- Managing Inner Chaos.
Chaos. Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.Wikioo.
“Perhaps it is controlling the chaos within more than the chaos without.”
The need for ‘control’ of the chaos inside may feel urgent, as such a turmoil of feelings can be painful and difficult to bear.
Such feelings do, indeed, need some control, as the above quotation says….but what does control mean in this context?
If we rigidly restrict awareness or expression of our inner feelings, no matter how chaotic they might feel, they will be unavailable to us to work on, either by ourselves or in therapy.
Then we will be out of touch with such difficult feelings, and they can emerge to disturb us both physically and mentally.
What is needed is a sense of balance, so that we neither block off ‘messy’ feelings with rigid internal defences, nor act them out destructively.
In this case, control means mastery of feelings like rage, or an urge to be violent, for example, through exploration and understanding.
Often, people who act out these feelings in an uncontrolled way have not recognised or worked through past trauma, and are unable to prevent themselves from unconsciously repeating scenarios in the present that originated in childhood.
In therapy (discussed further below) we will work with the therapist to identify the roots of our pent-up anger and begin to understand how this is revivified in our current relationships.
In time, this will hopefully enable us to have enough self-control not to career around like a riderless horse, destroying everything in its wake.
At the same time, as we saw in last week’s post, chaotic feelings and thoughts can be a prelude to innovation and invention, so we certainly do not want to obliterate them.
Channelling such inner chaos into something productive is both healthy and creative.
Damian Entwistle. Tate – Lucian Freud’s studio (detail), David Dawson.Flickr.
“Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.”
Bruce Bernard – Lucian Freud. Wikioo.
“We’re all going about trying to make beauty in the world and trying to make order out of chaos. And that’s what art is.”
What is needed is a flexible mechanism of regulation, not a strict suppression of such feelings, which, in itself, would indicate fear and uneasiness at the prospect of becoming ‘out of control.’
The search, in terms of self-control, is for balance, so that we do not act too impulsively on the one hand, and we are not too inflexible on the other.
“Chaos is what we’ve lost touch with. This is why it is given a bad name. It is feared by the dominant archetype of our world, which is Ego, which clenches because its existence is defined in terms of control.”
Washing Zebra Stripes. Banksy. Wikioo.
“External order never fixes internal chaos.”
Some people try to deal with their inner chaos by creating order around them, outside of themselves.
They are attempting to render everything spotless and tidy, washing and cleaning obsessively, generally unaware of feeling messy or ‘bad’ inside.
In this case, they are living unconsciously, unaware of the internal chaos that drives them in their fruitless and distressing quest.
“Finding peace in day to day chaos is what meditation teaches us. Returning to this internal chaos everyday helps us to recognise it first and then we start understanding its true meaning.”
What can we learn from fractals, to help us cope with life?
The Polish mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot discovered fractals, which are complex, intricate, ever-repeating patterns, forming irregular shapes, in which parts of the shape are similar to the whole.
They are all around us, and inside us, too.
“Fractal geometry is everywhere, even in lines drawn in the sand. It’s the cycle of life… You see fractals in plants, in flowers. Within the human lung are branches within branches.”
They are not part of chaos theory, but are closely related, in that there is unpredictability in terms of exactly how the patterns will develop.
For example, the patterns and shapes in a piece of cauliflower, or a snowflake, reflect the whole. They go on forever.
They are similar to each other, and to the whole, but not the same.
Mandelbrot fractal rendered in Paint. Kh627. Wikimedia Commons.
“A fractal is a way of seeing infinity.”
The term originates from the Latin fractus which means fragmented, shattered, uneven or irregular.
There are many, many fractals in nature and in our lives in general.
Mountains with Mist. Auguste François Bonheur. Wikioo.
“Clouds are not mountains, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.”
What have fractals to do with our lives and with chaos?
There are lessons to be learned here, about the patterns and fractals in our own lives.
“History is fractal. The closer you look, the more complicated, yet always repeating patterns.”
