“No Soup for You!”
Sorry, if you are not Seinfeld conversant the above quote will make no sense. One of my obsessions, a true preoccupation of my spirit, is that of folks whose mission in life is to control other people for their own selfish, unconscious and usually nefarious needs. I’ve written other blogs on this topic and I devote a long section of my book Jesus v. satan: The Message of the Wilderness Temptations to the temptation of power and control. Satan made that offer to Jesus offering Him all the power and splendor of the earth—and Jesus rejected it (Luke 4:5-8).
We’ve all felt the heavy hand of a controller on the nape of our necks at one time or another. It may have been a drunken, insecure parent; it may have been a narcissistic spouse, it may have been a micro-managing supervisor at work, or it may have been a patriocentric religious cult like the Vision Forum nuts or the Gothardites. We’ve all had controllers in our lives, and if we’ve been really, really blessed we’ve only known a few. To put it in the terms of my profession, they’re “crazy-makers” par excellence.
Controllers are not only into running our lives to meet their own needs, but they are also usually joy-stealers—sometimes, just because they can. They want to place their frustration, sadness, anger and meanness into us. They want us to feel what they feel; they want us to share in their misery. A tragi-comic take off on this phenomena is the little wall plaque that announces: “If Momma ain’t happy; Ain’t Nobody Happy”
For all my many faults, I don’t think being a controller is one of them, but I do know I’ve been a joy-stealer at times—and I heartily repent this Advent: mea culpa, mea culpa! In years past well-meaning friends would ask: “How was your Christmas?” And my standard reply was: “It was adequate.” That usually drew a double-take or a blank expression. Now, I said that somewhat tongue in cheek, but in a way I also wanted to let them know that I wasn’t necessarily into their holiday cheer trip. If I say that to any of you this year, please shoot me.
The great secret underlying all relationships—a phenomena that accounts for much of our behavior—pretty much all of our behavior in relation to others, is called projective identification. This is a phenomena so subtle, ubiquitous and yet ego-threatening that even most other counselors don’t acknowledge or understand it.
From Psych 101 you likely know that projection is attributing the same thoughts and feelings one has to another. In other words we say someone is jealous or angry because we are jealous or angry, etc. However, projective identification is actually creating the same feelings that are inside of us in other people–typically, those with whom we have the closest emotional bonds. Having others resonate with us emotionally is a pre-verbal skill. This projection of our emotional state into another usually happens instantaneously and unconsciously. However, when one truly understands projective identification it enables one to look at their own behavior, and what one sees is usually not very flattering; we realize how manipulative and evil we can be at times. Counselors and psychotherapists don’t like to think of themselves in these terms anymore than the average person and perhaps that accounts for why so few really understand the phenomena.
Joy stealers place their unhappiness into us, and others in their environment, thru the phenomena of projective identification. They suck the joy out of our lives and the life out of us so we will resonate with their misery. Or as my late friend John used to say in his Carolina brogue when spying a long face, “Who licked the red off your sucker?”
A recent joy-stealer phenomena is the rise of the new militant atheists and their so called “war on Christmas.” I think they don’t so much care what you and I believe as they wish to place their anger and sadness into us. Their discovery at age ten that Santa and the Tooth Fairy didn’t exist was shattering, and it bothers them that such notions, along with the birth of a Savior, bring peace and joy to others.
Joy-stealers love to play the guilt card, and sometimes their vehicle is socio-political commentary. Some are sanctimonious uber-libs who remind us on T-day that half the world is starving for crying out loud, and so just sit back and think about that as you try to enjoy your turkey and punkin’pie. And then there is global warming—and that for every 84-degree December day here in Florida a Polar Bear drowns. But sometimes they’re far right libertarians and Tea-partiers who instead of celebrating the 4th of July will use the occasion to remind us that Obama and his jack-booted thugs are just itching to break down your door and confiscate grandpappy’s antique shotgun–and never forget that the NSA is monitoring our every move on Facebook. The world is going to hell in a handbasket and there you sit just trying to be fat, dumb and happy enoying the 4th’s fireworks, your T-day turkey dinner and your Christmas tree.
And then there are the politically correct thought police who are really just another flavor of controller and joy-stealer. I have one well-meaning Fb friend who posts articles from the Zinn Education Project. Howard Zinn was a noted left-wing historian who didn’t believe that history was made by heroes. Zinn was likely disillusioned when he learned that Washington never chopped down a cherry tree, and that the great author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, had slaves. However, the recent event was T-day and the Zinn Project took the occasion to remind us that on that date 150 yrs ago the U.S. Cavalry massacred several hundred Indians at Sand Creek. The Project also had a recent reminder that we should not celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela without recalling the atrocities that brought him renown. Oh heck, while we’re at it let’s not forget the Inquisition, that was only 500 short yrs ago, and it could happen again in the blink of an eye if we don’t keep reminding ourselves—but then that would likely be a good thing as another well-meaning Fb friend believes that every atrocity brings us one step closer to the apocalypse and the Second Coming.
Some of the worst joy-stealers do it under the guise of religion–theologically correct religion, I might add. I recall one Christmas Eve service a decade ago with a group of little kiddoes sitting around a manger scene; it was Miss Eleanor’s Story Time and during her recounting of the Christmas Story she reminded the kids that Christmas was really about Baby Jesus coming 2000 years ago so He could die a horrible death on the cross for their sins. I don’t know what the kids thought, but I was appalled. I don’t think being a joy-stealer was Miss Eleanor’s intention but it had a chilling effect on me. Somehow I didn’t think the kids needed to be reminded about Good Friday, and I think the plan of salvation is beyond the ken of a five-year old. But then, maybe I’m wrong.
Consumerism and cheap tinsel aside, it often feels like Christmas has become as much about politically and theologically correct Grinch-ism, over controlling soup-nazis and joy-thiefs as it is about THE greatest story ever told—the rending of eternity—THE Incarnation, time standing still—God, as a helpless babe, choosing to become one of us. I may not have as much Christmas spirit this year as other years, but myself and a few of us other Whos in Whoville refuse to yield what we do have to the Grinches.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2