"A good example is the best sermon." - Thomas Fuller
December 31st, 2008
This will be my last entry for the year 2008. It's 2:40pm and I plan to be able to finish writing by 4pm at which point I'll take a shower then get ready to head over to my partner's apartment to celebrate New Years Eve with her sister and sister's boyfriend, both of who are incredibly warm and friendly people I enjoy spending time with. We plan to watch the BSG made for TV movie Razor and enjoy some good food. Until then I write.
If you've gotten the memo, 2008 has been a shit-hole of the year, and I'm not talking about the economy, but my own life. As challenges go, 2008 has been, bar none, the most challenging year of my life.
The year began with my room mate of seven of so years moving out. My daughter, her biological daughter and the girl I've been trying my damndest to adopt since about 2002, began living with me every other week. Some hoped this would make life easier as I wouldn't continue to live in an arguably abusive living situation (one where I'd begun to spend the significant portion of my time in my bedroom on the computer) but I knew better, though, as I spent over half the year attempting to arrange mediation with my x-roomy who only seemed interested in "flaming" me over e-mail and trying to squeeze money out of me (though the truth is she still owes me for bills not to mention $1,000 on the adoption that never happened). So after much failed effort and receiving many, many hate letters I decided to speak with several lawyers and after spending much money in a vane attempt to fight to adopt a girl I've put seven years and $60,000 into I discovered Oregon law doesn't really protect people like me, even if there was a well known verbal agreement in place for years, even if it's clear, on paper, that my wallet got taken for a ride. Indeed, the mother would have to be a heroin junkie before the state would side with me (or the best interests of my "daughter", for that matter). This aspect of my life has been, without a doubt, the most troubling and flatly insane of any period and it wasn't until I read Evil Genes that I had a deeper understanding of why some people "work" the way they do.
Since October or so my daughter has been living exclusively with her mother. Long story, but mom moved in with fiance and as predicted over a year prior I was then offered the opportunity to baby sit every other weekend, an insult I simply declined. Hardest day of the year, in fact, the day I took my daughter to dinner and explained to her why I could not accept something like that. I was, however, stunned by how mature she was that evening. I cried, she cried, we both cried. I have never been so proud of her as I was that evening.
Since then I have only seen her twice, once for my birthday and once for Christmas. Both times almost fell thru; I got the impression she had to argue with her mother just to see me, the only man who's ever been devoted to her in any way, shape, or form, for such a consistent and long period in her life. For years the mother has said, "I want you to be her dad," but as the saying goes, "Actions are stronger than words." To prove my point (and put the icing on the proverbial 2008 cake) my daughter asked to spend New Years Eve with me because she didn't want to travel south to meet her soon-to-be in-laws. We talked about this some and I suggested she should be open to meeting them, after all, they would be a large part of her future and she should make a conscious effort to get off on a good foot with them. While I know part of her (the teenager) wanted to avoid the social niceities all together, I believe another part of her took what I said to heart. Anyway, to abbreviate the story, she asked her mom to spend New Years Eve with me instead of going and her mom flatly told her no, that she was going to meet the family. This afternoon I texted my daughter to ask how the trip was and she said she hadn't left, that she's home alone for the night. Admittedly stunned, I asked about this and she said her mom had instructed her not to tell anyone. So I could have spent the last night of 2008 with my favourite kid, a child who I love with all my heart, but I don't get to because her mother, for no good reason I'm aware of, said no then instructed her daughter to lie.
Wow, that thar's some smooth parenting, hyuck!
This aspect of 2008 would have been hard enough on it's own but then add in the physical problems I've been having since May or April when my back began to hurt so bad I began seeing my primary care physician, specialists, physical therapists, and a chiropractor. After at least a thousand dollars and three outpatient surgeries later I'm no better than I was (though thankfully on a pain management regiment that's taken the edge off). The pain is chronic and sometimes makes doing anything (besides laying down) nearly impossible. Most of the time I take it in stride and see this as a difficulty life has given me that I can learn a great deal by experiencing. There are, however, moments where I am overcome with anxiety. Are these the symptoms of a disease that may one day incapacitate me, put me in a wheel chair, or worse? Do I have cancer? Will I even be around in ten years? These are the fears I tend to keep to myself, fears I usually put aside because, well, what can be done? I'm where I'm at, my body is where it's at, and the best I can do is transform the experience into something positive, not only for me, but for those around me. Sure, I'd love to be able to jog again, sure, I'm afraid in two years I won't be able to ride my motorcycle anymore, but I can't focus on the negative when there is so much to be gained from my experience.
Then there's work. Won't say much in that regard for a number of personal and professional reasons except to say there's been a great deal of change and stress this year (much more than in past years). On a superficial level I've moved cubes three times which, as you can imagine, is hell on my body. Gone through three, four, or five managers. I go between being very excited about the things I can do to improve the products I work with and discouraged by the road blocks I regularly encounter...on the bright side there's always room for the improvements I've alluded to.
Maybe some day I will make a dream come true, become a teacher or a therapist or maybe a world famous writer...anyone looking for a columnist or editorialist or screen writer? I've got a killer idea for the next Star Trek series if anyone (Rick B.?) is interested; it will, I believe, resurrect a dead franchise and give it back the meaning it once had while updating it for the present day fan.
Lets see, what else. Challenges with my girlfriend have been at times heart breaking... However, I have been surprised by how we both handle things in the long run. She has demonstrated qualities that I didn't think existed in other people, that I'd stopped looking for after bumping into so many without. I could go on and on about my gf's qualities and how they amaze me but I will just say this: I feel blessed and thankful to have her in my life.
Other difficulties in 2008 include but are not limited to:
- Insane medical bills (my insurance is apparently incapable of honoring many of the claims)
- Random car troubles (which I always get fixed implying more bills)
- Loneliness (after years of living with two people and four cats I'm now alone with the cats--though in many respects this is preferable!)
- Missing my daughter's in-laws who I was close to (the one's who treated me like family, not the ones who slander me to my daughter's face with insanely hateful things like, "He's not your real dad")
- Harder to keep up with house work and projects
- Harder to keep (much less remember) scheduled commitments (though my new cell running Windows Mobile 6.1 has been a godsend!)
- Harder to support others who need me (specifically my daughter, partner, and mom)
Anyway, I didn't get on here to bitch, that's not why I'm writing. I'm writing to say good (f*cking) riddance to 2008 which has been the shittiest year of my life. I'm writing because I look forward to 2009, which will be a new year, a good year, a leveling out and healing year, a year of plans, of direction, and some major changes in my life, many of which I am looking forward to with enthusiasm. Tomorrow I write my first entry for January 1st, 2009. Please join me in welcoming the new year.
All my best,
December 28th, 2008
I have no shame in admitting I once suffered the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. Indeed, I've found that my experiences have been fundamental in helping me become who I am today. Yet there is so much truth behind the descriptions found in Evil Genes, of who I was and how I attempted to interact with the universe around me, one that often seemed unfair, stacked against me, and in the words of Kurt Cobain, lead singer for Nirvana at the time, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you."
Interestingly, while in many ways I am a match for the stereotypical condition in others I did not always fit the label. Take for instance something Oakley writes on page 145 of her book, "Those often know instinctively not to try to tag their partner with the label of 'borderline'. A true borderline's knee-jerk response would be: I don't have Borderline Personality Disorder. YOU have borderline personality disorder." While such a label would have instantly incurred my wrath I would not have responded with such reciprocally defensive projection (borderlines, as she notes, do not like to be stereotyped, labeled, or put in a box--though I'm apt to believe this can also be seen to be the trait of a higher functioning mind who sees stereotypes as a quick bullshit way to understand people as opposed to sitting down and really getting to know them; stereotypes also, in my view, create a slippery slope which often lead people to various forms of bigotry). Though I recognize we're all apt to colour our pasts in a more positive light I honestly believe I would have just been pissed. I would have felt that the person was changing the subject in a pathetic attempt to side-step issues I'd brought up. And then, once that conversation had ended I would have, within the week, found myself at one of three local libraries researching BPD until I had a firm understanding of the "disorder". Next conversation with the person who had initially brought this up I would have said, "I can see that I am BPD in this way and that, but that doesn't make how you treated me in any way less egregious," followed by being a bit overly upset about the fact that they'd attempted to side step responsibility with a desire to finger point.
It's not easy to admit one's faults. I have met few who can and I've come to believe that integrity begins with the ability to humbly admit, "I'm not perfect." Like anyone who values their own sense of "goodness" it was difficult for me to read sections of Evil Genes including the following:"It's thought that borderlines may 'attempt to establish control of their emotional states by manipulating or controlling the behavior of others.' Typical borderline control strategies involve 'putting others in no-win situations, creating chaos that no one else can figure out, or accusing others of trying to control them.' Another common borderline trait is 'an amazing ability to read people and uncover their triggers and vulnerabilities. One clinician jokingly called people with BPD psychic...[Borderlines use their] social antennae to uncover triggers and vulnerabilities in others that they can use to their advantage in various situations.'"
Reading through such sections causes the hair on the back of my neck to stand. That's exactly who I was when I was twenty-one. I took the people I loved most, in particular my finance, partner, and best friend on and off for nearly a decade, and I used my uncanny ability to read their moods, personalities, and weaknesses, and to use my own language "twist them against themselves." However, unlike the Machiavellians described in Oakley's book, I did so out of a sense of fear and social poverty. I did not feel attractive. I didn't have money; I couldn't treat people to dinner or a movie or join in bar hopping. I was struggling with chronic depression which I knew wasn't something to share with someone too quickly as the phone calls would "mysteriously" stop being returned. I lived modestly, wasn't happy, didn't smile much, and spent most of my time on some kind of personal walkabout. I had been abandoned so many times that I didn't feel I could maintain a friendship (longer than a few weeks) unless I put my best food forward while maintaining a sense of control.
I would later find that whether or not I had control over people's emotional states or their willingness to remain in a friendship was irrelevant. What was was the fact that by exerting control I was creating a sense of superficiality and weakness in the friendship. Instead of being who I was and basing friendships on trust (which was also important but took a back seat) I held it together with an anxious array of tape and string, weak placeholders for simple, straight forward friendship, replacements that would strain under great stress and eventually, consistently, break.
One such tool in my arsenal was that of threatening suicide. Sure, I didn't much like the suffering I was going through, but in my late teens I'd learned that suicide was an incredibly useful (though dysfunctional) coping strategy. Before judging me consider what I have to say. In my late teens I had a group of friends, none of which seemed interested in my attempts to get together (or in worse times, to just listen). Frankly, if I wanted to do something I had to seek them out, drive into town, and more often than not, engage in whatever activities they wanted; I saw myself as the lonely puppy following happily along, wagging my tail, hoping for the social equivalent of table scraps. But oh my goddess, the moment people were concerned that I might take my life I suddenly had people who wanted to go out for coffee, chat on the phone for a bit, watch a movie, or what have you. While this was not a conscious evolution in behavior, once established, I found that the word "suicide" was the only one that had any power for me. One could argue that my suicidal behaviors and others' willingness to provide immediate attention fed each other causing an infinite and eventually destructive feedback loop.
"Please", as a word, was totally useless.
In my last entry I said I'd soon write about how I overcame many of the symptoms of BPD. I will do so now.
I didn't consciously cry wolf to garner attention. The brutal truth is I really didn't always feel I could cope with the powerful emotions I was experiencing. The truth is I didn't know what to do when I hit my lowest but reach out for a connection, for love, for understanding, and most of all, for compassion. After a few years of my life had been defined with such ups and downs it had been closely integrated into my personality and I couldn't consciously tell whether or not I seriously was at the end of my rope or I was just close and needed a friend who would listen. The area between a true suicide attempt and an attempt to reach out had become so blurred I, someone who often had NO friends, who spent most of his time studying, reading, and going for aimless walks, could no longer tell up from down. I lived in a city booming with people and yet I spent my days utterly alone.
There are some situations where you don't ask questions, you just do what's right. If you see a car terrible car wreck and are one of the few people around you stop and help. If you see a person lying on the sidewalk bleeding you call 911. And if a friend wakes you up at 2am, says they're afraid they'll take their lives, you slip on some clothes, get in the car, and go over to hold them...you hold them for as long as it takes.
For the emergency worker whether police, fire fighter, or ambulance worker, who sees these kinds of situations day in and day out the psychological impacts can be incredibly difficult, to say the least. Even the healthiest person will eventually struggle with nightmares and anxiety, a sense of PTSD that requires them to take care of themselves at a higher level than the general population--or get out of the buseiness altogether.
The friend, partner, or relative of someone with something like BPD likewise can experience, directly or indirectly, the "train wrecks" that the person they care about goes through. After a few times throwing on their clothes at 2 or 4am to hold said person they begin to be traumatized. The phone rings and they begin to believe it's either another threat or worse, the reality. Weeks, months, years of living under these circumstances can and does lead to breakdown. It breaks even the most loving and strong.
I would be a liar to suggest I didn't see the effects I was having on others. I saw them and for a long time I hated myself for it. So I tried distinguish the "real thing" from the desire to be close and after a year or two of that realized I just didn't have the stability to do that, especially when I was at my weakest. And so, in 1996, ashamed of myself and finally finding the strength to jump to the next level, I made a promise to both myself and to my best friend at the time, said I'd never again threaten to kill myself, never again visualize myself doing it, never again imagine it from planning to completion. I was done playing that game with others. I was done playing it with myself. I made a conscious choice, set a standard for behavior that could be quantified, and have since been able to follow it. I have never, since that day, pulled out a razor blade to inflict harm on myself, I have never attempted to overdose on sleeping pills. I have never written, called, or in person told someone I was feeling suicidal. While being a stickler for keeping my promises has sometimes come back to bite me, in this regard that character trait (keeping promises) has done me enormous good. To be frank, if there was any year of my life where I had every reason to take my life 2008 was it--but somehow I keep plugging on, taking the ups and downs as they come, and when they're at their worst, as they have been the last few weeks, I just cuddle up on the couch and watch reruns of 24 until I start feeling more capable of interacting with the world in functional way.
Suicidal tendencies, solved!
The underlying issue, attempting to exert control over others in my life, continued to be a problem (albeit not as destructive of one). How to solve that? I struggled with this question for years. I struggled with it while my marriage fell apart. I struggled with it when, only months later, I experienced a major layoff. I struggled with it while I searched for a job, found one, moved to Portland, and went through a dozen friendships and relationships that taught me so much about what it meant to be human.
What I found was that if I could define "my shit" and separate that from "other people's shit" things became a lot simpler. In my mind the two areas became increasingly clear:
- The hobbies and interests I choose to engage in.
- My property including what I purchase, how I take care of it, and how I use it.
