PHASE I: The Imposed Taboo of Illegitimacy… Selling babies to the Highest Bidder

I don’t mean to be a problem but….

I always felt it is interesting that our culture insists on imposing restraints on human behavior and function that seem to put us at odds  with our bodies. Our children are reaching sexual maturity earlier and earlier, yet, our society has become more and more complex, placing artificial value with currency as the means to acquire goods and services for everyday needs. Inflation and the devaluation of the dollar, along with the hording of wealth by the upper 1% has meant that it takes longer and longer to acquire the monetary stability to ensure the proper care of the next generation….

So, young girls go on the pill to limit their fertility so that they remain available for male sexual appetites without consequence. When they are caught pregnant before establishing legitimacy through marriage, both mothers and children are punished through poverty, their extended families often feeling the economic hardship and stigma along with them.

For some families, those with more assets and financial reserves, the hardship of “unwanted pregnancies” is forced squarely on the shoulders of the women who choose to carry their children to term. In my day, before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, that meant being sent away to birth alone in a “home for unwed mothers”. That is where my life began…

In December of 1960, my mother became pregnant.  My father was in his junior at West Point and my mother was a pre-med student at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania. My maternal grandfather was Superintendent of Reading schools and had been appointed by the Kennedy administration to help in the implementation of Special Education services across the country. My mother’s condition was not welcomed. She was sent away in shame, as many young women were at that time, to give birth in secret at the Florence Crittenton home for unwed mothers in Wilmington, Delaware. There she was kept on a strict diet, her belly swelling with a white baby that ultimately would receive top dollar for the Lutheran Children’s Services.

Shortly after reuniting with her at the age of 20, my biological mother relayed to me this story… “The girls would often sneak out to the local convenience store to buy candy and treats.” She took a breath as if the very utterance sucked the air out of her lungs. “One day I was coming out of the store when two little boys glanced my way, laughed and then spit on me,” the tears began welling up in her eyes. As she continued her voice broke with the effort to hold back the rage of emotion trying to release from the back of her throat, “There I was, a pre-med student with a 150 IQ.” Again there was a long inhalation, as if breathing itself had become painful. “They spit on me… because I was pregnant.” The tears began to flow freely.

My birthmother breast fed me the first three days of my life and then handed me over to a social worker who placed me in my adoptive parents’ home two days later.

The panic attacks started when I was about a year and a half and were triggered by the story of my adoption. Somewhere in my body I knew I had suffered a significant loss; her voice, her smell, and the taste of breast milk. All of that knowledge had been imprinted on my body. There were no words at that time because the information was received in a pre-verbal state…. The violent temper tantrums I began having, writhing in agony, were met with beatings. The foundation needed to misunderstand and misjudge who I was and who I could be had already begun!!!

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I don’t mean to be a problem but….

I start every statement I make with this caveat. I have learned to do this over years of coming to  understand the broad implications of every day social interactions to the larger concepts of culture and community.

There was a time not long ago that my utterances would reward me with a smack across my face or an inevitable departure of my intended target, in the early days, my adoptive father.

“You know you are crazy,” he would say as he turned on his heels to walk out of the room.

Frantic to be heard I would chase him, tears streaming down my face. I was the family scapegoat! I was forced to spend 5 days a week in psychoanalysis and, little to my knowledge, would be forced to do it for 7 years of my life. I was the family’s holder of secrets and pathology. I was the one that was silenced by being trivialized. I was never given respectful attention because the conclusions that I was making about life were strikingly different than the people around me who felt interrupted by my presence.

Every interaction I had that trivialized my experience, labeled me as “crazy”, insisted that I was the problem, caused great turmoil in me and I was forced to retreat inside myself to decipher the meaning of my plight. It was clear that there would be no relief in relationships.

Despite my wish to isolate and withdrawal from the toxic evaluations being made of my thoughts and understanding of my own experience, I was forced to interact daily with a whole horde of people invested on keeping me silenced by the imposed shame of ridicule, harassment, labeling and abuse. In fact, it was the very nature of my thought processes and desire to be heard that seemed to justify the mistreatment by family and “professionals” alike.

