Few things are perhaps as dangerous for one’s mental and spiritual life and nor as devastatingly manipulative as a dysfunctional family.
Behind the facade of togetherness and respectability there can lie an ocean of challenges concerning mental health, power, control, money, status, gaslighting, hypocrisy, betrayal, anger, shame and sheer emptiness to name but a few.
There can be little room for self exploration, self-doubt, reflection, critique and questioning of established family narratives as tools for enhancing family harmony and in turn possibly *spiritual life.
The softer, intimate, delicate and vulnerable avenues to peace and understanding are at worst lost and at best never allowed to flourish in an un-spiritual family (sacred or secular). These ambiguous, seen falsely as non-traditional, approaches are perceived as threats to the orthodoxy of belonging to and promoting one’s superior “family, sect or clan”.
It is a cult-like mindset where introspection is heresy and seeking reconciliation with equality of being is blasphemous.
To this add possible unresolved, unspoken, ignored and suppressed psychological trauma and one can see we are on dangerous ground. Inner unholy ground where any inquisitive soul naively searching for truth, love and reconciliation through faltering spiritual vulnerability, finding none reciprocated, may innerly call upon the psalm, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
Furthermore, add also the desire for societal respectability, the golden ticket of high personal standing and one can conceive more clearly the horror of psychological “gods.”
A life of pious religious observance may become subservient to and disguise for domineering personas, to a biased discriminatory moral world view, and justification for attitudes about society and personal memories of suffering or triumph.
It is a reversal of universal transcending spiritual self-perception which should be subordinate to higher values of spiritual clarity, humility, universality, peace and secular common good.
Encase all of this in a deep desire within such un-spiritual families for controlling others, setting the narrative for others, laced with hardened divisive attitudes of superior victimhood status and it is clear to see the situation is treacherous.
It may go on for decades. One may be born into such families, marry into them and die having never escaped it because the protagonists can deploy self-righteous victimisation of self and others as a controlling mechanism with self-victimhood as a device to invoke sympathy from others, even their victims. Any resistance or requests for clarity can easily be manipulated to portray the victim as a villain or vice versa.
Personalities are deliberately and unconsciously moulded to manage, cope and ignore deep contradictions resulting from abusive behaviour under the worn out guise of “why don’t we all just get along?” Why not indeed? In practice this insincere question from the mouth of oppressors compensates as a token gesture for never truly having the desire to make positive changes, even minor changes that may enlarge the spectrum of empathy. Why not get along? Because not getting along is an addiction. It is power. Withholding reconciliation and all the peace it could bring is powerful and once tasted the allure is hypnotic. The mighty river of goodwill has been temporarily halted behind a dam built with stones of hatred and abuse.
As such, overtime, it becomes second nature, unconscious instinct, to deploy in public the conciliatory language of reasonableness and agreement while in private it is the language of reprimand and discord to silence others. Even the victims, for the sake of peace and acceptance, may play along with this double-life hypnosis hoping the olive branch of co-operation will be picked up.
What to speak of mental health, well-being and mindfulness for both the interchangeable roles of oppressors and victims? There is no mind, certainly none in the sense of higher spiritual clarity, rather mindlessness. There is no desire for a shared peaceful narrative and no wish for reconciliation in private life where it really matters. There in private the demons run riot. The true unmasked face of a manipulator finds expression with no onlookers. For even the “beast” must see the sunlight sometimes.
It is a show. The greatest show on earth, the un-spiritual family circus. The mental and emotional acrobatics are something to behold. It is as if the silence of not acknowledging oppression becomes comforting. In a twisted and deeply disturbing turn the quest for peace finds comfort in the silence of unacknowledged oppression and abuse. The oppressors of course know this and continue unopposed.
Therefore, life operates superficially at the level of practical, transactional, economic and formal, an arms length family who once embraced but now do not even speak or acknowledge one another for prolonged periods. Yet, they say they believe in God. The Merciful and Compassionate. However, show none to those whom they oppress.
