Monday, January 14, 2013

The Knight and the Catcher: The Shield and the Glove

Two images:

A knight

 A baseball catcher

 The knight and the catcher , images that I have used to explain and explore two general approaches to the world that can be controlling principles for people.

 Both the knight and the catcher wear “armor” for protection. Protection from what? From a hostile world. The knight is protected from slings and arrows and the catcher from a ball that can reach a speed over a hundred miles an hour.

 The image of the knight is several hundred years old. This is important.  The image of the Catcher is somewhat over a hundred years old.

 They serve to shed light on two styles of handling the world, especially the dangerous parts of the world. One seems more useful than the other.

 The medieval knight as we see is regaled in full armor and burdened with a large shield.

 The analogy is with a person that has developed an attitude of “strength” and of the power of not being hurt: “You cannot possibly hurt me because as you see I have all this armor on!”

 The idea is that the catcher is in control. The catcher is “receiving” the ball. He is not fighting with it. The situation is controlled.  The catcher admits that even though the situation is controlled, that injury can still occur and so is protected.

 These approaches seem to me to be very similar to the way people manage their lives, especially their emotional lives.

 The knights of the world are highly defended against the world feeling very much in control and feel that “nothing can hurt them.”  In psychology this has taken on the form of telling people that if they get hurt that it is their fault. “You can only be hurt if you let people hurt you.”  People then tend to build a wall around themselves and paint a sign on the outside saying “you can’t hurt me.”  What I find interesting about this form of survival is that “if you can’t hurt me” then why do I need the wall? Why do I need the armor? 

 We see this in the schoolyard when children say “it didn’t hurt?”  I always wonder why one would bother say “it didn’t hurt” if it indeed it did not hurt. As Shakespeare said “he doestprotest too much.”

 For the knight and our friend in the school yard and ourselves, if we see ourselves playing out  this style, we and they  spend a great deal of   time in very hard work building walls and wearing armor  as at some point they had no  control and felt quite hopeless about having much control over their lives. They learned that they must be prepared for the worst!  As an adult this is by no means obvious to them. Why?  It is not obvious because they began building the wall many, many years previously. The world was cut off many years ago. It was “the world hurt me,” “I must protect myself,”  “I will protect myself,”  “If I protect myself then I cannot be hurt anymore.” “There that is done!”  “Now I can live!”

 Much therapy has been built around this idea, much bad therapy. It teaches us to reinforce our amour, polish it, and oil it. We go to therapy and say that this or that relationship “hurt” us. We say we are confused. We come to learn that, practically speaking, “we deserve” our hurt because after all we “enabled” the other to hurt us.  What does this tell us? It tells us that we should not have “needed” anyone. We are at fault for having needed to be loved. We are at fault for having been sympathetic and helping to the other.

 So we learn that we need to constantly be careful and be very afraid of “giving’ too much of “helping” too much. We build an amour. Although we still want connection, although we still want love we have learned that, well, we get to love by NOT helping, by NOT giving.  We learn to protect ourselves from others pain. We learn to say and act as “I once hurt but now I do not. “I can do it so can you.” If you stop needing people, really needing people and if you stop wanting to help people, really help them then you will be happy like I am.

 Now of course these people will deny any of this.  

 The knight must do much to keep himself prepared.  His armor must be clean and shinny.  Swords must be kept clean and sharp. He must also practice, practice, practice.  If fact he has time for little else, he wants love and affection but he must deny it for a higher cause and what is that? It is the defense of the nation, the defense in this analogy, of the self!  Above all else I, we cannot be hurt.  The cost of freedom is eternal vigilance! 

 In contrast there is the catcher.  The catcher is much more in control. The catcher does not mind that the ball is coming towards him because he accepts two things: One is that he has been prepared to catch it and control it and he has accepted that he can and sometimes will get hurt, sometimes despite his protection he will get hurt.

 I emphasize that the catcher does not mind the risk as they have freely entered the game. They enter into a relationship with the pitcher. The pitcher is on the SAME team.  This teammate can hurt the catcher!  The catcher accepts all of this risk because if all goes well it will be a satisfying relationship, the pitcher and the catcher work together to strike out the batter. The catcher tells the pitcher what pitch to throw. The pitcher does not have to throw the pitch that the catcher wants but he will only throw when the catcher knows what pitch is to be thrown.  They are a team. But the catcher can still get hurt.

So why is being a catcher better than being a knight? It is better because protecting the self as a catcher is simply seen as a necessity. Taking care to protect oneself   in the proper way frees the catcher to do many things. The catcher in many ways often controls the game. He mostly decides what the pitcher will do. He can influence the umpire. He is responsible for many “outs.” 

