A predominate theme that continues to evolve over and again from my clinical experience centers on individual interest in and fear of maturation in this life. In other words, people, regardless of age (children, young people and adults alike), ethnicity, religious/denominational connections, gender or sexual orientation, single, married, divorced or divorcing, want to enhance their interpersonal relationship with themselves as children of God, while simultaneously longing to heal intrapersonal relationships with others—past and present. Accordingly, maturation is defined as “the process of becoming mature; the final differentiation processes in biological systems, as the final ripening of a seed.” The root word mature means “having reached full natural growth or development; fully developed; ripe; worked out fully by the mind; having reached the limit of its time; due; bring to full development.”
The interest in maturation, personal, emotional, spiritual, and interpersonal relationships, directly and indirectly, appears to influence how individuals make every-day decisions about their lives—in the home, in the workplace, in society at-large, and in the church. The level of interest will vary in terms of the individual’s spiritual and psychological strength. In other words, depending on the depth of their psychic (soul) pain, and their ability and capacity to tolerate their own sense of ambivalence and ambiguity, will determine how short or long an individual remains in and with the therapeutic process.
The fear about maturation involves the individual’s growing awareness with respect to how his or her life will change as the growth and healing process begins. Individuals, by nature of their unconscious defensive mechanisms, which have their core development from birth until death, are more comfortable with what is familiar than that which is unknown. Notwithstanding that most individuals with whom I work profess some level of faith; fear of the unknown is a real phenomenon.
The late Donald W. Winnicott, M.D., a pediatrician and psychiatrist, once expressed that although people say they like freedom and want to be free, the reality is that they only like the idea of freedom and the idea of what freedom might bring. In short, individuals seem to fear what they believe personal freedom will mean for them spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and socially—that they must become responsible individuals for the choices they make out of their God given free will; and, they must become more autonomous individuals and less dependent on others to make choices and decisions on their behalf.
Let us take, for example, the relational interaction that evolves in the context of marriage. According to psychiatrists William Grier and Price Cobbs in their book Black Rage, “to understand marriage and the choice of a mate, we must understand childhood. Children develop psychologically within the framework supplied by parents and family.” When couples seek my services, they are interested in the type of relationship they will develop with me as they talk about their relationship and about each other. Will I be balanced? Can I be neutral and/or objective without being partial to one over the other? Almost always, the wife will assume that the husband will prefer a male therapist—“so he will feel comfortable,” she will say. When I ask the husband if this assumption by his wife is correct, “not really,” they frequently say in response. The presenting problem usually falls around that of communication. When asked to define what they mean by “a lack of communication,” they usually do not have a clear definition. This statement as the relational problem is often a psychological defense against deeper issues that are not yet identifiable by not only the couple, but also even me at this time.
Marriage is the most intimate relationship into which an individual will ever enter. This relational system impels individuals to confront their repressed relationships from their days of childhood—especially those relationships that caused the greatest degree of narcissistic injury and pain. Couples are unaware that their marriage, in all aspects, is influenced by their unconscious or intrapersonal relationships with their parents and/or early life primary caregivers. In other words, couples do not fully realize the degree to which they have married their parent—primarily the mother. They marry the temperament, aspects of their interactive personality (behavior), emotional attitudes, states of moods, and patterns of relational idiosyncrasies. All of these components of the human psyche contribute to elements that each individual confronts in his or her mate. They are often parallel elements in which each individual had to endure, encounter, and engage on a daily basis during infancy, early childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood at each critical point in their development. The good, the bad, and the ugly were internalized. Once the individual becomes married, the same issues that emerged during these critical development moments will emerge in the marriage, especially those that have gone unresolved in the relationship between the parent and the child.
Take, for example, the person that was given up for adoption during childhood. It would be easy to believe or think that this experience will not impact the infant. Yet, it does. Neurophysiologists and others have learned that the brain neurons record every interaction that is taking place in the infant’s world. Nothing, no information, is lost. Therefore, although individuals may not know the cognitive details of the abandonment process; notwithstanding, the brain has recorded the data of the relational experience of being given up by the biological mother. In adulthood, anxiety disorders, such as fear of abandonment, often emerge; separation anxiety issues come forth; fear of relational/emotional intimacy develops; and, issues related to depressive moods may also come forth. All of these will impact the way in which individuals communicate—that is to say, how they receive, interpret, express, and perceive all aspects of communication. It is, therefore, essential for couples to understand their individual childhood narrative as well as become aware of and acquainted with their partner’s.
My daily interactive relationship with individuals in the therapeutic setting primarily involves providing a safe space and place whereby courageously ordinary people can grow and heal, gradually and openly telling and re-telling their individual narratives—the conscious and the unconscious. They are ordinary people like you and like me. As they walk through their own unique valleys, they openly invite me and trust me to be with them as they face their interest in and fears about going into a spiritual, relational, psychological (emotional), and social inner world that they have yet to experience. This process and experience is difficult in that individuals, from early childhood within the context of their families of origin, have internalized specific emotional messages from the primary caregiver as to what they are allowed and not allowed to feel.
Alice Miller in her book The Untouched Key reflects on a specific aspect of a father and son’s relationship—Abraham and Isaac. This biblical story that is known primarily for Abraham responding to God’s request that he offer his son as a sacrifice to demonstrate his faith and loyalty to God. I submit that present day human beings can identify with Abraham if they are a parent. Because each of is a child to a parent or parents, identification with Isaac is reality. From a psychological perspective, Miller posits that:
It is the ability to feel that enables us to establish the right connections, to notice what is going on around us, and to relinquish the illusion that age brings wisdom. Only this painful experience will open Isaac’s eyes and make him a man of action instead of a victim. Someone who is not allowed to feel can’t learn from experience. Again and again he will accept the so-called wisdom of his elders, which has proven to be unmistakably wrong in our generation—as, for example, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” All his life he will avoid crucial experiences because he must protect himself from pain, and this means ultimately from the truth. He must never doubt his father (mother), must not confront him (her). Even when his hair has turned white, he will still be his father’s (mother’s) obedient child.”
Because these messages are communicated during pre-verbal states of being, by the time the individual becomes a full adult, the message as to how one should be has already been established in the brain. Hence, gaining a sense of spiritual and psychic freedom from specific negative messages about one’s being, is difficult, painful, and a lifelong endeavor. The eternal hope, however, is that by faith in self, others and, ultimately, in the Creator, individuals in the therapeutic space that allow themselves to work through their deep-seated pain, generally for one to three years, do discover and recover the freedom from within that has been given by the Creator.
Therefore, maturation is a human phenomenon that requires intentional motivation and conscious awareness. One can only feel the fullness of maturity when one is able to and capable of affectively experiencing himself or herself as relationally equal to and emotionally balanced with their parents. Maturation is not automatic simply because one grows older chronologically. Rather, it is a spiritual, psychological-emotional, relational, and social developmental growth and healing process that require not only faith, but also an unassuming level of personal courage to be and become interested in one’s holistic and full development in this life as a child of God.
Pastoral psychotherapy is an essential ministry and means for facilitating this maturation process. It is a ministry that offers a safe place for individuals to create a sanctuary in which they are able to work through their pain resulting from years of unexpressed thoughts and feelings. This process is shared with another finite being—one who has hopefully and sufficiently worked through his or her own maturation. Together, these individuals wrapped in the faith of God’s presence though the Holy Spirit and the company of divine angels, can successfully embark on a journey to discover those deeper truths—emotionally and spiritually.
J. Bernard Kynes, Sr., M.Div., LMFT