In response to the recent trouble in Charlottesville USA from white nationalists, Obama, in a celebrated tweet, quoted this passage from Mandela’s autobiography The Long Walk to Freedom.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion…
People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
This is the message at the heart of the broadly humanistic understanding of our psychology. People are not born with negative or destructive tendencies in any shape or form. Love is indeed our more “natural” state, we are born “good”. So, where does all this negativity come from? How does it become so prevalent in human beings?
It is clear to me that what creates hate and all the negative aspects of ourselves is trauma. Even an ideal upbringing cannot be perfect, our developmental journey as humans is so long and complex that it is impossible for all its stages and transitions it be negotiated without ruptures at some point, and over so much time, accidents are bound to happen. Of course, most upbringings are far from perfect and far too many are horrendous. Hate begets hate.
Trauma is the process whereby deep wounds have to be repressed and internalised because they are too much to process at the time. Whenever this happens the self is left with some insecurity, there is a place inside us that is too difficult to face and therefore has to be avoided and defended at all costs. The power of this comes from the original self-protective reaction that could not face the trauma in the first place, there is bound to be much hurt, pain, anger, fear or distress there.
Trauma is behind every judgement (of self or other), every should or ought, every avoidance or angry reaction, every anxious or depressive reaction, every closing down or turning away or refusal to face the facts of life. It is behind all our insecurity and lack of trust.
But the “good news” is that underneath people are good, and as the quote above says, it is possible to be “taught to love”. This is the work of therapy and spirituality, to facilitate the undoing of trauma and our consequential insecurity, so that we can increasingly open to and live in our “natural” state of love. This has obviously always been the aim of therapy generally, but to me it is more explicitly and more clearly articulated by the emerging “psycho-spiritual” approach to human development. (See, Ken Wilber, John Welwood, Almaas, Richard Harvey, Jill Hall, Mary O’Malley, Relational Change, many within Gestalt and other therapy traditions, and many others.)
To achieve this goal of living closer to love, we need a combination of both psychological and spiritual work. We need to face our traumas and slowly heal ourselves as well as opening ourselves to the love and support that only the transpersonal can provide.
As a therapist, I do largely see generations slowly healing. Adults are not as badly traumatised as their parents; their children are not as traumatised as they are. The goodness at the heart of human nature gives me hope and optimism, as does the experience of connecting to the transpersonal level of life in the depth of our “here and now”.