Cognitive Dissonance

What Will We Choose?

I’ve just come home from two days of being relatively unplugged, and feel an initial sense of absolute shock over the insanity around the world.  It’s shocking to many to believe that the sheer amount of ignorance and racism that was displayed in Charlottesville yesterday is still happening in today’s world.  One mark of privilege is the inability to see that equality still does not exist in our society, and to diminish the amount of resentment, fear, and hate that still exists across middle-class, white America.  This is not a Post-Racial society… it never has been.  It’s a choice for the privileged to be color-blind and ignore the stark inequities that still pervade our social fabric.

I stopped being shocked by the actions and tweets of the president a while back because he’s made it very clear that we can always expect the outrageous from him.  However, I still keep finding myself shaking my head when I see how many people sit complacent, or are even ok, with his behavior, threats, and ignorance.  It’s no surprise that American extremists have rallied behind his behavior, feeling that it gives them license to take their beliefs to the streets, and even into action.

We are living in a world of cognitive dissonance: an inconsistency in thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors or decisions.  It is prevalent in every area of our lives, characterized by a stark contrast between our beliefs and actions.  It is the justification that we use when we make a choice, whether it is a choice to eat a bacon cheeseburger knowing that we have high cholesterol or breaking one of the commandments.  It is the shift of narrative, or blame, when we don’t want to see how our beliefs about a civil society should operate perpetuate the very things we are afraid of.  It is the inability to accept the results of study after study on social behavior and phenomena because the results indict our own attitudes and actions.

Cognitive dissonance can be used as a survival tool  for a soldier to justify their actions, or a marketing tool to convince people that harmful products are beneficial to us, or as a sermon that spouts love and tolerance, but goes on to say that they should only be applied to a true believer.  We don’t like it when we see these things in others, but we are all guilty of it in one sense or another.  In the case of extremists, they are acting on what they feel to be integrity with their belief system by choosing the parts that relate to a specific fear, desire for power and control, or rhetoric.  These things usually agree with or support ideas of dominance, exclusivity, or vengeance for perceived or real threats to a person’s belief system.

What we are seeing in the media through constant analysis from pundits, repetition of news, and consumer-driven marketing are justifications for keeping the status quo by re-framing victims as scapegoats and perpetrators as benevolent leaders.  What we see in every day life are the effects of systemic manipulation that keeps us from being able to see our own beliefs and actions as part of the formula for the chaos that is happening on wide-scale levels.  Furthermore, we are being traumatized daily by repetitive violent footage on the news and images in our entertainment that drives a low-level of anxiety which we feed through consumerism, addictions, and further justification of our own belief system as righteous and good.

It scares me to think of where our society is headed when we look at the big picture… enough so to sometimes make me want to crawl under a blanket and hide.  But it scares me even more to think that there is something that we can do to change our trajectory, yet the majority will continue to buy the lies that the problem lies outside of ourselves, in the latest and greatest demon, while we stay in our bubble and stop challenging our own perspectives, beliefs, and actions.

Can we challenge our own ideas and beliefs to see how we are perpetuating such ignorance in our own lives?  Can we challenge ourselves to do more than repost memes on social media decrying the actions of the other without direct action to hold our leaders responsible for their actions?  Can we challenge ourselves to double-check our media sources and look for facts over opinions or conspiracy?  Can we challenge ourselves to speak out when we see injustice on any level, instead of sitting back and allowing it to persist on both personal and global levels?

What will we choose?

 

Artificial Lives

Sometimes we just need to see a hero cry

before they pick themselves up

and go on to save the day…

but we prefer to seek hidden truths in cliche

confusing revenge with justice

facades with truth

and righteousness with morality

until our eyes are so damaged

that we can’t see the rawness that makes the

art of being human

worth celebrating.

© HAWilcox 2017

 

 

Getting Real: Empathy and Narcisism

There are a lot of blogs going around the Enlightened community regarding Empaths and their relationship to Naricissists.  But I haven’t seen much written on how both can exist in all of us, with only a choice and the ability to be aware of our thoughts and actions being the difference between normal and pathological behaviors.   The difference lies in how we approach and give to the world and what we expect and want from it, and the beliefs and behaviors we practice to get there.  Neither have I seen much written that addresses the responsibilities of the Empath to address their own part in these relationships. The Empath/Narcissist connection is often used as a new-age package for understanding the age-old issue of co-dependency and how the effects of abuse can manifest in our relationships.

