Completing an Early Triumph

From a talk by Tim Jackins* at the Wygelian Leaders’ Black Liberation and Community Development Workshop, in Massachusetts, USA, May 2019

We’ve been doing Re-evaluation Counseling since the early 1950s, and we’ve made great progress on all sorts of fronts. We’ve figured out many things. We’ve expanded our practice to where we can look at oppressions. We’ve looked more and more deeply at things. We’ve done well.

However, until recently we haven’t quite understood how deeply hurt we all were early in life and what a big effect it had on everything we did ever after, including our counseling. We haven’t had the awareness, the slack, to see this and counsel each other on it. It’s taken all our work and discharge up to this point to get to where we can begin to take apart that level of hurt.

My picture of it is that just about every child—and this means you—arrived thinking there would be somebody to meet. They’d been inside hearing about life through the wall, and they thought they were coming out to people, to creatures like them, who would be just as interested in life as they were and would look right at them. They expected to look out and see somebody look back with the same interest, the same intensity, the same curiosity, and the same willingness to try to connect.

But none of us arrived to that. Nobody around us understood that babies are born with fully functioning minds and want to be met by someone who is fully alive. And nobody had gotten the chance to discharge enough to stay that alive. For most of us, our folks, the people around us, would sometimes pop out of their distress and we would see life. Not even that happened for everyone, but for most of us it showed up occasionally. And that kept us from giving up entirely, immediately. 

Because there wasn’t the possibility for what I think every child expects, all of us were eventually worn down to where we gave up on being connected with someone. We tried, and there wasn’t anything out there.  We tried again and again, and there wasn’t anything out there.

I’ve talked about being in airports and seeing little ones being pushed along in strollers. They look at faces, hunting for some flicker of the thing they thought would be there. And if you show any of it, they notice. They notice quickly. You know they are looking for something. There’s an intention there. It’s not idle interest. And you can also see how they can’t count on it [rely on it] from you because they’ll look, and then they’ll look away and pretend indifference. They’ll act like it didn’t matter. Then they’ll come back, because it did matter. They are just afraid to let it count [matter], because every other time their hopes were so quickly disappointed.

That happened to every one of us. And at some point it wore us down. We couldn’t go out and look again. I think a good common description of it is, “I can’t bear to show my heart one more time and be crushed. For me to continue and hang on to this bit of who I am, I have to stop risking everything. I have to go it alone [go on with life alone].” We were left with recordings of “I’m the only one who cares, who understands the way the world is, who wants to make it better. Clearly, none of these people understand.” (laughs) Is that close to how it was?

We got pushed off by ourselves. It happened because the conditions were that bad but also because we could never discharge on the hurt. I think if we’d had the chance to discharge, even if the rest of the conditions were difficult, we wouldn’t have given up. We would have kept trying. Maybe we would have figured out how to make something work. I don’t know. But we never got the chance. We weren’t able to keep our minds clear long enough—until we had the power to run our own lives. We got flattened before we had the power.

It sounds miserable. (laughter) And it was. And we all survived it. We all figured out what we were going to do, how we were going to make things work, which way we were going to go. You are here! So you made it work.

And though it was sad, I think your pulling back was also a triumph. You decided to preserve yourself in a way that clearly worked. I think that not every human can do that, unfortunately. Not every human is able to make that decision. Some get too crushed, and life goes downhill rapidly from there. 

But you did it. You made the decision, and I’m very glad you did. You should consider it a triumph, though it was a very costly one. And now you can begin to recover what you had to lose.


To recover, we have to understand how different our life is now. We are not small and helpless, and probably not in danger or alone. We have all this resource. We have all this knowledge.

Little ones discharge spontaneously because it’s instinctual. But they don’t understand it, and that lessens their ability to fight for it. Now we understand discharge. It’s something important in our life that we can fight for. No matter what someone says or how we feel, we know something and have an important and powerful tool. We can use our minds in spite of the feelings the old distresses push up.

We can go back and pick up the battle where the defeat happened. We don’t have to relive all the things that happened, but we do have to look at them.

All the feelings that got frozen there are waiting for us. That is true with any distress, but these feelings are horrible. They are horrible. They are the feelings we’ve never wanted to go back to and look at. We didn’t have the resource at the time to discharge them, so all we could do was suffer them. Now we have the necessary resource. Now we can do something different.

The feelings are still the same, so first we have to decide. We have to decide that we want all our life back—all of it. We want all the freshness of life. You know how life can get stale as you drag your baggage of distress on and on? It wasn’t stale when we were small. It was fresh every day. There was something to be alive for. Wouldn’t you like to experience that tomorrow morning—instead of however it is when you wake up? Wouldn’t you like to wake up that fresh?

We need to decide first. We need to decide before we run into all the things that have held us in confusion for so long. Once the feelings come up, they’re very confusing. We feel like our life is just as bad as it was at the point when it closed down on us. We can’t remember there is anybody else. We can’t remember there is a point to being here. It’s really quite interesting. The feelings include many things—like not knowing what to do, feeling trapped and alone, the belief that it will always feel the way it always has, and so on.

When things got hard early in our lives, we were desperate to find something that worked. We were desperate to find a way out of the trap. That’s exactly what we’ll run into when we’re working on this material. We’ll feel like we have to somehow make it different now: “Tell me what to do.” And there is nothing to be done now except to discharge on it. There is no other answer, no other solution. Our work is to discharge there. That’s the only thing we need to do at this point.

We have to go to where we desperately want a solution and there isn’t one, and we have to stay there and discharge. That’s close to the worst thing we will ever have to do in our life—be in a situation in which there is no answer, and no way out, and stay there. It’s worth doing now because we can discharge. It’s a struggle to figure out how to do it—but it’s worth doing.

The feelings don’t change quickly. However, our understanding changes. We are not quickly freed from the feelings, but we begin to understand the battle once we are engaged in it. We can see that it’s not in the present, that it’s in the past and simply something to work on.

Working on it in a group in which we know people well has seemed to offer the most contradiction [to distress]. We can take it on [work on it] when we have enough resource around us, and it’s possible to keep our mind away from it outside of sessions.

We have this struggle in common. And we now understand it well enough to begin regaining those pieces of life that were lost in our first days, weeks, and years.

Last modified: 2024-02-22 15:15:04+00