- My job.
- My thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
- The friendships and relationships I choose to engage in as well as how I choose to.
- What I eat, how I take care of my body, etc.
- Most importantly, how I will allow others to treat me (in particular, is another's behavior somehow detrimental to me?).
Other people's shit:
- The hobbies and interests others chose to engage in.
- Their property, whatever it may be, how they take care of and use it.
- Their job.
- Their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
- The friendships and relationships others choose to engage in
- What they eat, how they take care of their bodies, etc.
- Most importantly, how others allow me to treat them.
Perhaps it is not as simple as that, but for me it's fairly black and white. If I choose to eat a Big Mac, something I know isn't good for my body, that's my business. And if you like to dress flamboyantly and go into debt on your wardrobe who am I, someone who cares very little for his dress, to criticize you? Once I began to see and respect those kinds of boundaries life was a lot less stressful and a lot more straight forward...except...except what if I ended up being negatively effected by another's shit?
Let me use a real world example. In 2000 I met a girl on-line. While a few red flags went up, things about her life and attitudes that I didn't exactly like, we seemed to get along just dandy and accept each other's eccentricities. After about a week I realized this person was the first alcoholic I had ever known. I didn't much like this but it didn't affect my life so it remained in the category of "her shit"; I tried to be understanding and compassionate towards her apparent need to drink so frequently. Then late one night she drove all the way across town, nearly twenty five miles, to my house. She smelled of alcohol. She pushed me onto the couch, ripped off her shirt, started to grope at me, then demanded that I "fuck" her and became enormously enraged when I would not acquiesce to her demands. She grabbed her shirt and screaming put it back on and lurched for the door. Inebriated as she was I felt it my duty to keep her from getting back on the road in her condition so I tried to stop her, to talk to her, I pleaded with her to just stay at my place, talk, watch a movie, whatever, and sleep it off. This enraged her further. How dare I accuse her of having a problem?! She screamed. She hollered. She ran for the apartment door and slammed it in my face.
She wouldn't talk to me again for days. When she did she accused me of being one of "those" kinds of guys and decided she didn't want to ever see me again (as a side note, apparently guys who aren't "those" kinds were unemployed, didn't own cars, or were in jail--so trust me, I didn't take it as an insult). Relationship thankfully short and "sweet".
She did not cross a line from her shit to mine by drinking, I'll make that clear. It was none of my business whether she destroyed her liver. The point she crossed my personal boundary was when she attempted to force sex on me. While it's not my place to judge another's sexual habits, it flatly falls into the "my shit" category for someone to forcefully tell me when, where, and with whom, I'll engage in sexual intercourse. Her response to me verbalizing my boundaries was the first time (and one of the last) where she demonstrated a lack of respect for me (respect, in my mind, being the ability and willingness to respect other's boundaries). And finally, her attitude about driving drunk, was putting "her shit" squarely into the category of "everyone's shit"; no one has a right to force their wrecklessness on others, especially if such behaviors often and invariably lead to "accidental" deaths.
Being able to separate one's own areas of responsibility from another's is easier said than done, in particular because most people don't have clear boundaries (for example the proverbial pain in the ass mother-in-law who can't keep her mouth shut). However I feel I've been lucky as someone who's had BPD and likewise as someone who's experienced a wide range of social environments to be able to shape the idea in what I feel to be a fair, thoughtful, and ethical fashion.
I've come to believe the most important boundary is how we treat each other. I, and no one else, has the right to say how I wish to be treated and the same is true for you. The last seven or so years of my life have been a virtual learning ground in regards to this. How far will I let someone go before I say something? How many times will I cover for them because they can't pay the rent or utilities? How many times am I willing to overlook blatant lies, verbal abuse, or threats? How many times am I willing to loose girlfriends as a direct cause of their behavior (the final number: 2, almost 3)?
At what point does someone decide that another human being is incapable of keeping "their shit" in it's rightful place? At what point do we, as decent individuals, say, "Enough is enough!"?
I digress. I've found that attempting to control others, whether it be as simple as telling them what movies they "should" watch or what music they "should" like or what foods they "should" eat, is at best an empty exercise in futility. The downside of even the most subtle form of controlling others is to separate ourselves from who they really are making it that much more difficult to create a substantial-human bond with them. On the other hand, it's important to be able to draw lines and boundaries. Why? Because if and when you back off and become less judgmental, if and when you learn to allow other people to be who they are, the result is that some will (by their nature or perhaps due to "human" nature) take advantage of this, push, push, and push, until you find you've been trampled over. Children, if you've taken care of and/or raised any, are an excellent example of pushing boundaries. Fortunately most adults are capable of behaving a little better than that.
So the wise path, the "middle path" in my view, is to allow others to be themselves, learn to recognize when they've crossed our personal boundaries, then take the appropriate action if and when they demonstrate the inability to respect them.
I should also mention another positive result of allowing others to simply "be". To do so we must on some level recognize that when we react to people it falls flatly in the category of "our shit". For example, I hate seeing kids who's baggy pants are falling down to their knees; I think they're lazy and they look, for lack of a better term, mentally retarded. However, I recognize the judgement falls squarely into the category of "my shit". I realize that like other aging thirty-somethings I'm viewing the younger generation with a level of unfair and frankly unnecessary judgment. I look at it, recognize it, and then move on. Still don't like the look, but it's not worth wasting time and energy thinking about; the moment I make this leap I can focus my thoughts and energy on more productive things (like finishing that bloody bathroom!).
To close, a few things.
I always believed I could overcome any "disorder" I was diagnosed with. Likewise, I believed I could use the energy within them and the positive aspects of them (such as empathy) towards positive means. So I was pleased to read in Evil Genes how many famous people have done this throughout history. One of them, Gandhi, a childhood idol, apparently went into frequent and indescribable rages in his youth. What an odd thing to accept about someone who became famous for his calm-centered sense of self. Yet it's true, he as many other famous people were prone to wild rages and controlling behaviors, yet those so many of us have come to admire recognized their shortcomings and, perhaps as a result of them, found an almost super-human level of strength, accomplishment, focus, integrity, and personal control that most of us should be envious of.
One last quote from this book:"Over the years, I've found that nice people (this is, the majority of people) generally fall into two categories--those who have dealt with and have been wounded by the successfully sinister, and those who haven't. Those who haven't--which naturally includes many younger people--often simply don't believe that the successfully sinister exist. After all, since elementary school they've been told that virtually anyone can somehow be reasoned with. Even if a problem does arise, the naif thinks, surely the seemingly sinister person can be taught how to act more reasonably, perhaps through the proper modeling of patience, understanding, and compassion."
Another "wow" moment while reading this book. Nothing was more true for me growing up, consciously building friendships with a number of Machiavellian personalities; nothing was more true of those I spotted as easiest to take control of too (or from my p.o.v. "feel safe" with). One day I hope to have children and as one of the lessons I hope to pass on is how to spot the successfully sinister, how not to be fooled, and how successfully and maturely protect oneself (I may have actually been able to do this once with my "adopted" daughter [who is barely a part of my life now due to one Machiavellian personality] when she was for years engaged in friendship with one of the most successfully manipulative [both towards peers and adults] and verbally slanderous kids I've ever met--I was proud of her when, on her own, she was able to make the decision to move beyond that friendship and seek out [hopefully] more positive ones). I also hope as we evolve as a race we learn how to accept others as they are, live in harmony with them, while also retaining the ability to stand up and when necessary protect ourselves from those who would intentionally harm us (even if that sometimes means we must use blunt force--a last but sometimes necessary resort).
I hope these thoughts have benefits you in some way.
P.S. Weird to think that one day the liberal and conservative mindset might combine into one that can easily see the pros and cons from each point of view and choose the most logical course of action (ex: whether that means negotiating and opening trade with Cuba or engaging in direct military action against them). It won't happen in my lifetime but one day I believe the survival in our species will require such a level of emotional and psychological flexibility and intelligence embodied deep within our biological brains as well as our social realities.
P.P.S. There are some out there that may still believe I go into wild, uncontrollable, and random rages. My next entry will be dedicated to them.
December 24th, 2008
Three or four months ago I first stumbled into the term Borderline Personality Disorder. Maybe I heard it while listening to Coast to Coast AM or maybe it was in one of a number of psychology or communication books I've been reading. Whatever the case, I'm surprised I didn't hear the term 18 years ago while I was seeing a therapist every week, back when I had many, if not most, of the symptoms defining BPD in the DSM-IV (this is the Bible psychologists use to diagnose psychological or psychiatric disorders).
As I mentioned the other day I'm reading a book called Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole my Mother's Boyfriend by Barbara Oakley. It is, bar none, one of the best, well written, and thoughtful book I've ever read on psychiatric disorders (though its primary focus is on Machiavellian-like disorders). As with many others who have become interested in the subject of mental "illness" the author's fascination began with her sister who struggled with a mix of a number of "disorders" including but not limited to BPD.
My interest in psychology began with myself.
Cluster B for Personality Disorders in the DSM-IV defines a person suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder as showing a significant number of the following traits and behaviors:"Rapid mood swings; emotionally unstable with very troubled relationships that include intense fear of abandonment; inconsistent attitudes and behaviors; no clear goals or direction; frequently considers self harm."
Lets dig a little deeper into who I was when I was seventeen years old.
Rapid Mood Swings: My most frequent emotional state at the time was numbness. I spent my days feeling a sense of endless "blah", especially during the years where I was on anti-depressants which have been clinically shown to lead to such states. Interspersed with this general sense of numbness I'd become happy and hopeful; I'd be jubilant about seeing my girl friend or excited about the new college coarse I was taking. Then, just as easily, I'd become upset, angry, and verbally abusive. Maybe "friends" would intentionally forget to invite me to a party. Maybe I'd learn my best friend had been lying straight to my face. Unlike those with chemical imbalances (something many tests verified I did not suffer from) my good moods were generally the result of my underlying personality which, though struggling, was hopeful, and my bad moods were either a reaction to abusive behavior or my inability to let go of such instances easily. Regardless, the yo-yo quality of my mods was congruent with this aspect of BPD.
Emotionally Unstable: See previous. Also, there were a fair number of times I flew into verbal tirades when I believed someone had crossed a personal boundary. Objectively, I probably had many, too many for most people to keep up, however I was also very straight forward about communicating them to others. Unfortunately when it was clear someone wasn't respecting a boundary (and wasn't interested in doing so much less recognizing that I had reason to be upset) I pushed and pushed because dammit, honesty and integrity were important in life and if they couldn't see that then I'd damn well make them! What I should have done was recognize their lack of interest in how they'd effected me and walked away. You can't make people care, but deep in my psyche I could not accept that realty so instead I tried pushing it on others. So yeah, in that respect I was emotionally unstable.
Very Troubled Relationships: I never had many friends growing up; at any given time I usually had one and when they decided to seek out another social group, usually one that did not accept my eccentricities, I spend recess wandering alone, walking in and out of groups hoping someone would accept me. I'd become accustomed to this lifestyle half-way through first grade. By the time I was seventeen I had found a place in two of the largest social groups I'd managed to build for myself up to that point: 1) the Baptist youth group and 2) a group of intelligent, creative, different, and arguable misfits at the high school. As far as the youth group I went because I was deeply religious at the time; however, I never truly felt like I fit in, my ideas were to radical, their views were too literalist, and I quickly recognized I had to be protective when connecting with any of them as I'd never experienced a group so focused on pressuring others to comform to a happy-go-lucky form of Faith. As far as my friends at high school, one of them was my best friend for a significant portion of my life. He lied to me often, took advantage of me at times, and on at least one occasion attempted to steal my first solid relationship; this guy had no qualms about not hanging out with me and using the reason, "You're not popular enough". Another friend, who I'd made while younger at the Lutheran church, was a great escape one-on-one, but he didn't include me in his reindeer games; if I wanted to spend time with him I had to do it on his dime and do whatever he wanted without question. Others came and went and many of them I respect to this day, but for whatever reason we never connected on a personal level, which is what I've always been most comfortable with. This group sometimes had parties but in all my teens I was only invited to one (to be fair I should also note that one summer I sort of had my house open to whoever wanted to come over and get into a little mischief--this is perhaps the only time in my life where I felt like I mattered to a group of peers). To summarize, I usually felt that 1) I had to put all the energy into the friendships or they would intantly dissapear in a puff of smoke, 2) I was often the subject of ridicule, judgement, and even ostracism by those I considered friends, and 3) I could not count on many of these people to be there for me when I needed a shoulder to cry on (socially speaking being a teenage boy in need of peer support can often be a catch-22. Male friends often see asking for emotional support as a sign of weakness. Women friends often interpret it as an under the table way of hitting on them--lost a few "good" friends that way).
Intense Fear of Abandonment: When I was little I liked everyone; I couldn't imagine disliking someone because of the tv shows they liked, the clothes they wore, or the toys they played with. I had a stable household and never feared my parents would divorce. Every now and then I'd play with the children of my parent's friends or kids at church. I never had reason to believe children weren't caring, loving beings that wanted to include everyone in everything. And then in first grade my best male friend wouldn't play with me on the playground. It was as if a light switch had been flipped. Alone, he was my best chum, around others he teased or flat out ignored me. In the third grade my best female friend one day, as if another switch had been flipped, stopped talking to me. The adults explained this as just how girls act at that age. Now if I were to sit here writing about all the times I've been abandoned by another human being I would have at least two stories per year of my life since about 1979; it would easily be the longest journal entry I've written and arguably pointless in content. What is important is that I didn't consciously realize I had a fear of abandonment until my early twenties when I dated someone who was explicit about hers. After being cheated on a few times by a few people, spending significantly portions of my life alone with no when when I needed support the most, well, this fear definitely tops my list of life-long anxieties. This is my largest fear, one based on a life of abandonment and threats of abandonment, and I feel no shame in sharing that fear with you here.
Inconsistent Attitudes and Behaviors: No definition within the DSM-IV describes all people; they're meant to be useful diagnosis tools, not perfect boxes to fit people in. In regard to inconsistent attitudes and behaviors I, at least in my view, did not fit. As I research deeper into BPD I've begun to wonder what I'd have turned out if I didn't have the parents I did. They had an authoritarian parenting style. Our house was one of consistent and explicit rules. As Lutherans they introduced me to social settings that expected consistent attitudes, (beliefs), and behaviors. As high school teachers they had high expectations for me. I believe that if not for them, if I had parents who were permissive, I would have developed in a much different fashion; I would not have had a firm foundation of integrity and ethics to base my life upon. While they were not perfect, I am certain without the environment they raised me in I would have also displayed this symptom of BPD and would have, as a result, taken my life in my early twenties. Now that I have a deeper understanding of BPD, how and why I suffered from it, I can say without a doubt that my parents are largely responsible for the fact that I was able to weather that storm.
