|Liberation Psychology: Calling for Revolution Not Reform
© 1992 Michele Toomey, PhD
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Liberation psychology is a revolutionary journey into the inner world of the self. It is intentionally a journey into the world of the self and not specifically the world of women, and this apparently presumptuous distinction marks the beginning of the revolution. Feminist reformers dare not claim psychology as their own, instead, they step aside and claim the psychology of women. The generic term, psychology, that defines the field is left in the main stream with the traditionalists, synonymous with the psychology of man. Universal truths, therefore, are assumed to be derived from the study of man, and specific differences are addressed in the study of women.
Consequently, the psychology of women, as an outgrowth of reform, has little stature and minimal effect on the field. I reject this sexist categorization and refuse to be relegated to a marginal sub-division. I presume to make statements in the field of psychology about universal truths pertaining to the nature of the self's inner world and about the nature of the self's relationship to power. I have not and will not accept the sexist bias that would confine me and my work and women to a myopic view of the psychological world. Liberation psychology calls for revolution not reform and begins by bringing women into psychology's main stream and bringing the main stream into liberation.
I do not discuss women's issues, therefore, I discuss psychological ones. I challenge the erroneous assumptions underlying psychology's approach to gender and unequal power, and denounce the violation and oppression they have legitimized in the name of science and under the guise of good mental health and normal sexual development.
I hold psychology responsible for playing its part in legitimizing sexist attitudes toward gender inequality by defining domination and control as the healthy relationship to power, and the natural relationship of men to women. Psychology's greatest sexist error is its assumption that women and men are unequal opposites and that their relationship with themselves and each other should be one of dominance and submission. Everything psychology ever does after making this assumption is contaminated by the error in it, and all the data it gathers and the conclusions drawn from them are interpreted from this vantage point, and serve only to document male superiority and the superiority of power as control.
From its inception, psychology has been invested in legitimizing female inferiority and male superiority. Psychologists began writing in professional journals in the early 20th century that women's brains were smaller and softer than men's and therefore, women were dumber and weaker than men. When science finally debunked this claim, psychology became more sophisticated in its sexism and more subtle in its bias, but, nonetheless, no different in its belief in gender inequality . Traits considered strong and superior were and still are labeled male while traits considered weak and inferior are labeled female.
In 1987, Yale University Press published what was hailed as "the standard by which other books of readings in the psychology of women would be judged." It was entitled, The Psychology of Women; Ongoing Debates. The table of contents of this book reveals 14 different questions debated in four categories. Each question was debated for and against. A sampling of the table of contents reads:
||"Are Women Masochistic?" Debated yes as well as no
||"Are Women More Likely to be Mentally Ill?" Debated yes as well as no
||"Are Menstruating Women at the Mercy of Hormones?" Debated yes as well as no
||"Is the Menopause a Deficiency Disease?" Debated yes as well as no
Are these the kind of questions that we want debated and to become the standard for judging the psychology of women? Is this the book we can be proud to see become a classic? I think not. I abhor this book, its orientation, its questions and its answers. And I abhor the fact that it is published by Yale University Press and praised by feminists in the field. How dare they even give credence to such a question as "Are women masochistic?" by debating it for 37 pages. I can't tolerate the questions say nothing of the fact that they are being debated.
Why should scholarly women and men use their time and talent to address such questions, that by their very nature assume women are biological captives with damaged integrity and questionable rationality? They are the wrong questions based on the wrong assumptions.
What all these highly educated professionals have in common is that they are part of the establishment, so they may reform it but they cannot rebel against it. Instead of rejecting the errors of the original assumptions underlying the theories and starting anew, they reform them and then build on them allowing the corrupt foundation to still define its shape and therefore still oppress women and men.
Recently the National institute of health created a new office of Research on Women's Health as an outgrowth of a report documenting the exclusion of women from medical research and that male physiology alone has been providing the data for universal conclusions about physical health. Surveys of mental health professionals also document the fact that what are described as male traits, such as autonomy and objectivity, independence and strength, are used as the measure of a healthy adult, while emotional involvement, subjectivity and dependence are seen as traits for women and children.
The primary reason autonomy and self-reliance ever came to be considered the most desirable stage of development and the measure of mental health in the first place is the field's sexist orientation toward valuing what are seen as superior male traits, and a rejection of what are considered undesired female ones. The current research by feminists theorists legitimizing the inclusion of empathy in the therapeutic process is an example of a recent re-form. If empathy had never been excluded as a desirable trait to begin with, however, it would not need to now be re-discovered and legitimized. If we did not originally disdain what are deemed female traits, we would not have deified autonomy and villified involvement and empathy.
Liberation psychology rejects the assumption that opposite sex means unequal sex, and that power means control. It creates new myths, new definitions and a new model. It does not, and will not re-work traditional psychology's approach to gender and to power. Its underlying assumptions are false and sexist, and everything built on them is tainted in some way.
