In the Land of Those Who Dare Not Speak: A New Year’s Parable

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Imagine you stand in a courtyard, four doors equidistant from you. One leads — you hope — to some version of material prosperity: stacks of crisp greenbacks, luxury, titles, accomplishments. Are they more than you need or what you desperately need?

Behind door number two resides jealousy. Here is the personal storehouse of unfulfilled wishes. A worker stands with a brush. He paints everything with the green of envy. No objects inhabit the place, only the ideas with which you fill your head, catalogued for your review: the kind of marriage of this one, the beauty of that one, the genius and happiness of another. To enter you must speak the language of complaint.

A third portal stands in the shadows: the door of the undeserving. Those who step through believe they lack the right to speak of suffering. They’ve been told their life is good. All their externals are properly arranged. They present the world an outward show of seeming to be what is expected. Acquaintances recognize little else, but the soul knows a deeper truth. Here is a library of unexpressed grief, pages beyond counting. The books are sealed and unread. Like all libraries, no sound is permitted. The residents of this prison open their mouths as if to talk, turn around, expect someone to judge them ungrateful for what they have, and leave the pain unspoken. Theirs is the green of nausea, the self-imposed invalidation of a corked bottle filled with tears not meant to stay inside.

Beyond the final door a barren landscape stretches to the horizon. Everything is brown and gray, like a snowless, unformed winter’s day. You spy something new: tinges of green — a few mini-shoots, the color of possibilities. What could grow there? The things you can’t see, not yet, but just might increase if offered a chance — by you and circumstance.

You recognize something shiny among the shoots: the large shard of a broken mirror. The silvered glass looks back at you. And then you realize you are a thing that might grow, enhance. Still, this place is the hardest, least sure.

Four doors. Which will you choose? Or will you wait, decide not, hesitate?

The photo is call 1green doors by psyberartist. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

11 thoughts on “In the Land of Those Who Dare Not Speak: A New Year’s Parable

  1. This is so beautiful, thank you…..and reminds me of a comment you made to me yesterday, that I haven’t had a chance to respond to. You said it seemed as though I felt I had no right to sadness, and you were right. In that sense I am beyond the third door. But I also feel as though I inhabit the space through the second door – or perhaps the space where they intersect, if they do. I feel as though all I do is complain and want the happiness that others have, because sadness about my life is not legitimate and so it must be that I am a ‘bad person’ who feels envy and cannot be content with their lot. Maybe being in the third world feels, internally, like being in the second. But I also recognise the fourth door and yes that space feels very hard to walk into and inhabit. But at least, if there’s one thing that mental health difficulties have taught me it is the hollowness of what lies beyond the first door. Success and accomplishment ts used to mea a great deal – now I just wish I could envisage a future in which happiness is possible. This is a wonderful parable beautifully written and with a thoughtful and important challenge at the end. What an amazing thing that in your role as therapist you were able to help others to take a step into , and to navigate that fourth land. You are still doing it – thank you….

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    • “Maybe being in the third world feels, internally, like being in the second.” Indeed. If one feels he does not have the right to his unhappiness, then any amount of envy feels like further evidence of one’s unworthiness. There are certainly those who are bitterly jealous, unwilling to look at whatever responsibility they might have for their plight (if any). They tend not to condemn themselves, but the world at large or specific others. But I’ve encountered many for whom their envy adds to a list of self-created demerits. Where does this sense of “badness” come from? Most often from parents who neglected or criticized (“big girls don’t cry”), discouraging the emotional openness of their children who wanted only comfort and understanding, but received distance and/or disapproval: emotional sterility. Less often, however, the parent can’t handle the young one’s emotions. The child cannot risk the emotional collapse of the parent, so sees his own feelings as suspect and dangerous to the parent’s (and his own) safety. When such children become adults they feel indulgent and selfish looking for more than politeness in a relationship, also expecting that their expression will damage someone dear. The therapeutic task is to grieve the unresponsiveness (or inadequacy) of those whose job was to stay strong, tolerate the child’s pain, and bind his wounds. At first this feels wrong and more evidence of ingratitude, holding the potential to harm another. In time, however, it heals.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A very poetic and reflective post Gerald, I think life walks you through the first three doors before you can appreciate the opportunity of the fourth. Time and maturity slowly offers a broader perspective on what a person sees as valuable, Material acquisitions, titles and status can’t compare or replace the qualities, strengths and courage that gives someone the character and opportunities that await in door four. And at the end of the day no one can walk through door 4 for you. It reminds me of a scripture in the bible Gal 6:4 But let each one examine his own actions, and then he will have cause for rejoicing in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person.
    I know I certainly don’t have a lot materlally, no husband or kids, little position in the world but when I look at how far I have come to rise above my childhood experiences, I never thought I could achieve the level of wellness I have now. I’m left with a feeling of deep gratitude that a door 4 exists for me.