Growing up with multiple forms of abuse taught me to become highly attuned to the moods of those who had positions of control or power in my life, so I could navigate those cycles with a (hopefully) less destructive outcome as a survival tactic.    I was so tuned in to the moods and reactivity or volatility of my abusers to avoid or subvert punishment that I suppressed my own emotions and needs and began to do this with most people who crossed my path.  In crowds, I would feel overwhelmed because there were too many emotions from too many people for me to be able to stay calm unless I found something to focus on.   Over time and with a lot of therapy and self awareness, I learned to use those same survival tactics toward more positive ends.

When this goes on long enough for anyone, a person will operate on a constant level of anxiety and hyper-awareness that mimics the symptoms of PTSD, even if they don’t have some of the larger defining symptoms of the disorder such as nightmares or flashbacks. Other behavioral patterns may also appear, such as substance abuse or other addictive behaviors, psychiatric problems, and even the possibility of becoming an abusive person.  For myself, I would get to a point where I was so overwhelmed by the emotional demands I felt from those who held a position of power in my life and were needy that I would snap and become irritable and self-absorbed.  I would whine to my coworkers or snap at my kid when things felt out of control, especially when they were feeling overwhelmed, or I would launch into berating my partner with a list of their faults when I just couldn’t take their lack of attention to my needs any more.  One day, I saw the look on my child’s face when I snapped at them and realized that I was being emotionally abusive by putting my own frustration and needs ahead of theirs.  Although I didn’t physically hurt or belittle them, my behavior caused emotional damage that I had never intended.  Similarly, whilst in a relationship with a narcissist, I found myself in a codependent mode with a twist; I would take care of their needs, but when I attempted to take care of my own or my childs’ needs, my partner’s sense of overwhelm and neediness that would surface would trigger a tirade of their faults from me as backlash.  Luckily, I chose to end that relationship when I realized that it wouldn’t change, my child’s needs and my own would not be met, and my partner would never lift a finger to help themselves when someone else could do it for them.  After ending that relationship, I began to get in touch with the same qualities in myself that describe an empath, but I couldn’t ignore how my own behavior reflected that of the narcissistic people in my life when I snapped.

Many of the characteristics that define a narcissistic person are almost stereotypical behavioral patterns in many Americans.  What makes them a true disorder is that these are so exaggerated in the person exhibiting them that they go through life hurting others around them and literally caring about no one else.  These people are completely oblivious to their own behavior and how it affects others, and cannot empathize with the plight of others.

This is not always true for all abusers… but the effects on their victims are the same, and many of these traits cross over into other personality disorders and addictive disorders as well.  It is semantically incorrect to label all abusers as Narcissists.  However, it appears that most, if not all Narcissists are abusers.  The reason I focus on this difference is that it is the package, using pseudo/pop-psychology terms, that is being sold that can be harmful to those who don’t understand the true nature of trauma cycles and how ongoing trauma affects various people.

Some articles are written from an empowerment perspective by removing the blame from the “Empath” and placing it on their abuser so the Empath can move forward and try to assume control of their issues.  Others are written to paint the Empath as a victim so they can learn better self-care.  My concern is that few of these offer solid advice such as seeking therapy to deal with the symptoms they are experiencing and the underlying reasons they end up in such relationships (especially if there is a pattern of these). The most harmful part is that the blogs and articles do not address the fact that every relationship, even an abusive one, takes two people, with two sets of faults, and although the power dynamics in the relationship are grossly unequal and harmful, both parties have a part in how these relationships play out, and if a victim of abuse leaves one relationship and doesn’t do the necessary work on their own issues, such as co-dependency, inability to be assertive, reactivity, depression, etc., they will attract the same kind of person and have a very similar experience.

One thing I rarely see in these articles is how the Empath or traumatized and sensitive person is sometimes the abuser in other relationships.  It is extremely important that we stop looking at these issues as black and white, and see that Empaths may become abusive (even if occasionally or unintentionally) towards others, especially children or other people in their lives who are needy or dependent on the Empath.  My own experience shows me that this can and does happen.  It is also extremely important that we recognize abusers and narcissists as traumatized people as well.  They most likely won’t identify as being traumatized, as what they have experienced has been normalized in their minds, especially when taking gender roles and expectations into consideration. Most of the Empath and Narcissist examples we see are highly gendered, with the Empath as feminine and Narcissist as masculine (even in same sex couples or in couples where women are dominant over men, both of which are less common and sometimes more damaging due to the extra stigma involved).  When we discount the experiences that led to an abuser’s behavior, we move away from the compassion that is needed for healing.  That is not to say that we should forgive them in order to stay in such a situation.  It is important that we get out of the situation and do the deep self-work that is necessary to avoid repeating the cycle in the future.