For the past 20 years I have dedicated myself to creating a new approach to opposition and to power which is non-sexist, non-hierarchical and non-violent. It comes forth from a "nature myth" which is by definition, an "accord with nature" myth. Liberation psychology is designed to allow us to live in accord with our nature, not in control of it. Myth in its truest sense is a metaphor for what lies beneath the literal world in the invisible world of the spirit, and gives expression to the exchange of power that occurs within and between the two worlds. Traditional psychology is informed by an "against nature" myth. It uses the metaphor of battle to describe opposition. This traditional western myth sets up a battle with nature and pits "man" against "man" and men against women. Power is viewed as dominance and superiority comes from conquering, both self and other, human nature and nature's nature. Man, of course, is to be the conqueror, and is, of course, seen as superior in his ability to dominate and control.
In this "against nature" myth, opposite means opposition and opposition involves hostility, since in a battle one side must win and the other must lose. Just as a male is by nature to be the conqueror, females are said to be designed to lose and be conquered. So for females, yielding is expected even as yielding is seen as defeat. Female inferiority is then assumed because it is said to be dictated by nature, and then it is legitimized and proven by psychology. This "against nature" myth is hierarchical, violent, and sexist and it informs traditional thinking and therefore,traditional psychology. An "accord with nature" myth informs liberation psychology.
In keeping with the orientation of being informed by a nature myth, it became my task to "discover" the nature of the self and the laws of nature governing it and its inner world. Then I needed to translate what I discovered into a psychological model informed by these laws of nature. This is an ambitious undertaking and a presumptuous act, and for years I have been intimidated by my own ambitiousness and my own presumption. Only now have I finally come of age, and dare to come forth and claim what I have discovered and what I have done with it. Only now am I able to formally present liberation psychology and call for a revolution not a reform.
First and foremost, the underlying myth. Liberation psychology, since it is built on a nature myth, assumes nature's integrity and presumes we are to live in accord with nature, not in control of it. It assumes we are born whole, and with integrity, and therefore, all of our paradoxical (opposite) needs and forces are equally legitimate and are meant to be reconciled with, not controlled by, each other. Intimacy, oneness, not conquest, is seen as the goal of any interaction and any exchange. To live in accord with nature is to live at one with it.
This is revolutionary because it is in direct contrast to the "against" nature myth that informs western traditions and traditional psychology. They assume hostile inequality with superiority established through conquest and control. Assuming integrity sweeps the assumption of inequality and hostility away, and with it the assumption of superiority attained through dominance.
Male superiority is, therefore, swept away as well. Without the assumed superiority of dominance, there is no assumed superiority of males. Gender inequality has no basis in a myth where integrity replaces hostility, and intimacy and oneness replace dominance and conquest. The violation of dominance is forever outlawed, both internally between one's paradoxical forces and externally with another, if one chooses liberation psychology and the integrity revolution.
To choose the complexity of liberation and the integrity revolution is to learn to live in accord with, not in control of, our paradoxical nature. It is to choose honesty, fairness, caring and respect in the face of contradictory positions and uncertainty. Whenever we are disappointed or upset with a decision we've made, we are expected to delve into the process that brought us to make that decision. Our purpose is to try to understand not judge what we think, how we feel, where our imagination takes us and what we do. With this respectful, caring and honest search for understanding we can discover what is going on for us and evaluate the fairness or unfairness of it, both to ourselves and others. This process allows us to live with integrity and intimacy with ourselves, and this in turn is what it means to live in "accord" with our nature.
If we are going to live with the complexity of reconciling our paradoxical needs and desires, thoughts and feelings, we must learn how to do it. Rather than learning the simplicity of conforming to the traditional approach of eliminating the paradox by designating one set of forces superior to the opposing set, and dictating that the superior forces dominate and control the inferior ones, we are left to deal with the complexity of equally legitimate opposing forces. Each must be taken seriously and given its turn. No thought, feeling or imagining, and no need or desire is considered superior or inferior, evil or wrong. What we do with them is the issue. They can be misused, over-used, and abused, but in and of themselves they are all desirable, legitimate capacities.
A nature myth speaks of accord, of intimacy and oneness. Governed by integrity it is honest, respectful and fair. It is, in effect, a dream come true. But it is not simple and definitely not easy, since we are complex paradoxical beings and discovering what is honest, respectful, and fair is complicated and acting on it is hard. The simplistic approach of conformity to traditional genderized power and behavior is easier to follow but oppressive to live. To choose liberation is to choose complexity, and to choose the discipline it takes is to choose "hard." It is, nonetheless, to choose the freedom to be intimate and to live in accord with, not in violation of, our nature.
We must therefore be taught to discover what we are experiencing, not taught to follow a prescribed formula that defines what ought to be, so that we can discover who we are, not fear we won't conform to what we are expected to be. Without hostility and dominance as our orientation to the exchange of power among our inner forces, exposure of ourselves to ourselves is not dangerous, it is a necessity. When intimacy is the goal, self-knowledge becomes the treasured fabric of our relationship with ourself, not the feared weapon of destruction. Its images and metaphors that capture how we feel and what we think provide us with a desired insight into ourselves.
