THE ART OF LIMITATION
Tracey Lin Miller
On the Path to Understanding
December 15, 2012
Limitation is inherent within any name or label we apply to a person, place or thing. With inanimate objects the labeling is irrelevant, but when applied to living beings, it will determine their destiny and can determine the success, life or death of the being.
To illustrate, bring to mind the Pit Bull dog. For most, the image will be one of a vicious brute who attacks all living things from other dogs, to children; they are the epitome of the demon dogs of nightmares. In the past, Dobermans have held the same image to a smaller degree and were known to turn on their masters. Yet, the entire breed was not victimized by this knowledge.
Rottweilers have been used in fiction movies as the true demon dogs of the devil, accused of attack of owners and children; still, they have not been condemned as a breed. Sadly, because the Pit Bull has been misused by their owners and handlers have been condemned as a breed and is often euthanized and in some states, outlawed.
The source of this almost universal fear of Pit Bulls is not only the fact that they have been trained for dog fights, but the media propagation of the image of a violent, uncontrollable, vicious animal who not only attacks, but who has to have its jaws pried open in death to release it from its victims. The Pit Bull gained this lock-jawed ability from one of its ancestors, the Staffordshire, which has the elongated jaw and the death grip locking of jaws, which the Pit Bull exhibits, yet, rarely is the name of the Staffordshire ever heard outside of the dog show. I’ve actually witnessed a pair of Staffordshire jump eight feet from the floor, grab on to a pull-up bar suspended between doorways and hang on for an hour by these powerful jaws and only released their hold when their owner told them to do so. The labels of vicious, violent and others which have been applied to Pit Bulls raise an immediate fear of this animal when seen or heard of by many. This is not to say that some dogs of this breed do not have these characteristics, but only that this labeling has caused an entire breed to be condemned, regardless of the individual dog’s character traits or the fact that training and handling played an implicit part in the breed’s character assessment.
In a similar way, styles of dress have been labeled and had limits set by the perception of others. Women who wear extremely short, tight dresses are considered morally lax. Shoes known as stilettos have been labeled hooker shoes; again, reducing the character and morals of the female wearing them. Men who wear baggy pants and oversized shirts have been labeled thugs, gang bangers and other negatively skewed labels. Horned rim glasses are perceived as the attire of a nerd. These are but a few of the labels applied and each label manifest its own set of limitations and expectations, forming perceptions of each being long before true knowledge of the character and abilities of the individual are prevalent. Furthermore, labeling predefines how we will respond to each other in ignorance of the actual character of a being which oftentimes determines how that being will respond in kind. Since my primary concern is the interactions between human beings, I will limit the rest of this discussion to human interactions.
When a child is born, it has no understanding or awareness of labels, only personal perceptions. Adults in the child’s environment use repetitive language to define labels for the child. The child learns early on that the ba-ba sound label will have the effect of getting him food and therefore is conditioned to say ba-ba when he is hungry.
Similarly, recognition of the face of his mother is rewarded with the sound ma-ma; therefore he is conditioned to using this sound to fulfill his desire for mother. Yet, the child will also use the sound ma-ma when he wants other things that the mother supplies, regardless of the gender of the person fulfilling the need. When it is the father who fills the desire of the child and the child uses ma-ma, repetition is used to replace the ma-ma sound with da-da to distinguish between the male and female parent. When the child learns to identify the difference in genders, often they call all females ma-ma and thus learn that only females can be labeled ma-ma. This is the beginning step in learning to accept labels.
There is much more going on then the mere learning of word associations for the child. The child is actually learning that labels have built in limitations. In this instance, only females can be mothers, males can be fathers and the bottle satisfies the hunger. When we apply this learning process to all things which bear labels, positive or negative, it is not difficult to understand the conditioning that has taken place sets the stage for all labeling to be accepted with the built in limitations of the label. Sadly, this conditioning opens the door for false expectations associated with labeling. An example of this might be the concept of the nurturing and the punishing parent labels applied in homes where the mother does all of the nurturing and the father does the majority of the punishing.
