Me again…..notice no G’day for “Bobbo”? I’ve heard that he is unwanted “down under” and hopes (against all hope) to be successful in the running for the “grand poo-bah” of another foreign police service; whose members are referred to by a play on his very own name. Me thinks there’s not much chance as he has even less character than the “chap” being shown the door (for allegedly engaging in some very selfish acts).
Today’s offering is another in the series of posts designed to assist you in making yourself miserable (as some of you seem so bent on doing) through the perception of your past. (Please keep in mind that I offer these musings not as your therapist, but more as the “little voice” that won’t go away). The present misery-making strategy builds upon the “more-of-the same” tactic that I have mentioned previously. I shall introduce the tactic with that comical story of the fellow who is looking for his lost car keys under a bright street light. It’s late at night, and after much searching of the area, a very helpful police woman asks him if he is sure he is looking in the area where he dropped his keys. Our hero readily admitted to her that he was not sure and actually believed that he had dropped them a few metres away where the street lighting was very poor.
Now this is very interesting as this man seems to be searching in an area where he knows damn well his keys are not! The role played by the alcohol in this mini-drama is to render him “NQR”, that is, “not quite right”. He knows something, but is hesitant to admit it; what is it that he knows?
The brilliant American anthropologist Margaret Meade was once asked the difference between an American and a Russian. Her answer was that an American would pretend to have a headache to escape an uncomfortable social engagement whereas a Russian would actually “create” one. She went further to opine that the Russian’s solution was far more elegant; as even though the American could avoid the boring party, he would have to admit at some point that he was lying. The Russian on the other hand, even though uncertain as to how he did it, created a valid excuse. His method lays in the title to this piece; metaphorically he did it by keeping what the right hand was doing from the left. Just like our hero above was able to search for his keys in an area where he knew full well they were not!
It seems we live in a time replete with “masters” of this technique. Many of us have the ability to ignore the fact that we are making ourselves very unhappy and CHOOSE to ignore the fact that we are doing so. Do you recognize this? The judge turns to the accused and asks if he has anything to say for himself prior to sentencing? Typically the (now) guilty individual recites something like, “I’m sorry, I just got sucked into something that I know is wrong”. Paying no attention to the apology, the remark suggests getting caught up in something out of his awareness. The key issue is the use of the phrase, “…..I know is wrong…” in the present tense. This suggests that he is now aware that he did something wrong but at the time of his criminal behaviour this fact did not occur to him.
The statement is not that alarming until we check back through his criminal history. It often seems that our hero has developed a penchant for getting himself in trouble with the law. Do you not think that somewhere along this timeline of criminal behaviour he would have learned that he was misbehaving? How is he able to do this? (Or similarly, how can our previous hero continue to search for his keys in an area where he knows they don’t exist?)
Check this story out! Remember the travelling salesman who incurred the flat tire in the middle of nowhere? He was without a tire iron, but fortunately spotted a farmhouse just off the road where he thought he could make it, without getting too wet in the downpour that had commenced. As he stepped out into the storm he began to catastrophize, “What if the farmer wouldn’t open the door?”, “What if the farmer was not home, untrusting, frightened, unfriendly, or just plain ornery?” The salesman swore that if he was the farmer he would surely loan a stranded traveller the spanner. So why wouldn’t this farmer loan him one? It’s farmers like this one who give the farming community a bad name! The salesman managed to get himself so worked up that when the farmer answered the door with a friendly “how may I help you?”, the salesman barked, “keep your damned wrench!” The consequences of this historical misery-making strategy can be disastrous. Some 2000 years ago the philosopher Ovid provided us with some insight into this mystery of the right and left hands (in his Ars Amandi) when he wrote:
“Convince yourself that you love
where you desire only fleetingly.
Then believe it……… He
loves rightly who succeeded in
talking himself into passion.”
Are you with me? If you are, you should be able to see how we can use this technique to create mounds of delicious unhappiness that we can spend a life time wallowing in, much to the chagrin of those around us, who need us. One of the better and more contemporary examples is when you label yourself with a chronic “psychiatric disorder” (after being exposed to an event outside your usual experience), a disorder for which there is little or no supporting scientific evidence; rather than viewing it as a normal human response to a rare and abnormal event.
Those of you familiar with the “hypnotic interview” may recall (the father of self-suggestion) Emile Coue’s affirmation. He prescribed that those in need should repeat relentlessly, “Every day in every way things are getting better and better”. These words can have a dramatic effect on the patient’s outlook on life. Dr. Coue’s thrust however runs contrary to our objective; but never fear even a mere trifler can turn his positive affirmation on its’ ear and can create enough misery to fill a lifetime.
At last we have reached the point in our quest (for misery) where we can begin to look at practical applications. Don’t forget that this tactic of keeping from the left hand what the right hand is doing, can be learned. (Wouldn’t you quite happily, like to be able to “look for your keys, where you know they are not”, and in the face of doing little, feel good that you are doing “something”). Here are a series of exercises to assist you in the development of this skill:
Make yourself comfy; find a chair with arm rests and a back high enough to rest your head. Sink deeply into the seat, close your eyes, lay your head back and imagine you are putting your tongue on the most revolting thing you can think of. Without too much practice you should soon be able to bring on a gag reflex.
Don’t get up, stay in the chair, try not to move around too much and now direct your attention to your underwear. Almost instantly and maybe even for the first time, you might notice how uncomfortable your underwear really is. It’s not important that previously it never bothered you, as now you will be aware of tight spots, pulling, squeezing, friction, chaffing and other unpleasant sensations. Stay with this exercise until your underwear, previously a non-issue, becomes a constant and uncomfortable problem. (You might even buy some new underwear, but will soon notice it fits no better than the old stuff).
(When you return from underwear shopping) jump back in your chair and now attend to your heart. What was that? Is it beating irregularly? Is it varying speed…..sometimes slower, sometimes faster? Wait a moment, those of you who are “grandmasters” may have even noticed a skipped beat or an extra-heavy beat? You should probably consider serious heart disease, or even worse an impending heart attack. Get yourself off “poste haste” to a heart specialist and when she tries to convince you that this experience was just a “sinus arrhythmia” (i.e. the normal acceleration and slowing of the heart that occurs with breathing in and out)……….DO NOT BELIEVE HER!!!! Instead assume that she cut class the day the professor talked about hearts, and she is just too kind a person to worry you about how sick you are.
If you had some difficulty with the last exercise, don’t despair. You can apply the same process with the ringing in your ears, or the little spots you see when you look up at the sky. And when you visit the doctor, don’t buy any of the bullshit he gives you about “tinnitus” or very common and harmless “floaters” in your eyes. Remember to keep the faith and regard these as signs of very serious disease.
By this juncture you should have developed enough skill to be able to generalize your misery-making abilities to the real world. I know, let’s begin with something simple like luggage? You may have noticed that your bags are always the last ones to appear on the airport carousel. If you have been unable to convince yourself that your bag actually appears among the first as many times as it does among the last, you are closing in on victory. Very soon you will have yourself convinced that you are influenced by mysterious, dark powers not just at home but wherever you travel.
At this point you should have developed a keen insight into the strange and nefarious connections that to the less skillful might seem mundane and unrelated events. You are now ready to witness some remarkable and ominous links that are the preserve of only the truly gifted. Have you ever been confronted with something that is out of place? An ornament? A tool in the garage? Even better a memento given to you by a departed favourite relative. How did this happen? What could it mean? Who could have done this? Certainly not you; out of your “Zen-like” awareness! Is it a sign? Is it a message? As usual resist the temptation to regard it as nothing, and definitely don’t investigate. Just deal with it by obsessing about its’ strange circumstances, as any attempts to test reality would be inconsistent with the exercise.
Once you’ve really gotten good at this you should be able to see these “spooky” connections everywhere. For example, have you ever been convinced the telephone is going to ring; you occasionally glance up from what you are doing in anticipation? Suddenly your “Spidey-sense” tells you that the telephone is going to ring NOW……and it does! Remarkable isn’t it? And this is only one of the truly clairvoyant abilities that “perks” within you!!