This deep self work is multi-faceted, and should be tailored to a person’s individual needs.  I have found that starting with therapy and support groups is a good tactic for most people.  I caution though, with support groups, to find those that focus on empowerment and personal responsibility rather than blame.  We are never responsible for how an abusive person treats us, but we are fully responsible for getting ourselves and our children out of such situations, and doing what we need to avoid repeating the cycle.  Along with therapy, an awareness practice such as meditation or restorative yoga helps us to be more aware of our reactions to the emotions and behaviors of those around us.  Awareness and spiritual practices help us do the shadow work… getting to know our negative and sometimes destructive side, and learning to accept that as part of our humanity and transform it into an asset.

I have found in my personal experience that it is important to call out a problem for what it is.  Sometimes things can be extremely convoluted and in the search for easy answers, we fall prey to the latest pop-psychology or new age fads to explain ancient problems that are new to the collective experience because the stigma attached to them that has subverted them and blamed the victims.  When we address these problems both individually and socially, we need to be aware that dressing them up to help people become aware can have negative repercussions and connotations if the people involved (especially the victims) are not seeking professional help.

If you are in a situation that is emotionally, physically, financially or sexually abusive, please seek help.  There are many resources available, starting with the national crisis line 1-800-273-8355, and local resource numbers such as 2-1-1.  Get help.  If you have tried something for a significant amount of time and it isn’t working, it’s ok to seek another source.  Don’t give up… be a tiger if you need to.  But please take care of yourself and do the work necessary to change your experience and that of those you love in your life.

 

Patriarchal Bull$#!%

Sometimes I effing hate men.  Seriously.  Not as a group, but certain behaviors that define masculinity and represent the ignorance that comes with patriarchal privilege.  The denial of abusive behavior that borders on socially acceptable which defines certain masculine traits.  The inability to see how they are treating women (and minority groups, especially the LGBTQ community) in the very ways that denote the emasculation they fear most.  I hate the double-standards in everything from business to sexuality to appearance to chivalry and control to household management to entertainment.

And sometimes I hate it when women allow this to continue under the guise of deferment, making things work, and communal interest.  The very reason that women can get so much shit done is a direct result of of all of these factors, and then some.  But that doesn’t make it OK for us to constantly have to concede to get things moving forward.  I’m usually the first person to promote and try turning a negative into a more productive, and hopefully positive, outcome.  But I draw the line at continuing to co-sign such behavior in groups where men dominate the discussion and talk down to women as if we have no idea what they are talking about or can’t read between the lines or victim-shaming or other forms of disrespect.  Save the Mansplaining for your private pep-talks to yourself in the shower… the only person who needs to hear those explanations is your ego.  And if you’re offended by that term, I’m not sorry.  It’s just one of many socially acceptable ways that men abuse women emotionally.  In fact, all of the above are forms of abuse…  and all are usually not meant to be abusive, but are insidious behaviors that often become precursors to other dangerous and abusive behaviors that are perpetrated on women by men individually or patriarchal societies, or which are used excessively, calculatingly, and manipulatively in emotionally abusive relationships.

We women know that men’s egos are much more fragile than men would like us to know…  and it is long recorded in the annals of history that hyper-masculinity is the go-to defense mechanism when a man feels threatened or emasculated.  I think it’s pretty safe to say that 3,000-plus years of war, colonization, and oppression have proven my point.

I’m certainly not saying that women have all the answers, or that we need to swing to the other end of the spectrum and have matriarchal dominance or behave toward men the way we are treated.  I think that it’s important that we do learn to work together. However, this is a touchy subject for most guys.  Some of the most well-meaning men that I know who do recognize issues such as privilege as social problems often don’t recognize their own privilege, and I don’t mean only Cisgendered, white, heterosexual men.  I know plenty of men of color, gay men, and even trans men who don’t recognize some of the effects that masculine behavior has on women and minorities.

Until men can effectively recognize their behavior and learn to listen to our needs without needing to justify these behaviors, dominate the situation, dictate how we should respond, or otherwise capitalize on our grievances, we won’t be able to move forward.