Like history, our lives are full of patterns, of fractals, repeated over and over again, in terms of our relationships, our behaviour, family patterns from generations back, and our ways of seeing and being in the world.
“How you do anything is how you do everything.”
Fractals also teach us the unpredictability of life and the importance of realising that we can never tell how things will be in the future, both personally and globally.
“Basically, control is just an illusion. Far too many factors contribute to everything that happens during a day, even during an hour, a week, a month, a year. And that’s the end of the matter. You think you control something because you think you recognize a certain pattern, so you imagine that you’re always gonna achieve the same results with the same actions. Until something unexpected happens.”
Whilst this incontrovertible fact may be alarming, it also means that life is full of surprises…. some of them good, which can give us joy and hope.
Spring Bouquet – Adelheid Dietrich. 1875. Wikioo.
“During the wild uncertainty of a frightened land, Spring reached out her mystical hand; willing to give us hope.”
The Good Earth – (Frank Mcclure)
“Dirt is chaos, gritty, full of bugs and decay, but from that dirt comes such immense beauty. Roses, tulips, tomatoes, peonies, raspberries, oranges, magnolias…and even me.”
- Therapy: Learning To Embrace The Chaos And Recognise Our Repeating Patterns.
Head-VI Arts Council of Great Britain, London. Francis Bacon. Wikioo.
“Crises marked by anxiety, doubt, and despair have always been those periods of personal unrest that occur at the times when a man is sufficiently unsettled to have an opportunity for personal growth. We must always see our own feelings of uneasiness as being our chance for “making the growth choice rather than the fear choice.”
Sheldon B. Kopp.
In psychotherapy, patients bring their internal chaos, that is, their unclear and disordered states of mind, their confused ways of thinking and feeling, their depression, anxiety and their dysfunctional marital and family systems.
Pain in Wine Red – oil painting by Rajasekharan. Wikimedia Commons.
“Within the chaos of our shame and disappointment and rage there is meaning, and within that meaning is the possibility of rescue.”
In discovering meaning in therapy, we find fractal patterns of thinking and behaviour, repeated through the generations.
These are important to recognise, so that we can work at changing patterns that are not helpful to us. This is a way of detecting some kind of order within our chaos.
“My life seemed to be a series of events and accidents. Yet when I look back, I see a pattern.”
Depression itself feels like a chaotic state; a state where we cannot see ourselves as real, authentic beings, and where we are lost in a mass of inexplicable, dark thoughts and feelings.
Depression. Jock Mcfadyen. 1990. Wikioo.
“I am trying to find myself in all of the chaos, find something that I can call me inside the screams and inside the ‘you shoulds’ and ‘you have to bes’.”
As therapists, we often witness in our patients a bewildering jumble of tangled behaviour patterns, a disturbing and chaotic mélange of ways of being and relating, both internally and in the world.
Melancholy – Edgar Degas. Wikioo.
“I believe that words are strong, that they can overwhelm what we fear when fear seems more awful than life is good.”
Chaos is evident in the muddle of past and present thoughts, feelings, and behaviour patterns.
Sometimes these feel insane and people fear facing such a clutter of strong emotions.
However, within this dark mess of ‘madness,’ this internal chaos, there will be structure, meaning, explanations.
“To recognize one’s own insanity is, of course, the arising of sanity, thebeginning of healing and transcendence.”Eckhart Tolle
Egon Schiele – Self-Portrait with Lowered Head. Wikimedia Commons.
“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”
Chaos. From The Workshop Of George Frederic Watts. c 1875. Wikimedia Commons.
“Somewhere along the way we all go a bit mad. So burn, let go and dive into the horror, because maybe it’s the chaos which helps us find where we belong.”
robert m drake
Therapy involves reaching in to the patient’s chaos, the dark, crazy and fearful places, when the patient cannot express how frightening it feels inside.