If you have devoted yourself to your practice you should be thoroughly convinced that something truly remarkable is going on around you. It is time to share this with others! Doing so is the best way to determine which of your circle are also gifted and which are not; or worse which are part of the conspiracy? The latter are easily recognized as those who pooh-pooh your gifts and insist you are making something out of nothing. Hey presto, you got’em!! Now you can be sure that something is going on, and who can and cannot be trusted.
So to conclude, there’s the method. Those of you who have dedicated yourselves to your practice should now be aware that this skill (i.e. keeping from the left hand what the right hand is doing) is not only limited to our hero looking for his keys, the Russian with the headache, the salesman looking for a wrench, or Ovid’s lover. I am pleased to be able to tell you that you can create for yourself a miserable situation (emotional “disorder”?) and remain completely oblivious to having done so(for a variety of motivations, from welcome recompense to needed recognition). You can, while powerless to exert any control (so you think), suffer on to your heart’s content. Wait a minute, did you hear that? Was that your spouse, desiring your company? Was that your child looking for her hero? Was that your faithful companion wanting to take you out for a walk?
“IT ISN’T THINGS IN THEMSELVES THAT BOTHER US, BUT OUR VIEW OF THOSE THINGS”
Dr. Mike Webster
G’day all!! (I’m really beating that greeting to death aren’t I? I think I do it so “Bobbo” is in the right mood for his move “down under”. What’s that you say? Plans have changed? No time for that now. Later.) I’ve been distracted by a media piece referring to S/Sgt.(ret’d) Caroline O’Farrell’s case gaining new traction. If I have it correctly, she has made a civil claim based upon the scale of discipline applied back in 1987(?) to her complaint of Sexual Harassment while a “rookie” on the Musical Ride.
The Commissioner of the day Mr. Inkster, expressed his “…..being appalled and furious” and how “….swift and appropriate action was taken.” That being, informal discipline such as counselling and warnings (ouch, appropriate?) administered to the guilty parties; many of whom are still around today.
It is my understanding that Staff O’Farrell was subjected to a common Ride hazing ritual upon her “making the team”; the same one that I have been advised male “rookies” are subjected to. This included being doused with water and dragged by her arms and legs through stall shavings mixed with horse urine and manure; and as noted previously, this ritual is applied to all “rookies” both male and female.
It is also my understanding that while she was sleeping on the “Ride-Bus” a film was taken of one of her male “Ride-Mates” wagging his finger out of his fly, next to her head; emulating his penis. Further, it is my understanding that this behaviour is not commonly applied to all “rookies” both male and female; and whether or not it is applied to females or males, in my opinion could very easily be considered sexual harassment.
Women have been in policing since the turn of the 20th C. You would think by now that the profession would have come to some resolve around females “on the job”? The National Centre for Women in Policing (NCWP) state that they conduct and disseminate “original research” on the status of women in policing; and the impact of gender on police operations. I know the NCWP by reputation; and it is a good one. However, when I went to their site listing recent publications, I found only 12 of them. Only 4 of the 12 claimed to be original research (implying a degree of empiricism). Upon closer examination, only one of these was somewhat empirical; a correlational study. The remainder appeared to be “survey” articles. None of them appeared to be ground breaking or even very enlightening. Consequently, I turned to the Military (American) who have been at this issue of gender differences for some time and have produced some informative data. (My bias going in, is that women in military and para-military (police) work are mistreated because many of their male counter parts believe they don’t belong; their thinking is the women don’t have the physicality or mentality; that these professions are “man’s work”).
My belief here (and I’m sure some of you would agree) is that women in policing can only improve the profession. In my mind it’s an equation; 1/2 + 1/2 = 1 whole. Put the two human sexes together and you have a whole response to the “call”. Riddle me this? If there was a female member in the front line with Cst. Forcillo (sp?), do you think the Sammy Yatim “call” may have ended differently?
When the military began to struggle with the place of females in combat, the major fear was “would females undermine the whole ‘band of brothers’ cohesiveness element”? Camaraderie between fighting men has long been a critical factor in the success of the small fighting unit. (Ever heard of the ‘Sacred Band of Thebes’ in the ancient Greek Army? Check ’em out! Talk about camaraderie! Speaking of man-love; are you aware of the prevalence of homosexuality in the Roman Legions? Ooooops!!)
One side of the “women in combat” debate is best represented by the UK. This side says that integrating females in combat units does not fit with the practicality of “closing with and killing the enemy”. The other side of the coin is represented by the Scandinavian countries and Israel.
In Scandinavia the belief is that “in mixed units what is of most importance is to become a soldier, it is whether you are a good soldier, or not, that is most prized….male or female doesn’t matter!” In the Israeli case the differences between male and female are accepted and dealt with. It is expected that everyone will have limits when they enter military service, male or female. This is best demonstrated by the “Caracal”; two Infantry Units that are part of the 512th Sagi Brigade of the Southern Command. In total these Units are 70% female. They patrol the Egyptian Israeli Border and their Unit history is replete with tales of heroism and sacrifice made by its’ female members. The Caracal is a cat whose sexes appear the same.
In those countries where females are accepted in combat roles (Canada is one of them) the belief is that women make the fighting unit more effective by providing another perspective on the problem. The philosophy of these “co-ed” militaries seems to be:
* a well thought out policy
* effective leadership
* rigorous training
* natural attributes (discovered by a thorough selection process)
* a realistic culture based integration program
Let’s take a brief look at the scientific literature to see if all this male “flapping about” is merited. Are women really inferior in ways that make them unsuitable for military (or para-military) work? The picture seems to be a mixed one; it is as, of today, incomplete but very interesting.
Please remember that we are looking at the wisdom of including and respecting the place of women in policing through the military example. We might consider due to the military objective that the standard for acceptance, and performance, is higher than in the police example? Let’s take a look at the issue of women being the “weaker sex” and not to be counted upon in the “heat of battle”. A body of work compiled by Castro (a psychologist with US Department of Veterans Affairs) found that although those females who suffered more sexual harassment/trauma prior to or during their service were somewhat more susceptible to suffer post-incident (i.e. incidents of battle) emotional upset than those who did not; they did not show a greater susceptibility to more serious posttraumatic issues. Dr. Castro emphasized that just because they began their service at a disadvantage this did not sensitize them to more acute responses after being in battle.
Castro followed 2 groups of females deployed to Iraq. He compared them with males who were similarly employed and had similar combat exposure. In comparison to their male cohorts, the females did not show elevated levels of posttraumatic stress during deployment or up to 3 months post-deployment. Castro concluded that even though females began their service with more “psychological residue”, the severity gradient was worse for the males. Dr. Castro asserted that the military should not be concerned with “why”; rather, it should acknowledge the resilience of females in a combat environment.
Another body of work (Kimberling, 2008) composed of extensive longitudinal data on the physical and mental health of females in the military looked at post deployment adjustment beginning as far back as service in the Persian Gulf (1992). Comprehensive results published in 2004 showed females with high work/family conflict reporting more anxiety and depressive symptoms during deployment. It seems that those who struggled at home also struggled at work. This is tough as many, if not most, females deployed to the theatre of war do so with little social support; the latter being the major source of self-esteem and confidence.
Another aspect of Kimberling’s work examined females’ records for sexual harassment/trauma. She found that both females and males who screened positive for military sexual trauma were 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition than those veterans who experienced no such trauma.
The same results were found in the Millenium Cohort Study (2008) where both sexes were 2X more likely to report serious post-deployment symptomology than those not assaulted. The link between serious post-combat emotional responses and previous sexual trauma maybe an important finding since sexual harassment and assault continue to be significant problems in the military for both sexes.
In light of these results I would suggest that sexual harassment and sexual trauma need to be viewed as significant problems whether in the military or the police environment. In the US example 1 in 5 females who seek assistance from the VA report experiencing military sexual harassment/assault/trauma (it is likely not much different in the police world). And these women were 8X more likely to be diagnosed with what was referred to as “PTSD” in comparison with females who did not report these experiences. Males who experienced military sexual trauma were 3X more likely to experience post-deployment “PTSD”, than those who did not.