No Clear Goals and Directions: This one's an odd one for me. I always wanted to go to college. In fact, my dream was to get a scholarship at M.I.T. where I'd hoped to study electronics, computers, and/or advanced robotics. And yet I didn't know how to get from A to Z. You could say I was a dreamer, someone with big dreams, huge dreams, but I lacked the basic skills necessary to attain those goals. In some ways you might say I was lazy, I just believed if I got straight A's in my senior year it would all magically come together. You might also argue that this is a result of my upbringing; I was often shy, anxious especially with new people, and my mother usually provided a protective shield for me, taking care of everything instead of encouraging and teaching me to do things for myself. Even when I started going back to college in '93 or '94 I felt an intense inability to plan things out. I wanted to be a psychologist but as soon as I signed up for classes I went in and kept my head low, not thinking much further than the upcoming assignment or test. Even when I got engaged I didn't think that we'd need to set a wedding date; the thought of organizing it created so much anxiety that I would immediately supress it in my mind. Planning my life is a skill I've only recently begun to strengthen and I'm keenly aware that it is not my strong suit.
Frequently Considers Self Harm: Tried to kill myself at least 50 times between the ages of 17 and 26. Need I say more?
As you know I have a personal (and professional, if I was a licensed psychologist) problem with the term "disorder". The word implies that something isn't working as it should, that there's some magical book out there that describes what "normal", "healthy" people are. The problem isn't so much that this is a way of labeling people, but it is an unobjective judgment of minorities by a majority that assumes that it is in some fashion without fault. If you were to read the medical papers of German psychologists and doctors during World War II you would be shocked by the things they called "disorder"; you would be shocked by their treatment programs.
Whenever we label people with non-descriptive words of a judgemental nature we walk a dangerous line between true scientific exploration and socially acceptable prejudice.
The use of a heavily loaded term such as "disorder" implies that a person isn't perfect the way they are and is, in my view, a throw back to a day where professionals locked people up when they had emotional problems and somehow expected abusive and inhuman treatments to somehow improve their state. An in depth study of famous figures throughout history will quickly show that psychiatric disorders are are more pervasive than most might be willing to admit:
- President Abraham Lincoln: Bouts of Depression.
- Sigmund Freud: Anxiety Disorders.
- Princess Diana: Borderline Personality Disorder.
- Buzz Aldrin: Bipolar Disorder.
I was able to find four in only a minute on Google. How many hundreds or thousands would I find if I spent an hour or a day looking?
I have never met a human being who I couldn't assign at least one psychiatric label too. We all have quirks, we all have unique mixes of strengths and weaknesses. "Sanity", another word that I feel is often abused, is not a useful description of the human state. The author of Evil Genes uses two other terms I think much more useful: "functional" and "successful".
Is a person able to hold down a job? Can they pay the bills? Do they follow the traffic rules while out and about? Can they buy groceries, get the laundry done, pay the IRS on a yearly basis?
Such a person may not be happy, but they are "functional" and "successful". Even those who exhibit behaviors defined as disorders by the DSM-IV more often than not function in society without ever being noticed.
Take for example exhibit #1, my best friend while growing up. Nice enough guy, smart, got decent grades, usually had a decent sized group of friends. What I didn't know is that he also exhibited most of the symptoms of someone with Antisocial Personality Disorder, something most of us know in its most dangerously dysfunctional form: sociopathy. APD is described as, "Problematic sense of right and wrong; deceitful and manipulative; easy willingness to lie; not bound by laws and social norms; irresponsible and impulsive; superficially slick and polished; potential for violence; enjoys humiliating others." Was I an idiot not to notice and run from that friendship like a house on fire? Some would say so, but I'd like you to remember that APD's are "slick and polished". He knew how to convince me that he understood how he fucked up but things would go back to normal and all would be well.
Since that friendship I have had close ties to at least two people demonstrating characteristics of "successful" Antisocial Personality Disorder. Each of them were slick and polished, capable of building and manipulating substantial social groups. If and when they overstayed their welcome they'd just create another. It wasn't something they had difficulty with. Likewise, they usually knew how to hold a job and were highly valued by their employers yet while they could appear perfectly normal on a societal level they could not tell right from wrong--but they were damn adept at acting like they did whenever someone was looking.
When I was young (and niave) I refused to believe such people existed but the truth is, psychopathic behavior is not as rare as many would like to believe. In one lifetime, and without seeking them out, I've established relationships with at least three.
I've also known a number of people with anxiety disorders. One was deathly afraid of abandonment. Another was always afraid that people were routinely talking behind their backs, planning to circumvent their happiness and success. I've known more than my share of those who experienced regular and sometimes debilitating panic attacks.
I've known at least four sexual addicts. Each sought out sex, even at the detriment of others, and each functioned less well during those times where they were unable to exert sexual control over one or more people. None of them believed they had a problem. Not surprisingly, each demonstrated some of the symptoms of APD.
I've known a few with symptoms Narcissistic Personality Disorder: "Possessed by grandiosity and exhibitionism; lacks empathy, hypersensitive to criticism, posesses and constant need for approval and admiration,". The most frustating aspect of this, at least in my experience, is that while they exhibit a singular talent for doling out criticism they are primed and inclined to take offense to things that are inherently neutral. For example, when I met the best friend of my girl friend and soon to be fiance (this was years back) she came in my room and proceeded to browse through my CD's and, even though only having just met me, put me down for nearly each one of them; later, when I felt more confident around her, I'd say, "Hey, I really don't appreciate the way you're talking to me"--lets just say the swearing that resulted was not, in any fashion, warranted.
And last but not least there's Histrionic Personality Disorder: "Overly dramatic and theatrical; throws frequent tantrums; always wants to be the center of attention; manipulative and demanding; vain; sexually provocative". Those I've met showing these symptoms also have behaviors similar to BPD and APD. They tend to be only children and/or were spoiled growing up. The first admittedly racist term I heard used to refer to one once was JAP (Jewish American Princess). Not surprisingly, some of those I've met with this "disorder" loved acting or wanted to go into modeling.
Now while I may seem judgemental the reason I bring these things up is not to judge; I have my own problems and am not afraid of sharing them with you. My point in sharing all this is to suggest that most people, on one level or another, have symptoms of one psychological disorder or another. While it's not clear whether or not the author of Evil Genes agrees with this view, she did suggest that most people suffering from psychological disorders go undetected by the medical establishment (and that many are adept at doing so).
I believe in the vibrancy of the human experience. I believe we are all unique, vibrant, and different. I believe we all suffer because on some level we do not see reality for what it is and our suffering is perpetuated because we lack the skills to accept and work within the constraints of reality. Reality Therapy and Buddhism are both founded on these basic notions and that is one reason why I've been attracted to them.
I do not like the word "disorder" because I believe it only serves to label people we see as different and inferior to ourselves. It is my hope that one day psychologists will agree that such language is not scientific or useful. It is my hope that one day they will see that it serves only to hurt those already suffering, that such language only provides "normal" people reason to ostracize, judge, and at worst, abuse, those most in need of understanding, compassion, and love.
One last thing I wanted to mention learning in Evil Genes.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI studies of people with Borderline Personality Disorder has consistently demonstrated that we have a significantly higher number of neurons in the portion of our brains responsible for observing, empathizing, and predicting others' behavior. Not surprisingly, I have always been an observational learner: I can usually watch a person do something once, even if it's something I have no familiarity with, and duplicate it. Here's how it works. Each of us have neurons in our brains called "mirroring" neurons. These allow us to internalize certain things. People with a lot of mirroring neurons in their cerebellum, which regulates balance and motor function, are more likely to learn athletic skills quickly. Those who have them in the hearing portions of the brain are going to excell at things like music. Me? I'd bet $100 if an fMRI was done on my brain it would show a significantly higher number or mirror neurons and activities in this part of my brain when someone is talking to me. I may not be good at picking up language, often miss what someone says, especially in a loud room, and when listening to music I'm rarely aware of the lyrics, yet when I interact with a person I become absolutely tuned into their tone of voice, inflection, and body language. I can meet someone and within minutes know where their buttons are; I see them as clearly as I see they keys on my keyboard, and just like the keys, I don't need to look at them if I want to push them. While I can't explain exactly what it's like, I can tell you at times it feels like I can look directly into people's souls.
Finally, scientific evidence for an ability so few believe I have.
Reading the author's description of a condition, the negative aspects of which I suffered terribly from in my late teens and twenties, has been refreshing. I haven't felt judged, but am experiencing some sense of relief that others go through something similar, that there have been studies on it, and that I can learn something not only about myself, but about others who experience similar conditions. Still, I am troubled by the negative connotation of the word "disorder". If so many famous people have "disorders" then how are they able to effect good in the world? If this is a "disorder" then how come I see it as a valuable gift that makes me who I am?
While I'm enjoying her study into the dark side of the human mind I hope that she follows it up with a book investigating the positive side. For instance, if I were to take a gander I'd guess that those with BPD are more likely to become involved in professions where their ability to read people can be used for good. Examples include a therapist, teacher, nurse, minister, and law enforcement officer [specifically those who specialize in crime investigation]). The assumption that those who are able to read others easily will intentionally use this to their advantage is an erroneous one. There are plenty of us out here who are quite capable of manipulation, control, and subterfuge, but refuse, for ethical reasons, to engage in such behaviors--even when doing so would bring instant gratification. There are plenty of us who choose the health and well being of others over ourselves.
So the question is: What's the difference between someone with BPD who uses it for good (such as Princess Diana) and those who do (or can) not?
Tomorrow (or soon at least) I want to share more about BPD. Specifically, I'd like to talk about how I overcame most of the negative aspects of it (such as the desire to physically hurt myself), embraced the positive ones (empathy), and have accepted myself as a uniquely vibrant person who sees the world in a different but beautiful way, someone who is engaged in the sincere evolution of myself towards higher ends, someone who wants to share that with you, perhaps even teach you, and finally, someone who, "disorder" or not, deserves to be loved without judgment.
Damn, if we could do that for everyone we met, whatever their "tweaks", we would surely live in a happier world, a more accepting and mellow one. Might even be able to get rid of our nukes and feed everyone as a side effect of the fact that we've all gotten our heads on straight and started to accept each other for who they are, just as Jesus did, as Mother Theresa did, as Buddha did. But then what did they know, bunch of tree hugging wackos!
December 22nd, 2008
The acronym for today is T.M.I.
T.M.I. Stands for "Too Much Information".
I was in my mid-twenties the first time I heard this phrase. I don't remember who said it, only that it was short-hand for, "What you're telling me is making me uncomfortable. I think I'd like to get out of this conversation and this is my polite way of saying you can't count on me."
Before saying anything else I must admit I've used "T.M.I." from time to time myself, but only as a humorous bullet within a conversation. Someone's telling me that their gas is a result from lunch, "T.M.I!" I say with a sly grin. Someone at work begins to describe the issue they've brought to my attention. "T.M.I." I say before digging into the details.
Sometimes I use humor in regard to ideas, phrases, or behaviors, which quite frankly offend me.
I once knew a guy named Brandon. Really nice guy but about as weird as they come. He had this unique habit of asking the most politically incorrect questions, and often in public. For instance, once while I was working behind the till at Dari Mart, a convenience store chain in the Lane County area, he asked me something like, "Have you ever tried to suck your own dick?" Like anyone, I was usually put off balance by his "inappropriate" questions and if customers were in line I'd do my best to politely side-step the conversation until they had left the store, preventing any unnecessary embarrasment or discomfort to them--yet this is something I found enduring about him, a trait I liked about him. Most people, at least in my view, seem trapped by their perception of social constraints, what can and can't be said within polite company, but he was not encumbered by these artificial rules and regulations. While many might argue Brandon had a screw loose, I believe he understood what was acceptable and what wasn't but he lived in a bigger world than that: he 1) knew his questions didn't hurt anyone and 2) had the insatiable curiosity of a four year old.
How was he going to learn about ALL the things that interested him if he didn't ask?
T.M.I., in my view, is the evolutionary result of social appropriateness twisted against itself. Nearly all small children ask questions about everything that interests them but somewhere along they line they learn that there are a good many things (too many, in my view) that aren't acceptable subjects of conversation. Then at some point this lack of curiosity gets twisted even further. We get stuck in our own little worlds, our way of seeing things, our beliefs about how people "should" act, how they "should" behave. And then when others don't, when they talk about farts or their surgery or their belief in fairies we get uncomfortable. They've exceeded boundaries projected upon them by us, you and me. They've made us uncomfortable by sharing ideas or aspects about their lives that we, for one reason or another, aren't comfortable with, so we blame them. They tell us that they may go bankrupt or are having marital problems or are feeling suicidally depressed and we don't want to get involved because the more we hear, the more likely we'll feel we'll need to do something, and we just don't have the time and energy for it, we've got enough problems on our plate, we don't want to feel guilty if we decide to sit idly on our asses, so we say, "That's a little Too Much Information!" and we walk away free and unincumbered.
Listening is, in my opinion, one of the most important skills a human being can excercise. Most of us like to believe we're good listeners. If so, why have phrases like "T.M.I" entered into our shared vocabularies? If so many of us believe we know how to listen well why have we as a culture created so many tools to impede good communication? Why do we tell others what is and what isn't something that should be shared? Why is it so many of us stop listening when we feel discomfort yet expect others to listen regardless of what we need to share?
"Too Much Information" is nothing more than a convenient safety mechanism, a way to avoid dialog, a way to avoid two things we find uncomfortable: when we choose not to listen and any cognitive dissonance that would result from acknowledging that behavior.
Today I'd like to encourage you to take this phrase from your repertoire of communication "skills", crumple it up and throw it in the garbage or recycling bin or better yet, take a match to it and watch it burn. Then, next time you're tempted to say it, stop, shut your mouth, and just listen. Yes, just listen. You might be surprised by what you learn, even if that is as simple as it didn't cost anything more than time and effort.
December 20th, 2008
"She got me these windchimes, shaped like a frog. That was like her. She wanted my husband, but it wouldn't occur to her that it might look strange for her to buy me a present".
- Nora Lewiston, the wife of one of Diane Downs' lovers on receiving a Christmas gift from Downs.
"I am continually amazed at how many people will believe something merely because it is said aloud. It may be a patent lie, but it has been spoken--and therefore it must be true."
- Ray Broderick, investagator at the DA's departent during the Diane Downs murder investigation.
