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.

cowper15 by you.

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.

22 responses

  1. Can you understand when I say that I can relate to feral children in a way, not so extreme? I had 2 parents but I was emotionally abused and neglected, physically abused by spanking/whippings by both parents (by mother never knew when or where it would come from, by guardian always gave a warning of some sort) and the other way by guardian.
    I was abused emotionally and sometimes physically by my peers in church and at school. My parents used my siblings as an excuse to abuse me as well, hence vehement hatred of all of them (though not any more). After I got into middle school I would go in my room and close the door and lay on my bed, cry a lot, think about the day and how people treated me. I never had fun, even at fun events, I secretly was not having as much fun as I led people to believe even when my church group peers would make fun of me I wouldn’t let on that I was hurt, deeply.
    Something inside never let me lose sight of God and Jesus even when I was treated badly somehow I knew that Jesus would not have treated me in such a way but it was subconscious.

    • Hind’s Feet, yes I can understand, I think, about being able to relate to feral children as a child who (it seems) had to pretty much raise herself.

      Jesus is a light shining in the darkness. He never would treat a child as so many children have been treated. I’m so sorry you suffered abuse at church, too; it’s a wonder you can even love God at all. I’m glad you’re here; thank you for commenting.

      • Thank you.
        I was a normal child before my mother got remarried. I was surrounded by my dad’s family who loved me. When my mother got remarried, that all was taken away from me by her husband. He tried to make my mother destroy all evidence of my dad’s family in my life (pictures). Photos have always been a major part in my life growing up even as a 4 year old.
        I remember them getting married… at my grandparents house, I remember the set up of the chairs, having trouble with my wrist flowers, not wanting them to get married at all, a certain special woman singing and playing her guitar like an angel, being held by my soon to be guardian for a photo that I still have (while dreading him marrying my mother), I was only 3… my best girl friend was there. I don’t know how I knew that my life would change permanently, because that dread was there. Feelings of dread have never served me wrong since. I believe that God gives me those warnings just before something severe and important happens.
        We continued attending a local fellowship group where I had boy friends (I guess that’s why I enjoy playing with boys more than the girls) and then about a year or so after my sister was born one sunday, I was getting my fav. box of books and crayons ready to go to the fellowship group (which was about the only time I ever got to play with other kids, never got to see my family anymore…) my parents said that we weren’t going back there anymore.
        I think even before that I was depressed, sad and lonely. My mother would sit at her sewing machine and never play with me. I Loved going to the thrift store with her somewhere near campus. It was full of mystery and wonder and one other mom that we knew would bring her sons (names both start with J and their last name with P). The little J didn’t like me, ever, I don’t know why. Those two boys would be some of my tormentors at the next church we would go to.
        Life was better before my mother got married again. My dad says that my mother cheated on him and got pregnant while still married to him. My mother never told me her whole story, but she has faithfully and vehemently called my dad a liar and selfish for my entire life. Funny because my dad, not being a christian Never called my mom anything, never said anything bad about her until I started telling him how my life with them really was.
        She would constantly tell me how selfish and how just like my dad I was (basically to her I Was/Is my dad and she was going to get back at him, though she denies it and she denies hating him…). By the time I was 21 she had me feeling so evil that there was nothing I could do to be saved. I’ve repeatedly asked for salvation over and over and over again since I was 6 years old. She doesn’t know that. Maybe I’ll finish this and copy this and put it in my own blog.

  2. This is the first blog page of yours that a dear friend sent to me.
    I’ve been wanting to talk to you but get overwhelmed because I dread the typing. This will be the second time I’ve read this blog entry… I read all the replies too. It’s strange to find someone that actually understands me in a deep way. There is so much that I want to reply to on this blog and even the replies!! I don’t know where to start.

  3. You are gonna make me go back to that infant who was left aren’t you? I know that I need to do it but I had hoped that I could confront the leaving individual but I don’t think that I will ever be able to.