As little children we need to have the integrity of our thoughts and feelings, needs and desires sought after and reflected back to us by our parents, if we are to learn to recognize, trust and then treasure them. To be liberated, we must be taught this sequence and then taught how to process what we discover with honesty and fairness, caring and respect. If, as is too often the case, we are taught that what we want, think or feel is unimportant, dangerous or wrong, we learn to distrust what we desire, doubt what we know, and fear who we are. This is not only a lesson in violation, it is a violation itself. It strips a child of its birthright.
To teach a child to distrust what it desires, doubt what it knows and fear who it is, is to teach a child to violate itself. These lessons in violation are violations themselves and are as cruel and crippling as physical violence, yet they are allowed because children's broken hearts, deadened spirits and crushed self-images are not documentable by literal proof. It is immoral and unethical but not illegal to violate a child's relationship with itself. Sadly, it is traditional. I condemn this tradition and its many variations on the theme as they are currently practiced and condoned.
This is all part of the oppression of viewing power as control that legitimizes a whole range of parental and societal abuses directed at children when they express themselves to parents and a world that only wants them to obey and conform. These children suffer the ravages of an inner civil war. Their needs and thoughts and feelings are ignored, rejected or ridiculed as the child is battered into psychological submission or rebels into hostility. It learns either to seek approval or revenge, neither of which can ever satisfy it and both of which are violations of the self. Neither gender escapes this brutality, but girls are expected to submit to it and seek approval, while boys are expected to rebel and seek revenge.
Let us consider the assumption traditional belief and traditional psychology make about the female gender, that we are masochistic by nature and therefore enjoy being dominated and find pleasure in being abused. Consider the tradition of little girls being seduced and bullied into submission while craving affection, approval and protection, and then ponder female masochism. To dare even breathe the words that we are by nature masochistic is criminal. Little girls learn fear early and they soon learn that they have the possibility of being safe if they are good and therefore desired. To be good and desired for a girl means to be submissive. As if this isn't bad enough, girls often find that they are not ever going to be desired, and nothing is ever good enough, so they are never safe. Many girls and women find they are never safe from rejection because they are actually hated just because they exist. And with this hatred and rejection comes ridicule and abuse.
Are little girls born desiring to be hated, dominated and abused? How dare we ask such a heinous question to cover up a tradition based on domination, abuse and even hatred of women. Liberation psychology rejects this tradition based on an "against" nature myth that uses hostility and domination to justify sexism, oppression and abuse. Instead, it invites women and men to embrace a nature myth that speaks of living in accord with the integrity of nature in respect and fairness, leading to intimacy and oneness. There can never be a debate on female masochism in this approach. A woman who is masochistic is an unliberated woman who is violating her nature.
It is breathtaking if we will but take a moment to let the magnitude of this revolutionary shift into our mind and heart. It moves us out of fear as our primary emotion and into desire. Battle imagery is no longer relevant. Conquering space, conquering disease, conquering nations, conquering our fear, or conquering another to establish dominance and control is not the point. Integrity and oneness is.
The first revolutionary act of liberation psychology, therefore, was to assume a nature myth, as the basis for its underlying assumptions. Now that myth, that nature myth, leads us to a new orientation to power and that is our next revolutionary act, re-defining power. Once power is not seen as the ability to control and dominance is not the measure of strength, we are left to ponder the question of power. What is it if it's not the force to control? It is the force to move. It is energy. Psychological power is energy. If we define power as energy, then strength can be measured in intensity and we are catapulted into a new world view, and the inner world becomes a universe, more like the universe of astronomy and galaxies and less like the hierarchy of strength in the physical world of the jungle, of animals conquering each other for territory and for food, creating animal kingdoms. Beginning with our inner self, we are in space with spiritual forces, moving with varying degrees of intensity, and we are moving toward oneness with the cosmos and within it. The air is clean and the heart is free.
Liberation psychology is an ecological psychology. It creates no toxic waste. Re-defining power as energy revolutionizes the way we think, the way we process information, and the way we relate. Fear is not the primary force and neither is anger. Processing information is not judging it or analyzing it, and relationships become mutual exchanges of energy, of power, that lead to intimacy, not conquest. An intense person has strong energy and is, therefore, a powerful person, but need not be a feared one. In this liberated approach to power, gender is not the determining factor of strength. Whether an intense person is female or male is not relevant, except that we may find we are more intimidated when an intense male gets angry because he may be more physically intimidating. But in and of itself, intensity is not gender bound.
When the purpose of an interaction, with ourselves or other, is intimacy, as it is in liberation psychology, however, then intimidation is a distraction, not the point. With intimacy as our goal, our communication vehicle needs to be conversation not argument, and it is a space ship for discovery, for insight, clarity and understanding, not a stealth bomber for conquest and winning. In its non-sexist, non-hostile, and non-hierarchical approach to power as energy, liberation psychology preserves the integrity of nature, it does not violate it.
Internal conversations, therefore, must be dialogues not diatribes. We are to discuss with ourselves not deride ourselves. If we discuss, we can explore our equally legitimate dimensions without fear and do not have to hide from our own posturing and superior dimension of judgmental accusations that blames and then serves to shame us. Derision and disdain, as the weapons of hostile inequality, serve only to erode our self-confidence and violate the integrity of our psychological environment, creating toxic fumes that damage and may even kill ourselves and/or others. Fear and anger are the primary emotions evoked in this traditional climate of antagonistic inequality, and fear and anger are lethal when taken in mega doses over time.
