AFTER LIFE ITSELF, INTERNAL HARMONY IS A HUMAN BEING’S MOST PRECIOUS POSSESSION
Over my lifespan, I have had various versions of a dream, filled with dread, in which I am going to a final exam for college or medical school and I have neglected to attend any classes or study for the exam and I know I will fail. In every case that I have ever had that dream, I was able to see some area of my inner world and external life that I was neglecting to address.
It might literally be an exam or term paper for which I was procrastinating. It would often be an area of conflict in my life that I had not addressed, an unpleasant but necessary task I had not done, or an internal area of emotional importance that I was not facing. Not infrequently, the dream referred to an emotional issue that I was lying about to myself in order to evade guilt, essentially a manic denial of psychic reality.
In all cases, the dream represented a hideous barometer of an internal situation that was going awry. In other words, the dream was telling me that my internal harmony was going out of whack. I would awake from such dreams persecuted by the feeling of dread that was in the dream and immediately feel motivated to figure out what was its cause so I could do something to fix it. When I was younger, if I did not address it, I would begin to become depressed.
Somewhere in life, I imagine it was in my thirties, I made a decision to try to always face anything as soon as I noticed it was persecuting me, no matter how small the persecution. I have learned to move such items to the top of my “to do or face” list. The result of this way of life is that most of the time, when I am asked how I am, I can honestly say “I am great”.
I love feeling that I have “internal harmony”! I truly believe it is my most precious commodity, even above health, which seems to be intimately interlaced now with my internal harmony. Health is now automatically taken care of by my need to preserve my internal harmony. I have a great diet and exercise daily because my internal harmony can no longer be maintained if I do not take care of those elements.
So let’s try to create a definition of internal harmony as I am using the phrase.
Definition of Internal Harmony:
One of my Webster’s Dictionaries says: (1) musical agreement of sounds; (2) a pleasing arrangement of parts; (3) internal calm.
I find all three meanings useful and will combine them together. This is my made up definition.
“Internal Harmony”: An arrangement of internal object relationships in which all of the parts of self and versions of mom and dad are acknowledged and dealt with in a realistic and constructive manner. None of these elements is denied, misrepresented, evaded, neglected or abused, or in any fashion harmed (by omission or commission).
Proper, caring, realistic treatment of all of these internal relationships is a precondition to having a “pleasing arrangement” of the “good” elements in the internal world and an “internal calm” in relation to the “bad” and potentially problematic elements. Conscious awareness of or recognition of each component is not necessary, although it does help in many circumstances.
Elaboration of the Definition:
If one reads the definition carefully and contemplates it, one will immediately realize that internal harmony is defined as involving two broad arenas. The first are is perhaps fairly readily available to “common sense” because it involves the area of object relationships that could be thought of as “good” elements, i.e. good parts of self and good versions of mom and dad, all in relation to each other. It seems logical that they would be a part of a pleasing array of musical elements and calm internal relations.
What is perhaps not as intuitively obvious is that internal harmony also requires involvement in the area of what are most certainly more unpleasant aspects of self and internal objects. That is the area of what might be called “problematic” object relationships, in short, the universe of “bad” parts of self and “bad” versions of mom and dad.
At first blush this seems counter-intuitive. How can “good” internal harmony come from “bad” object relationships, especially when those bad relationships are such an ongoing source of mental pain? To answer this we will need to define “bad object relationships” and depict the world of internal object relations in somewhat greater detail.
“Turning Toward” versus” Turning Away” From the “Good” Internal Family:
Small children are aware of wanting and needing the love and attention of their mommy and daddy. When mommy and daddy meet these desires and needs with regularity, they are loved and seen as “good” by the child. Those relationships are represented in the unconscious inner world as rather permanently fixed relationships between a “good” part of self (i.e. that feels loved and lovable) and a “good” version of mom or dad (i.e. reliably available and loving). They are felt to have a nice relationship in which they do nice things to and with each other and all is harmonious.
Contrast that with times of separation, jealousy, envy, frustration, etc., i.e. any circumstance in which the small child is in emotional pain and blames that pain on a parent. At that moment a “bad” part of self is having a relationship to a “bad” version of a parent. The “badness” is a function of the emotional pain attached to it. It is not “bad” in the moral sense of having done evil rather than good. Badness in a moral sense is a separate issue to which we will come shortly.
