Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Is Your Jewish Mother A Maximizer, and What Can You Do About It?

Synopsis: The Jewish mother as maximizer in Jewish culture, Imago theory - What is a maximizer, "Tikkun Olam - Now"


Read this quote ,please, and ask yourself if the description does not sound hauntingly familiar:

"…since her boundaries are lax, she does not know how to protect her space from her children, nor how to protect theirs. When she cannot get her way with her child, she will manipulate or bribe him and claim that she is doing it in the child's best interest.
When she cannot have her way, she collapses into passivity and depression, coercing her child to take care of her. Her life is unfocused, self-abnegating and martyred. She presents herself as a self-sacrificing person, who meets other's needs before her own, but those who benefit from her generosity end up feeling guilty after she repeatedly points out what she has done for them. The child of a maximizer grows up without being able to clearly separate from her parent and become an independent adult."

Does that ring a bell or what?
How about this:

"…she is so full of unmet needs that she smothers her child with affection as a way of vicariously meeting her own needs. She is full of feelings and fears, often sharing them with her child in the form of warnings about the dangers of the world... She invades every part of her child's life, giving advice it hasn't asked for. She likes her children to keep their doors open so she can hear if they are sleeping well or doing something wrong. She talks incessantly at the dinner table, inquiring into the private lives of her children and interfering with their relationships with their peers. She likes to have lots of people around to increase her security so she encourages her children to have friends over. She feels children have no ability to know what they want and offers them what they haven't asked for and often do not need."

(Source: "Giving The Love That Heals By Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, pp. 64-65)

Some Famous Jewish Mothers and Jokes About Them

Reading this passage I was immediately reminded of some famous Jewish mothers (besides my own of course). The first one that came to my mind was Sylvia, the overbearing mother of Fran Fine, the famous Nanny. Other similar mothers include Seinfeld's mother, and, going back a bit, Mrs. Portnoy and the mothers (and women) in Woody Allen movies.
There is also no lack of jokes portraying this character. These are from the "Jewish Mothers" section in the previously mentioned (Passover Joke and Greetings) - "Big Book of Jewish Humor " a collection of jokes in Hebrew, gathered and edited by Prof. Adir Cohen:

"There is a famous Yiddish saying that states: "There comes a time in the life of every man that he must stand up to his mother and tell her that he is a grown up. Usually this happens when he is about 45…"

Isaac Asimov tells about the time he was walking down the street with his mother one wintry day when she said to him: "Isaac, I'm cold – put on your coat"
There are lot more in this vein which I am skipping in the interest of being concise.
There is a funny (but loud) flash presentation on Aish on this subject here.

You can read about "How to Survive a Jewish Mother" and there even is a book about the history of the Jewish mother:

"YOU NEVER CALL! YOU NEVER WRITE! " (sounds like a good book too, but I haven't read it - yet).

The point being that the Jewish mother as possessing many of the attributes of the maximizer seems to me quite ubiquitous. Having established that, we can now discuss what is a maximizer and why this may be important to you as a human being and as a Jew.

What is a Maximizer:
The quote above comes from the book "Giving the Love That Heals – A guide For Parents" by Harville Hendrix and his wife. Dr. Hendrix is the originator of the Imago theory which has been discussed on this site (see label on sidebar for more) including a post with a list of behaviors common to the minimizer and maximizer.
Imago theory assumes that every human is born with the potential and need for becoming a whole human being. Being whole means being connected to all parts of the personality and to the world, and being able to express the different personality aspects appropriately, with the correct force at the correct time. The ability to do this is impaired every time the caretaker (usually the parent) disregards the child as an independent - if still developing -human being, and instead assumes that he (or she ) and the child are one and the same. This kind of relationship is called a symbiotic connection with the child, defined by the parent's assumption: "We are one, and I am the one". Since the parent is "the one" she always knows what is best for her child, and will do anything to coerce her child to comply.
It is important to understand that the maximizer parent is completely unconscious of her behavior, and in fact was raised in exactly the same manner by a maximizer parent of her own. Unless the pattern of parenting is brought out of the dark into the light of consciousness, nothing can change, and the wounds of the parent will be passed on to the child, one generation after the other.