I have a lot to say. I have been silenced too long. My perspective is unique and maybe disturbing. It is said that great genius can only follow chaos. From my vantage point, there is no greater time for the creation of chaos then now. I don’t mean to be a problem, but….Image

Male Bonding: The Cultural Cultivation of Loneliness

 

This is an overview of the cultural impact on social interaction between men and their families, most specifically highlighting the differences in perspective between the sexes.  Within these words will be reflections of each and every one of us, though the descriptions are not meant to describe the totality of the human experience for any one person. It is a starting point to critically think about the role of culture and society in the perpetuation of social problems that it insists on ameliorating through treatment services by professionals. Any intervention that refuses to understand the foundational elements of these maladies is complicit with the perpetuation of these afflictions through the loss of respect for the human condition!

I sat in front of a frantic man who was devastated by the demise of the only loving relationship that he had ever known. The grief came out in spasms of frantic and breathless verbal exclamations, disjointed and rambling… “How could she leave me? I gave her everything she ever wanted. I would do anything for her…” He looked at me imploringly as if I could impart some wisdom to release him from his pain.

“I remember a time,” I began, “when I was told that men have it far worse than women do. I doubted it at the time as a woman who has experienced the many horrors that can only be endured at the hands of men…. Despite that fact, I don’t feel that way anymore”.

He looked at me puzzled.

“From the time that boys are just babies, they have their emotional and physical pains belittled. Boys are breast fed less, they cuddle less, and have their own expression of real emotions trivialized and shamed. They are encouraged to perform in order to get the most rudimentary of acknowledgments from mothers and fathers alike. They rightly develop aggressive tendencies as the outlet for the overwhelming grief and disconnect that they have, not only with their own experience, but also with the gentle and giving nature of humanity. Eventually they can experience a complete disconnect with all that is emotional. That disconnect keeps them safe and allows them to maintain their culturally acceptable gender role as a male.  As a result, men are robbed of the language of emotionality because they are not allowed to practice it. They do not develop the skills to ask for what they need because they often are not aware that they are in need”.

He nodded his head in silent agreement.

I appreciated the gesture, but knew that the work that needed to be done was far more than he was interested in doing at that point. He was articulating a desire for the only connection with a fulfilling emotional life he had ever experienced, which he believed wholeheartedly existed only in his wife. I had seen it before.

“When many men fall in love” I continued, “they offer their heart for the first time. Women, many times with their own issues, become aware of the vulnerability in their men. While they say that they want softer and gentler men, they also fall into roles that reject the emerging emotional nature of men. Men can end up feeling isolated and powerless without the appropriate skills needed to navigate what is often perceived as a betrayal”.

His mouth gaped open and he nodded his head absent mindedly.

What he wasn’t ready to hear was my understanding of men’s responsibility in the erosion of their fragile relationships… Men overwhelmed with emotions, are vulnerable to their women and some may come to resent what they see as a power that women have over them. Their anger may surface and they may become controlling to lessen their feelings of vulnerability. These relationships can become volatile.

“For some men”, I continued, “the role of provider becomes the way that they prove their commitment and love for the women in their lives. While women appreciate a man who is willing to financially support them, they may at some point come to evaluate partner’s performance negatively. Men can try to “perform” better while bestowing their partners with more material gifts to compensate for their inability to emotionally connect, but that can fall short as well”.

Other revelations that had come to me as a result of my work as a psychotherapist; the fact that I had raised 2 boys, had 4 brothers, and suffered victimization at the hands of angry men, would remain unspoken. He was focused on performing to get his woman back, something disconnected from the way he was really feeling about himself, her, and the potential nature of his own future. The answers to everything he ever needed and wanted lay within him, a person that he was so disconnected with that he was effectively being denied effective intervention of any kind.

I knew in my own mind that the nature of heterosexual relationships was much more complicated. But I have come to understand that western men are more invested in outcome and therefore lack the commitment to the process needed to get there. Mitigating factors always complicate relationships and they would have to be considered honestly… which would mean that this man would have to be able to share intimate details of his relationship. Feeling like a failure could make that difficult. As a female psychotherapist, he could feel the need to “perform” and change details so not to disappoint me. Every detail could be explained and blame absolved, but only if I got the chance.

There are men who will choose a woman who herself is emotionally disconnected. She will demand more and more in material compensation because she has grown up in a family that refuses to cater to her emotional needs. She will have the best clothes, and the best car but can have material needs that exceed her family or partner’s budget. She will acquire the label of “high maintenance” but there will be little understanding in how that was created. She generally will be the one who knows how to use the feminine whiles to entice the men that are the most able to provide the lavish possessions that she needs to insulate her from her own loneliness and self-loathing. Men crave this woman because it is her type that gets the media attention. She focuses an inordinate amount of time on her appearance, because it is what gets her the attention that she craves and needs to feel worthwhile. She worries about the size of her breasts, her hips, the gray in her hair, and the lines on her face. Her preoccupation with acquiring and maintaining the affections of a man keeps her from ever acting on her innate gifts and talents as they are squandered away on superficial details to make her worthy of the care that she needs to feel emotionally whole and complete.