When a child and a parent are in conflict with each other, they can face their conflict and try to restore their good, loving relationship, or they can leave the situation in a negative, painful, unhappy “bad” state of affairs. Put in other words, they can “turn” toward each other and restore a “good relationship, or they can “turn away” from each other, leaving their relationship on “bad” terms.
The result is that When early life has too much emotional pain, and an inadequate resolution of that pain in order to restore a good relationship to a parent externally, then a “bad” object relationship is likely to be created and maintained internally in psychic reality.
In other words, a part of self that is bad in the sense that it is in pain and feels unloved, is having an ongoing bad relationship to a parent who has turned bad in the sense of being the cause of the pain.
The question is what happens if the child doesn’t pursue the “bad” version of the mom or dad and try to resolve the pain in order to restore a good relationship. That restoration would turn that bad version of mom or dad into a good parent?
The answer seems to be that if the pain is more chronic, the bad version of mom or dad becomes installed as a more permanently bad figure and the emotionally injured part of self will “turn away” from the relationship to that parent externally and internally. When that happens, the injured part of self will invariably turn to the part of self that offers relief from the pain.
That part of self, the one part that by definition lives outside the sphere of caring, good object relationships, is the “bad” part of self. If one were to name it according to its key characteristics, on would call it the “envious, omnipotent, know-it-all, destructive, self-sufficient part of self”.[See Module Five for an elaboration on the Bad Self.]
The implication of this “turning away” from bad versions of mom and dad is that one is turning away from all versions of mom and dad, therefore losing any opportunity for a good relationship to a good version of mom or dad. One cannot have internal harmony unless one has a good relationship internally to good versions of mom and dad.
Here is where this can get confusing. External parents are not the same as internal parents!
You cannot change your external parents much, if at all. But you can grow your internal versions of parents by (1) seeing the external versions realistically, (2) not turning away from them no matter how inadequate or destructive they are, yet (3) not setting yourself up for more mental pain by being unrealistic in your expectations of the external parental figures.
In effect, you are staying psychologically “separate”, being realistic and accepting but not masochistic. You are taking whatever good you can get from the external parents. Your internal versions of parents do not have to have a “one to one” correspondence to your external parents.
The internal version may have the good elements and qualities of your external parents, but the internal versions can be augmented by any and all good qualities that you have observed in other parental figures of whom you have known. How many times in life have you said to yourself, after observing someone else that you want to be like: “That is how I want to be”. Hopefully that happens regularly, and each time you are potentially growing and elevating a good internal version of mom or dad.
The Super-Ego Ideal = One’s Internal Gods:
Those enhanced versions of a mom or dad can become “inspirations” for how you want to be yourself. In effect, your internal versions of mom and dad can be enhanced and grown into “internal gods” who represent models for how you would like to be in life. Every contact with a mentor, good human figure, etc. has the potential to add to your internal parental figures.
Perhaps most importantly, seeing loving relationships between a husband and wife, or any two adults for that matter, can add to your capacity to allow your internal versions of mom and dad to have a loving relationship to each other that you stay out of and allow to blossom. It provides a model for a loving relationship that you can emulate with your own partner in life.
What has then been established is an internal world in which loving relationships predominate over bad, pain producing relationships. This is a necessary state for any ongoing stable internal harmony. It means that a “good internal family” has been established. Good parts of self are having caring and loving ongoing relations with good versions of mom and dad.
Central to this good family atmosphere is an attitude of generosity and love on the part of the self which allows the good mom and good dad to have a loving and caring relationship to each other. This attitude of acceptance of mom and dad’s loving, creative relationship, that one does not intrude into and control, is the most mature and evolved state of affairs, psychically speaking.
Living Outside the Sphere of the Good Internal Family:
In contrast to growing “internal Gods” who are sources of inspiration, if one has turned away from mom and dad internally, and made them bad, then one has fundamentally turned away from a good internal family that could otherwise exist. One is now living outside the sphere of “good” object relationships. That is a road to permanent disruption of internal harmony, leaving in its place things like depression, addictions, and at the extreme, insanity.
We are now moving into the realm of “moral badness” to which I alluded earlier. It is bad in the sense that one has adopted a life that is determined to be beyond the influence of caring object relationships. If caring is felt to be a one way ticket to mental pain, then the sphere of caring, good object relationships is to be avoided at all costs.
Have you ever wondered why young adults, who are on the road and taken in by an elderly, loving couple for the night, then murder the couple in the morning for seemingly no reason at all? The answer is very likely linked to their fear of being lured back into the sphere of loving object relations.