Well there it is. What do you think? So what is the greater problem, the way women are treated on the job by their own, or the traumatic stimuli they are exposed to during a shift? It kind of sounds like the “bone-head” flashing his “pinky-penis” at Staff O’Farrell might be the biggest contributor to what it is he’s afraid of. Don’t ya’ think? Anyway, I won’t wade in, I prefer to let you do the talking. Have at it! Oh yeah, a little something for all the females in the military and para-military worlds:
“STRENGTH DOES NOT COME FROM PHYSICAL CAPACITY. IT COMES FROM AN INDOMITABLE WILL”.
Dr. Mike Webster
G’day all! Looking forward to your weekend? I wish you a rewarding one. I could have wished you a “happy” one but I’m sure you remember our recent discussion on “happiness” as a goal? I have some time on my hands between patients, so I thought I would give you something to cogitate upon over the weekend; and yes, to see if I could stimulate some discussion amongst you. (I offer the usual proviso that I do not make these comments that are about to follow as suggestions for you, or as your therapist). I know you are out there, by the numbers of you who “tune in” and have a read; and I am amazed that you don’t contribute a comment from time to time. Intimidated? Conflicted? Frightened? Riddle me this? Would you be so fearful of speaking with a UNION (e.g. MPPAC) behind you? Do you ultra-conservative anti-union types have a reason for not expressing yourselves other than fear? Nothing to say? Do you like working in conditions that are laughable to your Municipal and Provincial colleagues? That’s not what I hear from those you “coffee” with. Or are you the type who aspires to “officer-ship” and will tolerate anything (even on the backs of your brothers and sisters) to get there?
Please remember that Canada is a “free” country (even more so now that Mr. Paulson’s evil twin has been defeated at election). With regard to your employer, the Senior Executive can’t divest you of your birthday, and murder is still against the law the last time I checked! To the business at hand…..you may have read these thoughts previously throughout the blog in one article or another. I’ve continued to think about the issues behind the earlier comments and will try to assert them more clearly and provocatively in this brief offering:
* There are some who still believe that the RCMP can exist in its’ present form; “it just needs better management”. I will disagree. Civil (Mechanical?) engineers, the folks who build railway bridges have a trick they use to see whether a bridge needs replacing or not. They will place an added burden on an old “rickety” bridge; and in some cases the old bridge will tighten up and become operable again for a period of time. In other cases the old bridge will just “cave in”. Time for a new bridge! The RCMP has proven itself to be of the latter variety. Time for a “new look” RCMP. (Not as many “officer-ships”?) RCMP Senior Management for decades, have run the “outfit” as if it was their personal country club. They have run it into the ground with their “march-west” mentality. Some of them may have been good police persons, but all of them are “piss- poor” managers (i.e. business people). You need a combination of both to manage a successful police service.
* I’m of the opinion that emergency and military personnel believe that they have a monopoly on trauma. (Just to clarify, trauma is a potential human response to horrific or unusual life threatening or life taking events. It is not a clinical diagnosis, but a noun that can be used similarly to “stress”. You might think of it as similar to an acute, or in some cases, chronic “shock”. It does not equate to the highly controversial “PTSD”). In my practice as a psychologist I have worked with a variety of patients and problems, from police persons, addicts and criminals to “ordinary” folks with emotional issues, chronic pain, marital conflict, and with combat troops. It is my belief that human beings including Females, Indigenous Peoples, Blacks, Gays, the Disabled, the Chronically Ill, the Homeless, the Mentally Challenged, Jews, and Lesbians (and I’m sure I have missed some) are routinely violated both overtly and covertly on a regular basis; and that the psychological effects experienced by these traumatized populations can be passed down from generation to generation. (How would those of you who struggle with a threat to, or loss of life during the course of your work square your experience with someone who for example, lives with chronic and deteriorating Multiple Sclerosis on a daily basis? To many of them you are referred to as a “normie” i.e. “a normal” person). It’s time for radical trauma work! This means getting over ourselves and bringing together radical insights, seriously critiquing the field as it stands, articulating a radical and broader theory of trauma, incorporating a transgenerational view, and drawing more realistic and humane implications for treatment. Agreed?
* Are you familiar with “the adversity hypothesis”? It reminds us that people require adversity, trauma, and set backs in order to grow, find fulfillment, develop as human beings and build inner strength. This can’t be true you say? For decades, a tonne of literature has accumulated suggesting the negative effects of trauma and stress on human beings. Of course the effects of trauma may contribute to the likes of depression, anxiety, and heart disease, however more recent literature is beginning to address the hypothesis that stress and trauma can also be good for us (e.g. Haidt, 2006). These benefits are referred to in this literature variously as “benefit finding”, “posttraumatic growth”, and “stress related growth”. What was it Nietzsche (1889) said long before the present “PTSD” craze? Oh yeah, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”!! Not to belabour the issue, but the PTG (posttraumatic growth) literature seems clear on this; PTG refers to 3 consistent benefits that people report following adversity. They are: 1) finding new strength and abilities; 2) improving relationships; and 3) experiencing a positive change in priorities and philosophies. Where do you stand?
* This one came to me while on a bus ride home from the LMD. I don’t think it’s mine originally, but I can’t get it out of my head and think a lot about it. What is implicit in all of this is that “trauma symptoms” are not just the sole purview of severely traumatized people or populations. Some seem to me to be heightened awarenesses that arise out of experience; suggesting that trauma is not a “you have it or you don’t” kind of thing, but more that it exists on a continuum where we all have some and the amount can vary with time and experience. (Realize that I have strayed into the theoretical here….but why not, we are speaking of the popular theoretical ghost, “PTSD”). Most of these much discussed “PTSD” related symptoms (and they looked different in times past e.g. mutism, trembling, deafness, paralysis, blindness…….hmmm, if “shell shock” in WWI and WWII equates to “PTSD”, I wonder why this would be?) seem to be constructive ways of conducting oneself in uncharted territory; for example, the symptoms of dissociation and numbing. While they no doubt can be automatic responses, they also appear to be purposeful ways of “getting by” and with a history of success. In my mind these so-called symptoms might be better termed as “coping skills”. And what do you know, a term has been developed to describe them as such; i.e. “coping ugly”. Didn’t we expand on this term in a recent post?
*Seems I have spent more time on a topic that I recently pledged not to. However, I must admit that all the (ill-informed?) chatter in the area of traumatic responses does get my juices flowing. Please allow me ( just a moment……how the hell would you stop me?) to finish on this note. It seems that the “diagnosis de jour” (i.e. “PTSD”) is not much more than a grab bag of contextless symptoms (perhaps mitigated by secondary reinforcement……… on both sides of the desk?); anyone’s informed and careful reading of the DSM, and the “state of the art”, would arrive at this conclusion. It is my opinion (and the opinion of others more learned than I), that these contextless symptoms are unrelated to the complexities of people’s lives, the contexts in which they live, and the social structures that define them. The result is an individualizing of social problems and the pathologizing of traumatized people; to the neglect of human contexts and normal human responses. What then are we to make of the present “PTSD” craze being propagated by both mental health professionals, who should know better, and their misinformed patients who are looking for answers to explain their pain?
Well, there you have it. I admit I am trying to provoke you (do ya’ think?) into engaging with each other as this blog was meant to do. I’m hoping to sit back over the ensuing days and read your thoughts. (Do you suppose we will see this article posted on some of the other blogs related to emergency personnel; and presently obsessed with the “diagnosis de jour”?). I will leave you with a quote from one of my favourite people:
“NOBODY (read “NOTHING”) CAN HURT ME WITHOUT MY PERMISSION”.
