Theraputic Work Involves Imagining Evil and Eradicating Prejudice
By BY BONNIE ADLER
Westport Minuteman – March 2002
When you first meet Jacqueline Lapa Sussman, you see a small blond, attractive woman with a very kind face, penetrating eyes, and a serious demeanor. She listens intently to what is being said and responds in a soft, mellifluous voice. She asks about your family, your children, those she is aware you care about. And such is her power that you immediately want to tell her. She is a great listener, but in addition to that, when she responds, if you can drag yourself off the subject of yourself, you are likely to hear something interesting and intelligent.
Jackie is a psychotherapist. In her therapeutic work with individuals and corporate groups she practices a unique form of therapy called Eidetic Imagery. The method was developed by Dr. Akhter Ahsen, the leading theoretician in the field, who Sussman always credits as a mentor and friend.
Eidetic images (the word “eidetic” means gift from the gods” in Greek) are detailed snapshots or visual imprints that are stored in our minds that form sponta- neously in response to significant real-life experiences. According to Susaman, “with imaging, the person is able to see a situation clearly, experience the emotions connected to it, and have an immediate understanding of him or herself by evoking and seeing images of the situation. In traditional therapy, a person explains things verbally to a therapist, who listens and then tries to help the person find the meaning.
“I work with people on the images that keep them stuck, from their childhood, or from their life experience, and bring forward the images that are inside them to help them form their radiant self.” Radiant self? That phrase alone defines her as an optimist, although she denies that and says she is a realist, insisting that we really can overcome the images that keep us stuck. We can release ourselves from the “historic” self which has been affected by our parents, by circumstances in our life which limit us and get to the “original” self which is stored within. “When that original self comes out, there is a release of energy, expression, and power. That is my work, my passion, what I believe in.”
Sussman guides her patients through imagery exercises, to help them understand their inner images. One Westport client who has seen her for two years said, “Her work is groundbreaking. She uses modern and ancient disciplines. She finds your sticking points and then through images she goes back to a certain point and gets you to visualize what the issue is. All of the wisdom that you need to get past something is within yourself. It’s astound- ing. You solve your own big issues. The answers are right there within you.”
In her work, Suasman has concentrated a great deal on women’s issues. She recently wrote a book called “Images of Desire, finding your natural sensual self in today’s image-filled society.” She encourages women to achieve sensuality, by helping them regain the awareness of their own unique inner sensuality instead of striving to imitate the stereotypical images of beauty and sexuality so prevalent in our society.
She has also done considerable work with teenage girls, and in her book describes a culture of kids who are having casual sex earlier and earlier, without any ability to deal with the emotional aspects that accompany these encounters. She notes that many young women think constantly about the way they look and the need to be beautiful, skinny and behave like the singers they view on MTV or in magazines.
She will be presenting a workshop called “Mothers and Daughters and Body Image” which is open to the public at the Weston Public Library on April 25 at 7 p.m. She believes that the most important influence on a teenage girl facing the mixed messages from society is her relationship with her mother.
Sussman is now working on another book, tentatively titled “Images of Success-awakening the radiant self within for mastery of life.” This book is about achieving success in parenting, in personal relationships and in business.
Jackie permitted herself a little pat on the back. I have worked quite a bit in sports. I worked with Rick Peterson, the pitching coach for the Oakland A’s, on images that he worked on with his base- ball team, just before they got really good. I take a little credit for it.”
Susaman is working on a new volunteer project in which she is going to expand her focus from individual and corporate work and engage in the Herculean task of trying to help eradicate prejudice and hatred to make the world a better, less evil place.
She has chosen to use the imagery of the Holocaust as the archetypal image of evil in her work to help people overcome prejudice. “Using the images of the Holocaust, because it’s been publicized and people know about it, we are finding that all people cut themselves off from dealing with images of tragedy, because it’s too painful. You numb yourself and you inhibit your own ability to deal with life situations and coming to solutions. It’s a point of weakness?’
Jackie universalizes this experience. “The world is not able to look at images of trauma which is a reality of life. It is painful and difficult, but it injures people not to be able to bear witness. So we can’t deal with the African-American experience of slavery, the AIDS epidemic, Bosnia. And so we don’t deal with it. And this is a problem. We need to gain a cross- cultural understanding – to see all our suffering as one. If we can bear witness to one form of suffering we can bear witness to others. We have to understand that we are one humanity and enter into it in a deep way for solutions.”
How does one achieve such a huge goal?
First, Susaman worked on her own images. “My parents and sister were Holocaust survivors. They came from Poland. They survived by becoming Christian. They were in a ghetto and they escaped. My sister did not know she was Jewish. When she found Out she was Jewish, she had tantrums. She had learned to hate Jews.”