If one adds intense envious hatred of “goodness”, then one gets a particularly nasty form of “moral badness” where the person doesn’t just turn away from good objects, but has an intense unconscious wish to perversely turn goodness upside down and inside out. This is Lucifer’s choice: “To prefer to rule in hell than serve god in heaven”.
The original pain of such intense envy would likely have stemmed from a particularly intense reaction to being born. In that reaction, the helplessness, smallness, etc. of being a baby would be particularly reviled. Mom qualities of seeming to have everything, know everything, and be able to do anything would be intensely coveted.
The fact of her having those capacities and the baby having none would be the source of the intense envious hatred. This is not a popular view of infancy but it is often the one that has the most explanatory power with certain severe disturbances where perversity is a powerful component in that person’s psyche and behavior.
Let me summarize the two versions of a bad part of self I have just described. This latter version of a bad part of self is the one I referred to as having “moral badness”. It is somewhat different from the bad part of self to which I referred initially.
The “moral badness” of this latter version of a bad self is a function of “negative” attitude. This part of self has chosen to live outside the sphere of the good family as a permanent way of life.
That is different from a part of self being seen as undesirable and therefore “bad” because it is in pain. The latter part of self may actually be a “caring, good part of self” that feels hurt and injured in its pursuit of loving relations. In theory, any loving interaction with a good parent would bring it back into the sphere of the good internal family and good, loving object relations.
Thinking versus Acting:
When the pains of childhood are excessive, and the external parents are failing to aid the infant or child in learning to “think” about these pains, in other words teaching the child to be psychologically minded, then there is little that child can do but evacuate the pain into the outside world.
At its most “unthinking” extreme, the human brain can be treated as if it were a “muscle”, suitable only for going from impulse to action without intervening thought. That is the state of affairs of one can observe in some severely borderline patients and psychotics. They populate portions of most prisons.
Tragically, such individuals are not very educable regarding developing an ability to think. Their frustration tolerance is nil, their adoption of violent evacuation so ingrained, their internal “good object relationships” seem to be non-existent, and thus there is literally no scaffolding upon with to build a better psychic apparatus and inner world.
The Consequence of Not Being Able to Think:
More than anything else, internal harmony is a function of a capacity to “think” and then a daily constant use of that capacity. If you use your brain like muscle, you will never have internal harmony.
The fact is that reality, whether external, or psychic and internal, must be dealt with or bad things will happen. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Wilfred Bion: ”Life is full of surprises, mostly bad!”
If one thinks about it, most of what happens in life that is good is not a surprise because you prepared for it and made it happen. In contrast, most of what happens that is bad can be prefaced the three words “I didn’t think…”. The rest of the sentence is something like “..it would break”, “..fall off”, “..catch on fire”, “..get stolen”, “..I’d get caught”, etc.
The essential element in all is that the person DID NOT MINDFULLY THINK about the situation. They did not think it through adequately, or worse yet, they did not think at all, they just acted on impulse. As a result, something bad happened and it was an unanticipated, “bad” surprise.
As Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi would say: “No internal harmony for you!”
Unconscious Motivation and Bad Surprises:
It has often turned out, when I have questioned a person in detail about the “bad” surprise, after the dust has settled and they are in more of a frame of mind to do a proper “post-mortem” of the issue or event, that it was not actually a surprise. It was something that they had in their psyche as a possibility, and they had turned away from it, denied it, lied to themselves about it, misrepresented it, etc.
In fact, it regularly turns out that the bad event was actually done “on purpose”, all unconsciously mind you, to punish self or other, externalize some internal relationship or situation, test the boundaries or limits of something, etc. This implies it was not really an accident and could have possibly been avoided if one was facing “psychic reality” instead of neglecting or evading it.
Arguably the most tragic examples of this type of situation are “accidental deaths” that occur around someone’s birthday. These are often actually unconscious performances of “Russian Roulette” and thus are in reality, if one can bear to be honest, suicides. Usually no one can bear to be honest, at least not openly, so the suicide goes unspoken, unrecognized, or denied as such, by those around the situation.
In effect the person took unreasonable chances, and hit the chamber with the bullet in it and had the gun pointed figuratively at their own head. The fact that this happens so disproportionately around someone’s date of birth stamps the situation as involving the “baby core” of the personality and the death instinct. [See Module Two, Part Two for an elaboration of the Death Instinct.]