In a liberated environment, fear and anger are replaced by trust and desire as the primary emotions. Breathing the air of liberation is not hazardous to our health. There is no danger in trusting a person of integrity, or in desiring when desire is governed by integrity. Starting from a point of assumed integrity and desired intimacy, there is no jeopardy in vulnerability and exposure, so there is no need to hide or defend. Insight and clarity are treasured for the understanding they provide, not feared for the ammunition they generate. When we probe ourselves we are searching to discover the truth of what is really going on for us, in order to be intimate with ourselves. Our desire is to know and understand who we are and what we want and need, so that we can live in accord with, not in control of ourselves.
We do not need to generate chaos and confusion to protect ourselves from exposure when the climate is one of accord. But we have grown up in a hostile world with a violating psychology of judgment and blame, and our first instinct is to fear exposure and not to trust. We are trained to create smoke screens, to deflect and defend while we hide from the truths that we fear will reveal our inadequacy or ill will. We fear that exposure will confirm our worst fears, get us in trouble, and cause ourselves or others pain. Even in the innermost sanctuary of our soul, we are taught to fear what we will find. We are fearful of discovering evil motives and defective parts that make us dangerous or untrustworthy, and therefore, unworthy. Traditional theology and psychology both teach and reinforce in us this fear of our nature. It is no wonder fear and anger are the primary emotions evoked by this tradition. It is built on them.
If we are to be liberated from this oppressive tradition, we must re-teach ourselves about ourselves, re-defining power and re-learning liberation. If we are to re-claim our nature and live in accord with it, we must learn to live by the principles of integrity that govern it. Learning to dare trust our nature and to live by the natural laws governing it, is diametrically opposed to anything we've ever been taught. We were taught to fear our nature and to assume there is no integrity governing it. Assuming we have no natural integrity, we quickly learn the rules for imposing artificial limits and controls on ourselves, believing they are for our own protection. The most difficult task of the liberation journey is the letting go of learned violation and oppression of ourselves, because we have been taught to believe it is for our protection, our protection from ourselves.
Religions teach us to look to God to forgive us from our natural sinfulness and to save us from ourselves. Self-help groups advise us to turn to "a higher power." Psychology points to our weaknesses that must be controlled and our blindness that we must be forced to see. As women, we have a special need for protection in all this. Eve is blamed for seducing Adam to commit original sin. Only female hormones are said to create craziness and only women are seen as masochistic by nature. Women especially are taught to fear themselves and their power. Women especially think they need to be protected from themselves and from each other. Men think they need to protect and be protected from women. To learn to trust ourselves, especially if we are women, is a very, very difficult task.
But liberation psychology contends that if we are looking to God or a higher power to be saved, we need to look within. Liberation is a spiritual, inner journey that allows us to discover God and the higher power within us. The liberation journey into space is inner space, not outer space. The spirit of oneness and wholeness must first be experienced within ourselves, and when we meet another, it is a meeting within, where spirits meet. Liberation is a spiritual journey before it is a physical or political one. True intimacy is a oneness of spirit before it is a oneness of body or of institutions.
If we believe that God is within, then God is not male. God is a spirit, the spiritual essence of truth. So, arguing about God's gender is not the point, and using God to prove our unworthiness is wrong. If God is within, we are not born evil or defective, but God-like. Our paradoxical nature is complex, our ability to live in accord with it is a miracle, and our capacity for intimacy is a treasure. We should be in awe of our human nature, not in fear of it.
Liberation psychology is built on integrity, and the revolution it calls for is an integrity revolution. When integrity and ethical principles inform our myth and mode, they inform our orientation to life and become our philosophy of life. That philosophy informs our psychology and yields a way of life that can be lived in keeping with our nature. This in turn allows us to reclaim our spirit and our body, which in turn is to reclaim our essence and our truths.
And what of truth? of fact as spiritual reality? It cannot be proven, it can only be known. So how can we know the truth? By connecting with our core, the source of essential truth, and yielding to its message. And what are our core essential truths?
Liberation psychology makes three basic assumptions:
These assumptions are revolutionary because they are in direct opposition to the traditional assumptions that form the basis for western thought which assumes the self is by nature at war with itself. It is assumed that the self's paradoxical nature is comprised of good and evil forces, battling for control over the self, making dominance the desired goal and salvation from its evil forces the necessary means. Rather then reconciling, the self's opposing forces are expected to conquer or be conquered by the other. Life is a test designed to prove which of the self's forces have won the war.
- The self is born with integrity, whole and at one.
- The self is, by nature, paradoxical and the self's paradoxical forces are equally legitimate and meant to be reconciled with each other in order to maintain the self's integrity and allow it to be whole and at one.
- The self is, by nature, evolutionary, evolving as it ages, becoming more complex as it goes through life, making its life a journey not a test.
