Today in this post by an ex-student and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist, we examine what might, in psychological terms, be the basis of the extreme behaviour of SR as attested to in the letter written by the 8 students.
Note that this is not an attempt at a diagnosis and should not be read as such. We merely aim to present an alternative framework through which to view the situation.
Understanding attachment theory (a strand from within psychoanalytic theory) is I feel helpful in understanding some of the dynamics between Sogyal Rinpoche and his students.
Attachment theory shows us that people re-enact their childhood attachment patterns, whether these patterns are ‘insecure, anxious, avoidant or disorganised and chaotic’ ( the four basic attachment patterns). Attachment trauma presents in a variety of ways: fear of intimacy and attachment; fear of separation and inability to hold onto healthy power and autonomy; difficulties having and maintaining stable relationships, and co-dependent relationships. Generally speaking, the chronic insecurities faced by those with unhappy attachment histories results in lack of confidence, an impoverished capacity to love, a lack of a healthy self-esteem, and, most particularly, emotional dysregulation. Freud’s notion of ‘repetition compulsion’ is painfully evident as we see re-enactments of traumatic relational patterns repeat and repeat. Underpinning all of this is a lack of what John Bowlby termed a ‘secure base’, which has major implications for our capacity to evolve and hinders our capacity to grow up and Individuate (Jung).
Learning how to regulate our emotions relies on the existence of a consistent loving care-giver, so inability to regulate one’s emotions generally comes directly from early childhood trauma. All this points back to the fact that, assuming that he does lack this ability, Sogyal Rinpoche may not have had healthy attachments to his parents or caregivers. If he had, he would not have created such apparently unhealthy dynamics with his students.
It is my view that we can understand the constellation of SR’s ‘psychology’, i.e., the apparently disturbed nature of his ego, a number of different ways.
‘Dependent Personality Disorder’ – this originates from various forms of attachment traumas and / or abandonment in childhood. Being taken away from his mother as he was at 6 months old would not have helped Sogyal Rinpoche. It is the mother who helps the child learn to regulate their emotions in infancy, and an early abandonment such as this may be one of the reasons why SR’s emotions appear to be completely ‘all over the place’, compounded by the abandonment when Jamyang Khyentse Chokid Lodro died when SR was around 10. In many ways SR suffered from the extremes of being both neglected and, at the same time, perhaps being made to feel overly ‘special’ – something which he also appears to enact with his students. Apparently, his unchecked temper tantrums are legion, like a child who regularly ‘loses’ it. Such incapacity to regulate emotions is a significant factor in abusive behaviours – sex addiction, addiction to violence, food and so on are all ways of ‘acting out’ that which cannot be contained and processed internally. Perhaps if SR had been required to undergo more retreats and been more of a practitioner, he might have been able to learn how to regulate his emotions through the practice, but his early childhood experiences would mean that he started out with some significant vulnerabilities.
The upbringing of tulkus is part of the picture and a matter for concern since most Tulkus do not grow up in normal ways. In “Dragon Thunder” a book by Dianna Mukpo, Trungpa’s son Taggie was described as being agitated, out-of-control, hyperactive and couldn’t talk. However he was given no help or psychological treatment. Changling Rinpoche at Sechen monastery, spoke of the difficulties in educating Tulkus. He said they often had quite ‘wild’ natures, and when they ran wild, they were difficult to control, like ‘herding cats’. Jamyang Khyentse Choki Lodro was said to be highly sensitive and superstitious, and Sogyal Rinpoche, who was close to him, would have grown up in an environment where he may well have witnessed JKCL’s own disturbances. (He was known to hit people, and in various biographies, Dilgo Khyenste and others describes his psychological vulnerabilities and pre-occupations.)
Given the complexity of Rinpoche’s own traumatic history and culture, he may find it hard to see and acknowledge any damage and harm he may have done in the name of Vajrayana. His psychological structure may be so wounded, and he may be so defended, that he believes his own ‘story’. If that is the case, to let that go would have overwhelming implication on a range of levels, and in particular, his psychological structures and defences.
Addiction and attachment
Attachment theory also shows how abuse creates habits of addiction. People prefer to remain stuck in negative attachments to known, familiar, and therefore seemingly ‘safe’ relationships (‘attachment to the bad object’ – Fairbairn) while struggling with internalised self-attacking voices of shame and lack of self-esteem. In such circumstances, self-hatred is often prevalent, and to soothe the anxiety-ridden emotions, self-soothing and comfort is sought through addictive behaviours – such as sex, alcohol, eating disorders and binge TV watching – or whatever other addictive behaviours.
A difficulty with entrenched attachment patterns is the strong resistance to change and difficulties in letting go. This is especially true in treating addiction.
People with traumatic backgrounds, such as that experienced by SR, often find it difficult to control their addictive tendencies and dependency behaviours. Their adaptive child within need constant stimulation to keep at bay their overwhelming experiences of pain and anxiety (some of which may not be fully conscious). In this case, he may unconsciously justify and believe that his shocking behaviour is in the service of helping people develop pure perception. This in no way excuses the pain that he has possibly inflicted on others, but it might help in our understanding of why this might come about. Simply speaking, it is possible that SR is acting out his own pain, pain which he has never learned to process in a healthy way.
In addition to the genuine aspects of SR’s gifts (he has shared with many students his ability to transmit the experience of the nature of mind), I feel that his psychological aspects are very much disintegrated. We could say, in light of the recent allegations, that he displays an alarming number of conditions diagnosed within psychiatry, which in contemporary psychotherapy would be subsumed under the more compassionate ‘label’ of ‘complex trauma’.
Many have mentioned that SR appears to have what in the mental health world might be termed a ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ (determined by an excessive concern with power and a desire to be in complete control, to defend against helplessness). He could also be perceived to have ‘psychopathic’ tendencies since he appears to have no real capacity to reflect on the traumas he inflicts on others, nor to genuinely feel compunction for what he is done. He could also be seen to fit the ‘old’ label which used to be termed ‘borderline personality disorder’ which ranges from emotional dysregulation and constant triggering, to being on the borders/ edges of psychosis. Chogyam Trungpa spoke of realisation as being like licking honey off the edge of a razor blade – i.e., this is the ‘border’ where we can go ‘either way’ into wisdom or madness.
Part two of this exploration will be posted tomorrow.
Again, please note that this is not a diagnosis, just a sharing of a modern psychological perspective.
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