I have known men who distance themselves from the emotional discord that develops within these many dysfunctional family scenarios. In order to feel more in control of their lives and to find solace, some men may develop strong friendships with other men who struggle with the same feelings towards their own partners. Times spent with these men can be kept superficial, nothing reaching the deep feelings felt with a life partner.  Disagreements mean less, arguments never as deep or threatening. There is a huge difference in being able to walk away without feeling like you have fallen short of someone’s expectations. Men are raised with the belief that it is their performance that ensures them the caring love that they crave so much and receive so little of.  Their women though, have problems with understanding that falling short of performance standards makes men feel emasculated and unworthy of the love that they have learned to perform for; in as much as a woman’s fading beauty and her man’s disapproval of her looks deprive women of the same feeling of worth. Disgruntled camaraderie and the voicing of frustration with other men boosts male alliance but does nothing to support the ongoing relationships that they have with their women as it distances both men and women, instead pitting them against each other in mutual destruction.  Women bitch that they don’t have what they need and men complain of the high maintenance attention that is needed to keep women happy. As a result men may bond fiercely with their daughters out of a desire for the unconditional love never received, creating a further distancing of the women in their lives by promoting and fostering a competition between the women in the house.

Men, in general, do not know how to bond with their boys. Within their boys they see the injured and empty children that they had once been. In rejecting that image, they end up rejecting their boys, thus perpetuating the internalized grief and dissociative emotional status once created within them. The cycle is self-perpetuating.

The answer to empowering men lies in critical observation without pathologizing resulting behaviors and emotional responses. It manifests by absolving people of being failures by providing explanations that validate their life narratives while offering other options to promote effective and fulfilling social interactions.

 

 

The Social Construct of the Madman: A Eulogy of Christopher Dorner

We as a society want to simplify everything even though there is NOTHING simplistic about the nature of our violent social reality as of late. The problem is that violence, in any form, exists as A SYMPTOM of a society and culture out of control.  We are told how to think, feel, and act. We have a code of conduct for our work places as much as we do within our homes.  Many unspoken expectations  in  agencies and corporate entities within which we work lie in direct opposition to the policies and procedures within the agency written code of conduct. In fact, agency written policy and procedures are as helpful for navigating our places of work as the ethical considerations in the licenses and certifications that we hold. We are rewarded less by being able to comply with the written standards than we are for adhering to the unspoken political natures of our roles.

There is less and less time to understand the internal feelings that are generated by walking through this maze of conflicting expectations. We are expected to morph seamlessly from one social setting to another without confusing the expectations and stresses. We are told to “leave work at work” and “home at home”. We dissociate our identities into neat packages and perform in each without understanding the impact of the stress. For those of us who choose to live outside the  institutional and corporate code of behavior, who defy the often unspoken code of silence when faced with witnessing real human atrocities, intervention is swift and painful. We are harassed, ostracized, victimized and lose our professional status, our jobs and our futures.

Human experience is our greatest teacher but it means nothing if we are not allowed, or we actively CHOOSE not to take the time to reflect on its lessons and to adjust our actions to reflect personal integrity and ethical human living. We no longer think. We follow those with more power and the institutions that they represent. We walk around in a daze bombarded by life events and, as time goes on, become less and less able to deal with their meanings. We aren’t mentally present in our life anymore. We live based on perceptions and interpretations that originate outside of us. We give up an intact sense of self to gain acceptance in social interaction.

The anger generated within is borne out of a feeling of helplessness in a world in which the words, thoughts and actions of human beings are becoming less and less consequential in preserving personal autonomy and accountability in life. Without autonomy and a sense of self, we lose our power and become victims of the social institutions and postindustrial corporate complex on which we all depend. Without actively teaching the importance of boundaries between personal ethics and institutional monopoly of human drive and motivation, we lose all human ingenuity, responsibility and generativity, creating the passive and apathetic public we now know.