Dr. Mike Webster
G’day all!!! I apologize for the length of time it took me to post the comments that have been submitted over the last week or so. I was on the Mainland ministering to RCMP “walking wounded” (Shhhh…..don’t tell Health Services!!!) Awhile back I promised you a departure from critically examining the “diagnosis de jour”; well here it is. I’d like to provide you with some additional insight into how we as human beings can make ourselves miserable (not that you need any…..eh Bobby-boy?). I will concede to you up front, that the insight (approach) I will outline for you is biased. It is also the theoretical foundation of the problem solving approach that I use; and it can be taught to others. Remember the Community Psychology thing? Part of which, takes a more time-efficient perspective and prevents problems by teaching people how to use their own “magic”. This approach is easy to understand, effective, and can be learned by those without extensive behavioural science backgrounds. At this point I feel compelled to remind you that I am not prescribing this approach for YOUR problem(s). I do not write here as YOUR therapist. I am simply providing information for you, what you do with it is up to you!
In several articles on this blog I have made reference to this approach and even commented on certain problems and their solutions. As you may have recognized by the title of this one, it deals with the “special hell” of romantic relationships. Are you able to recall the number of times you have broken someone’s heart (or had yours’ broken); been the “jiltee” or were the “jilter”? Of course, as love is a “bottomless pit”, in this article I will offer only a “smidge” of its’ potential. Just to whet your whistle let me remind you that the intriguing suggestion found in the biblical injunction to “love thy neighbour as thyself” makes much more sense if turned around!! That is, you can only love another if you love yourself!! Do you recall Groucho Marx’s assertion that he would not dream of belonging to a club that would have him as a member? If you do, you are prepared for what’s to come.
Never mind “love”, to “be loved” is a mysterious thing. Have you noticed how talking about it makes it even more mysterious? Holding a conversation with your beloved on the relative merits of rearranging your sock drawer is likely to come to some consensus. On the other hand, a conversation about the state of “our relationship” has the potential to create more problems than it set out to cure. Holding a discussion about “love” is more often than not, more than disappointing. In the first instance your partner isn’t really able to give you a reason for loving you; and in the second, the reason provided is often something about you that you never found particularly attractive e.g. the “adorable” wort on the end of your nose. Once again the meaning of “Silence is Golden” is driven home.
OK, OK, focus on the mission! What is the misery making lesson here? Here it is… Do not, whatever you do, accept on faith and good fortune, your partner’s love for you. Embark upon a quest; continually and obsessively question how that person could care for you. Be convinced that there is a hidden agenda afoot that has not been revealed to you.
It is well known that love is a mysterious thing. I’m sure it has spawned more great literary quotations than any other topic. Here is just one to suit our mission. I think it was Rousseau who said to his amour: “If you are mine, I lose, though possessing you, her whom I honour”. Peruse it a couple of times. That’s right he’s telling her that if she gives herself to him then “presto chango” she is no longer worthy of his affection. You may find it hard to believe but this centuries old view of love is alive and well today. There are some of us “modern” males who hold the unique frame of reference wherein, once the female gives in to the “power of our passion” she is not worth pursuing, as she gave in too easily. Born from this perspective is the corollary that all women are “whores” except one’s Mother. “I was immaculately conceived; my mother is a Saint, and would never have given in”.
Even relative beginners in misery-making can use the foundation that has been laid so far. They may not play in Rousseau’s league but they can bet on a long life of unhappiness. The central ingredient seems to be an undying belief in one’s own inadequacy; with this belief in hand, one can now discredit the taste of any loving partner. “Obviously there must be something wrong with anyone who could fall in love with a “shmuck” such as me”. (Oh yes and by the way, the more “self-help” books you have read, the easier it will be to “diagnose” your partner.)
Are you hangin’ in there? Good, here comes the “icing on the cake”. The moment your diagnosis is made……the cat has cleared the edges of the proverbial bag. You have revealed the imperfections of your partner, and love itself has been discredited. Nothing tastes quite as good as such a diagnostic success! Allow me to recite a wonderful poem by the Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing that captures this essence beautifully:
I don’t respect myself.
I can’t respect anyone who respects me.
I can only respect someone who does not respect me.
I respect Jack
because he does not respect me.
I despise Tom
because he does not despise me.
Only a despicable person
can respect someone as despicable as me.
I cannot love someone I despise.
Since I love Jack
I cannot believe he loves me.
What proof can he give?
Could it be any simpler? You might think that knowing all of this would kill the fun and put a stop to it, and all the misery it produces. No way!! Once caught in this living hell, the rest seems to come naturally. To put the “icing on the cake” you must embark on a quest to fall in love with someone who is married, a priest, a “lifer”, a rock star, a movie star, (an abusive employer)…….you get the picture. In this way you can unhappily climb forever, without ever reaching the pinnacle. Moreover, you will have your gaze so fixed on the future you will miss that uncommitted and available person, (job?), right under your nose, who is more than willing to build a relationship with you………”what proof can he give?”
Well, there it is! Wanna’ have some fun? Read this piece again “as if” YOU are our hero and the RCMP is the object of your affection. (That is, make your employer the RCMP, “Jack” from the poem). Waddya” think? I’d love to hear from you.
As usual a little something to meditate upon: TRUE NOBILITY DOESN’T COME FROM BEING SUPERIOR TO OTHERS, BUT FROM BEING SUPERIOR TO YOUR PREVIOUS SELF.
Dr. Mike Webster
G’day all!! Me again. Seems I’ve upset some of you by poking a few holes in the “diagnosis de jour” (i.e. “PTSD”). I apologize. I have been inundated with telephone calls from those of you who have my number; and those of you who were able to track me down. (Interestingly, you don’t respond with a comment on the blog.) Your calls have ranged from the irate, suggesting I should be “disbarred”, to the quizzical, wondering why the traumatic response “hurts” so much; and if it does, it must have a name?
I have actually given this some thought (it was some time ago and during a period of self absorption). I was filled with thoughts of grandeur. I pictured myself creating a whole new disorder, naming it, writing a book, directing the movie, playing the lead role and going down in the annals of Psychology beside the likes of B.F. Skinner, Pavlov and Aaron Beck…..then I got distracted by the coming of Spring and my motorcycle. (Get it?)
But for you a special!!! I’ll share my thinking with you only because I have left many of you “hanging” with my cheeky attack on the above noted “disorder de jour”. About 15 years ago, a psychiatrist who was (I believe if memory serves) a “fellow” at one of the prestigious medical schools, and shared my discomfort with the then less controversial diagnosis of “PTSD”, took a “shot” at coming up with a more accurate alternative. His idea was applicable to the general public and had more to do with the overwhelming of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or at the very least narcissistic personality traits. In other words, the patient was in possession of a pathologically inflated self image, and upon having this grandiose self overwhelmed by even the most insignificant challenge, shock, or embarrassment he/she would mimic the symptoms that had become associated with “PTSD”.
As my work is largely confined to military and para-military populations, I had to focus my thoughts on this unique group rather than the public at large. After much thought (and with little to do as I didn’t have my motorcycle in those days….too much time on my hands…..get it?) I came up with a discrete cluster of psychological symptoms that closely mimicked those of “PTSD”. In “BBSS” (Badly Bruised Super-Self), I hypothesized that the underlying psychological vulnerability to a trauma-like stress response stemmed from the patient’s view of him/herself as a “superman/woman”, impervious to all that was capable of falling a “normal” human being.
I suggested, based upon astute clinical observation, that “BBSS” was frequently accompanied by secondary symptoms of anxiety, depression, and mild-moderate re-experiencing (all thought to be primary in the diagnosis of “PTSD”). However “BBSS” was more characterized by its’ primary symptoms of shame, embarrassment, humiliation, or demoralization; all of which could be masked by anger as a response to the patient being unable to live up to his/her expectations of self (what I previously termed as the “super-self”). It has been my experience that in the case of these highly inflated egos, anything from the experience of an overwhelming immediate threat to the patient’s survival (or the witnessing of a serious threat to, or the loss of the life of another) to being humiliated at work through the failure to achieve, be appreciated, or the inability to deal with oppression has been enough to cause the patient to present with trauma-like symptoms.
