CHAPTER XX:  People Never Stop Trying

Yet we do not ever really give up trying to get our hurts out of our system, not even as weary adults. The more we observe people with these insights in mind, the more it is clear that each person, every day of his/her life, reaches out to someone in some way or other. He/She makes an intuitive attempt to set up with this other person the relationship he/she should have had with his/her parents when he/she was small and the need of which he/she has carried with him/her ever since.

This applies to all of us. Sometimes we "bend the ear" of the casual stranger, sitting beside us on the bus. Sometimes the housewife in a new neighborhood systematically invites every woman on the block in for coffee, and asks back the one who seems willing for the conversation to be two-way, to listen as well as be listened to. We cherish the friend we can "talk" to, or think we can. We lean on the minister of our church in crises, and jam the waiting rooms of the medical doctors with vague, psychosomatic complaints which might open the way for the doctor to really pay attention to us. We marry, often or always, with the unexpressed hope that this time our beloved will "care enough," though we are too conditioned to be able to look at what their "caring enough" is supposed to do. Our most bitter disappointment, expressed over and over again in marital interviews, is that our spouse "doesn't listen" or "isn't interested." 

All of us feel deeply this need of our own to have someone listen to us, to pay real attention to us, to care about us, but all of us are thoroughly conditioned to refuse to meet this need in others.

On occasion a woman may turn to another woman in a crisis and burst into tears and, since women are not as badly conditioned in this area as men in our culture, be offered a shoulder to cry on and even told "Go ahead and cry, dear, it will do you good." If she ever begins to cry as hard as she needs to, however, the conditioning will be triggered and, at the least, the other woman will begin to pat her so hard with reassuring pats that the distraction will make it impossible for her to keep crying.

A man may, in a crisis, turn to a friend and say, "Look, Joe, I've got to talk to somebody!" and begin to tremble violently. The friend, thoroughly conditioned, is almost certain to do everything he can to interrupt the trembling. "Here, man, get a grip on yourself! I'll get you a drink, you've got to stop this shaking." If he isn't a drinking man, he may call in a doctor to stop the shaking and the doctor, just as conditioned as all the rest of us, obligingly may give him a shot or a sedative. "Anything to stop his shaking."

Yet it is obvious, if we are not at the scene, that the man is shaking because he needs to and that nothing bad will happen if he is allowed to shake until he runs down.

At the scene, the conditioning takes over and the acquired compulsion to stop the discharge (as our own was always stopped) takes over and drives all rational considerations from view.

Usually our attempt to set up this relationship doesn't get as far as actual release. The attempt usually begins conversationally.

"Hey, Joe," says the friend at the picnic table. "Did I ever tell you about that time some of us were camping up in the North Woods and we were portaging our canoe around this little series of waterfalls?" The speaker at this moment has no awareness at all that he is doing anything but trying to entertain his friend with an amusing anecdote.

He has no awareness at all that he is trying to get to the end of the story where the canoe went over a waterfall and he thought he was dead, the part where a chunk of cold horror has been stored inside ever since, seeking a chance to discharge. 

Most likely he never does find out what he is trying to do. As soon as he pauses for breath in his conversational preface, his listener, himself restimulated by the story, is likely to break in, "It's funny you should bring that up. It reminds me of the time when I was camping up north, blah, blah, blah..."

Typically the first man can't listen to the second man's story either. The relationship fails for lack of an aware listener on either side. Both men are frustrated in their attempts.

We continually seek this concern and attention from others, even though we are continually disappointed. I have on occasion asked a lecture audience, "What would it be like to have someone really, deeply interested in you and wanting to hear you talk about yourself indefinitely?" A deep, yearning sigh always goes up from the audience, before the realization of what they have admitted triggers embarrassment and the following burst of laughter.

We intuitively hope for this relationship from our spouse when we marry. Each spouse feels the need of it from the other. "I thought, when you married, your husband would care enough about you to be interested in you" is the disappointed, bitter complaint in marital interview after marital interview. Yet each spouse, hoping for this aware concern from the other (even though he/she does not awarely expect the emotional discharge that would occur if he/she were to receive it), is also thoroughly conditioned by the distress recording to not give this concern to the other. This disappointment and bitterness is a major component in the difficulties that, small or great, accumulate in every marriage relationship.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00