Liberation psychology takes its place as a nature myth by contradicting these traditional "against" nature assumptions. By taking the position of assuming integrity, the essential truths that follow are also revolutionary. Once we dare believe that we are born with integrity, we are free to confront tradition that assumes innate evil forces are within us, and we are left to discover how to live in accord with the integrity of our paradoxical nature, not in control of it. The primary truth to emerge is what liberation means. Liberation becomes the freedom to be intimate with, not in control of, our paradoxical nature. Intimacy replaces conquest in this accord with nature approach, and liberation is the freedom to be at one with our paradoxical desires through reconciliation of their opposing forces. This is a far cry from the battle approach that focuses on what we are free from instead of what we are free to be.
The next truth that follows from the assumptions of liberation psychology, is the truth of the centrality of movement in the liberating process. Movement is central to liberation psychology because the only way paradox can be reconciled is by moving back and forth between its contradictory forces. To evolve, we must also be free to move. In the oppressive tradition of domination and conquest, we don't evolve as we age, instead we become more entrenched and more entrapped, and afraid to move for fear we'll lose control. Without fear of movement, we are free to respond to our desire for intimacy and oneness, and we are not held back by our need to protect ourselves. It follows, therefore, that the natural sequence, the ordering, of our movement, begins with the move toward intimacy. Again a revolutionary position, since in the traditional "against" nature approach, the self is assumed to be at war with itself, so it must begin always by protecting itself.
For the self's integrity, its wholeness and oneness, to be sustained, the self must always begin by moving toward intimacy with itself before it moves toward protecting itself. Intimacy cannot occur if the self is guarded before it is open. Defensiveness leads to argument and fighting against and rejecting. Intimacy leads to openness and yielding and receiving. The sequence of intimacy preceding protection is necessary in order to allow the self to have the open and vulnerable stance that intimacy requires before it assumes the closed posture that risk and danger demand. If none of our inner forces are viewed as evil predators we have no need to fear them, we have, instead the need to know them.
In addition to its natural sequence, the self's inner world also has a natural path.Tradition would have us believe it is a linear path of cause and effect, dominant and dominated lined up, one under the other. Living in accord with our complex paradoxical nature instead of in control of it, however, calls forth interdependent circular relationships. Movement in the inner world is comprised of spiraling motion, a circular sequence. Each dimension and each desire of the self informs and is informed by the other. As long as the integrity of the sequence is followed, movement back and forth between the self's paradoxical forces will allow them to form and inform each other.
In addition to intimacy preceding protection, there is one other factor that dictates the ordering and path of the sequence of movement, and that is the relationship between the spirit and the body. Since the inner world is a spiritual one, the integrity of the sequence dictates that the spirit inform the body prior to the body informing the spirit. This implies that what feeds the spirit must be considered prior to addressing the needs of the body. Yet, always the circularity of the sequence assures that the needs of the body are incorporated into the needs of the spirit and the spirit's needs in the needs of the body. Each must inform and be formed by the other in a spiraling motion.
In the inner world, the sequence is infinite, since the ordering never changes and the movement never stops. This is best represented by an infinity sign super-imposed on a spiral, with the self's core at the intersection, and with every movement emanating from and returning to the core. There is no linear cause and effect in this world, rather, interdependent relationships of paradoxical forces informing and forming each other.
Gender does not change this sequence or this path, but it does affect the self's orientation toward and participation in it. In the back and forth spiraling movement, women as yielders, begin by moving back and in, then forth and out, while men, as aggressors, move forth and out, then back and in. Neither orientation is superior and both genders must complete the full cycle to preserve their integrity. Male gender is not superior to female gender either in movement or in traits. Our intimate connection with ourselves and our inner world is dependent on preserving the integrity of our sequence, and that means completing the paradoxical movement of back and forth, in and out, not stopping at a truncated genderized half cycle. Again a reminder that an intimate connection is central to both genders, and not just to women.
Finally, we are left to address what prompts movement in the inner world. What is the source of energy that initiates movement within the self now that it is no longer assumed to be the conflict of warring sides engaged in a battle for conquest and domination?
Once we view the inner world as a spiritual universe not, a kingdom, the laws of nature that govern it are the laws governing force as energy, not force as dominance. We then have defined power as energy, and the ability to move, both spiritually and physically, internally and externally, as the exercising of power. This radical shift from kingdom to universe, and from power as control to power as movement, frees us to look at the source of our power as the source of our energy. The search for the source of our energy leads us to our desires, since without desire we are not energized, and cannot or will not move.
It is exciting to realize that desire is the source of our power, the fuel for our energy, since as long as we are not alienated from ourselves we are provided with a limitless supply of energy. Again we collide with tradition, however, the tradition of fearing desire as the source of temptation and the self's force for evil. To look on desire as a legitimate source of energy, we cannot fear our desires and view them as dangerous sources of temptation. Liberation psychology provides us with this possibility and this reassurance. By assuming that we are born with integrity, whole and at one, and that all of our paradoxical needs and desires are equally legitimate, and none are evil by nature, we are free to live energized by our desires, not in fear of them. This is another revolutionary move and a potentially revolutionary freedom.
