play with them. They are not in a place to put food in their mouths, a roof over their heads and provide safety for themselves from physical, sexual, emotional, behavioural, intellectual and social threats to their wellbeing; on the contrary, they depend on the significant adults in their lives to do that. However, when parents and other adults become sources of threat, children, unconsciously, necessarily and creatively, develop protective responses in order to attempt to reduce the threats to their precious presence. A powerful protective response is to unconsciously ‘take on’ the critical messages and see oneself as described. This strategy means that a child who experiences constant criticism and is labelled as ‘lazy’ or ‘no good’ or ‘a nuisance’ or ‘stupid’ or ‘slow’ sensibly begins to perceive himself in the ways that the parent (or other adult) sees him, because it would be highly emotionally – even physically – threatening to protest that ‘I am not any of the things you say of me; I am an individual and worthy of unconditional love.’

I am reminded of a woman in her mid-thirties telling me how she could not stop herself from doing ‘bad’ things – no matter how hard she tried. We discovered that her mother constantly told her that she was ‘bad, bad, bad’. As an adult, when another adult labelled her as ‘bad’ it confirmed what she already felt about herself and she would either react aggressively or just avoid that person from thereon. This all happened unconsciously – she did not connect her present adult responses to her experiences as a child and the harsh rejection experienced from her mother. This failure to make the connection is clever because it means she stops herself from re-experiencing the misery of not being loved by the most important person in her life – her mother. Making the connection could only happen when she experienced – for the first time – an unconditional holding and deep and genuine cherishing of her presence; otherwise she would have needed to maintain her deep sense of inferiority and worthlessness.

Given the foregoing, we need to be sensitive about what comes from our mouths so that we are not reinforcing the inferiority felt by the many hurt individuals we meet. Each one of us has the opportunity to counter the rejections individuals have experienced by responding to each person with unconditional regard and enduring kindness. Remember – kindness is a two-way street!

Mis-taken Identity

In my recent book with co-author Helen Ruddle, The Compassionate Intentions of Illness (2010), I quote a passage from D.H. Lawrence on ‘Healing’:

I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.

And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly that I am ill.

I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self.

And the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help.

And patience, and a certain difficult repentance

long difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing of oneself

from the endless repetition of the mistake

which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

What does Lawrence mean by the word ‘mistake’ and the sanctification of that mistake? My own interpretation is that the mistake – best written mis-take – refers to how from so early on in our lives we are mistaken for our particular qualities or behaviours, and how this confusion of our soul, our true emotional self, with such phenomena results in deep wounds to the unique self that is each one of us.

Whether the mis-take is about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ qualities or behaviours, a great darkness descends on us and, until some time in adulthood when we have the time and safety to examine the mistake, we are compelled to create protectors to reduce the threats that the mistakes pose. The most common mis-take is that a person is their behaviour and from that confusion arises such judgements as ‘you’re a difficult person’, ‘you’re a bully’, ‘you’re a bold boy’, ‘you’re a clever kid’, ‘you’re a good girl’. Much more harsh judgements are ‘you’re bad’, ‘sad’, ‘mad’, ‘insane’, ‘selfish’, ‘neurotic’, ‘psychotic’, ‘lazy’, ‘no-good’, ‘depressive’, ‘a waste of space’. What is often not appreciated is that the person who is told that she is ‘so good’ or ‘so clever’ is as much threatened as the person who is told that they are ‘bad’, ‘impossible’ and so on. Suicide is a common phenomenon around examination times and arises from fears of falling short of the perceived unrealistic expectations and falling off the pedestal that the person has been put upon. Similarly, individuals who are perfectionistic in their behaviours believe that any mistake will result in rejection by the person who has mistaken them for getting things right all of the time; as a consequence they will strive relentlessly to be perfect. The ‘realization of life’s mistake’ that is required for this person is that ‘I’m not my behaviour, perfection lies in my unique being and presence, and mistakes and failures are wonderful opportunities to learn more about the world.’ The latter process takes a long, long time because the person’s intense endeavours to be perfect have been ‘sanctified’ over and over again within her home, classrooms and workplaces. Nobody corrected the mis-take and affirmed the person for her unique presence and demonstrated that behaviour is a means of understanding and exploring our inner and outer worlds; it is not a means of proving myself and it certainly is not the self.

Arising from their earlier childhood experiences, many men believe (mistakenly) that they are their achievement and a high percentage of them become depressed when they experience career failure. Sadly, these men’s addiction to success would have resulted in poor marital relation ships, strained relationships with their children and the endless repetition of the mistake in their daily work life. Work is a wonderful expression of the immense power of our nature but I am not my work achievements and that realisation means I can enjoy my work in a way that I don’t live to work but I do work to live. Work organisations believe that those addicted to success – highly engaged – are a great asset (thereby sanctifying the mistake), but the reality is that they are a great threat to the wellbeing of others and are not mature and effective managers.

What does Lawrence mean by the ‘soul, the deep emotional self’? Intuitively, we have a sense of ourselves as being unique, as being unlike any other, a distinctiveness that cannot be pinned down to anything tangible, such as particular dimensions of our physical appearance, or a particular type of intelligence, or a particular way of believing, or a particular way of relating, or a particular way of feeling. The self as unique presence has a physical mirror in the uniqueness of my DNA, and more observably in my fingerprints. My self is unrepeatable and, as a unique presence, as inviolate wholeness, is present from the moment of conception. There is no greater wounding to the self, to the soul, than to mistake the self for how we look, what we feel, think, say and do. The redemption of the self from the endless repetition of the mistake is our most urgent responsibility.

A Person Always Knows What’s Going On