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  3. Tied together so beautifully with a green bow! How could you possibly know? You bring me to tears.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Timely, from Mexico, where I’m forced to confront my relative privilege.

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  5. Thanks for another one of your thought-provoking and soul-searching posts, Dr. Stein!
    Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve spent some amount of time behind each one of those doors. When the circumstances of life forced me beyond the door with a “barren landscape stretch[ing] to the horizon,” I had to hold onto hope and find my strength within to make my way to the distant horizon. I’m still on that arduous journey. I think, too, of the millions of refugees worldwide who are on the journey beyond the fourth door.

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    • I had not connected the refugees to the fourth door when I wrote this, but it is an apt association, Rosaliene. Here’s to them and those who give them aid.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Life in a Bind – BPD and me and commented:
    Rather than saying the traditional ‘Happy New Year’, I wanted to reblog this wonderful and thought- provoking parable by Dr Stein. I don’t know if I have ever made a New Year’s resolution – I always knew I was terrible at sticking at them. If like me, these resolutions are not for you, perhaps this parable will be for you instead. Perhaps you will recognise yourself standing at one or other of these doors; or as having walked through one or more of them already. Perhaps you will see a land you are adamant you do not wish to enter; or a land you desperately want to navigate, but don’t know how.

    For my own part, I think I stand beyond the third door (in the land of those who feel themselves undeserving), but at the threshold of the fourth. One of the cruelties of the third land is that internally, it feels as though one is inhabiting the space beyond door two, and drowning in jealousy. So often, I feel I have no right to sadness, and that all I do is complain and want the happiness that others have. So often it feels as though sadness about my life is not legitimate and so it must be that I am a ‘bad person’ who feels envy and cannot be content with their lot.

    When I commented as such, Dr Stein replied as follows: “If one feels he does not have the right to his unhappiness, then any amount of envy feels like further evidence of one’s unworthiness………..I’ve encountered many for whom their envy adds to a list of self-created demerits. Where does this sense of “badness” come from? Most often from parents who neglected or criticized (“big girls don’t cry”), discouraging the emotional openness of their children who wanted only comfort and understanding, but received distance and/or disapproval: emotional sterility. Less often, however, the parent can’t handle the young one’s emotions. The child cannot risk the emotional collapse of the parent, so sees his own feelings as suspect and dangerous to the parent’s (and his own) safety. When such children become adults they feel indulgent and selfish looking for more than politeness in a relationship, also expecting that their expression will damage someone dear. The therapeutic task is to grieve the unresponsiveness (or inadequacy) of those whose job was to stay strong, tolerate the child’s pain, and bind his wounds. At first this feels wrong and more evidence of ingratitude, holding the potential to harm another. In time, however, it heals.”

    I would like to thank Dr Stein for that response, which feels spot-on as far as my own experience is concerned. And I would like to express gratitude to his profession, as far as standing at the threshold of door four is concerned. Only we can make the decision to go into the ‘hardest, least sure’ place; and to keep on going, when it seems impossible. But we have help – a great deal of help, care, support, inspiration and so many other things – from those therapists, counsellors, doctors and professionals of many kinds, who take that journey with us. There is no map for our journey – but they try and make a map of themselves. None of us knows the terrain or how the journey will unfold – but they and try and act as a guide anyway, to point us to something within ourselves. And some of them tell us parables, to try and help us understand the stories that we live and the stories that we tell ourselves.

    So this new year, what will you resolve? As Dr Stein asks at the end of his parable: “Four doors. Which will you choose? Or will you wait, decide not, hesitate?”

    Liked by 1 person

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