To some degree we are all susceptible to a “super-self” and vulnerable to overwhelming disappointment upon not meeting our expectations. To risk the chance of losing you (I shall become a “tad” Freudian), our self-image never really divests itself of childhood omnipotence and a self-centred, entitled view of the world (thus, most all relationship disasters……are you listening Bobby-boy?). Day to day life, stresses, and even minor traumas have the potential to induce an element of injury to our perception of invulnerability. However, if you happen to be in possession of one of these “super-selves” (and I assure you this is not psychopathology) you are especially vulnerable to the demands of your (military or para-military) work that threatens your “super-self” image. Following exposure to a traumatic event, the typical response for one of these “super-selves” is shame, humiliation, embarrassment, and rage; more due to the shock of not coping than the traumatic stimuli experienced. The “super-self” has been defeated. A kind of disequilibrium seems to occur as our hero denies personal failure, isolates, or stifles intolerable feelings, attempts to hang on to experiences of superiority and a belief in one’s own invulnerability (I say again, none of which is a “disorder” in the sense of being pathological. After all, I spent much of my young adulthood smacking into “super-selves” on a gridiron. Do you think I always dominated: that I was never beaten? And what did I do when I was? Who me, pathologically egotistical? Of course not!).
With regard to those diagnoses of “PTSD” related to being bullied, oppressed, or abused at work, I would remind you that we have a tendency to react more strongly to stressors caused by others than by accidents or natural disasters. The “injured” person most often believes that man made stressors are preventable, whereas accidents and natural disasters are unavoidable. In “BBSS” the stressor is usually interpersonal in nature, or has a strong interpersonal flavour. We will often find (at this point, be thinking of your battle with those who represent the “outfit”) direct confrontation with the individual(s) that are involved in the inflicting or prolonging of the stress. In other words, the stress is “up close and personal”; typically we will find the interaction (with the Force?) riddled with exploitation, harassment, abuse, and humiliation. (Ever been cut from an athletic team? Ever been removed from a section you loved where you thought you were doing good work? Ever been embarrassed in front of work-mates by a supervisor? Did you believe it was righteous? Remember how you dealt with it? Did it ever really go away?) Within this group will be found a large segment of patients, who have seldom if ever witnessed or experienced the serious injury or death of another. However, these patients are vulnerable to the seeking of appreciation, admiration, and recognition of their “specialness”. The “trauma” can really be viewed as an insult to the “super-self”: a deliberate withholding of gratitude or appreciation that results in a painful mortification (death) that resembles trauma; and is often labelled as a “traumatic response” by those professionals who are unfamiliar and inexperienced treating this highly unique population.
Well there you go. Now you have it. Within the military, para-military, and elite competitive worlds I believe “BBSS” has as much merit as “PTSD”. What do you think? Now that I have unleashed this brilliant theorizing, do you think I’ll see it splashed all over a new batch of sad stories related to the work of emergency personnel? Hmmm, I doubt it, no money to be made in it and not sexy enough! Doesn’t require a pill; only the prescription below……..
As usual I want to leave you with a prescription to meditate upon…………………PLEASE RECOGNIZE WHEN AND WHAT YOU FEAR. KNOW AND EMBRACE YOUR LIMITS. DON’T RUN FROM THEM,EXPLORE THEM; LEARN TO ACKNOWLEDGE THEM; CONFIDENTLY TOUCH LIFE’S UNCERTAINTIES; STEP CAUTIOUSLY INTO THEM AND YOU MIGHT LEARN TO BE MORE RESILIENT,FEARLESS, AND TO EXPERIENCE YOUR LIFE MORE FULLY.
Dr. Mike Webster
G’day all!!! Be alert that Mr. Paulson and his minions are about to offer you a watered down version of the DSRRP (this week) that he hopes you will mindlessly choose over something that will truly represent you, the worker (i.e. The Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada). With regard to Mr. Paulson’s offer and what you already have, riddle me this, what’s the difference between shit and feces? You got it!!!! Time to start thinking for yourself!!!!
Be warned that this piece will take one more kick at the can regarding the validity of a diagnosis of ”PTSD”. This has been requested by your foreign counterparts, that are mostly unionized with much more power in terms of their relationship with management than you . I shall provide my reading of the literature and a brief Reference Section. I am not criticizing any diagnosis or health care professional you may have. I simply wish to inform; to present the entire picture and perhaps empower some of you. You’ll likely recognize “bits and pieces” from previous articles; I include them here only to provide continuity. I think it’s worth pulling it all together, as it is important to re-examine our ideas about how we humans respond to trauma. At the present both the media and the general public seem ready to play the “PTSD” card at every and any opportunity. Can it really be so? Is it really that simple?
The best that can be said for “PTSD” is only that it is one of many possible outcomes following exposure to an event outside our usual experience, and involving some threat to life and/or limb; another, for example, is “PTG”(Posttraumatic Growth). Hear much about “PTG”? I wonder why? To suggest that posttraumatic stress, as a disorder, is nearly inevitable following a traumatic stimulus may be creating a mental/emotional condition out of the normal distress associated with the rare or infrequent witnessing/experiencing of horrific events or abuse. Moreover the formal diagnosis of “PTSD” implies a failure of homeostatic mechanisms involved in stress recovery that has not been demonstrated empirically.
Several decades ago Robins and Guze suggested five areas that could be used to validate a psychiatric diagnosis:
* a clinical description including precipitating events and stability over time.
* biological, hormonal, radiological, quantitative evidence.
*distinct boundaries between the disorder’s characteristics and those of other psychiatric conditions.
* family or genetic statistical evidence shared between patients in the diagnostic category.
* treatment relevance and success related to precise diagnosis.
Schizophrenia, Major Depressive Disorder, and Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders are examples of mental disorders that have considerable legitimacy through the “Robins/Guze” process. “PTSD” has not achieved this kind of validity. As pointed out by Rosen (2007) the disorder’s “core assumptions” and hypothesized mechanisms, lack compelling or consistent empirical support.
Riddle me this!! An exposure to horrific/abusive events is sure to be psychologically devastating and will most certainly lead to a posttraumatic stress disorder, and undeniably put one at great risk for suicide. True or False? Answer: False! There is little doubt that exposure to a life threatening event can be upsetting; and is almost universally followed by an acute (usually anxious) response. However an accumulation of research over several decades is showing that human beings are more resilient than many of us think they are. (Do you really think that your ancestors, pre-historically, didn’t survive equal, or more horrific experiences than what you have experienced?). That is to say, the majority of us have the (genetic?) ability to “bounce back” from stressful, oppressive, and even traumatic events more quickly than the media and the general public have been lead to believe. One researcher from our reference section stated, “A fundamental starting point in the immediate aftermath of trauma is to expect normal recovery.” Another highly respected psychological investigator, in our references section, analyzed extant data on the neuroscience of resilience and came to these conclusions:
* humans are naturally resilient organisms and this is the norm rather than the exception.
* although temporarily upsetting, trauma and loss do not cause permanent damage in 90% of individuals.
* about 10% are less resilient and will not “bounce back” quickly-these will benefit from professional help.
* human resilience is a complex and still poorly understood combination of genetics, life experience, and coping style.
* there is some thought that people can be trained to be more resilient.
* coping styles are highly personal and incorporate a wide range of effective strategies that mental health professionals have deemed sometimes not healthy; including denial, bias, repression, laughing and “black humour”. These strategies have since been termed by some as “coping ugly”. People may not respond the way psychologists/psychiatrists think they should……but it works for them. Interfering with these natural coping mechanisms and telling people how they “should” be reacting may do more harm than good.
In the words of one respected author, “Sometimes the worst does happen, but our innate capacity to bounce back means that most of the time things will turn out alright”.