"When you listen to Mrs. Downs on tape, you notice that she sounds as believable on those tape as she does in court. She's able to project this same story, the same degree of feeling in whatever she's telling--and that's her problem. You get that with an accomplished liar, the people that are used to it do it all the time...You've seen that here. She, in her mind, reconciles everything. There's an explanation for everything. She never admits that she's done anything wrong, no matter if you pin her down. It's just denial, denial, denial."
- Fred Hugi, Attorney for the prosecution against Diane Downs.
"Diane Downs is a sociopath--an antisocial personality--perhaps the most familiar psychiatric term to most of us. She has not the slightest concern for the rights of others. A brilliant mind with no conscience to guide it, the antisocial personality has been likened to a blank television screen, to a computer, or a robot. It "mimics" real people, giving back only what it must to receive gratification.
The sociopath breaks hearts and minds and lives, and is dangerous as a parent. It was never programmed to be a caretaker."
- From the novel Small Sacrifices.
These are a few quotes from the true crime book Small Sacrifices by Anne Rule. I finished the book last night. The last chapter was written a few years after Diane Down's incarceration and included the story of her escape from prison. The story isn't over, though. Twenty five years later, only a few weeks ago, she was brought in front of a parole board that unanimously denied her pleas for freedom.
I spent a fair portion of Thursday evening browsing the Internet for videos of interviews with Downs. In the 80's she had been prolific, telling her stories to reporters in the fashion we'd now label "media whore". All I was able to find was a highly edited interview she'd given to Lars Larson (I believe), a reporter in Eugene at the time, where she inappropriately giggled as she told her tale of how only a few nights earlier she'd stopped for a shaggy haired man who demanded her car then shot her three kids then herself. I also found a few of the videos from her parole board hearing.
As an empath and truth seeker it's important to me to get the story "from the horse's mouth," so to speak. Small Sacrifices made the author's point of view straight forward, clear, and unambiguous, but what would I, with my sixth sense, read off the alleged perpetrator herself? The best I was able to do was the parole hearing; unfortunately the video of Down's was so poor I was unable to read anything off of her body language, she was blurred. After twenty five years her stories had also become blurred, so inconsistent, so full of erratic bullshit that I got nothing from that either. However, I quickly recognized that she was an insecure soul, needing to bring up how her IQ was three points less than "genuis", yet she lacked the ability to answer even the most straight forward question without engaging in irrelevant tangents, specifically, she'd brought a book to the hearing which she believed had information about her uncle's murder. She went on and on and on about this and when asked how that related to her crime she was unable to respond to their questions but instead launched into yet other unrelated diatribes.
Diane didn't strike me as a near genius but a rambling ignoramous who, even after twenty five years to think things through, didn't even have the where-with-all to keep her stories straight. I realize that's a rather harsh judgment, but it is the truth as I see it. Didn't she understand that a parole board's responsibility is not to judge guilt or innocence? That's what an appeal is for. A parole board does not enter the picture to discuss an inmate's guilt or innocense. Their responsibility is to determine if an inmate has "learned their lesson". Their responsibility is to determine if an inmate is safe to release out into the general public. It is not their responsibility to second guess the ruling of the judge or jury. I'm amazed that after twenty five years in the "pen" Diane doesn't understand even the most trivial workings of the criminal justice system.
Then again, it doesn't surprise me one bit.
Small Sacrifices is only the second true crime novel I've ever read. The first was when I was a Junior in High School in AP English. The book was the first true crime novel, the one that started the entire genre, In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. This book, the story of two inmates who broke out of jail then killed a rural family "in cold blood" based on the inaccurate rumor that the family had a safe with tens of thousands of dollars hidden in the home. At least half a dozen movies have been based on the book and/or Truman Capote himself during the time he researched it. I have a great deal of respect for the authors who put so much time and energy into researching events of such a terrible nature, interviewing those who's lives were touched, spending their nights organizing piles and piles of information, educating some of us, providing others the chance to be voyeurs of evil. Though I enjoyed both books I could not, for my own sanity, read true crime novels on a regular basis.
Sometimes when examining something we know to be true we uncover something new. For example, I've always known true crime novels aren't my bag, but I never asked myself why. The simple answer, the one I accepted for years without question, was that it just wasn't my thing. Sometimes we accept the simple answers because we've never taken the time to ask if others exist.
When I was growing up I, like most children, loved Disney cartoons. In those cartoons there were always a group of good guys, trying to do the right thing, and bad guys, trying to do for themselves. I watched Star Trek, stories of a group of futuristic good guys always trying to make a better, safer galaxy for all of us to live in. I watched Doctor Who, an ageless Time Lord who always seemed to land his time machine where he could make the most difference and change people's lives for the better. Even now, as an adult, I am attracted to stories like the new Battlestar Galactica, where the struggling last few thousand living humans hope to find a home, Earth, where they can live in peace, and 24, an intense series where Jack Baeur fights the forces of evil (and often his allies), going as far as necessary to save the lives of thousand or sometimes millions, to insure that good always win. While on the face of it each of these tales appear very different from one another, underneath they are all stories of friendship, loyalty, strength, integrity, and the inherent superiority of good over evil.
My spiritual journey has been similar. Jesus, for me, was not so much my personal savior, but a human being who sacrificed his personal safety for the health and welfare of others. I studied Ghandi, how he peacefully resisted the British Government, and in middle school often emulated his peaceful yet forceful stance; I remember how on several occasions I allowed bullies to punch me repeatedly, only to stand back up, look them in the eyes as if to say, "You can go as far as you'd like, but you can't hurt me and I will never lower myself to your level"--and maybe on some level I hoped that they would see my strength, see I had something they did not, and that they might one day want to emulate it. I've read about Mother Teresa, studied the stories and lessons of Buddha, and countless others that stood strong, firm, for truth, for justice, for all the things we believe as "good".
I've found many priceless role models that I try to emulate in my own life, but in doing so I've made the subconscious assumption that (all) people seek the same types of role models for their lives, read about them, attempt to emulate them. Unfortunately (and unintentionally) this personal belief has caused me to project onto others my own way of doing things. It has unintentionally created a blind spot in my ability to read--and more importantly to trust--people.
My belief in the inherent good of people makes me unable to see when they are not.
I have always believed that we all have the ability for good and evil but when given the choice I've also believed people will ALWAYS choose the "right" thing. Twenty years of believing that, seeing so many examples to the contrary, I still want to believe it. I want to believe people will tell the truth. I want to believe that people will keep their promises. I want to believe that people will do what's right for the people around them, especially those most dear to them, such as their children. I want to believe that all people are inherently good.
I'm a smart guy. Twenty or thirty points above genius you might say (that's a joke, folks). I've lived with someone who demonstrated symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. I've known people with chronic depressions. I've been close to those who were bi-polar and others with borderline personality disorder. I've been around alcoholics and drug abusers. I once fell madly in love with a pathological liar and have been friends with several others. I've dated at least two sexual addicts (women who cared so little for anything else that I quickly--and with some difficulty--freed myself). I've known my share of people with antisocial personality disorder and was, to varying degrees, deceived by their habitual promises and efforts to "do better" (they are, in my opinion, the hardest people to read--they sincerely come off as caring while they're in the process of sharpening the knife they'll stab you in the back with an hour, a day, or a week later). I was friends with someone who never seemed to be capable of empathy, I was friends with someone who thought they were always right (and by extension of this were incapable of hearing anything to the contrary, regardless of how obvious or true). I've known people who have knowingly given others venereal diseases, people who will slander, cheat, steal, or destroy to get their way, those who will put on a friendly facade to get drugs, and those with no respect for anyone who stands up and says, "What you're doing is wrong."
So here's the thing, I've decided it's time I do something very unlike me, something that will be very difficult for me. I've decided to look at a side of life, a side of people, I don't like very much. Weird, even while I was a psych major I never took a class on abnormal psychology (I've even owned an Abnormal Psychology textbook for over a decade--but have never read it!). Sure, I've been a WWII buff, studied evil from an historical perspective, but not until after hearing about Diane Downs did I begin to realize I need to take a personal journey into the darker areas of human psychology, unthinkable acts that "regular" people engage in on a day to day basis. I need to understand why some parents will allow their need for sex, drugs, or affection, supersede the needs of their children. I need to understand why an adult would flirt with everyone they meet, even after cheating on their spouse, even after wanting to heal the rift created by their previous mistake. I want to understand why some adults slander and gossip, expending as much time and energy on that as I would in home improvement projects. I want to understand why so many would choose to act in ways that prove detrimental to the lives of so many when telling the truth would, more often than not, lead to a positive outcome for all.
In order to help me understand this I've picked up two books. One is The Lucifer Effect by noted psychologist Philip Zimbardo (who I referenced recently as having designed the Standford Prison Experiment). The other is Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hilter Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend. I don't know if these will hold all the answers I'm looking for and with the Christmas season here it seems anathema to engage in something that, at least on the surface, appears to be such a dark pursuit, but I need to know why, I need to understand why I've chosen to trust so many when I should not have, and more than anything, I need to heal.
For the next two weeks I will be on vacation. I will work on the house. I will spend time with those I love. And God willing, Santa will leave a few presents under my tree. I will read and perhaps I will heal. And I will always, always, hope.
December 18th, 2008
This week I've experienced nearly every emotion known to man...at least to some extent. None seems to last for long and none keeps me from doing the things I need to do, however I must admit I've let my house become an absolute pig sty and will needlessly be spending the weekend cleaning.
I made my bed and now I must lie in it.
(Actually, my bed's a mess too!)
(Ah, the benefits of living alone!)
(I should take pictures, lol)
Every day this week I've been taking Epson salt baths and enjoying Ann Rule's book Small Sacrifices about the murderess Diane Downs who allegedly killed one of her children and shot the other two outside Springfield, Oregon, back in 1983. I haven't come to any definitive conclusion as to weather Diane committed the crimes she's now in jail for, but have been glued to the book which I have found an enlightening look into human psychology. I must admit, however, I'm dissapointed in the tone of the book which is written from the standpoint that she is guilty as sin. As a truth junkie and part time Buddhist I wish it were written in a purely objective fashion, allowing me, the (intelligent) reader, to make my own conclusions based on cold hard facts. Sure, it would be perfectly fine when Rule describes how people such as Downs or her family, lovers, children, or lawyers, view the situation, react to it, and feel, that's an objective description of their subjective states, however I have to admit it bugs me that she routinely tells the reader how to feel, projecting subjective interpretations on Diane Downs' often erratic and irrational behavior. Just tell me the facts, I think I'm smart enough to read between the lines.
On the other hand, the book wouldn't have been nearly successful if she had written it from a purely objective point of view without judging the characters within...though I acknowledge it's my own thing to prefer straight forward facts to dramatized non-fiction.
I must admit the book has proven an exellent escape lately. Instead of focusing on my own challenges, which I'm apt to do far too much when I'm struggling with them, it's allowed me to be a (admitted) voyeur into the lives of others. I can't, however, claim that I don't somehow project myself into the story. Downs is, for those that know anything about her life, an arguably messed up person possibly suffering from antisocial personality disorder. She can't seem to distinguish between the objective and the subjective, is so caught up in her personal stories that she is incapable of entertaining any thought, story, or fact, that does not somehow compliment a positive view of herself as both a good person and an excellent mother. While her behavior is exaggerated I can't help but look at her and think we all have a little bit of her in us. We don't want to be critisized, we don't like it when others think poorly of us, so we generally filter out anything that might be bad, however warranted, and focus on the good. We're a good communicator, we're a good friend, a good son or daughter, a good parent, and while we all make mistakes, we understand the background story hence there's always a "good" reason for what we do, even when we're completely responsible for some something others would view as absolutely fucked up. So you would be correct to say I have some compassion for Diane. If she did commit the crimes she's been incarcerated for she simply does not have the emotional intelligence or integrity to acknowledge her behavior or do anything about it. If she didn't commit the crimes her emotions are so screwed up she lacks the ability or understanding of how to display her emotions in the way most other human beings are familiar with. She is a prisoner of her story and everyone her life has touched suffers as a result of it.
I can't help but wonder what she would say if she, her lovers, co-workers, family, or children, were to read this. To them I can only say I was in the third grade when the crime occurred, the same age as her daughter who survived but was badly wounded, and I couldn't imagine what it would be like to go through an experience like that, much less live with it for the rest of my life--I don't know if I would have survived it...I don't think I would... To those who were effected by this terrible crime I send my hopes and my prayers, may they learn from their suffering, finding healing through the years, and meaningful connection with others. May their lives be blessed.
On to other things...
Tonight at 7:30pm I'm going to a play, a recreation of a Portland, Oregon radio show aired during World War II. As a WWII buff and someone who feels a deep connection with those times (in part through my grandfather who fought against the Japanese in that terrible war) I enjoy this tip of the hat to those who lived through that difficult time. I took my daughter to the play last year and we both loved it. The big band music was fun, the skits were tongue in cheek, and the advertisements (especially those for cigarrettes, specifically their health benefits) were hillarious. This will be our second time and if she doesn't get bored of it (oh, teenagers!) I hope to make this a yearly ritual we can share. Oh, and I forgot to mention, on some of the nights one of the actors will be a Japanese-American who was interned by the U.S. Government during the war. He's an Oregon Poet Loreat and I hope he's at tonight's showing, it would be such a blessing to hear from him. And that reminds me why I liked the radio show best, it's not just fun, it's not just a glimpse into the WWII era, it's a compassionate and full look into the lives of everyone who went through it including but not limited to our troops, their families, the community, and on and on, and the icing on the proverbial cake, the point where I almost teared up last year, is when they asked all the veterans in the audience to stand: nearly 1/8th of the audience stood and received a cheer of thanks for the sacrifices they made whether it was in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, or what have you. That really brought the show home, tied a bow on top for everyone to see, and put the thanks where it rightly belonged, on those who struggled to insure our lives would not be ruled over by racist, murderous fascists (well, at least in the case of WWII).
Anyhow, I should stop writing now. Got some things I need to take care of before tonight. Take a shower. Clean the car out (a little bit, anyway, it's a mess after bringing home the Christmas tree last Saturday). Print up some things. Finish working. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
As they say down under: Happy Christmas,
December 17th, 2008
I ran away from home in the fall of 1992. Since I was on the verge of turning 18 some have said that I really wasn't running away, but they weren't there, they wouldn't know, so their opinions hold no more weight than conjecture around the water cooler. I'd lived in the same country home since it was three years old. It was my home and my bedroom was my sanctuary, the only place in the world where I felt entirely safe: I belonged there.
Leaving was the most traumatic event of my life.
At least until that point.