  4. Eve,

    Thanks. At the time I didn’t have that perspective, only that I needed to get out, at all costs, and it seems that I trusted that.

    I came to the point, some time ago, where one is faced with one of two choices: that one missed their road and have been trying to get back to it all this time or that all the seeming sidetracks and errors have been your path all along. I chose the latter.

    However, for anyone whose path may have been similar I will add, if you’re going to go beyond what you fled, you will have to come back and face it eventually– it sucks. And that’s alright, the differences are those of a scared child and a grown adult; one who just may happen to feel like a scared child. But come back you must and face what you fled you will…if you want to move on.

    • Librarian, right you are: we must come back into what we fled and face it.

      One reason I appreciate the symbolism of astrology is that astrologers see events such as the regular planetary returns as significant. Thus, most of the planets will eventually revolve and return to the points at which they started in our natal charts, guaranteeing each of us the opportunity to re-work what we could not work out as infants. It fascinates me that we have in the physical world a metaphor for what happens in our inner worlds.

    • P.S. “The differences are those of a scared child and a grown adult…”.

      Only if the individual actually grows up. If the scared child is the one doing the emoting, acting, etc., then the adult manifesting the scared child is bound to repeat the same problems by externalizing whatever was fled from the childhood, and remaining a perpetual scared child. I know I don’t have to tell you this, for you know it. Still, it bears mentioning as a reminder of what we’re actually doing when we undertake transformation. We’re reparenting ourselves, to state the obvious, so that we actually are adults when we make our returns. Like the Hero returning from his quest, we have some gift we are bearing: often that gift is our own true, adult selves.

  5. My wife and I did not plan to have children, in part because we perceived the parenting we received as troublesome. My wife became pregnant on our honeymoon, though we took “precautions” (used birth control). (How quaint getting pregnant on a honeymoon sounds in today’s world when so many become pregnant before married sounds.)

    My first thoughts when I learned we were going to have a child were:

    1) I don’t know how to be a parent.

    2) I will not be a parent like my parents.

    3) I hope our child is a girl as my problems had been with my father most severely. I did not think I could be a good father to a boy.

    I think my wife’s tendencies as a parent and my tendencies as a parent tended to balance each other out in terms of harm and error.

    As my daughter is now over 40 and still chooses to visit us of her own accord, without nagging or emotional blackmail on our part, I think we managed to improve a bit on the bad hands we were dealt as children.

    • Interesting that you had a honeymoon surprise in spite of the fact that you didn’t plan to have children at all due to the parenting you had each received. Your own parents were, presumably, unprepared parents, and (surprise!) you both were also unprepared parents, in spite of your best intentions otherwise.

      It still fascinates me that, regardless of our concious intentions, it is the unconscious compulsion to work out our own salvation “with fear and trembling,” as St. Paul urged, that always collars us anyway.

      Even better is the fact that, though collared by your pasts, you still managed to heal through the energy of the compulsion. This is good.

  6. This is great, Eve. I was thinking how much I would like to hear case studies on the last thread, because I find it really clarifies the ideas for me – so thanks, I look forward to reading them.

  7. Well, I should clarify that for the most part, psychopathy and related mental illnesses and/or abnormal brain structures/chemistry were “there” from the start; changes in brain chemistry were attributed to drug abuse, and in brain structure to physical brain trauma.

    Some violent criminals most likely have a genetic disposition — lower arousal, in some cases less frontal lobe matter, a lack of certain neurons associated with empathy (also seen in Asperger’s), and so on. However not all people with these abnormalities go on to be violent. So the issue is multifactorial — nature and nurture, as the author puts it. He gives examples of people severely abused as children who go on to violent crime, yet whose siblings did not, or lovingly-raised people who became violent and whose siblings did not.

    Adoption was mentioned, though again not as a causative factor in and of itself. Certainly if you have a child who has fetal alcohol syndrome, cyanosis at birth, or even simple head trauma with unconsciousness, these physical traumas can “trigger” violence when combined with later abuse or trauma and inherited factors.

