Alexander Lowen on “despair”

I was reading Joy by Alexander Lowen this morning and came across this very good passage on “despair”.

Alexander LowenTo reach that joy Alice had to open herself to her despair. If she could cry from that deep despair, she would touch the joy that gives life its true meaning. While we must recognize that despair is frightening, we should also know that it stems from the past and not from the present. Alice was in despair because she could not he perfect and win the approval and love of her parents. Her despair continued into the present because she was still struggling to overcome what she regarded as her faults and weaknesses in order to win that love. In effect she was trying to “overcome” her despair. which could not be done since despair is her true feeling. One can deny the despair and live by an illusion, but that will inevitably collapse and drop the individual into a depression. One can try to rise above the despair, which undermines one’s sense of security; or one can accept and understand it, which releases the person from fear.

Accepting the despair means feeling it and expressing that feeling in sobs and words. Crying is the body’s statement; words come from the mind. When appropriately matched, they promote the integration of body and mind which releases guilt and promotes freedom. The right words are important. “It’s no use” is a key phrase. “It’s no use to try; I’ll never win your love” is the statement which expresses the understanding that the despair is the result of a past experience. Most patients however, project their despair into the future. When they first feel the despair ills often expressed as “I’ll never have anyone to love me” or “I’ll never find a mate”. “They do not understand that one cannot find love no matter how hard one looks, and that the more desperate one is, the less likely it is that another person can respond with positive feelings. True love is the excitement one feels in anticipation of the pleasure and joy one would have from closeness and contact with another.  We love people who make us feel good; we avoid those whose presence is painful.

Alice’s problem was that she was afraid of her despair, because on a deep level it was linked with death. She had lived almost all of her life on the edge of despair, too frightened to feel it. She was like a person at the seashore who only wets her feet out of fear of being overwhelmed by the force of the sea. The sea is a symbol for our deepest feelings — sadness, joy, sexuality. It is the source of life and only by surrendering to it can one live life fully. Going deep into one’s despair is to plunge into the depth of the belly, which, representing the sea, is also the source of life. No adult ever drowned in his tears, although a fear of drowning underlies panic. An infant who is cut off from any loving contact will die, a very young child in this situation could die because his body needs the contact and support of a mother figure. The child who comes close to death because of insufficient loving support and survives becomes a neurotic who will live on the edge of despair and panic throughout life, unless he is released from fear by re-experiencing the early trauma and discovering that he will not die.

From Joy by Alexander Lowen. Pg 253.

Alexander Lowen MD is a world renowned psychiatrist and the creator of Bioenergetic Analyis, the revolutionary therapy that uses the language of the body to heal the problems of the mind.  He has authored 14 books including Narcissism, Betrayal of the Body, Joy, Bioenergetics, The Way to Vibrant Health, Pleasure, Language of the Body and Honoring the Body.

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