What I was really running from was blurred behind the onslaught of emotions that I could barely manage during the drive over the mountain pass to Eugene. Superficially, I was running away from a father who didn't seem to understand the epitome of cruelty it is to belittle another's struggles, I was running away from a mother who stood by as if nothing was happening, I was running away from "friends" who knew I needed support but routinely neglected to include me in their get togethers. I was running from church groups that were more interested in reaching out to the poor and needy in the community than the poor and needy sitting in the pews, I was running from the first real job that I'd had, that I'd quit without giving notice (a level of disloyalty that was unlike me), and I was running from all those who labeled me "sensitive", those who refused to acknowledge their behavior as abusive because apparently it was more convenient to label me, give me the finger, and walk away.
I didn't realize I was in the process of replacing one unhealthy environment with yet another equally destructive one. I didn't know what I'd do that night when I parked in front of my x-girlfriend's house at the end of Ferry street, the house that would eventually earn the name: The Ferry House. I didn't know if she'd take me in, help me through my struggles--if I had been "psychic" in the prophetic sense I might have turned around, found the nearest Marine recruiting station, and signed up. This house, The Ferry House, the place I would call home for the next two or three years, would become ground zero, a spiritual battle ground that would lead me into the darkest areas of my soul.
The house itself was old and not well built. The kitchen was minimal: a fridge, a large metal sink, a stove, and a few cabinets. The carpets would have looked outdated to the Brady Bunch. The paint job, both inside and outside, had been painted and repainted so many times an archaeologist could have used the layers for dating purposes and the windows were old, loose, rattling all day and all night when cars drove by and letting the cold slide in as if a welcome mat had been put outside with one message for mother nature: "Come on in!". There was a front yard with a large tree and constantly yellow grass and a back, fenced off one covered in weeds and waist high grass.
One of the better memories in the back was when a bunch of friends decided making crop circles would be easier than mowing it.
There were four bedrooms and eventually I ended up living in two of them. First, I shared my x's, sleeping when she was at work, taking up as little room as possible in that ten by ten foot space. After kicking the roommates out for crimes against humanity she moved to one of the larger room and I inherited hers. Not long later, after going through a few tumultuous roommate changes, I found myself in the larger bedroom, a ten by thirty foot space made from an old converted garage; easily the coldest room in the house, I regularly had a space heater close to my feet or was otherwise layered enough to go snow skiing.
My diet consisted of Raman Noodles, peanut butter sandwiches, and Super Big gulps that I purchased with spare change or the deposit from bottles I'd found while exploring the wet Eugene streets after nightfall; pizza and hamburgers were a rare luxury I ate with starving fervor. And when I wasn't sleeping I was like Thoreau on Walden lake, sucking at the marrow of life everything I could get from it. I sat at the computer for hours, dialing into BBS's, or Bulletin Board Systems, the public precursor to the internet, reaching out to other humans, to connect, to express myself, and find a common bond. I learned to program in Pascal and GW Basic and spent a week smoking the gentle green weed all the while programming a graphical version of Battleship that could be played by two opponents over dial up modem. I slipped through the suffocating bars of Christianity as I discovered a larger, more humbling, compassionate, and sensible one in the centuries old wisdom of Rinzai Zen, Buddhism, and other Eastern philosophies. I camped out at the Lane Community College library for hours, reading psychological papers and sociological studies, I had an insatiable thirst to know more about people who didn't follow the status quo, groups like those led by the Rajneesh who led a small community outside my home town of Prineville, Oregon, in the 80's, a society where the nuclear family was accepted as openly as were polyfidelitous relationships; years later, in a Psychology of Gender class I was to meet one of the founding members of the "cult", someone I began a dialog with outside of class, someone I earned a great deal of respect for. I searched and researched and read and read and read; I wanted to find a place where people believed like me, were more like me, and perhaps for the first time in my life I would find a place where I belonged. I tried hallucinogenics for the first time and learned how and why they've been used by mystics for thousands of years: to connect with the Divine. I learned to write in Chinese while on LSD, a substance I found opened my psyche like a flower to the sun, and it enabled me to dig deeper, deeper, and deeper, into the troubled rumblings of my soul.
I went to college again, taking a bus every morning to LCC where I majored in Psychology, learning about how I worked, how other people worked: I wanted to heal, I wanted to help others. I studied, I painted, I played music, I photographed the streets I walked, and I made love in that house, The Ferry House, and for all its flaws it was, for many years afterwards, wedged deep in my heart.
For years after I'd moved I still considered it home.
You may notice that I've often shared negative memories from this time in my life; what can I say, the preponderance of memories were negative and personally I've never seen a good reason to filter that out. That's just how things were, for me at least. I can either run from it or make peace with it.
I choose peace through the written word.
I share these things, these memories, because they are a testament to the test of fire which I survived. These memories, these events, define times in my life where I learned to become who I am, to learn from my pain, to turn a frown upside down, to learn to hope, to learn to breath, to learn to live.
I've sometimes been judged for trusting too easily, for sharing too much. That's one point of view. The other point of view, the correct one, is that I am the only person who can decide how much I share, with whom, and when. The other point of view is that I'm able to share what I share because I know who I am and nothing I share can threaten that. The other point of view is that I have the strength and integrity to share who I am, where I've been, and what I've been through, because I hope that by doing so you will, with an open mind and heart, learn about me and more importantly, learn about yourself. If you decide to judge me anyway, that's your call, but that sure as hell tells me more about you than it does me.
Lord, please don't let my words go to waste.
P.S. It's a hell of a lot of typing...
December 16th, 2008
This morning on the BBC call-in talk show World Have Your Say there was a discussion about whether or not the reporter who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush this weekend should be punished.
Here's my 2 cents.
Fact: I do not like Bush.
Belief: I believe Bush is guilty of lying to the American people, crimes against the U.S. Constitution, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
Fact: This does not give me the right to take matters into my own hands.
Listening to world reaction to the shoe throwing incident I've been greatly disappointed. While I can empathize with those that applaud the thrower, the resulting polarization has been troubling. Specifically, those in Muslim nations have, by and large, been supportive of the shoe tosser. They're upset, and rightly so, by the arguably unlawful American invasion of Muslim countries, so they want some kind of justice. Bush's decisions as Commander and Chief have led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people so he's lucky he's gotten away with only having a pair of shoes thrown in his face--besides, both missed, what's he to complain about?
What troubles me is the prevailing disrespect for the order of law.
Ideally all countries should have laws that promote the health and well being of the people. Without law society is subject to anarchy, chaos, and mob rule; if a big enough group of people "feel" someone deserves to be punished then so be it, regardless of the facts. I sincerely empathize with those who believe Bush should be tried in a world court but if we are to live in a world where justice prevails, we must start by honoring the legal codes we do have--and if/when we don't like them, work peacefully, together, to change them.
Without respect for the rule of law we are no better than vigilantes.
End Of Line.
It's a well known psychological and sociological fact that environment has a direct effect on behavior. Studying for a test in the same environment one's going to take the test, for instance, consistently has a positive effect on the test results; that one's all about memory, cues, etc. Watching a movie in a theatre packed full of people who are reacting to it positively (laughing, crying, shouting, jumping) make it more likely that we will like the film too. Most of us tend to walk a little straighter if we're in a police department, whatever the reason we're there, and most of us become quieter in libraries (as a response to social expectation).
In 1971 the then relatively unknown psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted a now famous social experiment called the Standford Prison Experiment. Twenty-four undergraduates were randomly split into two groups: prison guards and prisoners.
According to Wikipedia:"Prisoners and guards rapidly adapted to their roles, stepping beyond the boundaries of what had been predicted and leading to dangerous and psychologically damaging situations. One-third of the guards were judged to have exhibited 'genuine' sadistic tendencies, while many prisoners were emotionally traumatized and two had to be removed from the experiment early. After a graduate student Zimbardo was dating objected to the inhumane conditions in the prison, and realizing that he had been passively allowing unethical acts to be performed under his direct supervision, Zimbardo concluded that everyone including himself had become too absorbed in their roles and terminated the experiment after six days."
Every now and then I hear stories on the news about nurses or other care givers who are arrested for acts of emotional and/or physical abuse against those in their care. These situations have two things in common to the Standford Prison Experiment: 1) both define a similar relationship between a care taker / prison guard and a patient/prisoner, and 2) patients/prisoners are often in a state of social isolation.
Question #1: Is there a significant correlation and/or causal relationship between the care-giver/receiver relationship, social isolation, and emotional and/or physical abuse?
Question #2: Have there been any psychological or sociological studies to determine if there is one?
If I were to conduct such a study my hypothesis would be this:There is a statistically significant correlation between the care-giver/receiver relationship, social isolation, and abuse. Specifically, the more isolated a person is from outside support systems such as family, friends, and other care givers, the more likely they are to be victimized by their primary care givers.
The control group for my experiment would be patients with significant support systems and I would expect them to experience significantly fewer cases of abuse.
If the experiment provided positive supporting evidence I would conduct a second one to determine the cause. Specifically I would ask: Are care givers more likely to abuse those in social isolation due to the lack of social regulation? In other words, is a care giver more likely to engage in abusive behaviors when no one is looking over their shoulder and/or they feel confident no one will believe the person under their care?
Of course, neither of these experiments could be designed or carried out in a similar fashion to the Standford Prison Experiment as this would be considered unethical by the APA. The study would need to be based on existing imperical data or surveys of nursing homes, hospice care facilities, or other types health care facilities.
End Of Line.
It's time for a change so I'm opening The Temple up for dialog. You may have noticed how on the left there's now a link labeled "Forum". If you'd ever wanted to share your thoughts on my Reflections, Visions, or other subjects of interest you finally have a way to express yourself here, all you need to do is click on Forum then click on the "Register" link at the top right hand side of the screen. Tell me who you are, a little about yourself, and why you'd like to be a Pygmie, and I'll be more than happy to add you as a forum member.
I'm looking forward to our discussions!
End of Line.
December 15th, 2008
Last night I enjoyed my nightly ritual as falling asleep to Coast to Coast AM. I don't recall the subject--oh yeah, an interview with the noted suspense author Dean Koontz. I wasn't able to get to sleep easily, something that has been a constant struggle for me lately, so was awake when the night's episode started from the beginning. Ian Punnet, my favourite host, was heading the night's show when for some reason he referenced President David Palmer from the TV series 24.
10 points to Ian for being the first celebrity, newscaster, or radio personality, to noticed the uncanny similarity between the rise of David Palmer in 24 and that of President Elect Barack Obama.
-2 points for not recognizing that Palmer's character may have positively effected the outcome of the election (in Obama's favour).
+3 points for admitting the first time he say Michelle Obama his first thought was, "Don't trust her, she's a murder!"--wait, wait, before you go freaking out a little background, the fictional President Palmer's wife was a wicked-manipulative woman if there ever was one, a woman who was guilty of conspiracy and murder. I'm giving Ian 3 points because he was able to recognize that like Pavlov's dog he was having a subconscious knee jerk reaction to someone based on emotional conditioning.
I give points to anyone who recognizes their failings and shortcomings, especially if they're quick to verbalize them.
Oh hell, I don't feel like writing anymore about this...point was, I was going to say I hope Obama is half the person Pres Palmer was...and maybe he is...Palmer, if accused of being a Muslim, would have said, "No, I'm not, but if I was, would that be a problem?" My point is, fiction influences us, can be our teacher, can encourage us,
December 14th, 2008
Yesterday I was having lunch with someone when the topic of psychic abilities came up. To be honest, I brought it up in reference to some Tarot-like decks I'd seen earlier that day, one that was based on the Jewish faith, others that were based in the Christian tradition. You see, way back in the Stone Age, when I was in high school, I purchased (or was given, I don't exactly recall) my first Tarot deck, the ubiquitous Rider-Waite deck. At the time I didn't know if I believed in Tarot or not; to be fair, as a logically inclined teenager I leaned towards the idea that it was a bunch of hooey. The deck elicited a very different response from my mother, though; her overt concern was written in the paranoid words coming out of her mouth. The subject of yesterday's conversation, then, was how families encourage or discourage their children, specifically if those children display gifts of a supernatural nature.
My gift was something generically referred to as intuition. A decade later I learned the specific name for it: Psychic Empathy. While the descriptions of this ability vary from believer to believer, one web site defines it thusly:
"A psychic empath is a person who is especially sensitive to energy and its associated vibrations. All thoughts and feelings produce vibrating energy, and all of us release these into the collective constantly. We all affect all, even in complete isolation. No doubt you've heard of the butterfly effect, where a butterfly moving its delicate wings in Africa effects the energy everywhere else. The same holds true for our thoughts, words, intents, and deeds. Everything created in solid space or through thought has an energetic charge that becomes available to all. An empath unconsciously deciphers others' energy and assimilates it as if it were innate."
I grew up in a family, or more accurately a religious climate, where such things were not discussed openly. Sure, it was perfectly fine that Mr. Spock, of Star Trek fame, had the ability to read minds (as long as he was in physical contact with someone), but that was fiction, far displaced from reality and thus not able to endanger it. In "real" life such abilities were probably not possible, but if they were, well, there was no place in our belief system for them. Maybe if we were from a more charismatic tradition it would have been different, I might have been viewed as having the gift of prophecy, but we were Lutherans and as a rule Lutherans only talked about such things openly when reading scripture that included the supernatural such as when Jesus exorcised the demons (you remember Legion?) or when Old Testament men interpreted others' dreams or performed miracles, as Moses had a knack for.
The word used to describe me was "sensitive". While not denying the unique ability I had, it didn't exactly validate it either.
It was a useful word that described me as different, that could be thrown out by my parents or my teachers, something that said there's something about this person that's important, special, but it's not something you need to know anything more about, there's nothing to see here, move on, he's just sensitive.
To date only a few know how much it offends me to be called "sensitive". While to some it may seem an accurate description, it has all too often used as a convenient way to avoid openly discussing something some families would have encouraged as a divine gift. Instead of getting the recognition it deserved I felt like it was one more trait that made me the black sheep of my family. Worse, it has often been used as an excuse for people to treat me badly. Why should someone say they're sorry for their behavior when it's much more convenient to point to one of my character traits instead? I have heard the label applied to me more times than I care to recall and far too often as a pathetic substitute for a straight forward apology.
I hate being called sensitive more than you will ever know.
So, as so many of us learn to do growing up, I started to keep it to myself. I stuffed it deep down, where no one could see it, only sharing a few things here and there with people I felt I could trust like a best friend. And it sucked, but it sucked worse to share the most intimate details with someone only to be immediately aware that they were skeptical of my abilities or worse, that while a smile lined their faces they were really thinking I was a nut-ball in need of serious therapy (and as an extension of this that they needed to get as far away from me as soon as possible--intuition usually confirmed within the week as they stopped saying hi and returning phone calls or later on, e-mail).