What Does This Say About The Jewish People?
The pattern of behavior described in the quote above is intended, originally, to portray the most extreme behavioral pattern of the maximizer. Most people have only a partial fit with this profile, since most are not so severely wounded. But if it is true that this mother is typical of Jewish history and culture than it follows that we are, as a nation, spiritually wounded in a most extreme manner.
We might as well recognize this fact and start dealing with our wounds directly in our own personal lives, and try to stop hurting the people we love most: our children, our spouses and ourselves.
Instead of blaming other people for our troubles – secular Jews, religious Jews, gentiles, settlers, leftists, Arabs and so on and so forth, we should accept responsibility for our wounds and start healing them. In short the best, most effective way to heal the world, to Repair it, is to start healing yourself.
"Tikkun Now" so to speak.
Actually, if we, as the chosen people wish to be "a light unto others" than I suggest that such a personal Tikkun would be an excellent place to start. It does not in any way conflict with Jewish practice and in fact, in my view, even expresses it perfectly. More importantly it is the most effective way to start the "Tikkun Olam", since it does not depend on other people changing themselves – it only depends on yourself.

Are the Jews the Only Sick Nation?
No indeed. Quoting again from the Big Book of Jewish Humor:

"Author Isaac Asimov tells that he was at a large banquet listening to an Indian tell amusing stories about his mother. After listening a while with great interest he could hold back no longer and asked:
"Tell me, is your mother Jewish?"
To which the Indian answered:
"My friend, all mothers are Jewish!"

Which, if you have been following, merely means that all mothers are maximizers. Obviously, it is not possible that only the Jewish people are sick. The persecutor is no less diseased than the persecuted, just as the wife-beater is no less ill than his wife who submits to the punishment day in and day out. Every relationship needs two partners and both share the responsibility for it's existence and nature, since it serves the needs of both , which are, in this case, the distorted, hurtful needs of wounded people.

Thing I Forgot to Mention:
• A maximizer mother will always, according to the theory, have a minimzer husband. He is no less harmful, in his own quiet, avoiding way, than his wife.
• Men can be maximizers too (An excellent example can be seen in the character of Jerry Peyser , a hysterical, hilarious Jewish father in the romantic comedy "The In-Laws"
• Healing your wounds is an extremely painful process, the worse they are the more painful.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Genesis, Creationism and What Was Really Born 6000 Years Ago

Synopsis: The birth and development of consciousness , what was created 6000 years ago, resolving the Creationist – Darwinism debate.(Word Count=1299)

One of the central tenets of Jungian psychology is that we live in two worlds – the outer world where things happen out in the open, where wars occur and what we normally call "history" happens, and the inner world, to which Jung devoted a lifetime of study. This is the world where the Ego, the part of ourselves that we call "me" or "I", experiences a monumental struggle to maintain it's coherency and path of development. However, because the struggle is very difficult, and the forces of the unconscious facing the Ego so powerful and frightening, direct experience of this inner world is rare. Most people must be content with experiencing the inner life in a second-hand manner, through other people or, commonly, through other stories which are created for this purpose and which we call myths. In Jungian theory, myths are a story we tell ourselves so that we can make sense of our experiences in this world. Some myths are private, created by the individual for his own purposes, but some experiences are so universal that the myths created about them appeal to most everyone, throughout the ages. One such myth is the powerful story of Genesis, which continues to fascinate us to this day, In fact, it so meaningful that it is still a central issue in American public life, driving the debate between "Creationism and Darwinism".
This post will try to explain what the Genesis myth is concerned with from a psychological point of view, and how this is still relevant for us today.

What The Genesis Story Can Teach Us About Our Psyche
I will assume that the reader is familiar with the story of Genesis and will proceed to count several defining characteristics of this creation story:

  • Creation needs light. Without light nothing can be seen nor identified because nothing has form.
  • Creation is shaping things out of chaos, defining boundaries, separating one thing from another, naming them.
  • A Supreme being called "God" is The Creator and ruler of everything He creates.
  • Man has a special relationship with God, as a son to a Father.
  • In the Beginning man lives an effortless, blissful existence in the Garden of Eden, devoid of self-awareness.
  • Man discovers self-consciousness, the good life ends and is replaced by a harsh existence of struggle with the world. Self-Consciousness is punished.
  • The way back to Eden is barred by guards and a vigilant sword.
  • Immortality is forbidden to man.

