The first thing the People’s Therapist notices about the Tea Party people is that they come to everything from a sense of deprivation. They are always – always always always – talking about their money, and how they don’t want anyone to get their hands on it. It’s theirs. They need it.
There isn’t enough of it.
If we spend their money on other people – say, on healthcare or schools or feeding the poor – then they’ll starve. This is a famine. It is every man for himself.
If the Tea Party people are willing to spend money on anything, it’s guns. Their own guns, and a seemingly endless supply of guns for the military, which can never have enough guns, because there are ENEMIES everywhere. We are in danger. We need to entrench, hunker down in a defensive posture, and wait out the storm, gripping our guns tightly and hoarding our money just like we hoard our food.
To many people, the fact that other developed countries offer free healthcare – as well as free schools, free fire departments and lots of other basic necessities and still somehow manage to eat and breathe and go about their daily lives, argues strongly that the Tea Partiers are over-reacting. In fact, to many Americans, those Tea Party people seem a little…well…nuts.
What’s going on here?
As a starting place, it is a basic principle in psychotherapy that money is a surrogate for security in love.
Young children love security – they flourish in an environment that most adults would find stifling. The safer the better is a good general rule for raising a happy child. You’ve probably noticed that when you finish reading a picture book to a small child he doesn’t want you to read another book to him. He wants you to read THE SAME BOOK to him, again. And then THE SAME BOOK again. And then again. It feels safer that way.
Young children like dinner to be at the same time every night. And breakfast at the same time every morning. And yep, they like lunch at the same time – in fact, they like to eat the same thing every single time, if possible (preferably something safe, like pizza or chicken nuggets.)
Most of all, children crave security in love. They need you to love them ABSOLUTELY, unconditionally and totally. In fact, they are literally of you – they came from your bodies – so you must love them as you love yourself. You must delight in them, utterly, or they will sense that something is wrong, and blame themselves, and start to worry.
That’s where the problems start.
What if a parent doesn’t love herself? Not all parents are certain that they like who they are. Nor are they all capable of providing an environment of absolute stability or safety. Life can feel like a storm-tossed sea sometimes, and even good parents often feel overwhelmed and filled with doubt about themselves and their future.
A child raised in a house that doesn’t feel safe will start to compensate by trying to create safety on his own. This can lead to a host of symptoms that follow him into adulthood.
Children in an insecure environment can employ magical thinking, imagining themselves having impossible powers and responsibilities, such as the power and responsibility to keep parents from fighting or abuse from recurring. Roles get reversed, and the child believes it has the responsibilities of the parent. The child can learn to distrust authority and feel he has to do everything for himself. Sometimes this ties into obsessive compulsive behaviors, eating disorders, sexual compulsiveness – a whole gamut of issues.
These children can also adapt hoarding behaviors, trying to create safety by collecting possessions. It could start with matchboxes or comic books and develop into a full-blown hoarding compulsion, or an obsession with money instead of the things that really matter in the world – other people, love, caring, relationships and connection with our fellow beings.
Any of this sound like those Tea Party people?
My work with the Tea Partiers (if they were to file, en masse, into my office) would be to symbolically re-parent them, to take them back to the scared children they once were, in a world that felt insecure, and to have them address themselves as the parents they needed, and still need, in order to feel safe and secure. They need to learn to self-soothe, to address messages to themselves intended to calm those scared children.
Then maybe they can accept that President Obama isn’t Adolf Hitler, providing healthcare to all Americans isn’t going to result in the apocalypse, the military isn’t the only route to a feeling of safety in the world – and putting money before people is the surest route to a wasted life.
On the other hand, helping others – offering care from a place of abundance – is the surest path to joy.