Freedom to desire, explore desire, and fulfill desire is not license to indulge desire, however. Ethical principles govern the integrity of our system, and the natural boundaries of the paradox of indulgence and abstinence must be discovered in the process of reconciling our paradoxical desires with honesty and fairness, respect and caring. The tool for keeping our integrity intact and living within our self-discovered boundaries, is accountability. We must learn to be accountable first to ourselves, and then to others, if we are to be liberated. Exacting of and affording accountability to ourselves and others is our and their protection from abuse. Confrontation is the vehicle for exacting this accountability, so we must also learn how to confront and be confronted if we are to be traveling with integrity on this liberating journey.
Both accountability and confrontation take courage and require great discipline if they are done with integrity. Liberation is not license, and liberation is not easy. It is, in fact, very demanding. The oppression of conformity to the rules of dominance and submission is always easier to learn, but harder to live. To live by the principles of liberation psychology that preserve our integrity and free us from oppression, is to live spiritually disciplined but free. In conclusion, domination, either of any one dimension of the self over another, or of self over other, is a violation of the natural order and of the self, and should never be tolerated. We must be governed by integrity, not by force, if we are to be truly free.
Since we are evolutionary beings who evolve as we age and therefore become more complex as we live, our desires and our priorities will change over time. The integrity with which we process them should remain ever the same, however. Essential truths never change, and we will find great comfort in them since their eternal truth provides the guideposts for life. Although these truths cannot be proven and these principles can't be enforced, they can and are able to be known, and are to be lived. It would seem that essential truths and ethical principles would, in fact, have universal appeal, and yet that is not the case. Traditional myths and traditional values formed in the tradition of hostile hierarchies and kingdoms ruled by kings still prevail. It is, after all, our tradition.
The metaphor of conquest, rooted in the hostile myths of avenging angels and warring Gods, continues to define our relationship to power. This mythical battle between opposing good and evil forces creates the impression that the fight for dominance is a moral necessity if good is to prevail and "might" is to "make right." Morally right and good forces are expected to continually engage in "justifiable" wars against the morally wrong and evil ones. Defeating the evil enemy and winning the moral war is the desired and hoped for goal, making hope dependent on conquest and goodness a moral victory. The myth of hope emerges from the myth of conquest, and this is a critical point.
It was never my intent to confront hope, but now it is clear that a challenge to the myth of conquest poses a threat to the myth of hope. And that is a very serious threat, since hope is the self's emotional bond to life. Without hope, there is only despair. It is then, fear of despair that holds the traditional hostile myth in place, and anchors power seen as conquest to the myth of hope. The power of the traditional myth, therefore, is in the power of the human spirit's need to hope. For the self to reject the myth is to lose its known connection to hope, and to risk death through despair, for without hope the spirit is lost, and without the spirit there is no life for the self.
Recognition of this essential bond between hope and the self's spiritual connection to life is one thing, but the realization that the self's connection to hope is through moral victory and conquest is another. In liberation psychology, I intentionally challenged dominance and goodness, but inadvertently I had threatened hope. By taking the position that the self is born with integrity and is, therefore, by nature, whole, I knew that I was making a statement about goodness, saying that all the forces within the self are, by nature, good, and none are intrinsically evil. Further, I deliberately stated that any force could be used to violate, but in and of itself is not an evil force.
By assuming integrity, I assumed innate goodness and had made the need for internal moral wars non-existent. Without a war, however, the self loses its vehicle for "proving" its goodness and establishing its legitimacy and worth. This in turn imposes further loss, since the self's hope is entangled in its ability to "prove" itself. Inadvertently, my position on integrity and dominance had severed the self's traditional connection to hope through proving itself.
Once again we are confronting core beliefs, core needs and core fears, but this time it is the self's emotional bond to life that is actually being threatened. This is a very serious position to be in and it requires very deliberate steps. For the liberation myth/model to be embraced, the self must dare to reject its traditional basis for hope, while still retaining its emotional hold on life. That is a very dangerous move and a very daring prospect. It is no wonder the oppressed self is so reluctant to embark on the liberation journey, and is so fearful of the price. It is also why the move from oppression to liberation requires a leap of faith. Only the deepest belief in the integrity of what liberation psychology assumes to be true will do, and even then it is the metaphor of myth that must capture the self's imagination, and carry the truths and principles into its very soul.
Essential truths and ethical principles must, of course, enter our mind as part of our belief system, but unless they touch our spirit and become part of the mythology that informs our soul, we are unchanged. For the truth to set us free, it must be "known" in our mind and in our heart, and for that to be possible, it must be metaphorically communicated throughout our entire system by our imagination. We are left, then to confront the myth and image of hope.