As I have previously suggested on this blog, extant research calls the diagnosis of “PTSD” into question. The diagnostic formulation is questionable at best and invalid at worst. I’ve previously outlined how in 1980 the DSM-III included “PTSD” under pressure from anti-war psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. The (anti-war) mental health professionals of the day argued that traumatic memories re-emerged in a more virulent form as (a form of) “PTSD”. The American Psychiatric Association began to generally diagnose using military diagnostic criteria. The DSM-IV presented a complex decision making process requiring much human judgement. The ensuing criticism precipitated several key changes; whereas there had been 11 of them in a revised DSM-III (1987), there were 15 changes in the DSM-IV (1994). Contemporarily there have been up to 200 combinations of symptoms through which “PTSD” can be diagnosed. A “PTSD” profile can “overlap” (or be confused with) several common mental conditions including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance-related addictive disorders. In 1995 a major survey reported 88% of females and 79% of males diagnosed with “PTSD” had at least one co-morbid diagnosis. The most common was Major Depressive Disorder; it was found in approximately 50% of “PTSD” patients.
More fundamental and rarely spoken of problems include misdiagnosis and malingering. With regard to the first, posttraumatic symptoms may not even be linked to trauma. Bodkin, for example, was able to demonstrate that among major depressives, both patients with and without trauma met the criteria for “PTSD” at identical rates, i.e. 73%.
With regard to malingering, the 1988 Viet Nam Readjustment Study revealed that of 31% of veterans with what had been diagnosed as full blown “PTSD”, only 15% had been assigned to combat units. It was noted that there was a correlation between subjective symptom severity and financial compensation; suggesting that secondary gain (not necessarily consciously undertaken) plays a role in a “PTSD” response. A study in 2000 showed a subject sample of veterans treated at VA outpatient programs with records that were highly consistent in their presentation of key words and subjective reporting. The question might be asked, is this an example of precise diagnostic criteria (which we have seen don’t exist) or the expectancies and/or elicitation techniques used by examiners.
Something similar was seen in the WWI reports of military personnel suffering with “soldiers heart”, “shell shock”, or “contusion”. These personnel presented with a symptom profile that included shaking, stuttering, limping, and several sensory signs e.g. deafness, mutism, and blindness. What is seen today in presumably the same disorder was not evidenced e.g. anger, numbness, anxiety, flashbacks, and profound sadness.
Interestingly Frueh and his colleagues discovered that the veterans subjective reports of military deployment often did not match their combat experience; for example, 32% of males attending VA outpatient “PTSD” programs related to combat exposure had no combat experience. Another investigator found that compensation seeking veterans were more likely to over-report or exaggerate “PTSD” symptoms. In 2005 the Inspector General’s Office associated with the VA announced the results of its’ investigation of Viet Nam veterans readjustment and included the finding that the veterans’ symptoms increased until maximum benefits were attained; following which an 82% drop in the use of VA mental health services occurred without any change in other medical services.
So in sum (and I am addressing our foreign visitors who made this request) it seems we could draw a few conclusions:
* it is difficult to distinguish between a “PTSD” symptom cluster and what could be seen as a normal human response to massive trauma.
* “PTSD”, MDD, GAD, and Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders diagnoses are difficult to separate; moreover, the symptoms used to define “PTSD” are not strongly correlated with trauma.
* the diagnosis of “PTSD” relies on unverified trauma and subjective reports of symptom profiles.
* financial compensation may be an important reinforcing factor; suggesting secondary gain.
So there it is. What do you think? What is your reaction? Please feel free to comment and always remember…..THERE IS NO FEAR!! COULD IT BE THAT WE ARE IN ERROR WHEN WE VIEW LIFE’S PROBLEMS AS UNJUST IMPOSITIONS RATHER THAN EITHER THE SIMPLE FACTS OF LIFE, OR OPPORTUNITIES TO GROW?
Dr. Mike Webster
Baldwin, S.A. et al. A case study in critical psychopathology. The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice (2007).
Scott, W. PTSD in DSM-III: A case of politics in diagnosis and disease. Social Problems. 1990: 37
Jones, E. A paradigm shift in the conceptualization of psychological trauma in the 20th Century. Journal of Anxiety Disorders (2007).
DSM-IV Source Book. Arlington VA. American Psychiatric Publishing Inc. (1994).
Kessler, R.C., Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the National Co-Morbidity Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, (1995).
Bodkin, J.A. Is PTSD caused by traumatic stress? Journal of Anxiety Disorders (2007).
Gold, S.A. Is life stress more traumatic than traumatic stress? Journal of Anxiety Disorders, (2005).
McNally, R.J. Can we solve the mysteries of the National Viet Nam Veterans Readjustment study: description, current status, and initial PTSD estimates. Research Publishing, Triangle Park, NC (1998).
Barglow, P. Is PTSD a valid psychiatric diagnosis? The Scientific review of Alternative Medicine (2006).
Frueh, B.C. Documented combat exposure of U.S. veterans seeking treatment for combat related PTSD. British Journal of Psychiatry, (2005).
Elhai, J.D. Health service use predictors among trauma survivors: A critical review. Psychological Services, (2005).
Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General. Report Number 05-00765-137. Washington DC, (2005).
G’day all!! Sorry to have neglected you for so long. I’ve been away on the Lower Mainland celebrating another few days above ground. I’m not much on the notion of new years as they seem to be man made. For example did you know that in North Korea it’s only the year 300 (and change) all based upon the birth of the first Kim Jong….? And where are we, and based upon the birth of whom? On another topic, your foreign counterparts have continued to be busy with me behind the scenes. Their major concern seems to be where you are hiding? They are puzzled as to why you aren’t more vocal; considering you can maintain your anonymity on Resergeance?
With regard to the title of this piece, I thought I would put one more shot across the bow of your employer before I break the tedium with something different. I offer this piece upon hearing that a group of psychologists and their patients are being “hassled” in one of the busiest detachment areas in British Columbia. What’s that? Who’s doing the “hassling” you ask? Who else, but RCMP Health Services? That’s right, your own employer sticking its’ nose in your health care once again. I can’t resist mentioning that with your own union (i.e. MPPAC) you would be like every other police service in the country; your health care would be outside the meddling of your employer and in the hands of objective health care providers!
It seems that more folks are beginning to realize that in a multiplicity of ways we are best viewed as inhabitants of a “global community”. This is based upon social (and professional) systems in which those who control the resources (and the recognition) can be viewed as perpetrators of large scale legal and governmental abuse that serves to perpetuate the advantage of the elites. Moreover, what many do not realize is that in addition to wars, pollutants, epidemics, and rampant poverty, the social (including employment) systems imposed upon us by those in power can produce emotional (and physical) illness.
These systems are known to influence the development of depression, substance abuse, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, obesity, heart, kidney, liver, skin and stomach problems in billions around the world.
The psycho-physical processes are actually quite simple. Take for instance your highly regulated organization (the RCMP), and use it as an example for the above noted “global community”; the stress of working in (or for) it with its’ predatory employee codes (or guidelines) can contribute to a population that reflects the mental conditions of traumatized, assaulted, wounded, exploited, and bullied people. In addition, when you consider that it is not a stretch to think that the greater “global community” is tracked and observed through computerized video cameras; and is increasingly being observed and monitored constantly the day may be coming when we are caught in a dehumanization process that will divorce us from our individual natures and reduce us to simple cog wheels in a variety of companies, organizations and their individual factories and offices.
Considering your own employer, it seems you can become victimized from being involved in a long, protracted, and ugly lawsuit. Think of the number of members (and non-members, associated with the Force) you know that are involved in such legal action.
Recall the number of marriages that were destroyed by the stress of dealing with the abuses of government (the RCMP?),and/or the legal system; in addition to relationships with work-mates, relatives, children, or just the ability to enjoy daily life itself.
Your potential to enjoy happy, productive, and meaningful lives is complicated by a malignant and parasitic glut of lawyers, judges, and other government officials who in their own way serve as purveyors the “global community”. Unfortunately, too few of us are aware that this oppressive victimization can become a psychological problem that can affect your mind and your behaviour.