I was incredibly careful about who and when I shared my abilities, especially given that I grew up in a conservative cowboy town where anything too weird or different translated quickly into an invisible Scarlet Letter. To my parents, only hints. To my friends, general interest in the supernatural peppered with the random story of a personal experience (if and when they seemed open, of course). I did not, as a general rule, talk about it in public any more than someone would go around telling co-workers they came down with Aides. It was private. It was potentially dangerous. And yet it was something of a cover-up, for me, something I felt made me a fake, a fraud, in a world where I wanted to scream and shout everything about myself in hopes of being accepted, understood, and loved, for exactly the person I was, not the role I felt I had no choice but to play out.
The first time I came out in a group of people was Wednesday October 31st, 1990. I was sixteen years old. It was Halloween night and along with thirty or so other teenagers I was taking part in a lock-in, the Baptist Church youth group's paranoid stand against the pagan holiday. Now if you're a frequent visitor to The Temple you may be shocked. Aslynn taking part in an act of religious bigotry? Doesn't make much sense and truth is today I'd never include myself in something like that. But I was only sixteen years old and while I often felt like the space alien in a group that sometimes took their religious beliefs to an extreme, it was the first time I felt like I had a place with a large group of people, where I might actually belong. Besides, I felt most of us didn't take the anti-Halloween thing seriously, it was just an excuse to get together, eat tons of chips, cookies, and ice cream, and socialize, so I decided I could overlook the ridiculous religious bigotry being disseminated by the youth pastor and have a good time, as I felt most of the other kids were there to do.
And then, half way through festivities, it hit me: an overwhelming feeling of loss. I felt...I felt heavy, sick to the stomach, and afraid. I became overwhelmed with a sense that I would lose everything. I went upstairs, to one of the classrooms, and fell in a corner under a desk in the fetal position, where I started crying uncontrollably. Eventually my high school sweetheart found me there and within minutes her best friend came, and so did mine. I could barely talk but in half an hour or so I managed to blurt out what was going on and before I knew it had unintentionally pulled half a dozen people into my little drama.
Rightly concerned, the youth leader pulled me in his office. He was a large man, built like a line backer, with a beard, a friendly smile, and a warm voice. He reminded me of Grizzly Adams without as much Grizzly, and while I found many of his beliefs simple or outdated, I had found myself in a place where my faith was important to me, where I felt that if I couldn't trust my spiritual mentors then who could I trust?
I told him everything, that since I was very young I had unique sensitivities, the ability to internalize other people's emotions in an unusually unique way. I told him that sometimes, when knowing something was of particular importance, I'd also have visions, usually in my dreams, and that they always came true. I don't recall if I did or not, but worried that he wouldn't believe me I probably shared examples, like the time, while in Australia, I had visions of my best friend trying to steal my first, real, solid girlfriend from me--and how I found out the exact details within a week of returning home. And he listened, for the first time an adult just sat and listened, so I felt that someone finally understood, that after so many years keeping it to myself I could finally be open with someone about it.
So I decided to just open up and tell him everything.
In the upcoming December or January my girlfriend and her best friend would be traveling to Portland, Oregon, to take part in some kind of Baptist church event. I'd had one of those gut feelings, one of the kind I sometimes have when I know something terrible is going to happen. Focusing harder I saw it, red on white, a terrible car wreck in the mountain pass. And my girlfriend was there. Dead.
He sat there quietly, taking this in. I looked at him, hoping he would take me seriously. He had to take me seriously. This wasn't a joke or a ploy to get attention. I knew something terrible would happen soon and we had a chance to change the future, to stop this tragedy from happening. God had blessed me with a vision and like all the Old Testament prophets, seers, and kings, I had a responsibility to act on the knowledge that had been shared with me. I had a duty to act.
It wouldn't have taken an empath to realize he was taking this seriously. He wasn't smiling or rolling his eyes. He wasn't making uncomfortable jokes. He wasn't interrupting or rationalizing anything I said but instead seemed to be soaking my words in. This was serious. We both knew it.
And then he spoke.
I nearly fell out of my chair. My visions were real, he agreed on that, but they were not to be acted on. Why, I asked with anxiety in my voice. Because, he explained, they were obviously the result of Satanic influences. To my shock and dismay he ignored my warnings and instead advised me to suppress my intuitive sense; it didn't matter how many times they'd been right before. I couldn't believe my ears, here was a man, a spiritual leader of dozens of the children of the congregation, who had in the same breath told me I was possessed by Satan and in another told me to shrug it off and go back out and enjoy the party.
I lost a great deal of trust that day, trust in adults, trust in religious leaders, and trust that most human beings had open enough minds to accept me for who I was. That was, of course, only the superficial lesson I was to gather from that evening, an evening that eventually helped me realize that Christianity was not compatible with my spiritual path.
The past is my teacher. As such, I've often looked back at this evening. Besides being more careful regarding who and when I trust something like this with, what else did the evening teach me?
First and foremost, there was no car crash. My high school sweetheart is alive and well today, living in Eugene, Oregon with her loving husband and two beautiful children. Does this mean my visions were off? The answer is no. For those who have experienced supernatural abilities in their day to day lives I don't have to explain myself, but to the rest of you I will simply say that having the courage to share a vision is often enough to change the future, especially when those directly affected take you seriously. She did. And while there's no way to know for sure, that in itself could have been enough to change the future. It's within the realm of possibility, at least for the open minded.
On the other hand emotions are powerful forces and psychic energies are subtle ones. Any bonified psychic will tell you that the biggest road block to psychic abilities is our emotions, that it is imperative that we understand ourselves and be centered to truly be in alignment with the psychic energies surrounding us. While on a subconscious level I knew this to be true, I was still young and was working under the erroneous belief that anything I picked up psychically was inherently accurate (as well as unambiguously so). Looking back now I see a kid who was deeply troubled, who was experiencing the first symptoms of clinical depression, who had few real friends and was constantly afraid of losing those he had. Coming up in an environment that did not support or nurture my innate abilities I had no role models, excepting maybe those I infrequently saw on TV or in the movies, so I didn't recognize that emotional stability directly influences any visions one might have, blurring one's perception of them. My girlfriend was going to an event that for one reason or another I wasn't allowed to attend, she was going away when I needed her most, so my insecurities ruled me, they ruled every perception I had, the first five we're all aware of, taste, touch, smell, feeling, and sight, they were biased by my fears, and the sixth sense, my intuition, was not protected from such bias. My soul was tainted by fear and anxiety therefore the things I intuited were too.
Emotional balance is integral to the life of a psychic. The smallest ripple within a psychic's heart has the ability to take simple intuitive inputs and amplify them tenfold. That's why, in my opinion, there are so few professional psychics. Not only do they have to manage a unique business relationship with the public, but do that while staying emotionally balanced. To put another way, most famous people, whether Hollywood celebrities or political figures, have learned do what we call "putting on a good face"--but it only has to be skin deep. A psychic, on the other hand, must be that good face, through and through, or they wouldn't be able to do their jobs.
I've come a long way in the last twenty or so years. My ability to distinguish psychic inputs from emotional ones has been highly refined; even under the most distressing circumstances I am now able to separate my own shit from "cosmic" vibrations. But to be honest, if I could exchange my ability for another one, I might do so in a heartbeat.
You see, while there are many out there that view psychic empathy as a gift, it's also often described as a curse. Ever been in a conversation with someone who didn't let you get in a word edgewise, who was obviously anxious about something, and who had nothing good to say about anyone? Now imagine not being able to block their negativity, that you were tuned into every movement of their body and riding the lines of their inflection, tone of voice, all the way down to the words coming out of their mouths. Imagine being able to pick that up off someone who you just passed on the street then try to imagine walking through the mall, thousands of hearts and minds, their moodiness flowing through the air like FM radio stations, and you're tuned into every one of them, all at the same time, a cacophony of feeling, breathing human beings shopping until they drop, frustrated with their children, playing hooky from work, gossiping with friends, looking for a piece of ass. It's all out there, in the ether for anyone to pick up, but most of us filter it out. That's what a part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System does, it filters out "unnecessary" information from the environment. To most people the mall is just a loud, crowded place. For a psychic empath it can be like being surrounded by a dozen people yelling at us, all wanting our undivided attention.
So yeah, if given the choice I'd love to trade it for something "useful", liking helping police find a murdered body as well as the murderer. Or predicting future events like earth quakes or trouble in the financial markets. I could use it for good, maybe even make a living out of it. But I'm just sensitive. As a super hero my abilities would be limited to knowing when people aren't being straight with me, predicting when someone is going to get engaged or make another similarly significant life change, or pick up on when an employer has decided to downsize. Imagine that for a moment, having a unique so-called "supernatural" ability that more often than not results in you being immediately aware when someone isn't on the up and up with you, or that people are so predictable as to seem to have no free will, or that it causes you unnecessary anxiety because you can usually smell something bad just around the corner, like a skunk leaving a toxic trail of psychic energy in the air.
I'd trade psychic empathy for something people could see in a heartbeat. I don't need to fly or anything like that, but how about telekinesis, the ability to move things with one's mind. Or the ability to touch objects and know where they've been. Or better yet, the ability to speak to those who have passed over; I hear people with that gift are pretty popular and even respected.
But who in the hell would respect someone who can, on cue, feel how they feel?
For awhile I thought psychology was the best way to take advantage of my ability. So I went to college, learned about psychology, learned about myself, and looked forward to a day where I'd spend my days sitting with people, one-on-one, listening to them, empathizing, and helping them find proactive solutions to life's problems. Great idea except that I quickly discovered psychology wasn't for me (but that's altogether a different story). I'm still keenly interested in psychology but I moved towards another profession, computer science (but that's altogether a different-different story).
Transforming my ability into something useful...well, I still haven't figured it out. Nor have I determined who I'm able to share it with. Ironically, I'm sitting here today writing about this, sharing it with everyone. Perhaps I do that because I don't know who I can share that with. Perhaps I do that because it's hard to share that with someone because when I do, regardless what they say, I'm going to pick up on any disbelief they choose to keep to themselves; I see the salt scattered on their shoulders. And perhaps I do it because I have nobody to talk with today and you, my Internet friend, are the outlet my thoughts, feelings, and emotions, need this shivering cold day.
Over the years I've created a lot of rules for myself in regard to my empathic ability. Yesterday I broke one of those rules. I interrupted someone. I interrupted them because, cocky as it may come across, I knew what they were going to say, knew it wasn't going to be very nice, and really didn't feel it was in any way warranted.
Psychic empathy is something that while automatic for some of us, can be taught. First, you must understand that on a genetic level the emotions of all people are 99.9% the same, therefore we share the same basic emotions of happiness, sadness, joy, frustration, relief, despair, and so on. Second, you must realize that people raised in a certain society modify these basic defaults based on how they were brought up, the sociological constructs of their culture; we see this in how people relate to each other, how they greet each other, say goodbye, and the like. Digging even deeper we see that people's behavior is adjusted even further by the groups they associate with most often: their family, coworkers, friends, and romantic partners. A person's behavior is further modified by their perception of themselves and their life stories, how they felt about themselves and others growing up, what they believe their purpose in their life is, how they internalize a given situation, and so forth.
Understanding this from a purely psychological level can be useful, but it is not the same thing as internalizing it on a personal-emotional level.
Take for instance the case of Diane Downs who in 1993 was accused of shooting her three children resulting in the death of one and serious physical trauma to the others (her son was paralyzed). I first learned about her last week as her first parole hearing was held. She was denied. During that same time Oregon Public Broadcasting had an episode of Think Out Loud which discussed the case. To this day Downs says she is innocent, that she stopped her car for a shaggy haired man who shot her and her family. I believe Ann Rule, the author of Small Sacrifices, a book detailing the murder, investigation, and trail, was interviewed. I was intrigued.
I spent the week researching the case. Was she guilty? Was she innocent? While on an instinctual-animal level I needed to find out, the real reason the case interested in me is that the descriptions of her personality reminded me of someone I once knew. Why? There's a saying, "It's like comparing apples to oranges." There's truth to that saying; sometimes two people are like comparing oranges to apple--but then sometimes it's like comparing apples to apples. If true in this instance I'd just found an opportunity to understand a significant part of my life. If I could understand it, internalize it, make sense of it, then maybe I could heal certain areas of my life (status report: so far, so good).
On so on and so forth. If you understand how people or a person generally is and are able to internalize that, it's easier to understand oneself, it's easier to predict future behaviors, and so on and so forth. Perhaps this may seem a bit weird to you, but it's one way I make sense of my world.
For example, we know that everyone comes from the same gene pool so we all have the same basic emotions. I've noticed that a conversation that starts, "I want to talk with you" starts out very differently from one that begins, "I want to talk to you." The first tend to be more balanced, friendly, the latter often turn out to be conversations where we get "talked to". I've noticed that when people use "thinking-feeling" language they're more likely to acknowledge how others are thinking and feeling and conversely when they don't use such language they don't typically validate other points of view. When we don't listen, when we're not interested in other points of view, our language changes. We stop saying "I feel" and start saying, "You feel." We stop having a conversation but instead start defining, describing, accusing we start trying to force others to agree to the obviousness of our story.
You may be red, yellow, or green, but in this respect we're all apples. And that's where I broke my own, personal, rule of thumb.
You see, I was in a conversation that started with feeling-thinking language and quickly turned into one where I found myself being accused of all manner of things. I've had the same conversation before and while I don't know specifically what was going to be said next (sorry, that's not my gift) I knew the energy behind it--and it wasn't "good". I knew because I'm empathic, but I also knew because when I said, "Hey, I don't like it when you tell me how I feel or what my intention is, I'd appreciate it if you let me speak for myself," they completely ignored what I'd said but instead told me what I was thinking, how I felt, and what my intentions were--and why this was so obviously true. So I sat there, doing my best to listen, to make things work, but I saw the energy building up, as surely as I see the word processor on this screen, as surely as there's a nearly empty water bottle to my left, as surely as my Christmas tree stands bare of decorations in the corner of my room, I saw it building. It wasn't a question of "If" but "when" and when I saw it about to happen I broke my own personal rule.
That rule is this: no matter how clear my intuition is, I must allow people to make their own choices even if that means allowing them to shoot themselves in the foot.
(In Star Trek parlance this would be called the "Prime Directive of Interpersonal Relationships")
Seems contradictory, doesn't it? You'd think that if you could see the bullet coming you'd dodge it. And perhaps in the realm of Muggles that makes sense, but in the more intricate world of human psychology, emotion, and the psychic, it isn't that simple. To use an analogy, telling someone they're going to fire a gun before they've pulled the trigger is not, in my experience, a very wise thing to do. I've yet to meet someone who doesn't respond to this defensively. How dare I accuse them of an act before doing it! How dare I accuse them of pulling the trigger! Sure, maybe they are carrying a concealed weapon, but they haven't even fucking loaded it so how dare I!