Unless we, as therapists, are ‘in there’ with the afflicted person, alongside them, whilst not trying to ‘pull them out,’ we cannot know how awful it is to be in this chaotic state.
Of course, we can never really know what any experience is like for another person, but at least we can show them we are not afraid or unwilling to accompany them on their journey into the self.
This will inevitably echo our own journey during our training and personal therapy.
We all are part of the human condition, so what we know in ourselves, we will recognise in others.
Connection – Annabel Obholzer.Wikioo.
“I know it in me, so I know it in you.”
My therapist used to say the words above when I was expressing difficult feelings. Her words have stayed with me, years later, long after her death.
They still bring me comfort, reflection, memories, connection.🙏🌹
“Every you, every me. Fractals. Fractures.“
Crucially, the therapist, recognising the special and privileged role they have been given in terms of being with the patient on this most difficult of personal journeys, offers a kind of compassionate love.
“To love is to recognize yourself in another.”Eckhart Tolle
This is a firmly boundaried, professional, empathic, safe, nurturing and strong presence, an acceptance of whatever the patient brings, free of judgement.
Over time, the patient might begin to feel safe enough to slowly recognise and ’embrace’ their own chaos…
Such love can embrace another’s chaos, and it is a little like what happens in loving relationships outside the therapy room, whether towards a partner, a child, or a friend.
We try to accept another human being unconditionally, with all their quirkiness and idiosyncrasies.
Below are some quotations and images which express such loving acceptance of another, in various different contexts, with the theme of loving someone, and loving their chaos:
“Tell me every terrible thing you ever did, and let me love you anyway.“
Sade Andria Zabala
Double portrait with a glass of wine. Marc Chagall. Wikioo.
“Fall in love with someone who understands the chaos in your heart.”
MJ Mariano. Thoughtcatalogue.com
Friendship –William Herbert Allen. Wikioo.
“A friend is one who knows us, but loves us anyway. “
Fr. Jerome Cummings
“She’s my client, and she’s counting on me. I’ll take her, warts and all.”
Love, 1895 – Gustav Klimt. Wikioo.
“What a divinely damaged person!”
John Cleese and AC Robin Skynner.
Love in the Green Room – Rosalyn Drexler. Wikioo.
“Love doesn’t make sense. Love happens when you least expect it. It’s inconvenient, messy, and reckless, but that’s the beauty of it. It isn’t a decision; it’s a promise – a promise to chase inconvenient, messy, and reckless love with someone who embraces the chaos with you.”
Klimt. 3 Ages Of Woman. Mother & Child. (Detail) Wikimedia Commons.
” I looked at this tiny, perfect creature and it was as though a light switch had been turned on. A great rush of love flooded out of me.”
Being loved liked this, whether in a relationship or, in a different way in the context of therapy, enables the other person to take risks in terms of coming out of the inner chaos, and being able to function in the world.
Emerging Figure – Louis Le Brocquy. Wikioo.
“Having tried to give pattern to the chaos which lives within the pattern of your certainties, I must come out, I must emerge.”
“Many coping strategies have a Zen simplicity. Instead of resolving chaos, find beauty and happiness amid chaos.”
The hope is that, in a therapeutic situation, we will feel more able to express emotions that have hitherto been hidden, perhaps from ourselves.
“We all find joy and radiance and a reason to move on even in the most dire of circumstances. Even in chaos and madness, there’s still a beauty that comes from just the vibrancy of another human spirit.”
In this safe, boundaried, confidential and empathic environment, ‘chaotic’ feelings like hatred, grief, rage, envy, and many others, can be exposed and explored, with a view to understanding and ‘working through.’
Only then can we come to appreciate internal chaos as something potentially creative, and to transform our wounds into learning and wisdom.
J. E. H. MacDonald, The Wild River 1919. Wikimedia Commons.
leave me never,
keep me wild
and keep me free
so that my
brokenness will be,
the only beauty
the world will see.”
Robert M. Drake, Black Butterfly
© Linda Berman.