In this latter instance, the positive assumption that mother is nurturing, lends to the negative assumption that the father is considered the one who brings pain. Mother is lenient, father is strict and punitive. Mother puts the bandages on the boo-boo, but father causes boo-boos. In homes where the mother is both nurturer and disciplinarian, the child learns to detect the moods of the mother and adjust his behavior in hopes of acquiring only the nurturing aspect of the mother’s character in order to earn her positive attention. If the mother is a working parent, who might not always be emotionally available to the child, then the child may use negative behavior, thereby inviting mother as punisher in order to get the needed attention.
Again, not only is the child learning the limitations of labels and the associative behavior necessary to get his needs satisfied, he’s also learning that in order to satisfy his need for attention, any behavior is appropriate to get that attention. Dependent upon which behavior gets the most attention at the fastest rate of response from the parent, the child might probably choose that type of behavior to acquire the attention of any adult with his/her environment. In this way the child learns to manipulate her/his environment in order to satisfy his/her needs.
In essence, we learn to behave as we do long before we have an understanding of why we do what we do. Yet, this behavior may continue throughout life if we fail to develop the ability to become introspective in as objective a way as possible, determining if the behavior patterns are positive or negative in the scheme of things, and have the desire and the knowledge to up date our behavior to a positive one that satisfies our desires. Unfortunately, most of us do not, simply because we are not aware of the robotic responses that were developed in our early childhood.
People who act out these infantile behaviors, void of empathic understanding and still acting out the role of an infant trying to meet his/her needs are, in the assessment of Peter Gerlach, MSW (www.sfhelp.org) are Grown Wounded Children (GWC). Gerlach, who has more then thirty-three years of family and individual counseling as well as Internal Family Systems work to his credit, states that a vast number of people are unaware of the wounds or traumas which they suffered as children which are still functioning to determine their responses to their environments, thus making them GWCs. He further states that these wounds can be reduced following a guided plan to do so as found on his nonprofit website which can greatly aid in wound reduction, updated perceptions and the development of a more cohesive personality when one becomes aware of his/her fragmented personality (subselves) which drives them to have their needs fulfilled in unhealthy ways.
In my opinion, I believe that today’s antiquated psychological/psychiatric system of labeling by diagnosis sets limitations and false expectations as well as utilizes minimal concrete resources for acquiring a healthy healing process. When we have been conditioned to accept the labels applied by diagnosis, we fall into the pre-conditioned pattern of accepting its limitations as well, hence, our supposition that we have something wrong with us and will probably never be able to fix it.
Gerlach’s work basically states that; yes, there is something amiss that can be made better by awareness and knowledge and a method to actualize in order to do so.
My personal experience of Gerlach’s website and communications accelerated my own process and brought together my more then 50 years of research into the human psyche, particularly my own, and supported the efforts that I had already put into place in my life. If the technology and the Gerlach expertise had been available to me more then 50 years ago, not only I but also my entire family would have not had as difficult a path to travel in the area of wound reduction and harmonizing our personalities.
Unlike many practicing therapist, Gerlach uses only one label, that of Grown Wounded Children. He proceeds to tell us why we are unaware that we have been wounded, what happened to us because of those wounds, how these wounds are the source of wounding future generations and the process we can utilize to reduce the wounds, healing ourselves and our families. His is an educational process, not a labeling process fraught with limitations and boundaries that act as walls to prevent our escape from the ignorance of our circumstances. This in itself is revolutionary.
It is my assessment that in order to heal the world, it is an inside out process, not an outside in one. In other words, making rules and laws and other checks and balances to the external environment will not prevent the same results from manifesting over and over. It is only with the internal system of change brought about by a change of perception and a removal of limitations and boundaries set by labeling. Removal of labeling limitations can only come about through knowledge and self-empowerment which in turn will become a healing force rather then a destructive one as it has been for centuries.
It is our false perception that our desires should be met at any cost which has been the source of all that is wrong in the world. Our losses of empathy for our fellow human beings, our greed for more then we need, the anger toward those who we fear, and the ignorance of our internal processes based upon flawed understanding, lack of knowledge and illogical assumption, are the source of all that takes place. Until we heal our internal environment, there will be no healing of our external one. The entire concept of labeling and its implied limitations is a direct result of our disconnected perceptions which has given us the erroneous belief system that we are separate from others and our environment. It is evident that until we change this flawed belief system as evident by our perceptions of limitations as defined by labeling, until we accept that we are both the microcosm and macrocosm, very little will change for the better.