In working out her own personal history, Jackie found she had images from the Holocaust. “I visualized my parents run- ning in an open field, with black smoke and a big dark train and I thought, ‘What is this?’ I really hadn’t dealt with it.”
And so Jackie took on the task of trying to understand what had happened to both her family and other Holocaust survivors. In the course of that work, she not only learned about her family’s experi- ence, but became familiar with the experience of many survivors. She worked on a project for the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, . Conn., interviewing Holocaust survivors. “I had to get out of the way, and let the stories unfold. I saw the trauma was so profound and pervasive, that in the first interview, I just had to bear witness to it and let the stories come out.”
Out of that experience, Susaman became interested in understanding why people cut themselves off from understanding and incorporating images of evil. What she found was that most people “shut off” to the images of the Holocaust because they are so terrible, and so difficult to deal with. Working with interested colleagues from the Eidetic Analysis Institute, she is forming this organization to help eradicate prejudice and hatred, using the Holocaust as a basis for the exploration of evil.
The group intends to approach a number of Jewish foundations to get funding for the project. She believes that the use of the Holocaust as the model of evil will interest such groups, not only in the fight against anti-Semitism but also because Jewish groups have a long history as committed humanitarians and a deep desire to bridge the divisiveness between cultures.
“We will be forming groups with different types of people in them, children of Holocaust survivors, blacks, Muslims, people from Bosnia, people of different ethnicities. They will empathize with each other’s experience so that the boundary of racism is completely gone.”
The eidetic imagery technique is the tool that will enable group members to form such deep empathy that they can lit- erally “put on” another cultural experience.
The first step is to really listen to the stories or live those images for deep empathy. “You have to face the negative and understand evil. I think in today’s climate we have to understand evil, and not numb ourselves to it, because otherwise we can’t be part of a solution?’
Jackie shared her own experience to illustrate the power of the imagery technique. “My mother had never told me the whole story of what happened to her during the war. Finally, she did. Towards the end of the war, they were in hiding, pretending that they were Christian. They heard that the Germans were fighting the Russians. They went toward the front line of the battle toward Russia in an attempt to escape. It was very muddy. They were captured by Germans who thought they were peasants. My mother was forced to be a nurse to a German general. My father was in the kitchen, peeling potatoes. Wounded Nazis arrived from the front lines, with their blood mixed with the mud that was everywhere.
“Mv mother said her feeling of revenge was so intense she could barely contain ripping her clothes off and bathing in the mud and the blood of the Germans. That image stayed in my mind. I couldn’t get rid of that. My mother was a very passionate woman. I kept thinking about that image. I tried to understand that feeling of revenge. Dr. Ahsen helped me with the image. I saw my mother rip off her clothes and jump in the mud and blood. Dr. Ahsen told me, ‘Now you do it so you can know her experience.’
“I pictured myself ripping my clothes off, jumping into the mud and blood. I started to rise from the mud and blood into this huge mythic figure of a woman. I entered into an altered state of mind of utter compassion. I saw the Germans, the Russian solders, the Americans, the whole mass of humanity. I had such compassion for all of them. Suddenly they were like an army of little men, like in Gulliver’s Travels, rising up on my body. I entered into a state of compassion that has never left me. I had always been stuck with images – personally taught to distrust all Germans. That feeling is now gone. That’s my personal experience?’
During the groups, not only will images from the Holocaust be explored, but the group leader will introduce imagery from mythology as well.
Says Sussman, “The mythic part brings the person to a greater universal awareness. It inspires spiritual vision by providing a universal imagery, both throughout history and cross-culturally. The images are used to bring you out of fear and give you power to deal with a situation.”
Sussman predicts that the outcome of the group experience is that one person’s experience will heal another. “It’s amazing how it happens. Each culture heals the other culture. A Jewish person’s experi- ence can help a Catholic experience. If a Catholic can’t express anger, he can bene- fit from the Jewish person’s expression of anger. The healing comes from the group, like a tribal consciousness. You can heal each other. It’s not that complicated.”
Jackie is married to Richard Sussman, who is also a therapist, who works in New York and Weston as both an individual and couples therapist. According to Jackie, he has been extremely supportive of her, in both encouraging her to pursue her career goals and by being a wonderful father to their two children, Zachary, 18, and Lila, 16. Zack, a freshman at Sarah Lawrence, became an accomplished writer at a young age.
“He is.” says his mom, “a really good kid.”
Lila is a high school junior at Weston High School. Her mom describes her as an active, social, wonderful person who is an accomplished soccer player and athlete. She has been playing soccer since age four and will be the captain of the soccer team next year. She also plays varsity basketball.
For anyone interested in being part of a group, Sussman can be contacted at 544-8409.