This image has gender differences, since gender traditionally dictates the self's relationship to dominance and goodness, and therefore, dictates its relationship to the hope of proving itself. A traditional woman hopes to prove her desirability by finding a man who will protect her and provide for her personally and/or professionally. Her essential bond with hope is, therefore, goodness and desirability, which is proven by finding a man as husband and/or mentor. This search is strictly outlined by societal norms and the moral code, and her role is narrowly defined. She is to be chosen, not to choose, for her sole relationship to power is in her ability to attract. Her desirability, and therefore, her power, is based on the attraction of her beauty and her goodness and her brains, and the proof of it is in the man who chooses her. If he has stature, she has status and can hope for a good life as his wife or his protegee, and if he is not, she can acquire a certain status by enduring the partnership, hoping she will be rewarded for making it work.
She can gain stature by being a valiant and self-less woman, for goodness is also measured in virtue. One of a woman's traditionally valued virtues is endurance. Thus, for a woman, divorce is seen as her failure and her disgrace. She has either failed to keep her man or she has failed to endure him. In this failure, she loses her image of goodness, and therefore loses her connection to hope, since she has neither succeeded in keeping a man who can and does protect her, nor has she valiantly endured the man who doesn't.
In this myth, the image of hope for a good woman is proof of her desirability to men, and her only power is attracting one and keeping him. She is not to hope in herself and who she is, or be hopeful in her ability to be independent and make her own dreams come true. Rather, she is to prove her worth by attracting men and then subordinating herself to their power. Of necessity, she must become a manipulator if she is to remain hopeful, and in so doing she must pretend to be someone she is not. Her false hope has, in effect, led her to becoming a false woman. For a woman, the adage, "Ignorance is bliss" is a truism. Knowledge of her self-deception would prevent her from having her false sense of hope. It is a corrupt and corrupting mythology that is built on false hope, and builds it with the blood of women"s lives, in collusion with women's selling their souls in the hope they will be saved by men and from men.
In this morass of false hope and false women there is a terror known only to women, the frightening sound of death, if truth is revealed. Death of the body and death of the spirit at the hands of truth. It is no wonder aging is such a terrifying prospect for most women. They have lied about themselves and about their age both literally and figuratively their whole life in an attempt to escape death, and now the truth will out, and death will be the outcome after all.
The genderized myth of hope does not allow either women or men to hope in who they are without exaggeration, but for women the distortion for being greater than who they are focuses primarily on their physical nature, and on their sexual attractiveness to men. They are, therefore, dominated by their appearance and by men's attraction to it. So they are, in their falseness, a superficial shell of who they are, and are far less than who they actually could be. Men, on the other hand, are exaggerated into being supposedly bigger than life, so they are primarily caught pretending they are far more than who they are, or who they actually could ever be. Both genders have false hope and false images and both become false selves, but the myth is designed by and for men, so as destructive as lies are for anyone, women are far more devastated by the myth.
It is less abusive and burdensome to be male and pretend to be "bigger than life" than it is to be female and pretend to be less,"less than" any man and generally "less than" who they are. While the male myth may be a stress and a burden, it can lead to stretching to reach great heights and maximizing one's potential. Men, therefore, may strive to grow to fit their false hope and false image, while women must shrink to fit theirs. To become less, women must strive to let parts of themselves die. In the most acute instances they not only passively allow their death, they actually try to kill themselves or each other. Anorexics are an example of such an extreme expression of a woman's need to fit the image, even if it kills her.
The tragedy for women is that while men are killed, and kill trying to be bigger than life, women are killed, and kill themselves trying to be less.
On some level I have known this truth for years, but on another level I am only now confronting it. The fact that fear is the driving force for the corruption and the conformity exacted by the myth of false hope and false images is one thing, but that it informs the mythology that legitimizes abuse of women in every "civilized" culture is another.
In the middle east, men decree that women are to be silent and hidden and physically covered from head to foot; in China women's feet were ordered bound, and infant girls are killed. India sets fire to women when husbands deem them too financially or emotionally burdensome, or demand they have abortions if they are carrying a female fetus, or kill the infant girls. African girls are genitally mutilated to make sex unpleasurable and assure their virginity. Eastern nations allow men to kidnap and sell young girls into prostitution and slavery. Brazilian men, by law, can kill an unfaithful wife. America's founding fathers saw fit to define wives as the property of their husbands, and omitted women from the ranks of those they deemed to have the right to participate in the democratic process, and refused women the right to vote. Today's judicial system, designed and run by men, sentences women to long or life prison terms for killing abusive male partners who are killing women at alarmingly high rates.
To say that this use of the code of law and the unwritten norm sets women up to fear men and fear their institutions, is to understate the conformity terror evokes. Women know they are safe only if they are desired by men and protected from men. At the time a particular girl is born, she is aware only of her own power to attract, and her own particular jeopardy may or may not be known to her unless or until something happens to shock her into knowing it. She learns to do what she needs to do to prove she is worthy and therefore safe, without learning to doubt the legitimacy of what is expected of her. On some level, no woman is actually safe enough for that. Instead, she learns to doubt herself and her legitimacy.
The current trend of cosmetic plastic surgery that includes breast implants and other dangerous procedures, finds today's women doubting their worth because of their bodies; so, in alarming numbers they force their bodies to conform to the desired image. False faces, false breasts, false hopes and false images once again yield false women. This is the late 20th century's own version of the myth using its new technological tools to provide false hope. These methods are no less abusive than any other, even after centuries of growing awareness and heroic breakthroughs by insightful and courageous women.
