The Personalist Project

Jules and I saw an outstanding production of King Lear in Philadelphia the other day. As always with Shakespeare, I kept marveling over the ineffable breadth and depth and pith and poetry of his insight into human experience. But one line in particular stood out, I think because we've been reflecting so much on the emotions around here lately.

It's among the concluding lines of the drama. Nearly all the principal characters have died or been killed. The Duke of Albany, says:

The weight of this sad time we must obey;

Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

Especially in weighty moments, we should "speak what we feel." Why? Because it is in and through the emotions that the self makes contact with Reality. It's only then and there (I mean where we are in contact with Reality in all its concreteness) that we are free to respond and act in the deep, personalistic, self-determining sense.

When instead of speaking what we feel, we speak what we think we ought to say—the conventional thing, say, or what we imagine a saint might say in these circumstances—we are missing our chance. We are alienating ourselves from ourselves and from the moral stuff of the moment.

I am coming to believe that this is the most common and chronic forms of dishonesty in and among us—even among the very religious. 

We think we are being virtuous when we deny or suppress what we feel and instead say what we think ought to be said.

For instance, someone does something hurtful to us, and instead of expressing the anger we really feel, we say, "I'm not mad." We say that because we think it's more virtuous not to be mad.  We confuse saying the (supposed) virtuous thing with giving a virtous response. We do this so habitually that we are unaware that we're doing it. Eventually we lose touch with what we feel, that is, with ourselves. We become more infected with denial and illusion.

This puts me in mind again of a post by Elizabether Esther that I may have mentioned before about why trying to be honest is better than trying to be to be good. I think she's right.

She's right, too, when she's says being honest is "way harder." Until I read that post and started making a more conscious effort to be honest rather than "good," I would have characterized myself as an honest person. I'm learning now how far I am from deserving the designation (though I'm trying!). To be honest with ourselves and about ourselves with others and before God is extremely challenging. It's also our best hope of Reality and redemption.

Comments (10)


#1, Sep 27, 2014 5:44pm

I enjoyed the post.  I read 10-11 of Alice Miller's books and studied them well.  It took me two years to do it and I felt like I had a good grasp of her ideas.  I tried to find an "enlightened witness" for the next 5 years, speaking with people, going to different therapists and trying out her ideas.  Not one person out there understood her ideas as I did, or if they did, mainly after me explaining it to them, they became petrified that they would have to get on the same level with me about real feelings.  No one I found could do it.  I was pretty frustrated not only because no one could help me but because I was continually expressing my feelings at work and with friends, etc. and my it did not help my relationships or work life at all.  I was at a loss for awhile and although I had been familiar with David R. Hawkins M.D., Ph.D. books ten years back, I had not read, "Letting Go, The Pathway of Surrender".  I read the book and applied the methods and had good results.  


#2, Sep 27, 2014 5:59pm

Hawkins actually says that you can talk about your feelings to alleviate the pressure if you are in a crisis, but only to a point where you can get out of the crisis zone, then go back to the methods that I described in Jules' post about subjectivity and objectivity of emotions. If this information helps anyone that would be great, if not I hope people can find something that works for them.  I think Alice Miller is brilliant, but I found that her methods were asking too much in regards to the help that I was (not) able to find.  I'm sure there must be some true "enlightened witnesses" out that may be helpful.  Hawkins' thing about not talking about your feelings is that he says that when you do this it tends to increase the energy of the emotion rather than decrease it and that is not an effective way of letting the energy behind the emotion go.  One last technique in this book is having the willingness to be open to higher states of being like courage, acceptance, forgiveness, love and peace.  In doing this it helps facilitate the letting go of the negative emotions.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Sep 27, 2014 6:43pm

I should maybe clarify that I don't take "speak what we feel" to mean that we should always and wherever "spill our guts", without discretion. I think Shakespeare's dramatic context lends an important qualification. It was the weightiness of the moral moment they found themselves in that called for speech—and speech of a particular kind, viz. "from the heart."

There are other moments too—not particularly weighty perhaps—when we are asked (by people with a right to inquire) to  give an opinion, to say what we feel. In those, moments, too, it seems to me, it's incumbent on us to say truthfully what we really feel, as opposed to saying what we think we should feel.

I've read only three or four Alice Miller books. I agree with you that she's brilliant. I've learned much from her. But I tend to find her anthropology not entirely sound. She seems to me to neglect reality of our falleness, and to be too optimistic about our ability to access our entire past. 

Still. I'll take her over Freud.


#4, Sep 27, 2014 8:37pm

I believe its not hard to access our past in the sense of understanding what happened to us as babies and toddlers, but this is not important according to Hawkins.  He recommends just dealing with the feelings as they come up and staying the course.  Eventually those difficult ones from infancy and toddlerhood will surface but you don't have to know the circumstances, you just use the letting go technique.


#5, Sep 27, 2014 8:44pm

I think honesty is the number one requirement for just about anything good in life and I agree it's difficult to do it.  It's actually the easiest thing in the world to do if you are around honest people but if you find yourself in with dishonest people it's nearly impossible.  I'm glad honesty was brought up here because this is the first step towards any kind of personal healing.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Sep 27, 2014 9:29pm

Personal healing and authentic communion.

You're right that it's especially challenging to be honest when we're surrounded by dishonesty—including the kind that's rooted in denial and self-deception.

Elizabeth S.

#7, Nov 4, 2014 7:57am

I'd like to know how Alice Miller was introduced into the conversation--I think I missed a post, perhaps. (I am a brand new member.) I appreciate Alice Miller very much, have found her work illuminating, but in need of more practial application. I will look at Daivd Hawkins' work.

Elizabeth S.

#8, Nov 4, 2014 7:04pm

I think I found the thread--in the post "On the Unity of Objectivity and Subjectivity in Emotions."

Jules van Schaijik

#9, Nov 4, 2014 8:20pm

Glad you found it Elizabeth.  I had not remembered that her (Alice Miller's) name was mentioned under my post on the emotions.  Otherwise I would have let you know.

Katie discovered her this summer, and has been learning a lot. What I know is 2nd hand, but I thought she was good at applying her thought to the pre-world war 2 situation in Germany.  Where else would you like to see it applied practically?

Elizabeth S.

#10, Nov 4, 2014 9:42pm

Thanks, Jules.  Alice Miller is profound in her understanding of the dynamics which thwart the growth of the person. I found that her suggestions for treatment were hard to apply, such as the medium which she found so helpful personally: art--perhaps creativity in general.  I am interested in healing the kind of trauma she writes about, and what a person can do for themselves, in addition to working with a good therapist. It seems that the work which must be done is within oneself, coming to terms with the "mess" of the past wounds, and one's compliance with them, and letting the truth come to the surface. This is of nencessity a work done with God, ideally, in Him. I am curious to know what has been written about the intersection of this deep psychological healing--coming to terms with one's deep feelings of anger and grief, accepting the past, forgiving those involved--and one's life of prayer and walk with the Lord. Don't know if that makes sense...

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