Sometimes a lack of trust has its roots in what some analysts have called basic or primitive agonies. In some situations early experiences can lead to anxieties about either intrusion or abandonment or indeed both. In some situations the small child can alternate between the fear of being overwhelmed and the fear of being rejected – one way to cope is to become compliant with the needs of the parent and so this sets up the false self and the true self goes into hiding. It was Winnicott who wrote about depersonalisation, in other words feeling unreal to oneself. In some situations the false self becomes a caretaker self and acts as a protector for the true self for as long as is needed.
Contemplative prayer and meditation offer some sort of healing from these states of mind; for if it is possible to spend time in silence and to experience the silence as non-persecutory then relief and recovery can happen. Time in silence is a kind of dropping out of life for a time and a holiday from oneself, because as we all know having to be a self all the time can be a heavy weight to carry. In both Christian and Buddhist meditation the idea is to go beyond the self and beyond the state of the moment so feeling free from the tyranny of self.
Of course therapy can help us to understand why we are the way we are and what has happened to contribute to this and there are moments in therapy that can be transformative and help one all lifelong. Undoubtedly depth psychology can help to dismantle and can help us to take apart the false self that has been constructed; it can also offer a safe space for real feelings and emotions to be heard and contained. I think long-term psychotherapy helps to build up a sense of trust in relationship, but there is always the long shadow of early trauma – nameless dread – potentially lurking. It was Harry Guntrip who so memorably said, ‘that water can always flow in the dried up river bed’ meaning that even if we feel we have overcome our past and moved firmly on there remains the possibility of the resurfacing again of old feelings.
Surrendering to God does offer a possibility of the old anxieties around intrusion or abandonment returning because there are times when we feel the presence of God and there are times when we feel much doubt and left alone, even to the extent of wondering whether a belief in God is a mere fantasy – make-believe. (The Psalms particularly are full of verses describing almost a game of hide and seek with God where God hides his face and then reveals himself again.) However if one can reach a state of deep and silent communion with God this then seems to move one beyond the ego-self into a slightly different dimension; we are tapping into a deep archetype within ourselves which is unchanging and constant, outside time and space and therefore not liable to the vagaries of life. So even although we bring our rational, our conditioned, our troubled and fearful self to meditation there seems also to be a deeper part of ourselves that intuitively seeks what has been called ‘the unthought known’ – something deep in our psyche that searches for and knows about God. This is the God who can also be understood as a ‘transformational object’ in the sense of changing our inner world through acknowledging and healing mistrust and moving us beyond such experiences.
‘Ever torn asunder by our hands
Still the God remains our healing-place.
Always we stay sharp to understand
While God dwells carefree and dispersed.’
Rilke: Sonnets to Orpheus 2 XVI