The story of Genesis is usually understood to be the story of the creation of the world and man. But in the Jungian view this is the story of the creation of the world as understood and experienced by the Ego and told by itself to itself – and to others sharing the same experience. In other words, this is the story of the birth of self-consciousness – projected upon the outer world. In this story, the Ego answers the universal question – where did "I" come from? Since the question is timeless as well as universal, it comes as no surprise that the answer is still relevant today, and more – that similar answers have been given in other origin myths all over the world throughout history. In such myths, consciousness is always born out of darkness – the unconsciousness - and it is always depicted as light. Self-consciousness is always and everywhere understood to be a dividing, defining, delineating, separating, naming agent. The beginning of human life is always a delightful, effortless existence, and the birth of self-consciousness is described as a painful and shocking experience, one that runs contrary to the natural order of the world. Always the way back to the prior unconscious existence is blocked, and immortality denied to the Ego. Finally, the relationship between God and His creation, man, is actually the relationship between the Ego and the Self. In other words – we really are "created", so to speak, by a higher or at least more complete and knowing "being", since the Self – the totality of the personality - is indeed omniscient, at least in regard to our own personal existence. In this respect it is quite correct to speak of a personal destiny, a calling, and a higher purpose laid down for us, partly hidden, by the Self. The Genesis myth reminds us that human history, personal as well as collective, is first and foremost the tale of our relationship with ourselves, the relationship between the Ego and the Self, between us and God.

When Was The World Really Created?
Interestingly, Jewish tradition holds that the world was created nearly 6000 thousand years ago, in the fourth millennium. Scientific evidence tells us that this is patently false. However, from the psychological viewpoint this date certainly has some merit. If we accept that the story of Genesis is indeed the story of the birth and development of consciousness, then there are many historic dates that can be celebrated as "The Beginning" of self-consciousness. The beginning of the world may relate to the first time man spoke, the first tool made, perhaps the discovery of fire. But Judaism specifically mentions the middle of the fourth millennium as the beginning, and it is there that we must search for a significant event in human history. Interestingly enough, the fourth millennium is commonly agreed to be the beginning of history, in other words this was the first time that writing appears as a complete and coherent system in ancient, nearby Sumeria. I suggest that the ability to record events for posterity is, psychologically, a day of independence for the Ego. It signifies our ability to step out of the natural cycle and create an abstract, alternative world, with a linear time-line as opposed to the natural cyclical one. In this world the Ego can reign supreme, and it is also immortal - since words cannot be erased. Perhaps in the mind of the author of the myth this event was seen as "The Beginning" - the birthday of a new era of human independence and self-sufficiency, after thousands of years of constant struggle with his own inner nature, and the natural outer world.

Understanding the Creationist – Darwinist Debate
Creationism is a belief in a literal interpretation of the Genesis story and the Bible, a belief which cannot possibly be reconciled with the theory of evolution developed by Darwin. Creationists in the United States have been campaigning to give the creationist theory an equal standing with the scientific one, especially in school curriculum. But if we understand the story correctly, then the debate is moot. One side is talking about the origins of the psychical world and its center of experience – the Ego, while the other group is talking about the origins of the physical world. I believe that the passion of the creationists derives not from the bare facts of their argument, which rests on belief, but rather from their intuitive understanding that denying the origin of the Ego, and the special subservient relationship between the Ego and God (the Self), is extremely dangerous to the individual and even to society, as indeed it is. But, so is the opposite: negating the outer world in such a manner as to deny the senses and reason is no less an inflation of the Ego and no less dangerous. In order to live in harmony with ourselves we must recognize the validity of both viewpoints and work to incorporate them in our own lives. We must understand that we live in both worlds – inside ourselves as well as outside.

Next Week: Find Out If The Legendary Jewish Mother Is A Maximizer!

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why Women Are Exempt From Prayer In Judaism – A Jungian Explanation

Synopsis: Men and women experience the development of the ego differently, Jewish law judged the psychic needs of each gender correctly - but that judgment has become outdated. (Word count = 1135)

In the previous post we determined that the purpose of prayer is to express and strengthen the connection between the Ego and the Self. As we explained, this must be done because in the process of maturation , a barrier is erected, separating the Ego from the unconscious, and thus from the totality of the personality, the Self. This is a grave loss, since the unconscious is the source of abundant energy, and it is also the only situation where the Ego has known a life without any tension or stress.
But if this is true, than it would seem that men and women have exactly the same need for prayer. If so, why would Jewish law differentiate between the two? If the need to pray is as great as we believe it to be, than Halacha would not need to dictate to men a thrice daily prayer, and, on the other hand, surely it would encourage, or at least allow women to participate equally in the prayers since they have the same need.
In this post I wish to show that there was a valid psychological reasoning behind both the exemption from prayer for women and the opposite, positive injunction for men.