That is a major dilemma for the psychic empath. When the energies are there swirling about in the right amounts, speeds, and directions, when "all the planets are in alignment", what does one do? Keep quiet and watch things fall apart, walk away like a coward, or stand up and try to make a difference? From personal experience I can tell you the first changes nothing, the second pisses people off, and the third--well, let's just say once the pressure's high enough it's gotta come out somehow and I haven't learned the subtle art of depressurizing the source without getting burnt in the process or worse, causing an expletive explosion.
A good parent often finds themselves in the same conundrum. When you've known a child their whole life (or a substantial portion of it, in the case of adoptive parents) they're an open book. You know how they act, how they react, you know their hopes and fears and patterns of behavior probably better than you've ever known anyone. It's a gift and a curse of being a child's parent.
Say, for example, that you know your child will sneak cookies if you put the cookie jar where it's within their reach. Now the most obvious decision it to put the cookie jar out of reach, but is it the right one? Without the opportunity to cross a line and make a mistake in a stable, loving environment, the child will undoubtedly make the mistake elsewhere, at school, at a friend's house. By putting the jar where a child can try and sneak one a parent allows the child freedom of will--as well as the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
While it's not my place to parent my peers, I've found it's also important to give adults the ability to choose regardless of what I pick up empathically. Freedom of will is a valuable thing; it should never be taken away.
So what does a psychic empath do when they see something "negative" coming? Sure, if people trusted me implicitly that would be one thing, but when someone's already in an arguably fragile state, when they're upset, angry, or scared, telling them they're close to doing or saying something they'll later regret is a subtle form of taking away their free will. Frankly, it pisses people off.
I'm beginning to think psychic empathy, something most people don't believe in anyway, is a joke. It's far too easy for me to get mixed up in other people's emotional dramas, far too easy to take things personally, and when I see the bullet coming, nothing besides taking it dead center in the chest seems to encourage a positive outcome. Gotta sit at the restaurant, keep my mouth shut, eat the salmon, pretend I don't see the pressure building, watch as it explodes, then say something like, "I didn't appreciate that," keep my fingers crossed, and hope that within the next five or ten minutes I'll hear some kind of recognition that a clear boundary was crossed. When that doesn't happen, when there's no acknowledgement that a gun was pulled on me, the trigger pulled, specks of my heart dotting the table, then there's not much to be done but find a quiet corner, close the blinds, and tend to my wounds. It's not what I want to do, but given the choice between standing in the open, alone and vulnerable to attack from those who seem to think I had it coming, and finding a safe haven to recoup, what would you choose?
I have searched my entire life for someone, a group of people, who would believe in me and my unique abilities, and trust me when I say a storm is coming. I am ever so tired of being called "sensitive" whenever the storm hits, and tired of my protective silence being blamed for the roar of the tidal waves as they hit.
That, for now, is all I have to say...and in saying it I have exhausted myself.
December 13th, 2008
Our perception of others directly affects how we interact with them. How we interact with them effects our well being. I know, I know, this is all sounding a little bit familiar, doesn't it (as the infinitely wise Yoda from Degoba once said, "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to suffering, suffering leads to Twinkies")?
We are all responsible for how we perceive other people or situations. Regardless of our past, our life experiences, our upbringing, when push comes to shove the stubborn reality is we choose how to view things therefore it is "we" not "they" that are ultimately responsible for how we choose to interpret the world. Sure, some situations will trigger us and others, well, most people have a similar way of reacting to certain situations, but we are still the perceivers, the choosers, the makers of our own personal universes.
While not the topic I wish to discuss today, this idea relates to today's topic: the importance of intent.
Imagine for a moment two very different worlds.
In one world, it is assumed that every person is 100% responsible for their perceptions of all the events of their lives. In this society there would be no crime, not because people would magically treat each other with kindness and respect, mind you, but because no matter the event (abuse, rape, murder, and so on) the ultimate responsibility would be on the shoulders of the experiencer. Acts we would look on with complete disgust would be viewed no differently than any other event; the expectation in this world is on the experiencer to take completely responsibility for whether or not they internalize an experience as something positive or negative.
Crime is rampant in the other world. Why? Unlike the first world, where the perceptual outcome of an event is on the individual, in the second it is the individual that decides what is and what is not okay. Most individuals in this world, with the exception of a few Buddhists, agree that abuse, rape, and murder, are crimes that should be punished (severely). Even the little things, like being cut off in traffic or feeling like someone isn't listening, become major events where the experiencer becomes judge, jury, and executioner.
What world would you prefer? The one with no laws and regulations, where we must all recognize our personal power to overcome difficulties (and expect others to do the same) or the one where anybody off the street could take the most innocuous of our actions, assume insult, then sentence you to whatever punishment they felt you deserve?
I would live in neither.
So when is it appropriate to find fault with other's actions? When should we assign blame and expect an apology? When does being curt become being rude, when does being rude become being a jerk, and when does being a jerk translate into a crime?
Legal systems are an human invention intended to be the first line of defense, to explicitely define on paper what behavior is acceptable (or more often than not, what is not). While in the whole of history there has never been a perfect legal system we, as humans, do our best to built societies that work, and in the last few hundred years have invented systems that promote a balance between individual freedom and the health of society at large...well, at least we're getting there.
Laws are, at least when they're well written, straight forward. Our personal lives, however, are not so black and white. Where laws don't apply we must make judgment calls. What behaviors cause us to turn the other cheek? And what behaviors won't we tolerate?
It's been my observation, after 35 years of paying close attention to people, that there's an unsaid assumption that all (or at least most) of us believe we're on the same page, that the same things that bug you are the same things that bug me are the same things that bug them. I've also found that every circle of people I've known have a different set of standards. While one may be very laid back, messy, smoke in the house, and drink on a regular basis, another might only view drinking as acceptable during social gatherings. One group gossips non-stop while another is enormously respectful of how we talk "behind people's backs". One group lies to each other as a matter of course, the other doesn't tolerate it one iota.
No two groups socialize the same. All are dynamic. All are unique. (In my humble opinion) The assumption of social uniformity is nothing more than a psychological safety blanket.
We all want to teach our children well, but what about teaching them something, a lesson about interacting with each others, that is objectively fair, consistent, and can be applied to all groups of people no matter their size, age, colour, religious or political belief, or what have you? What if there was a way to judge people by who they are and not who we've made them out to be?
I believe there is.
One of the first things children learn to ask is, "Why?" At an early age a child's curiosity is insatiable. Why is the sky blue? Why do I have a bedtime? Why do we go to church? Why do I have to take a bath? If you've been a parent you know what I'm talking about and while it can be cute at first, it quickly turns into an annoying cacophony of questions until at some point we cut them off with, "Because I said so!"
Not surprisingly they--we--learn to stop asking. We stop asking the most important question of all and then suddenly, we find ourselves in adult relationships and we aren't asking "Why?" anymore. Without taking advantage of this tool, this simple word, we rob ourselves of the most important aspect of any relationship: intent.
It's easy to finger point, to judge, to hold a grudge, to build up resentment, but asking, "Why?" makes all that unnecessary. Why use all that energy and time when we can ask someone why they're feeling the way they are, why they're acting the way they are, when we can simply go to the root of the matter, determine their intent. And if the intent is good, why not simply accept that while recognizing that any other thoughts and feelings remaining are our own baggage. And if the intent is not good, why not try to talk it through instead of calling people names or telling them to fuck off.
Maybe it sounds like I'm on my own personal pulpit, but the truth is I know because I've been there. I used to be the kind of person that would take the tiniest little thing, someone's tone of voice, inflection, eye contact, and turn it around on them with three simple words: you don't care. And I was good at it too, like a lawyer I'd built my case from the ground up. You don't listen to me. You interrupt me. I'm always there for you but when's the last time you've been there for me? Oh, what, you've got a problem with the way I'm talking to you, you don't like me talking to you this way, well, fuck you, you started it, you hurt me first, and I'm going to treat you any damn way I please because I want justice, damnit, and if you were a decent person you'd want it too. And when you tried to get a word in edgewise there was an easy answer for that too, I'd just hang up the phone, take away your voice, because you're the goddamn mother fucker that took mine away first. And if you couldn't see something so clearly stairing you in the face then you were just a goddamn idiot, not worth my time.
That used to be me. I was like that in all my friendships, all my relationships. Never worked well. Nobody liked it.
I wonder why. (note the sarcastic tone in my voice)
Nobody knew how to deal with it and when they tried...well, they were wrong and I sure as hell would let them know in as much detail as I felt necessary to get the point across--and I'd keep it up until they admitted defeat whether it took a few minutes or a few hours.
I never recognized the catch-22 I put others in.
And truthfully, I didn't care. And that's exactly what I'd say right to people's faces, "I don't care." I'd say that and when they acted bent out of shape by some frankly hateful language I'd start screaming, throwing out names and insults, and for good effect I'd lay a few land miles, usually in the form of guilt trips, and I really would not put up with someone who wouldn't just take the punishement they so rightly deserved.
My intent was not good. While there was a part of me that wanted to work things out, the larger part of me wanted to act out for whatever wrong I perceived that someone had done me. So nothing I did, no matter how harsh, no matter how insulting, no matter how violent, was too much, I had been wronged and I had to balance the scales. Hell, I might just take something I loaned you out of spite, look you straight in the eyes while I'm doing it, and send you that not so subtle message, "Fuck you, you goddamn dirt bag, THIS is how much I think of YOU!"
That all changed when I started accepting people's intent instead of their actions. True, on some level we should judge people's character by their actions, but actions are easy to project on to, particularly our hopes and our fears, it's much better, in my experience, to ultimately save judgement for people's intent. When we trust people, really trust people, we can accept their intent when it differs from their actions and by doing so we begin to know and accept them better. The side-effect of this is that it puts a direct spot light on our psyche's, forces us to take responsibility for our baggage, our shit--and I think that scares the hell out of most of us.
It's easier to hold a grudge because someone ________ed us.
It is only in the trusting acceptance of another's intent that we will begin to truly love each other. What a simple thing it seems to believe and to trust. Why so simple and why so hard? And why not you?
December 8th, 2008
Yesterday I'd forgotten specifically why I wanted to write about expressing positive and negative emotions in a positive way so today I'd like to ask your forgiveness and continue that same journal entry. Without naming names, I want to give a specific example of how negative emotions are sometimes expressed in a negative way, how that has a negative impact on others, and how that can be transformed into something positive, for both those expressing the emotions directly as well as indirectly.
I know someone, someone who I love very much, who I sometimes enjoy a meal at a restaurant with. Like me they enjoy food and like me they cook food quite a bit. Unlike me, where I rarely cook for others, this person often does so they enjoy having someone else wait on them for a change.
And yet...and yet I sometimes wonder.
I think I'm a fairly patient and forgiving person and this is often demonstrated when I'm at a restaurant. While I don't like to wait around more than fifteen minutes to be seated (who does?) I don't mind waiting fifteen or thirty for my meal, especially if the food is good; it heightens the anticipation and gives me time to socialize with those I'm with. If the restaurant is "hopping" I don't mind so much that my waiter or waitress can't give me the attention they otherwise might; it is, in my mind, easy to understand that they're doing their absolute best to juggle dozens of customers. And usually I don't even mind if the wrong meal is delivered to me; first, while they will correct the mistake the initial plate will usually end up in the garbage can and regardless of where the responsibility lies I don't like food being wasted; second, their mistake is often a gift to me, a chance to try something I wouldn't have necessarily wanted or something I hadn't tried before! Hell, I don't get upset by much when eating out. If and when I do I demonstrate my satisfaction by means of my tip which I hope will communicate to the restaurant whether they provided excellent, average, mediocre, or terrible service (I know, I know, while I have often been criticized for this, I firmly believe tips should be earned--if it is a right then all people in all occupations should, by law, be provided with the benefit of tips).
For me eating at a restaurant should be enjoyable. That's the point. We usually go to one with friends, family, or our partners, and we do so to connect. In my mind it's all about priorities, about what's more important. Am I there to fuss about the soup being a little cold or the tea being weak? Absolutely not, I'm there to connect with people I value and I don't like to let anything else, whether it be shitty food or crappy service, get in the way of that.
And so I've always found it frustrating when I go with said person because without fail they find at least two things to rant about. The service is either too fast or it's too slow. The table wobbles. The tea is too strong or too weak. The servings aren't big enough. The food is cold. The order was mixed up. No matter how good the service, environment, or food, there's always something "wrong" with the restaurant, and given the consistent nature of these criticisms I drop them flatly in the category of "bitching". True, I believe it's every person's right to express themselves, however I believe such a manner of expression only serves to break the continuity of any important conversations and likewise has the potential to introduce relative moments of discomfort both for guests as well as staff.
Me like? No. Me no like.
When a restaurant makes a mistake should they be informed? Yes, if for no other reason as it allows them to improve the service they provide and as a result, possibly win more business. But I'm a firm believer that this can be done in positive ways. My methods are usually very simple. First, I ignore stupid little things that aren't worth bringing up (like my eggs being over easy instead of whatever). Second, when I need to communicate something during a meal (i.e. the curry isn't spicy enough, in my view), I'll politely say something like, "If it's not too much trouble would you mind having the cook add extra spices to this?" or "Can I get some more coffee, please?" And third, I believe the two best ways to communicate our satisfaction (or lack thereof) of the overall experience is through the tip (which is a good way to communicate this to the immediate staff) and also through those little "how did we do" survey's that most restaurants keep available (which is a direct line of communication with management). These are, at least for me, ways that bitching can be transformed into something that doesn't break the flow of conversation for those there to enjoy the food and also serve to help the restaurant improve itself. That's a win-win. Bitching for the sake of bitching, especially when such bitching is predictable and arguably unnecessary, has no positive benefit to anyone.
I've been hypersensitive to similar situations as of late. Usually this is simply due to the fact that I'm by default a sensitive guy, but the last few weeks I've been consciously been practicing the act of finding the positive in everything. Maybe I'm having one of those days where I feel like I've woken up on the wrong side of the bed but I've been deciding I'm just where I'm at, how can I get the most out of the present moment. And it's not easy, there's plenty to bitch about. Lately I haven't been getting enough sleep, regardless of what time I turn the lights out, so that's an easy thing to grunt and groan over. Been having a lot of nightmares the last few nights as well but then I think, so what? I'm not having them right now and if I'm going to focus on them at all I should do so only if I'm trying to gain some sort of truth or understanding from the process. Sure, been out to eat a few times this weekend and the staff made mistakes and I don't like salmon nearly as much as I do chicken strips with ranch but hey, I'm in it for the new experience even if part of that experience is the three bones I found! Yeah, yeah, yeah, I either want it to be sunny and warm or cold and snowing but it's raining, I can't do the leaves today, so maybe I'll watch a movie, clean the kitchen, or paint the bathroom instead. True, sometimes the people I'm with really don't enjoy the movie, concert, festival, or whatever it is we happen to be doing as much as I, but do I really need to allow their personal feelings to effect my perception of an experience? And damnit it all, my body hurts right now-but is that really a reason to stop living?