It’s your turn guys…  how do you choose to be more egalitarian in your life today?

Trans Awareness

I’m deeply disturbed by the sheer amount of hate fear that our white house (p)Resident has been circulating.   Since the most recent tweet to rescind progress and stomp on the spirit of constitutional rights, I have been seeing tweets, Facebook messages, emails, memes and blogs fly regarding the fear that Trans people are feeling from the attacks on their rights to be contributing members of society while being open about their identity.  It breaks my heart to see people whom I know and love to be afraid of what will be next in terms of their rights to exist without fear of discrimination, assault, or the emotional abuse that society seems to be dishing out in spades as of late.

Those of you who know me personally know that I am queer, having had relationships with men, women, and trans individuals.  I also have 6 people near and dear to me, three of whom are US military veterans, and several more acquaintances, who are transgender.  You also probably know that I am a pacifist, but I understand the desire for people to serve their country, and feel that a person should have the right to serve their fellow humans in any way they choose.   So although these policies don’t directly affect me, they affect my loved ones as well as our community at large.  Even those who are straight, conservative and pro-military are affected by such policies, regardless of whether or not they can relate to the latest group of scapegoats.

We have the choice to be heartless and cruel, or loving and compassionate.  I’m grateful to see as much support as I have been seeing from my own social media bubbles, but many people in my own family and life are supporters of such “policies”, without ever taking a look at what is behind them.  I’m well aware of the psychology behind such thinking, and I know that I most likely can’t change their minds.  But I do know that I cannot forgive their choice to remain ignorant or to speak and act through hate.  I don’t take such behavior personally, but that doesn’t remove the fear that my rights could well be the next on the chopping block in such a society.  What most of the people who support these things don’t realize as that their rights are, or will be, on the chopping block as well if this backwards trajectory is allowed to continue.

Other peripheral issues come to mind as well.  I find myself asking such questions as “how did we get to the point that any of the viciousness we’re seeing on social media, so-called reality TV, and in our government become mainstream?” and “how would you feel if it were your child, spouse, sibling, or parent who fit the description of the latest political scapegoat ?”.  Seriously, I am ashamed to call myself American when I think of the lows to which our society has recently stooped after over half a century of fighting for social justice.  Still other questions race through my head as well… such as whether or not people are aware that the behaviors Trump exhibits are a distraction from the investigation into his collusion with Russia, his deplorable choices of cabinet members and rampant nepotism.

So how can we support our Transgender community?  Have conversations with people you know.  Learn about LGBT history.  Listen to the experience that Transgender people have regarding their fight to exist in today’s society with the levels of violence they encounter and the history of exclusion from the LGB community.  Go to a local meeting or event with LGBTQ allies such as your local Pride center, Gender Health Center, or other organizations such as Gay Straight Alliance in schools or PFLAG (notice these are not Trans-specific organizations, but many smaller communities have only these groups, if any, available).

We are living in dangerous times, and we have a responsibility toward each other to stand up for and protect ALL members of our society; otherwise, we have no right to enjoy the rights and privileges that we demand for ourselves.

 

An Early Morning Ramble

We’ll all be dead soon enough.  Some of us have lived as though we are already there.  Fear, complacency, inflexibility, a lack of willingness to see a need for change in our lives… all of these signal a half-life.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve already been there, and don’t want to return.  I want to engage with whatever life I’m blessed to have left, and for me, that means that I have a responsibility to foster and nurture those things that sustain life on all levels.  Emotionally, physically, environmentally… all levels.

I have a dear friend who is suffering major depression and anxiety right now.  We’ve helped each other through this at different times.  I know that when I was in that ineffable place between malaise, paralyzing fear, and a general sense of ennui, I was really hungering for something I had experienced and lost,  but was afraid to feel the depth of the loss or the promise of what could be rebuilt in that empty space.  It mean leaving behind the things that represented the only security I had in life.  I’d fought hard to get a “good job with benefits” that paid enough for a relatively decent lifestyle.  When my life fell apart, it was the only thing I had left that I felt was worth hanging on to.  I worked in a place where I saw people struggling every day, and my own prior experience of that same struggle kept me frozen with fear of losing what I had.  Many people told me that I needed to leave the situation I was in, but I wasn’t willing to see it because of my fear.  I didn’t leave until I was pushed out and left no choice in.  I was ineffective at best by that point, and I don’t need to describe the worst. Watching my friend go through their own struggle is reminding me constantly of the tools I needed to grow and change.  A few things stand out as being the hardest to put into practice, but the most rewarding tools.