You Neglect Psychic Reality at Your Own Peril:
The punch line of this entire talk is that to get along in life one must constantly take care of their internal world, no differently than taking care of one’s physical health. Internal object relationships must be addressed and nurtured. They cannot be denied manically, projected, or neglected. One cannot do harm to ones internal figures unconsciously even if they seem to deserve it externally. One cannot live by the Law of Talion.
One must try to live as Ghandi and Martin Luther King espoused. Try to treat others with love and concern, turn the other cheek, practice forgiveness, strive to be humble and less triumphantly competitive, face unpleasant tasks, and properly “take care of business” in an adult manner, etc.
All of the above sounds potentially too idealized and therefore like “horse pockey”. The problem is that it is all actually “dead on” correct, even if difficult to achieve. How often has a patient retaliated because, as one of my favorite TV show characters would say, “it was justified”. Well it may be justified but the “paranoid anxieties” it will engender will assure that you will not have internal harmony!
I often get the response “But then they will be getting away with murder!” No they won’t, not in their psychic reality. Let them be the one with the internal harmony disrupted by paranoid anxieties or guilt. You want to be the one who can honestly say, as the iconic UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “THERE IS NO PILLOW SO SOFT AS A CLEAR CONSCIENCE”!
Good Object Relationships and the Depressive Position:
In Melanie Klein’s model for the development of the unconscious inner world, the movement of the infant into the depressive position is really central to the creation of and maintenance of internal harmony. In Klein’s model, the infant moves from a value system of “self-interest”, to one of concern for the welfare of the other, in addition to the self.
This movement follows brain development in the middle of the first year after birth, and is key to the development of a proper unconscious inner world in which good object relationships predominate over bad ones.
It is ultimately a precondition of mental health and internal harmony. [See all of Module Two, Part One.]
It turns out that ALL OF THE UNCONSCIOUS DEFENSIVE MANEUVERS that are employed by we human beings, even if necessary for survival or development at some point in the past, at some point later in life become the ENEMY OF INTERNAL HARMONY.
There may have been periods when maneuvers involving manic denial of caring or guilt, projection of bad parts of self or objects, turning away in the face of unbearable separation, etc. were necessary for survival in early life.
But those same maneuvers, when the personality has matured and has more constructive coping capacities available to it, now become the source of depression, unconscious paranoid anxieties and persecutory guilt, and are fundamentally incompatible with internal harmony.
Progress versus Backsliding in Life:
I have often contemplated whether or not I can finally take the easy way in life and live off my past achievements. Unfortunately, as I age, I realize that “time keeps marching on” and, as the bastardized saying goes, “Wounds all heals”. My body only needs a few days of neglect to tell me that I am backsliding.
With that concrete example in mind, I have also realized that the same is true of my psychic reality and internal harmony. Time keeps marching forward, bringing new bills and tasks, increasing the time I have neglected someone about whom I care, or requiring a new automotive, dental, or medical appointment for preventive maintenance.
The point is that because time is always moving forward, treading water is actually going backward. This is as true of psychic reality as it is of external reality, and perhaps even more so because some people take care of external reality adequately but stopped growing emotionally many years ago. It breaks my heart to see those who have neglected their marriage, for example, while focusing on their children, careers, or financial well-being.
Those people who are not growing themselves in life, especially their emotional life, on a daily, weekly, yearly, basis are in fact doing harm to their internal harmony. They may not see it for an extended period of time, but the cumulative negative impact on their feeling good about themselves and their life is unmistakable when examined with care and in detail.
Summary and Conclusion:
My purpose in writing this Short Take for MKA was not to do an exhaustive overview of internal harmony. This entire website is that exhaustive overview. My motive was to highlight this issue because it is why patients choose to be patients, even if they have not thought of it as such. It is also why patients neglect their inner worlds at their own peril.
No one wants to see themselves as inadequate or bad. Even when people embrace a lifestyle involving destructiveness, they want to be “good” at being bad. Humans need to find a way to feel good about themselves. Everyone wants a modicum of self-esteem, in order to feel happy. They need to be able to love and feel loved. I do not mean any of this on a grand or idealized scale, I simply mean they need sufficient “goodness” in life to feel life is worth living.
The tricky part of this sufficiency of goodness is that it is not as much an external issue as it is an internal, psychological issue. That in turn means that it is about the unconscious inner world and how things are going there.
The good point is that you don’t need a Mercedes to look after your internal world. It is comically inexpensive to have internal harmony. All it costs is a caring and ongoing concern for your own mental health! If you do that, you can be the richest person on earth. But you neglect it at your peril.