I'm aware there's a selfish motivation for the last few entries: I am now deeply engaged in the personal process of seeing (or often finding) the positive in everything instead of the negative. I am practicing the art of accepting whatever the universe happens to throw my way and transforming it into something I want. My goal is to live a life where there are no bad apples. My goal is to be. My goal is Zen. Twinkle, Twinkle, dee.
But it's hard sometimes. For one, I've got my own history, much of which makes the average life look like a picnic. For another, I don't have a hell of a lot of support systems in my life right now besides my parents, who are great for some things and a bit challenged in others, a few good friends who unfortunately live quite a ways away, and my partner who has, in the last year, renewed my belief and hope that there are truly "good" people in the world who think about others before themselves, make decisions that are honorable, speak with honesty, and live a life of integrity--so to conclude that rambling sentence, I have few people in my life to support my desire to view reality in a positive way. And then there's just the challenge of not being influenced by the exultations of others who are either bitching (in my view) or simply relating that they don't like something--there are so few of us that can exist with the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of others without becoming unnecessarily caught up in them.
Now that I've got that off my chest I plan to write more tomorrow, except I want to discuss how we perceive what others have to say, whether positive or negative, and in particular, one aspect of our perception of communication with another person is most integral to making a solid, genuine connection that increases understanding and trust.
Until then I will wish you goodnight.
December 7th, 2008
"Negativity" is a perception. It is not only the perception of a thing, but also the perception of how a thing is expressed. For the sake of simplicity let's simply agree that feelings such as anger, rage, envy, hatred, and vanity are inherently negative. Lets also assume that it is not healthy to repress any feeling, whether categorized as "positive" or "negative". It follows, then, that to be healthy beings we must learn how to express negative emotions in a positive way.
Art is perhaps the best way to express our negative emotions. Whether it be through painting, music, or writing, art has the unique ability to enable us to translate some very direct emotions into representative metaphors. This process takes a feeling, which might otherwise be expressed in a directly destructive way, and transforms it. More importantly, the artistic process allows us the explore the deepest facets of our psyche's and uncover the truth.
Writing is my most frequented muse. Writing allows me to examine my thoughts, work through them, and uncover my own personal truth. Sure, some day I'd like a thousand people to visit The Temple, some day I'd like to publish my book and be on the New York Time's best seller list, but most importantly writing is the outlet I have for transforming emotions I'm struggling with to something positive and perhaps, and at least this is a hope of mine, using my transformation to help others.
That is beauty.
Words are a tough medium, though. Words are specific, unlike paint strokes they can be incredibly specific, pointing directly at a person or thing, ripping them to the smallest of pieces. Whether writing or talking, I have found words to be the most challenging (and rewarding) way to express negative feelings.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of transforming negativity is not how we do it, but how others perceive it. Take, for instance, a painting hanging in the Louvre in Paris. Millions of people will walk past this painting, gazing at it, interpreting it. And that's the conundrum. Interpretation. Some will see the same painting and find it beautiful, others ugly. Some will analyze it's artistic characteristics, others will internalize how it makes them feel. No two individuals will have the same experience.
So while one's intention might be a positive one, while one may have learned to transform the negative within their souls to something beautiful, it is others that choose (consciously or not) how they will experience what we have to say, write, sing, play, or paint. And while there is always a better way to express ourselves to others, ways that more closely align with their ability to perceive what it is our soul is so genuinely wanting to share, it is others who decide how to perceive us. All we can do is learn how to perceive others more accurately.
To do that we must understand intent.
December 6th, 2008
Recently a few psychologists got together and studied happiness. In particular, they studied how happiness propagates socially. One major finding was that our happiness have an effect on people within three degrees of us. There is now solid evidence to show that simply smiling at our neighbor in the morning will transmit happiness to their wife's best friend or their co-worker's manager. While this has widely been an axiom, that good moods are contagious, it's exciting that scientists are now quantifying the data.
It is my hope that as a species we will begin paying attention to studies like this, using the data to improve the overall health of the world entire.
Another interesting finding was that knowing someone who's depressed only increases our chances of being unhappy by 7%. This is interesting to me on a personal level because, having gone through a severe clinical depression I found it difficult to find consistent, reliable, and supportive social circles and while I recognized I wasn't exactly easy to be around, I felt like people (in general) treated me like I had a disease such as leprosy--or worse. While I recognize it is challenging to be around someone who's depressed, this most recent study has demonstrated something I've felt was always true, that the likelihood of becoming unhappy by interacting with someone who's depressed is extremely low.
As someone who has always wanted a world where we all learned to "just get along" it troubled me that often the people that needed the most support are left on the side of the road fending for themselves.
So here's the thing, if you know someone who's depressed, well, you won't catch it. Can you be effected by them? Sure. But you don't have to and the evidence flatly says most of us won't.
Anyway, I'm going to stop writing for now. Next time I sit down to journal I plan to talk about negativity, specifically, the difference between talking about negative things in a socially beneficial way and just bitching because we're caught up in ourselves. And then I'm going to eat something yummy, preferably chocolate!
December 5th, 2008
Whatever one's personal view, we are all capable of both "good" and "evil". The question then becomes, why do some people tend to behave in an arguably "good" way most of the time while others choose to act out with behaviors society views as "not-so-good"?
Take for instance the Missouri mother who faked a MySpace account to intentionally torment a teenage girl. For those of you not aware of this story, the girl, traumatized by being toyed with by someone she believed was a teenage boy who cared about her, ended up taking her life. Now lets get past the most obvious tragedy here, that a struggling young girl took her life--I think most of us can readily agree that was terrible. What troubles me is that a supposedly "mature" adult consciously choose to fuck with (forgive my french) a teenager and that she included her own child in this systematic harrasment.
A decade ago I would have thought this was an isolated incident, one of those rare parents who didn't have a healthy understanding of both their role in society and as a parent, but I've come to believe parents like this aren't as rare as I would have once believed. All you need to do is attend a high school football game to find at least half a dozen parents who encourage an almost hateful form of rivalry against the visiting team. And who, as a child, hasn't met the parent who's flat out put them down for being from a certain kind of family, going to a certain church, hanging around certain kinds of kids, or engaging in (or not engaging in) certain extra-curricular activites? Who hasn't met a parent who for no justifiable reason acted like a complete jerk?
I think we can agree that most parents love their children but when does healthy love transform into something ugly outside the confines of the family unit?
Take the story of a bi-polar woman who had a completely different experience online. One day she was feeling down, so depressed in fact that she was ready to take a cocktail of prescription pain medications in order to take her own life. She made the choice to share this online, in a social networking group she was a member of, and one of the members immediately called her up, told her to call her therapists, and that turned everything around for her. One person cared enough to make a simple phone called and that meant the difference between the end of this woman's life and her living a full life today and publishing a book about her experiences.
Contrast that to the recent news of a boy who streamed his suicide live over the internet while the online community watched and made comments in a chat room while he did it. His experience was not one of support but of people not taking him seriously and/or egging him on. It was only after several hours lying still on the webcam that someone decided to call the local police. The boy was dead when they arrived and it would have taken nothing more substantial than a phone call two hours earlier to have saved his life.
What's the difference between those two situations? Could it be as simple as gender? Having once been a depressed boy I saw how little support (for life--support for going through with it wasn't uncommon) I got while most girls I knew going through similar things always had at least one person that would have stayed up all night with them, if need be, to keep them alive. Or maybe, as some psychologists suggest, it's that we're less likely to do something if there are a lot of others watching too, like in the chat room; we assume someone else will take care of it. Or maybe it's something altogether different. Maybe it's just like our past election cycle where I noticed that all the state ballots were easily classified as being "pro-me" or "pro-us". Think about it for a minute. The mother who's actions resulted in a suicide was certainly a "pro-me" kind of person while the one who called up her online buddy and told her to call her therapist was "pro-us". And the chat room filled with people with nothing better to do, do you think they were "pro-me" or "pro-us"?
Take for example a mob that trampled a Wal-Mart employee a few weeks ago killing him. Who shops at Wal-Mart? Pro-me sort of people who are only concerned with saving a few bucks? Or Pro-us sorts who care about the fact that the way they spend their money effects people in third world countries? Would you expect such a mob to form in a store that promotes social justice issues around the world--even if they had better sales that day? Would their clientelle line up waiting for the doors to open that morning just for the chance to buy a cheaper television set?
So could it be that simple? Could it be that the decision to act in a "good" way verses a "not-so-good" one be easily predicted by one's inclination towards the health of society over themselves? Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said, "Love thy enemy," that it is only through the act of caring more about those that hurt us--or even about those we don't even know--that we truly begin to encourage the good within us all.
I'd like you to take this into consideration this holiday season.
P.S. You can find related articles at:
December 2nd, 2008
I was four or five the first time someone lied to me. I take that back. It wasn't actually a "lie", per say, it was what my mother referred to as a "fib", one of the few infractions I somehow knew would easily lead to corporal punishment. Yet it wasn't the fear of spankings that kept me from lying. I didn't lie because, well, when it came right down to it lying didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.
Try to see it from my point of view. Truth, with a capital 'T', is a beautiful thing. It doesn't require explanation or justification, it doesn't need to be defined to exist, it simply is. It embraces all things, engulfs the universe from one end to the other, and is one of the few things that is timeless.
A lie, on the other hand, is like a boil one discovers while getting ready for another day in middle school. A lie must be defined but unlike mathematics whose beauty is in its exacting descriptions of the universe, a lie is fuzzy and unnecessary and in this way more than any other it is vulgar.
And yet ironically Truth wraps all lies up, as if in a blanket, understanding them from one end to the other, washing over them like a warm spring rain. When you see this you will understand that a lie is only a construct, a description that has its uses, but is in itself an illusion of our corporeal minds and has no substance outside of Truth.
But this entry is not about that reality.
I rarely lied as a child. Frankly, I saw no reason for it and when other kids lied to me I was usually in a state of disbelief more than anything else. It didn't make much sense. If someone didn't want to be my best friend why not simply say so and sidestep all the story telling necessary to maintain their false pretenses? Even when asked who I liked better, my girlfriend or her best friend I told the truth and while I lost both friends that day it was better than living in a fashion that would entail a continuous stream of untruths. Besides, I'd had a crush on her friend since second grade and for all I knew a moment of truth might have lead to something, but at the very least it lead to another drop in the river of integrity. Indeed, it seems the few times I recall telling an outright lie was to my mother who would line my brother and I up in the kitchen after one or another of the house rules had been broken. She's march back and forth, back and forth, and if I were the perpetrator of whatever crime it happened to be I'd be as quiet as a church mouse, straight faced and unmoving. That was the extent of my lies: silence. Why fabricate when silence worked just as well, if not better?
(On a related note, on those occasions where my brother was the guilty party I had a difficult time keeping a straight face as my mother strutted about like a drill sergeant. I'd begin laughing uncontrollably and my mother, bless her, would take this as a sign of guilt. My, it's been a long time since I've laughed like that!)
Grade school, middle school, then high school, it seemed the older my peers became the more frequently they'd lie. I never quite understood this; it seemed backwards to me. More importantly, I never quite became accustomed to it, never was quite prepared for it. Like when my "best" friend tried to steal my first real girlfriend when I was out of town. I probably wouldn't have believed it except for the visions I was having and then when she told me, confirming what I'd seen in my mind's eye, I confronted him only to be told one then two then three evolving stories, none of which fit the facts, and always the sounds coming out of his mouth attempting to wrap themselves like a noose around everyone else but that slippery rope just fell to the ground, impotent. And yet I continued to believe that deep down all people were good, that deep down all people valued the Truth higher than most other things.
In one of my first psychology classes at Lane Community College I discovered a similar bias exists within psychological schools of thought. Some psychologists, you see, are born (or raised) believing that all people are inherently good; as a result of this their theories conform to this fundamental belief that goodness is inherent in all human beings hence their theories support this singular point of view. On the opposite side of the spectrum were those that believed humans were inherently evil (or more accurately, "self serving"), that it is only through the creation of our superegos that we're able to relate to one another as civilized beings; as with their counterparts the theories of these men also supported their world view, that regardless of how selfless a person might appear to be on the outside, under the hood they are self-centered, self-serving creatures.
It is a difficult thing to see the world in a way that defies who we are, what we believe.
It is, perhaps, the most difficult thing.
I was lying in bed the other night listening to Coast to Coast AM when I heard someone named Professor Barbara Oakley say, "People like this...they're...you can't tell them that there's anything wrong with them because if you try to, let's say, you try to say 'You have symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder,' they will flip it right on you, throw it in your face, and say, "Nope, you're the one with the disorder.' It's infuriating and very frustrating to deal with."--and for the first time in a long time I heard someone say exactly what I needed to chip away the paint, something that not only confirmed my world view, but broadened it to include another one, a painful one which I have for years had difficulty accepting.
"That's it!" I said to myself in a moment of healing satori. "That's exactly it!"
Been thinking about her words for the last few days, that and painting. You see, I wanted to try something new while repainting my master bathroom and it didn't come out anything like I wanted it to and I feel like, I feel like lately I've been painting a lot, painting, peeling, repainting, and perfecting. Sometimes, when the paint's all screwed up and I need to peel some off, I gotta get my finger nails under the paint and pull it up. Sometimes it takes two or three times before I can pry enough up to pull it aside. Sometimes I hurt my fingernails cause the damn stuff's stuck. And sometimes it comes right off.
It's been like that a lot lately.
But it's been good. Sometimes, when I get that paint up and throw it in the bin, I see something underneath that gives me a whole new picture, a bigger version of the truth. I realize, for instance, that sometimes when I react to my best friend hurting me, I'm overreacting, I'm overreacting because the paint on the outside used to be an image of someone who also hurt me, someone who, when I said, "You hurt me," didn't listen to what I had to say but went straight to, "I hate you!"
So much has been dried and caked on to the outside of my soul, preventing the light within me to truly shine. I am learning to peal that old coat off, sometimes in broad swipes, sometimes only an inch at a time, but slowly and purposefully I reveal a smooth, beautiful, empty wall, one that is ready to be painted by the glorious rainbow of truth, friendship, and love.
And it shall set me free.