The first is walking through our fear.  Walking through our fears is a theme that we cling to in entertainment and inspiration.  We gorge on adventure movies, real-life stories of inspiration, and items and ideas that makes us feel like a hero in our own fantasies.  But most of us are complacent in passively engaging these ideals, thinking that we couldn’t possibly be as brave, courageous, ruthless, or daring as Indiana Jones or Anne Frank or the guy who ran into the burning building to save a baby.  We compare our lives to others that we label as extraordinary, and minimize our own experience.  We focus on our character defects instead of our strengths.  We choose to believe the negative messages we’ve received from others, adopting their insecurities as our own.  We betray our dreams for the sake of a sense of safety and security, and we sanction this in others to justify why we are choosing this for ourselves.  It is a true sense of cowardice that we impose upon ourselves, yet is entirely false.  The image we carry of a hero is an extraordinary person facing extraordinary circumstances… yet both are very ordinary.  We don’t see it because we pacify our own ordinary struggles with a myriad of material distractions, when we aren’t being distracted by petty drama and political crises and the like.  This doesn’t make us bad people for buying into such things… it is human nature to seek comfort, joy, and a sense of superiority over our insecurities.  The challenge is to recognize that we are immensely powerful in our ability to create our circumstances, and that we need to shift our perception to rise to that challenge.  Crisis offers us the opportunity on a grand scale, but every day life offers us regular opportunities to rise to the challenge.  Courage isn’t denial of our fear, but the ability to face it and walk through it, even when we are shaking in our boots.

The second is that we betray our dreams by settling for pale copies of them.  We live in virtual fantasy worlds to avoid our feelings of inadequacy and to ease our pain.  We buy into social agreements that tell us that only certain people deserve certain things in life, thus minimizing our own value as human beings and worthiness.  Merit is important in life, but it is not something that can be superimposed on a hierarchy of power.  It is something that is earned internally, and I have found through my own struggles that most people who yield power have earned very little for themselves, while most ordinary people have earned tenfold the rewards that they will most likely never see, so they settle for what they can get and sometimes get lost in addictions or power plays to compensate.

The third is that we have a tendency to look at what is wrong in the world, and in ourselves, before looking at what is right.  It is well understood by psychologists that it takes many times more positives to overcome one negative, because of the ways we are conditioned to perceive life.  A large part of my own growth process has been grounded in honing in on what I truly want… peeling away the layers that obscure my own dreams, then taking the next step to make those dreams happen.   Having experienced that half -life to the point of not wanting to live and losing the fear to die, I have found that the source of suffering lies in our fear to create what we really want because of the beliefs that we hold about the way things are supposed to be.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle; it only means that my suffering ends with my willingness to be proactive and recognize the beauty of human potential that lies in us all, including myself.  In coming to understand that I am no better and no worse than any other person on this planet, because I know intimately and innately why pain drives the worst of human nature and compassion and empathy drive the best.

I would like to propose that we begin to focus less on the negatives in our lives and more on a holistic view of how they are part of the cycles that transform the ordinary into the extraordinary with a shift in perspective.  Notice the beauty in your life, great and small.  Recognize the people who have inspired you and honor their legacy by learning from them instead of comparing yourself to them.  Face your fears no matter how much your voice or body trembles, and recognize and honor your achievement in facing them, no matter how small.  Practice gratitude for the little things as well as the big by giving back to life not only what you’ve been given, but what you want from life.  These things build the integrity that we feel lacking and fuel the sense of inadequacy that drives depression, anxiety and suffering.  Be the grace that you want by allowing others the space to have their experience with kindness and empathy, so that you can create the experience that you want.

Surrender

Questions swirl in my mind
Challenging beliefs
Digging deeper
To resurrect the ghosts in my own soul
And purge those things
With which I hold myself back.
Einstein said that when the solution is simple, God is answering
I silently wish for the bliss of knowing something so deeply
that I don’t need to learn the lesson again…
I appear to be the most ignorant person I know,
because I keep stacking the same issues in the same closet until they all fall down
when I open the door.
Until I hit my knees,
brutally honest and lacking agenda…
I step once again
Into the sphere of my own potential
Where light casts no shadows
And surrender
Is the only true victory.

©2017 HA Wilcox