Conversations with meaningful warmth become fewer and fewer. Where there happens to be conversation it is at times like two people standing on opposite sides of a railway crossing, waiting for the barrier to lift while a train hurtles past between them. Even lip reading is impossible let alone hearing the other. There is only the faint sound of one’s voice. It is in such interactions people say, “well I told you, why didn’t you listen?” How can anyone hear anything while a train of emotions, anger and pain passes between two people?
What is the seat of this division? From where does the power and conviction to leave things unresolved and unreconciled derive its efficacy in the mind of the oppressor?
To attempt an answer we add one more ingredient, finality.
The idea of “finality” is a source of power that sustains resistance to spiritual and humanist values of reconciliation, peace and harmony.
Finality in two expressions, lesser and higher.
The lesser finality may arise from a past wrong suffered by the oppressor and its interpretation forever remains a closed book and final in the mind of the oppressor. There can be no shadow of doubt they are incorrect in their opinions about the deep feeling of offence they carry within themselves. The aforementioned wrong may have happened years ago, but the intensity is as if it happened yesterday.
Therefore, situations are manipulated to create conditions where everyday people are portrayed negatively in the eyes of others. The purpose being to shame their victims, to weaken them, to humiliate them, to demean them in their own eyes. It is punishment. It is horrific and the perpetrator knows it and perversely takes comfort in it.
Any attempt to commence a reinterpretation of the wrong suffered or to forgive and reconcile is fiercely defended against. It cannot be permitted. Something that was lurking in the psyche of the oppressor has broken through finding its release over the threshold of the door of the wrong suffered. It will not retreat willingly. While previously, from behind the curtain, it controlled one personality, it’s host, it now controls several personalities. It’s children, it’s marriage life partner, in-laws, relatives and siblings.
To the wider world of work and neighbours they will be the most understanding, vulnerable, caring and innocent person. To the inner circle of personalities under its influence it will shower love and affection to one through excessive displays and simultaneously exclude another. It is capable of all the emotions and incapable of being happy with the simple things of life. Its pleasure is the control of others. Yet, this is only a caricature of the lower finality.
The higher finality is far more deeply lodged and rests on a strange sense of taking refuge in the argument of the “Final Judge”. Namely, God. For an un-spiritual family God is indeed everywhere but the idea is inverted where omnipresence of the Supreme is for their self justification.
This is the manipulative oppressor-victimhood persona’s ultimate self justification for not engaging in peaceful reconciliation of any kind in this mortal life. Even though they believe in a life after this life that is without body they act as if they have no soul. They have lost the idea that they are a soul and thus become soulless like.
Yet they remain confident in the self justification that God is on their side giving license to all kinds of destructive behaviours. It is an illness. A spiritual illness.
It is a way of thinking and being that is sheer escapism neglecting as it does so easily, without a hint of irony, that the “Final Judge”, in whom they seem to take refuge psychologically, is also Compassionate, Merciful, Loving and yet these attributes are passed over and only judgement is held tightly. This is perhaps because the whole edifice of an un-spiritual family rests on judgement and condemnation. They say “Final Judge” they mean “condemnation” for others. They fail to remember that the judgement may well be kind and merciful and loving.
The pull of self justification from this higher finality is so great it will usurp the very spiritual values one claims to admire. Religious texts and extracts are sought out to justify, along with seeking out religious scholars, their mode of being as being religiously valid, even otherworldly valid. It is a spiritual quest in the absence of light. It is the polar opposite of enlightened spiritual quest. It is maximum difference.
As the late Professor Syed Hasan Askari spoke in 1995, “according to Plotinus opposition is maximum difference. So it is in the creative power of the soul to create in the human mind maximum differences of opinion and belief. We are not dwarfed by opposition and conflict.”
By Musa Askari
* (A profound spiritual life can independently thrive despite the absence of harmony)
See also There Are Only Four Communities