Development of Consciousness in Pre-Modern Man and Women
The ego is born from the unconscious and emerges from it slowly and painfully, to a harsh, stressful world of light and awareness. In this psychic process the ego must fight constantly against falling back into the unconscious and losing it's self-awareness and control. The ego perceives the unconscious in a variety of ways during this process – from an all-encompassing, indifferent sea of plenty, to a benevolent mother of creation, and then, as the separation continues and deepens, as an unreliable ally, and finally as an enemy, a threat to the ego's existence, and an obstacle in the way to it's independence. In the beginning the ego identifies completely with the unconscious, and at the later stages it disassociates itself completely from it's origins.
The important thing to remember here is that the ego is the experiencing agent, and this experience varies with the gender of the ego. In other words the path to consciousness we have just outlined is experienced differently in the male and female.
This is because the human ego invariably sees the unconscious as a female entity. The ego will identify, usually, with the gender of it's body, whether male or female. This means that in the ego's struggle for independence a woman will find herself struggling against a female principle that is to her like a sister or mother, while the male is struggling against something that it perceives to be alien to it – a much simpler accomplishment. This is why men have a much easier time developing their ego, and becoming detached from the unconscious.
For the female this is far more difficult. It is true that the female ego develops – and that a barrier is too built between the female ego and the unconscious just like in the male psyche. However – this barrier is hardly as tall, as strong and as sturdy as the male one. In fact, until recently, it was more like a sieve. In the female, the ego never completely loses touch with the unconscious, the separation is never complete or final. I will go even so far as to say that most women never experience the horrible sense of loss that men do, the enormous gap between their reality and the Self, God.
Since women have not become separated from the unconscious, and the totality has not been completely broken, they have at their disposal the enormous energies of the unconscious, along with the very strong emotional and sensual powers that reside there.

Why The Halacha Was Correct
Since women never separated completely from the unconscious, and they still remain in touch with important parts of the psyche, and live them consciously – there is no need for women to pray – they are in touch with God all the time.
But then, if men need it so badly why force them? My guess is as follows: the biggest danger in the development of the male ego is that it will become detached to such a degree that it forgets completely about the unconscious, and begins to believe that it created itself, and everything it sees. I believe that in an attempt to avoid this tragedy, Judaism wisely commanded men to pray three times a day, each prayer consisting of a considerable stretch of time lest men forget who they are beholden to.

Why The Halacha Is Wrong
First of all, it must be admitted that the efforts to restrain the soaring male ego and get it to acknowledge it's Creator have not been a spectacular success. Many people say the prayers with an out of hand attitude, praying by rote, and completely disengaged emotionally from the meaning of the words. Halacha failed to take into account the degree to which the ego can become disassociated with the physical and emotional reality of the body it resides in.
Second, female consciousness has undergone a drastic change in the past few centuries. Under constant pressure from the dominating patriarchal point of view, women have been forced to adapt and as a result developed their egos to an unprecedented degree. Today one can find many women that are just as disassociated from their bodies and feelings as men are. This means that they too have lost the sense of the Self, and so, they are in just as much need of reconnecting as men once were. Today there are many women who do need to pray in order to express and strengthen the connection between their Ego and their Selves.
In my view, since the sole purpose of religion is to enable us to reconnect to God they should be allowed to do so. Their need should be recognized and catered to, since it is exactly the same psychological need that brought forth the idea of prayer in the first place.
Psychological needs change in time, and religious practices should be adjusted to accommodate them. Personally, I believe that it is the individual's responsibility to decide what are his or her own needs in this respect - we can no longer generalize on the sole basis of gender. The duty of society today is to raise it's members to be sufficiently independent and self aware to understand their own spiritual needs correctly. The rest should be up to them.

Next Week:What We Can Learn From The Story of Genesis about the Creationism debate, our psyche and what really happened 5767 years ago.

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