    And in the case of people who will not sink to the level of killing but yet still show a lack of remorse — as in the adoptees you mentioned — the author would describe that as a likely inherited abnormality that was heightened or triggered by the trauma of abandonment and/or abuse prior to adoption.

    An example of this was a study of MAOA levels in children — lower levels indicating overly high neurotransmitter levels and thus higher impulse strength and hyperreactivity to stress. Children with low MAOA and maltreatment had a much higher tendency to develop conduct disorder. Neither low-MAOA children without maltreatment nor high-MAOA children with maltreatment were as likely to develop conduct disorder.

    So… it would be incorrect to call adoption causative of violence. It is a factor that may enhance an already-existing abnormality that can lead to violence or lack of empathy.

  8. I’m just finishing up proofreading a book about “evil” in terms of violent crime — psychopaths, serial killers, etc. So many of them are enacting a symbolic killing of their abusive parents (typically the mother, as most of the criminals are men), or at least reenacting the same abuse they were subject to.

    The sad part for me was reading of how the brain chemistry and indeed even the brain structure of some of these people have been changed in ways that make them essentially unable to self-reflect or feel any remorse whatsoever. Between genetic predisposition, experiencing abuse, their own abuse of drugs and alcohol, and many other factors, some of the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes are almost certain to project their suffering onto others.

    • Heni, yes I read about this difficult editing project on your blog, but didn’t comment. I wondered how you’ve made it through reading it, and will hop over and ask you in a moment.

      But for the purposes of this discussion, I’m interested in knowing how the brain chemistry was changed. By what? Abuse? Fear? Too much adrenaline? Abuse plus some combination of chemicals (alcohol etc.) used later in life?

      I ask, because my adoption involvement has made me wonder sometimes if prolonged abuse, neglect, and abandonment can change a person in a way that makes them forever unable to “self-reflect or feel any remorse whatsoever.” I have seen abuse survivors who were later adopted experience no remorse whatsoever over breaking their adoptive parents’ hearts, even when told plainly exactly what was happening and what they could do to rectify it. And there is some adoption involvement in the lives of many serial killers or violent killers, who went on to kill their adoptive parents even though the adoptive parent wasn’t usually the one who committed the abuse. The adoptive parent who stepped in to ‘rescue,’ heal, and help ended up being the one who had to carry the “Bad Mother” projections and serve as the sacrifice or propitiation for the sins of the actual abusive parent. It is most often the adoptive or foster mother who bears (and pays for) the sins of the previous mother or mothers.

      I’ve read some criticism of adoption as a practice from adoption activists who believe that adoption per se drives some to kill and use such killers as examples of why.

    • Librarian, “that my ideas are childless childish, wrong, and misguided”–I thought this was great. The whole article is riveting. I could not stop reading, wanting to know, “and then what?”

      I don’t doubt that the choice to go on was the most courageous of your life. It nearly brought tears to my eyes. I felt such admiration for you.

      But… your mother. What a succubus. That voice saying you are childless (childish)… no, childless was the right error to make, because child = creative, and that was what was being snuffed out (among other aspects). I thought it interesting that the you on the airplane was on the left side (the cerebral, rational side), while the right side is the child side (creativity, intuition, etc.). Wrong (mistake) and misguided (not given any guidance).

      Yes, it’s there. I’m sorry for your suffering. But I’m very glad that you heard and answered your call and press on.

    • Interesting suggestion. But, no. It is the karma of leaving because we’re operating under the assumption that a person is of age and is leaving volitionally (as in the Quest metaphor).

      I do get your point. Even so, those who have been abandoned have choice over how they will handle that abandonment. They can project or they can introject, or they can do some combination. They can project and then caretake in a positive way, or they can project and then attack. And so on, and so forth.

      But I’m interested in the way you would see the karma of abandonment working.

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