Once the “parasites” rob us of our mental balance, and our dignity, we need a healing process. By now you should know that I believe the “therapy of choice” for emotional disturbance caused by government abuse is radical and militant activism directed against its’ source. (Oooops!! Back in your chairs monitoring minions!!). And by “radical activism” I refer to picketing, sit-ins, demonstrations, aggressive public communication, and anything that can be expected to transform society, produce change and put the other side on the defensive. To suffer in silence, afraid to speak, to let unfairness stand without seeking redress and accountability, to avoid the demand for justice suggests you have become part of the problem.
To tell yourself that you are unable to begin the reclamation of your dignity or to demand justice for whatever reason, you have essentially betrayed yourself and accepted being a victim. It is decisions like these that are not conducive to emotional health and can contribute to physiological symptoms. Spending hours and dollars in long term psychotherapy will likely never be as successful or therapeutic as expressing yourself at a meeting or on a blog, a march, or the organizing of a picket line. In most cases anti-depressant medication does little more than mask the source of an adjustment problem.
I am aware that the point of attack can become confusing for the oppressed RCMP member who is in conflict with his/her employer and in the process of alienating family, children, work-mates, and friends. All the talk of “government functionaries”, “power elites”, “the system” , behind the scenes “string pullers” is not helpful to the average police person who is suffering on a daily basis. In your case, the focus of your attention needs to be on those who sit at the head of your organization and the government that runs it! These are your adversaries, and as you are well aware they have broken the law and perjured themselves to escape being held accountable by you and the public you serve.
For you to ignore the foregoing is to not only miss one of the most meaningful of human endeavours but to be a major contributor to your own reactive illness. To those of you who want to have a hand in your own recovery and the healing of the RCMP, throw your self behind labour representation. Riddle me this! Why should the RCMP be the only police service in the country without a union? And do you suppose we could correlate the fact that it has slipped from being one of the top five police services in the country to one of the top sixty (odd), to the fact that it doesn’t have labour representation?
I believe that for you to harness the potential that exists within the group is of immense value. You may not be aware that there is a branch of psychology (i.e. community psychology) that assists patients to heal their psychological wounds by becoming active in their own care (and healing). You, your organization, and the public it serves, cannot wait for those at the top to rid the RCMP of the “rot” that plagues it! It is time for you, to return the RCMP to its’ former place of excellence through throwing yourself behind the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada. Please manage your own expectations.
“GET OUT OF YOUR MIND AND INTO YOUR LIFE”
Dr. Mike Webster
G’day all!! I have just returned from another overseas journey. Before I begin on the present offering, I must apologize to the BC Ferries crew of the Coastal Renaissance as it was their vessel and not the Queen of Coquitlam that returned me to the Island during the horrendous storm during which I was haunted by Sisiutl. Since that time I have been wracking my brain trying to come up with an appropriate article to give you for a New Year’s present; and the present offering came to me. I searched high and low to see if I had put these thoughts into words previously on the blog. I was unable to find anything. You may be more successful than I, yet I think the words are so “appropo” at this time of year, as we all obsess over the past year, I make no apology for them.
The underlying theme herein is that people’s problems with trauma can be socially influenced. That is the problems that cause us, and those around us, misery and pain can be influenced by language, thought and attention. Being unsophisticated in such matters (psychological) we tend to adopt certain frames of reference, come to cherish certain beliefs, selectively attend to certain perceptions, subscribe to particular explanations, and routinely hold the same expectations (the current state of the art regarding “PTSD”?). This offering will attempt to outline the problems that can arise when our attempts at adaptation, while under these influences, can go awry.
In this post I would like to share with you a handful of ways that we can make ourselves unnecessarily miserable around the assimilation of a trauma. As you are in a hurry to get to that New Year’s Party, I shall offer you only four variations on the theme:
I. Dichotomizing The Event
Most of us have a reasonably healthy view of life as a mix of good and bad; with some ugly things that can’t be changed, yet needn’t be an anchor to be hauled through the rest of our lives. However those of us with a particular talent for misery making, tend to see life’s events in a dichotomous fashion; as either entirely good or entirely bad. The “entirely good” bunch twist experience into a paradise lost that becomes an unending supply of nostalgic “goop” (e.g. “back in the day…….”). Nothing in the present could ever compare. The “entirely bad” crew view their experiences as total living hells out of which have sprung all their present problems. Both have forgotten that like life in general, past experiences (read traumatic events) are rarely black or white, but mostly gray.
One form of this variation is applied to a variety of problems including the presently popular notion that happiness is a “trouble free good feeling”. Those who seem to better manage the human condition, muster up a little logic, reflect on the obvious fact that life involves pain, and recognize that a more accurate definition of happiness is “the ability to create a rich, full, and meaningful life” in the face of its’ emotional discomforts. They embrace life in all its’ fullness (horrors included) accepting that this means a full range of emotion as well ( i.e. maybe you SHOULD be horrified by what you experienced, and in the acceptance of this, lies resolution?)
II. A Biblical Perspective
Do you know your bible well? Remember, I am a graduate of Notre Dame, and “back in the day” (oops!!) the study of Theology was mandatory. Are you familiar with Genesis 19:17 and 26? Do you recall God instructing the Lot family to pack up and leave Sodom and Gomorrah? His/her instructions went something like this: “Make haste and don’t look back….head for those mountains over there or you are toast!!” They all managed to take these godly directions except Mrs. Lot, who just had to look back. And “poof” she was turned into a block of salt!
Now, those who have managed to create a healthy balance between past, present, and future seem to view the past much as we view history. It is something to be learned from, its’ mistakes used as lessons for the future, but nothing to be obsessed over. However, practised “misery-makers” have discovered that constantly keeping their eyes on the past is an excellent way of missing what is going on in the present. Only by keeping themselves vigilantly occupied with the past can they ensure that they will miss something entirely new, or those involuntary changes of perspective that could contain the seeds of happiness. These arguably illogical individuals seem reticent to even briefly glance away from the past (e.g. a horrific or abusive experience) for fear that they may discover something in the “here and now” that will undermine the credibility of their morbid convictions (e.g. it is well accepted the normal thinking processes of a healthy mind, naturally create psychological suffering).
III. An Attribution Problem
Likely the most instructive example of this variation (with my sincerest apologies to all those who qualify as unthinking (vs. thinking) AA members) is to be found in the American Classic film, The Fatal Glass of Beer. The film is the story of a promising young man who struggled hard against dropping into a saloon, for a beer, each day on his way to and from work. He finally gave into temptation (so the story goes….nudge-nudge, wink, wink…..)and dropped into the saloon had his first beer, and began a decline into the depths of depravity. The inference being made, of course that the glass of beer was to blame and that the young man was the victim.
Those who pull themselves out of such situations, largely on their own, seem to factor themselves as agents into the equation somewhere. However those holding tightly to their cherished beliefs are able to spot the undeniable advantage of attributing blame to forces beyond their control. They intuitively recognize that even if they accept responsibility for the original sin (i.e. the beer, the drug, the food, the emotion), or traumatic response, it would be hard-hearted of others to hold them equally responsible for the irreparable and irreversible consequences of the original stimulus. In other words, in using this misattribution they can be at worst only partially to blame for their own misery.
Granted this variation on the past is not air-tight, but a skilled “misery-maker” can make it so with a little tweaking. What if he/she was not built to endure exposure (in the case of a trauma)) “…..to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence…..” Surely then he/she must be the quintessential victim and resolved of all responsibility, right? In this case we wouldn’t dare to question our hero’s victim status or suggest she/he do something about his/her misery, right? It would be the ultimate insult to suggest that he/she do something about what was inflicted by neuro-chemistry, God, fate, society, relatives, neighbours, parents, teachers, siblings, doctors, police, employers, etc.
Can you believe it…….there is one more tweak that renders this variation almost impermeable to logic. Everyone knows that it is “unscientific” to suggest that the “pure” victim take some action to get better. We just have to refer to any psychology text to discover that one’s personality is determined by past events, especially those that occurred in early infancy. Come on, it has to be obvious to all that our hero is permanently damaged!! Surely everyone knows that what was once done can never be undone!! (Oh and by the way, herein lies the rationale behind long term psychotherapy).