 In our daily lives there are many knights and many catchers. Unfortunately it seems to me that many of the knights in shining armor are the people we often see as the most successful and happy.  To be sure many of these people do tremendous amount of good but they also often do a tremendous amount of harm to themselves and others in private. The knights are often the brightest of the bright, the leaders. They tell us to be strong to fight, to die; they give us something to believe in. If you follow me you may become a knight or a lest help me in my endeavor. 

   The lesser defended of us when faced with incoming stimuli that might hurt us might run away, we might ‘freeze’ and then blame ourselves for getting hit, we might run away by changing the subject or mediating our pain with drugs or alcohol or we might attack back in a sloppy dangerous way where we will get hurt even more.  The knight however is deceptive as if you go looking for “them” you do not find “them” you find pure defense. “I will not run away, I will not blame myself for my predicament as don’t you see I spend all my waking hours preparing for the worst.  If I avoid you it is only because I am smarter then you are. I will move away only so that I may prepare better to attack you later and defeat you.”  Finally “I may or may not attack.” “You must understand, in fact, that I usually prefer not to attack but sometimes you force me to.   So the politician, the social reformer, the priest, the shinning doctor, the industrial leader, who are they? Are they well defended shining knights in armor only or is there a person there?

 Ah but this is not fair. Yes there is a person but they are lost.  In my experience in dealing with people all of this starts because, and this is extremely important,  these persons wanted connection probably more than anyone else. And they were denied it.  The more they wanted it and the more they were denied it the more they hurt. The more they hurt the more they did not want to hurt again. The more they hurt, the more likely there was no one around to help them with this hurt.

 A boy is dressed in his best waiting for his estranged father to come and pick him up at age 3 and the father does not show.

 A girl spends all day painting a picture for her mother just knowing that when her mother comes home she will love the picture pick her up and kiss her and hug here. The mother comes home and is so tired she says “later honey” and goes to bed.

A boy has been so happy that his father has stopped drinking but one morning   gets up and comes down stairs and the nano second he sees his father the scene becomes dreadful. His father is passed out at the kitchen table with an empty fifth of 7 Crown beside him.

 No matter what I do my older sister seems to get all the attention.  I get all “A’s” and get first in the art contest but for me it is always “you can do better” where my sister does poorly and gets kisses and hugs and I think it is because she is cuter.

 So it seems that this is where it all begins. This is in my experience. These people are in danger of becoming two people and as I haves seen I think that we all are basically at least two people as we all have experienced some early disappointments. We have all experienced shaming experiences.  Few people are really “integrated.” So we are all in the same boat.  We all want connection and love. That is the loving humanist person in all of us. We manifest that person when we feel safe and in loving company. We can be a completely another person when we feel that we might be hurt again. This often happens, unfortunately, also when we are in loving company. Why does it happen? It is because the feeling of love and excitement and caring reminds of the time(s) when we where little and wanted love and affection and did not get it. Now in the present these “good,” even “magnificent” feelings, can make us very fearful that we will be disappointed again, hurt again and so we end the good times ourselves.

 Often with many of us the two people are not in touch with each other.  It is, I think, simple to understand why the two people are not in touch with each other. It is because we are told that “adults” are complete reasonable people that can solve problems. Most people do not believe that their childhood has much to do with who they are. I believe this to be actually a lie. I believe, to paraphrase a teacher, that unfortunately adult life “is about continuing to ignore what we all knew anyway but we are continually told to continue to ignore it.” That is we are continually told to ignore our feelings, to get on with it.

Is there hope for the knight?  Sometimes I think there is little hope for them because they often are too intelligent for their own good. All their reason goes into activities that justify more and more their way of being.  They forget what real enjoyment and sharing is and substitute excitement and  “adventure.”  They claim to defend the weak and poor but actually seem to despise them, as the way to care for them is to tell them to “shape up,” “work hard,” “don’t ask me for help. Don’t you se I am defending you and have no time to help you!”

 The integrated person, so much as they exist, goes out into the world with their catcher’s mitt and the minimum of armor. This amour is practical. It needs not be shined or extensive, or expensive (someone said be wary of enterprises requiring new clothes). The integrated person knows that whatever comes at them can be at least in their power to try and control. This is because the catcher is focused. They are living now. Fear is, at most, at low ebb. In fact, of course, for the real catcher there is no fear at all. There is in fact enjoyment along with excitement and interest.

 So I try and teach people to put on their catcher’s mitt. To keep it limbered up, to hold it where it is supposed to be, right over the diaphragm. To absorb the “hit,” catch it and then what? Then you have it. You take the ball out and can examine it, caress it, learn about it and even become interested in it and it is no longer any kind of threat at all.

Brian Lynch

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