The Karma of Leaving

Show me the way in which the child was left, and I will show you the way in which that child grows up and later leaves others and ultimately leaves himself. This tenet might be called the karma of leaving by Buddhists, or the law of returns or sowing-and-reaping by Christians. Psychologists such as Melanie Klein called it “reparation,” by which she meant that we all manifest the lack or abundance of the parent-child bond as we go through life and seek to correct any deficits, and we do this most especially at critical points of our development.

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During the course of my own training and analysis, and afterward through my work with others on their self development, I had countless opportunities to witness this dynamic. I am cowper9 by you.even now surprised at the elegance of how people pay their dues to their parents, and manifest as blindly as can be everything that signifies “bad parent” even as they say their every intention is to become “good parent.” It is no wonder that Jesus and other great teachers of history urged people to humbly seek wise counsel and to pluck out the log in their own eyes before attempting to dislodge the speck in a brother’s. But this we cannot do and will not do until we are finished making reparations to our original parents, who provided so much of the substance of the log in our own eye.

Especially in his later work, Jung sought pointedly to help people understand the risks of seeing things only from their own near-sighted perspectives. Analyst and Jungian trainer Murray Stein explains:

Why is it so important, especially in psychology, to understand the nature of ego-consciousness? It is because one needs to make adjustments for distortion. Jung said that every psychology is a personal confession. Every creative psychologist is limited by his or her own personal biases and unexamined assumptions. Not all that seems true to even the most earnest and sincere investigator’s consciousness is necessarily accurate knowledge. Much that passes for knowledge among human beings is actually, upon closer and more critical inspection, merely prejudice or belief based on distortion, bias, hearsay, speculation, or pure fantasy. Beliefs pass as knowledge and are clung to as reliable certainties.

“I believe in order that I may understand,” a famous remark from St. Augustine, may sound strange to our modern ears today, and yet this is often the case when people begin to speak about psychological reality (14).

It is a general psychological rule of thumb that the less good parenting a person has received in his or her life, and the more trauma, chaos, division, separation and difficulty in the cowper16 by of origin (or first family of experience), the less likely it is that a person will be able to see his own behaviors clearly, and the more likely it is that he will project his unwanted stuff onto others and live a life of helplessly flailing against what was done to him. For all the wrong that was done to him, he unconsciously seeks reparations, and seeks to make reparations.

Having had the opportunity to work with, befriend, and mother numerous orphan-hearted folks whose mothers failed to give them “good parent,” I’ve noticed a straightforward and simple pattern. Great psychological theorists have written volumes about it, although they are volumes that help few lay people even if they do help other psychoanalysts.

It is the lay person who needs the help, isn’t it, when she hears that call to adventure, the call to leave the comfort of home and hearth, and to head out into the big world and do the Quest? But what of the person whose home and hearth held little or no comfort at all, the child whose childhood was fraught with peril? What of the little girl who never had the benefit of the mother’s good breast, or whose father’s (or step-father’s) creative penis was, instead, an emblem of terror, molestation, abuse, and early awakening? What of those folks? What of the child who never had the Divine Couple played out at home, but whose parents screamed at, hit, and threw things at one another, who sometimes hated one another (regularly) but then later acted as though nothing at all had happened, and did nothing to atone for their parental sins?

Someone pays. Someone always pays. Just as in religious terms someone must atone for guilt and sin and make sacrifices, so in psychological terms the equation is balanced just the same. This is one reason why I carry a bit of suspicion for people who absolutely reject religion as useful in any way, for being blind to the benefits of religion’s imagery and symbolism suggests that an individual may also be blind to the imagery and symbolism of the world. He will tend to extreme dogmatism in some way, or else to extreme subjectivity on the other. Either way, he cannot be whole, for everyone has done wrong and been wronged, and for every wrong some sort of reparation is needed. Whether one perceives this truth through religious symbols or by some other means, perceive it one must, or stagnate and perish.

cowper11 by you.So it is that theorists have written much about how we seek to balance the scales. What people do at critical times and thresholds of life hold much meaning, for they show great acts of scale-balancing. These important points of development occur at predictable ages and stages of life, but few are more telling than the ways in which people leave home. In what manner do they leave? Do they leave with or without a parental blessing for their plans? Do they even have parents able to bless? If not, how do they obtain the blessing? If so, do they accept it? Why might they refuse the blessing? Why might a parent withhold it? What’s the effect of no blessing? What is the effect of a parental curse? What is the effect of no-parent? Do they leave by choice or by force? Is the leaving forthright and honest or were they tricked, like Hansel and Gretel, into a sinister and deadly type of leaving?

After they leave, where do they go? Do they make a good place, similar to the “Good Mother” and “Good Father” place of childhood, the idyllic place of legend, or do they make a place that is like the one their less-than-nurturing, abandoning, or abusing parents gave them? By looking objectively at how people leave, what they do when they leave, what reasons and excuses they give as they do it, how much they need to defend the ways and goals of leaving, and where they finally settle down to live and bear  their own children, one can see much about the love and lack in a person’s life, their reparation compulsions, the complexes motivating them, and their level of consciousness.


Stein, Murray. Jung’s Map of the Soul. Peru, IL: Carus Publishing, 1998.Klein, Melanie and Joan Riviere. Love, Hate and Reparation. New York: Norton, 1964.

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