Perhaps I am only now confronting the myth of false hope because I could not let myself face this abhorrent tradition of fearful women colluding with fearful men to keep this destructive myth in power, and its abusive traditions alive. Perhaps this truth I feared and dared not look at, for fear of losing hope. Perhaps I, too, felt that without false hope there would be no hope. I understand that fear. In truth, what hope is there when the corruption is in the myth, and the myth is universally endorsed, even though it is societally distinct. When centuries have established the power of this myth, and the myth's power is in its ability to connect the human spirit to hope, false though it may be, where then is the hope that this myth will ever be rejected and another embraced? Truly the question becomes, where then is the hope?
Clearly it is not in our institutions, so clearly it is not in reform, and certainly it is not in men. Our only hope is in ourselves and personal revolution. It is easier to look at the politics of women colluding with institutional oppression for professional recognition than it is to look at the psychology of women colluding with institutional oppression for personal safety. Yet, without a personal revolution we cannot have a political one. Liberation that begins the revolution first within ourselves and then gets translated into political action, will in turn revolutionize, not reform our institutions. If we are to be freed of false hope, false images and false myth, we must look to ourselves and revolutionize our inner world from within, liberating our spirit as we reclaim our soul.
The ironically tragic twist of psychological oppression is that, unlike physical oppression, it is kept in place by the oppressed. Fear motivated us to build a protective system of lies, and fear prompts us to keep the system and the lies in place. Fear, therefore, escapes any confrontive effort to make it accountable, because until there is safety, the distortion and doubt that fear generates have free reign. To reject false hope we must reject false protection, but to do that we must feel safe. Fear then is very self-perpetuating, and feeds on itself. Exposure is feared and hiding is safe, so fear protects by preventing us from revealing our deception to ourselves and therefore from ever being freed, as long as the cycle is in place.
Again we question what hope can there be when the self is corrupted by lies and self-deception, and that lying system is self-perpetuated and societally endorsed. The one thread of hope remaining is the natural integrity of the self and its potential for re-connecting it to truth. This is an unbreakable thread, however, because it is the birthright of the soul that provides it with a direct connection to its inner core and its essential inner truths. Integrity, therefore, is the umbilical cord of the spirit, connecting it to the life sustaining nutrients of honesty and fairness that in turn provide it with the necessary security to attach its hope to truth. Liberation from the oppression of false hope rooted in proof of worth through false images born of false myths is possible, regardless of its difficulty, because it returns us to our natural state of integrity that is intuitively known to us and cannot be proven, even though it is the source of inner safety and true hope. Fittingly we end where we began. Liberation is built on an initial assumption of integrity that requires a leap of faith, thus a primary and a concluding factor in the sequence is that faith in our integrity precedes hope.
We are left confronting what we were trying to prove to be true with what we know to be true, when traditionally our bond to proof is considered essential, and our bond to integrity is doubted and cannot be proved. Consequently, the shift must be made from fearing ourselves and our nature, to discovering ourselves and believing in the original integrity of our nature. This shift means putting our trust first in ourselves and not first in others, and beginning by evaluating our information through the internal process of self-reflection to first discover its inner truth.
This brings us back to the solitary component of liberation. If we have grown up believing we are defective, inadequate, and yes, even evil by nature, we are not going to find comfort in the fact that our safety is within, and that our potential is in our integrity. We believe we need to look outside to compensate for what we lack and we have that approach down to a science. Turning our eyes inside and opening them there is not only feared, it is uncharted. Internal vision with internal light switches that allow us to see inside are hidden by years of denial and fear. Yet, only we can see within our inner self, and only we can look. Others can only guess and surmise, while we can really know, if we will dare turn on the inner lights, and open our eyes to see.
The fear is tremendous here, however, because we have been taught to close our eyes and look the other way. It will take great courage and a deep act of faith for us to look within, and even greater courage to live by what we discover. Replacing false hope based on fear and proof with true hope based on self discovery and understanding is risky when both truth and self are feared.
Ironically, however, false women and false men are a danger to themselves and to each other, but women and men freed by integrity are in no danger, and are no danger at all. When truth sets us free and integrity governs, mutual respect and fair play are the norm, and dominance has no place. There is no tolerance for exaggerated posturing that establishes false superiority or false inferiority. Tolerance is afforded honest mistakes, not manipulative lies.
Our hope, then, is in the integrity revolution, the revolution that turns us toward the integrity of nature, nature's nature and human nature. Feminist psychologists must be challenged to re-think the fundamental assumptions underlying their work, and reject psychological reform because it builds on erroneous sexist assumptions of a self at war with its undesirable female forces. If we will research and learn how to live in accord with our nature, and not distrust and violate it , we will learn how to sustain its integrity and ours. We must lead the revolution that frees us to discover how to be true to who we are, not false in who we become. Neither our politics, nor our research, nor our relationships can go beyond our beliefs and our personal limitations, so we must all look within and take our position before we venture out. If it does not begin and end with intimacy with ourselves and our own integrity, it is not worthy to embrace.