IV. More Of The Same
I think I’ve saved the best for last. The final variation is one of the most frequently used and effective recipes for not only unhappiness but total disasters, ever known! Its’ application has lead to the complete obliteration of entire species and the precipitation of war. Its’ beauty lies in its’ simplicity. Even those “misery-makers” with an average amount of talent can use it to good effect. It has been around for so long that those in my profession have made a more than comfortable living off it for generations. In the profession, it is however not referred to as the “more of the same” problem but (clinically) as a “neurosis”.
Here’s how it works. Those who don’t suffer from it seem to recognize that problems tend to change over time. So they adapt by trying a variety of feasible solutions with the belief that every problem has more than one solution. Those, on the other hand who excel at making themselves, and all around them, miserable have fixated on the notion that for every problem there is just one solution. This game plan consistently produces a two fold result. First, the favoured solution becomes more and more ineffective while the problem becomes more and more hopeless. Second, our increasing misery along with our belief in only one solution leads us to the conclusion that we must do “more of the same”; and without fail each successive application of the ineffective solution (chemotherapy, traditional psychotherapy) results in more and more misery.
Those trauma patients who use the “more of the same” variation dig themselves into deep pits of hopelessness and despair,and behave as if they are duty bound to do two things. One, promise to recognize only one possible solution for every problem; and if it hasn’t yet been successful, accept that it is because he/she hasn’t done enough of it yet, and two; promise that under no circumstance will you break promise number one!
As it is the lead up to the New Year and many of you will be thinking back about the past year, and perhaps other years that have brought you to this point in your lives and careers. I want to give you a contemporary perspective on what you may be factoring into your equation. I want you to understand that there is more to attend to than the prevailing frame of reference, and that in the absence of strong empirical support much of what is held as “gospel” by the suffering public is rooted largely in social influence. That is, much suffering in the area of traumatic response is not rooted in permanent psychopathology, but in persistent patterns of thought that can be changed.
“NOTHING IS AS DANGEROUS AS AN IDEA, WHEN IT IS THE ONLY ONE YOU HAVE”.
Dr. Mike Webster
G’day all!! I have returned (only briefly however)from my overseas sojourn. I will advise that my ferry ride back to Vancouver Island from the Mainland was one of the roughest I have encountered in many years of living on Vancouver Island; and working on the mainland of British Columbia. The ferry (in your mind’s eye picture a ship as big as many ocean liners)was listing so badly that sea water was leaking in the door jams five decks above the waterline! I send “kudos” to the BC Ferries crews who have been ferrying us British Columbians across the Straight of Georgia, in such storms for most of the month of December.
Most importantly it was while riding the “Queen of Coquitlam” home through this last storm that I came up with the idea for your Christmas gift. I saw “him” out there in the dark grey waters and was moved to write an introduction to “him” as your present. I am sending this gift to all of you who faithfully read this blog, including your brothers and sisters around the world (even those of different faiths, who don’t celebrate Christmas). As you may have gathered I am proud of being born on and living on Vancouver Island. Over the years (some 70 + now, I have been exposed to many First Nations communities; their histories, heritage, and spirituality. I have even had the honour of facing some in conflict situations. For what is about to follow you can thank the Nootka People of Ahousat British Columbia.
(If you have children, I’m sure they would enjoy this gift as well…..and they may even learn something?). If you live near water whether ocean, lake, river, or stream, I want you to read this and then go there to the water. I want you to look at the water with new eyes. I want you to look at the trees, maybe they are without bark and bleached white, torn from the ground, gnarled and wind warped; maybe their branches are bare of any leaves, like dead rigid fingers pointing to the sky. This is the work of Sisiutl.
Sisiutil is a sea monster (calm the children….it’s only beginning to get good!!)who prowls the waters of the Straight of Georgia where I live. He is a horrific beast with two heads
; one at either end of a snake-like body. His heads are placed this way so he can see both where he is going and where he has been. He is grotesquely huge; when he is close by the tides rise to their highest for no apparent reason, and when he rises out of the sea to breathe, the fog rolls in. When he turns, the water boils, boats are tossed about like insignificant pieces of driftwood, and people who fall overboard are never to be seen again. (I know he was beneath me yesterday. He came to resurrect my ghosts!!).
Those of you who live inland and think this tale doesn’t apply to you, better think again! Sisiutl is a water creature and can live where ever there is water; this means creeks, ditches, streams, and even in the dew on the grass, and the melting Spring snow. He falls with the rain and snow; and of course can even ride his own breath. (Are the kids still listening? If so, someone should hold them close).
The bare, bold fact is that he is magic!! He is nothing more and nothing less than the biggest most frightening snake-fish that ever lived; and he can live wherever moisture can be found. His eyes burn icy-hot and out of his mouth spews horror. The Nootka people have told me that he lives off the fear carried in the hearts of the “living dead”. (I saw an abundance of this yesterday in some of the passengers aboard the Queen of Coquitlam). He can smell your fear and this makes him even hungrier. He can chase those who fear him anywhere there is water; and as we are largely water he is rarely without a drink. Some wise elders say that our prisons are full of those who have been visited by Sisiutl. These unfortunate people are able to walk, talk, eat, and sleep; but they don’t know how to live with the rest of us as Sisiutl has taken their souls.
What to do, you ask, if confronted by Sisiutl? There is only one way to meet him. You must stare him down!! First you find something that you can believe in, something you know in your heart will never let you down. And now when Sisiutl comes after you, you can hold tight to it, and stare him right in his eyes. Because if you don’t, if you turn tail and run, he’ll start blowing with both of his mouths (remember, one at each end?)and you’ll start spinning like a top until your soul shoots through the top of your head!!!! You’ll spin away from your body and the rest of us will hear you screaming like the wind I heard on the ferry last night.
Those huge driftwood trees you see on the beach with their bark torn off and those monolithic weather-worn rocks (actually the tops of mountains!)are laying there only because they were too heavy to fly away. If you encounter the beast face to face you better have some powerful words you can use to protect yourself. (I do, but I can’t share them with you or they’ll lose their power). If you are knowledgeable enough to know any “spirit songs”……now would be a good time to sing one. If you have a charm, an amulet, or a precious memento pull it out and hang on to it!! More than anything STAND YOUR GROUND, and stare right back at him!!!!!!
I’ll tell you right now he’s going to try to get close to you….to get into your soul. He’ll be so close you’ll be able to smell the stink emanating from both of his mouths. Moreover, he is going to try to “pin” you with all four of his eyes. He’ll slowly but surely move closer and ever closer to your mouth so he can suck out your breath in hopes of it carrying your soul. But to do so he has to turn both his heads toward you. And when he does, each of his heads sees the other. Front sees rear, and rear sees front.
Do you recall hearing something like this……”Whoever sees the other half of self, sees Truth”? And that boys and girls is all old Sisiutl ever wanted! He really doesn’t want our souls. He only takes them because he believes that somewhere in them he’ll find the “Truth”. So all you need to do is hang in there until he gets “a peek” at the other half of himself; that is, the “Truth”.
After this scary episode, he’ll bless you with his magic and your Truth will be yours forever. Don’t be surprised if he comes back though (some say to test your Truth)and manifests himself in just as frightening a visage as he initially did. But this time he won’t hurt you, as he has blessed you with his magic. All your same pain and scary stuff will still be there; all your memories may return, but because this time you just stand and stare back at him, he’ll see his own face, appreciate your courage, turn his tails (faces?)and he’ll go.
The Sisiutl’s gift to you (whether Christmas or not) is to teach you that all the strength and truth you’ll ever need resides right behind your own two eyes. Please make for yourself a Peaceful Holiday Season. (P.S. I’m off again and will see you in the New Year. Keep the cards and letters coming in (for Sisiutl’s sake, they can’t eat you……it’s against the law!!!!). I shall post them when I return. Oh yes, I almost forgot…….this piece is dedicated to “The Shpoop”.
“Whoever sees the other half of self sees the Truth”
Dr. Mike Webster