Corporations, social institutions and professionals all tell us what to do and how to do it. When there is a conflict between what we are told to do and what we know to be best, we abdicate the most important aspect of human experience, free will. Through this MINDLESSNESS we are losing the ability to know HOW to understand the importance of the experiences we have. Instead, we look to “professionals”. We consult self-help books that rehash the empty and disconnected feelings we struggle with and offer cookie cutter, simplistic interventions for what are cultural and systemic problems.

With the Citizen’s United ruling “corporations are people and money is voice”, real human input in cultural progress has been minimized and business ethics have gone by the wayside. With the wealth of this country being held by fewer and fewer people, more and more people have less and less power within their own lives. This external focus keeps us struggling to just meet our basic needs and willing to give up our morality to meet the financial obligations that we have amassed in our lives. Those of the ruling and judging elite reward us monetarily ONLY if we play by their rules regardless of who gets hurt in the process!

Christopher Dorner’s  life stands as a stark reflection of our violent annihilation of the human spirit and the costs created by the rage that lies beneath.

The Lesson that is Lance Armstrong

We vacillated back and forth during the saga that has been Lance Armstrong. The story that has played out like a fairy tale has now revealed the ugly truth that lies at its core. Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs. It must be true, after all, he told Oprah!

What lays at the heart of this saga  is the story of how culture creates the Lance Armstrongs of the world. It is a common tale tucked away in both corporate boardrooms and the government back room obscure dealings of a nation too absorbed in scandalous gossip to deal with the foundational elements that take root in our own countrymen. Lance and others like him are symptomatic of the moral decline of a culture, nothing more.

We educate our children without teaching them to think. We receive financial incentives to produce in our workplaces without experiencing the self gratification of a job well done. We lose our jobs for offering our expertise and are punished for voicing opposition to poor treatment of our peers and clients. We have become line staff in industries that have no connection to the factories of early industrial America. Without the ability to think and problem solve, we are willing puppets of the post industrial complex working for the accumulation of wealth for smaller and smaller number of elites.

The very principles we pride ourselves on as Americans are the very skills many of us will never be paid for. Education, certification and license requirements serves the idealist but has no carryover to the workplace. Ingenuity is perceived as threatening. Problem solving is relegated to carbon copied programmatic policy guidelines. Conflict resolution is settled by who has the most power to bully his point. This takes place as much in corporate America as it does on our own school playgrounds. This is the workplace and social experience no matter where we find ourselves. These are the rules that we are forced to play by.

We live vicariously through Lance. He is our hero. His triumphs fuel our belief that one day we will find success and be better able to face the mounting obstacles and injustices in our own existence. We support his efforts through blind adulation and defend him regardless of allegations hurled at him.

Corporate entities salivate at the Lance Armstrongs of the world. Built within each  is a representative to use to drive up sales. With money as the driving incentive, corporations are able to make willing participants of the most idealistic among us. The unspoken problem with the arrangement is that signing on with BIG business makes each participant beholden to the corporate goals and tactics regardless of its ethical or legal consequences… Where corporate interests collide with individual convictions, corporate entities are sure to win. This statement is further substantiated by the United States Supreme Court Citizen’s United ruling asserting the fact that “corporations are people and money is voice”.  It stands to reason that as a representative of a corporate entity, contractual expectations of performance is mandatory.  Within the hierarchical arrangement between corporation and employee there are added unspoken expectations of behavior that hasten the further erosion of the individual self in any interaction where money exchanges hands. Through the long list of public figures that have succumbed under the pressure to perform, it is not outlandish to question the evolving mental health crises for those who enter the realm of celebrity status. Corporate entities are not interested in the personal effect of their expectations or media exposure on people. They are interested in the most important aspect of the transaction, their investment.

So, amid the adulation and hero worship that is bestowed on celebrities like Lance Armstrong, it is easy to understand how they come to rely on questionable activities to feel in control of expectations that come from both their ascension to world status and their corporate affiliation. Many engage in the unethical and illegal behaviors because 1) They are affected personally by the stress of being center stage, and/or, 2) There is an unconscious mistaken assumption that their corporate affiliation buffers them from any investigation into improper behavior.  I want to make it very clear, corporate entities may wine and dine celebrity wanna-bes before the deal and to celebrate gross earnings but they will be the first to pull the plug when questionable behavior arises regardless if it was caused by personal shortcomings or unspoken corporate expectations. Remember, “corporations are people and money is voice”. With that ruling it is clear that even Lance Armstrong gets the short end of the stick no matter what he has personally accomplished.

Nanaymie Kasmira Godfrey MS, MAC, LMHC