PART TWO: Understanding “Unseen Things”

This post is part two of a series: It continues with a line of thinking that began in a previous post: 

So how is it that things which seem so obvious are easily ignored in our day-to-day existence?

This is a question that has burned in my brain since I was a kid.  I recall as a kid marveling at how adept everybody was at colluding with one another to perpetuate the most idiotic bullshit ideas for the sake of some abstract social rules that made no sense to me.  It was as if, I was living in a world which is unseen to others and I was forced to pretend bullshit is truth.  It  starts with personal fears, needs, beliefs and insecurities. It continues with a desire to deny certain unpleasant aspects of ourselves.  It ends as we collude with one another to create an idealized self in an idealized life situation that edits out critical aspects of reality.

As a social outsider, I didn’t understand the random logic of the social politics of high school.

For example, I recall overhearing a conversation my sister had with some friends at our house one evening.  I was in high school and she was about 12-13 at the time.  As the dorkus, I butted heads with her popular-girl ways, (although I’m happy to report we’re doing well today).  At one point, everyone started to give this one girl a hard time for being in band commenting at how dorky it was.  I recall everyone asking her “how could you hang out with that crowd of people?!?”  I marveled at the idiocy of that logic and wondered silently why band people were dorks and according to whom?  I became angry at the fact that nobody called “BULLSHIT” on that thinking.  Why were they so scared?

At school the next day, I usually received more of the same.  There was this “Breakfast-Club-Ish” mentality at the time (it was the 80’s), in which everybody was in the clique.  By the time you hit high school the reputations begin to stick, you are your label and nothing more.  I walked through the school with the intention of remaining unseen.  As the bullied kid, this was my safest strategy.  I spent my days, watching individuals, (who I interacted with on a personal level), transform themselves into a fictional and socially-acceptable version..  These airs were put forth for the sake of “fitting in”.  The rules that guided these fictitious selves were abstract social rules that were also random I saw no logic to it.   These rules dictated who to hang out with, what to be interested in and how to dress.  As I look back on this experience today, the concept of pluralistic ignorance immediately comes to mind:

PLURALISTIC IGNORANCE – “a socio-psychological phenomenon that involves a systematic discrepancy between people’s private beliefs and public behavior in certain societal contexts” (Bjerring, et al, 2014, p. 2445).

At home, there was this strange and stifling culture based on my parent’s preferred defense mechanism: “intellectualization” …

They are college professors who met in medical school.  My father, a quiet nerdy type, was an INTP personality type who lived in a world of logical analysis.  He was passionate about his work as a neurphysiologist who related to emotions as byproducts of neurochemical actions in the amygdala.  My mother, is from the Philippines, and grew up during WW2.  In her culture daily life centered around the family.  Concepts such as harmony and duty took precedence over individuality, pride, or our personal values.  Her way of being was quiet and stoic.  She held herself in this way as a matter of survival, putting outside her awareness those things that were difficult.  Overall, this tendency toward intellectualization in my parents, developed into what (Goleman, 1996, p. 129) describes as character armor:

CHARACTER ARMOR: “Defensive style is a character armor. In therapy, it leads to a typical mode of resistance…Defenses are…attentional ploys…The person’s entire mental apparatus…is shaped in part by his defense strategy….Character armor is the face the self turns to the world.” (Goleman, 1996, p. 132).

Together, they built a familial culture based on personal idiosyncrasies such as these.  My home life was one in which emotions were not expressed.  The goal was to present yourself as intelligent, logical, and pragmatic.  Emotions were managed quietly and we dealt with them by “trying our best to hold it together”.  If you ask them about how they feel, they would say, “doing well”, in their formal and polite manner.  Ask them to describe emotions they get technical and describe how it begins with the intake of sensory information when the limbic system works to assess its emotive relevance.  It continues in the hippocampus which stores memories of emotional events that trigger the amygdala to initiate the fight-or-flight system.  The moral of this story is to utilize your prefrontal cortex….

Hearing explanations like this leaves me saddened by their inability to understand that emotions have an intelligence all their own.  They are what make us truly human and add color to our life experiences.     In his book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goleman (1996) notes that “The family constructs a reality through the joint schemas members come to share.  The family’s self-image is one subset of shared schemas, the some total constitute the family’s paradigm.  The topography of the family’s private universe is implicit in routines…in how members take in, interpret and share…information” (p. 173).    As I look back on this familial reality construction, I am reminded of R.D. Laing’s  (1978) Happy Family Game in which he describes the rules which guide our efforts to deny certain aspects of shared experiences:  

  1. RULE #1:  Don’t do it! Don’t Say it! Don’t Acknowledge it!
  2. RULE #2:  Don’t Acknowledge Rule #1!!!
  3. Rule #3:  Do Not discuss existence of Rules #1 & #2!!

 Bullshit is infectious & needs to be treated as a dangerous contagion

In the previous section, I provide examples of unseen aspects of social experience. When you examine these unseen things closely you find that self-deception can become shared.  Others’ bullshit ideas, when unexamined, can become our bullshit ideas.  Bullshit is infectious and needs to be treated as a dangerous contagion.  What do I mean by this?  Here’s my personal theory on how we inherit the bullshit of those around us and consume it blindly….

It starts when we bullshit ourselves.

Self-deception involves the acquisition and maintenance of a belief despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, (plato.stanford.edu, 2016).  The goal is to create a self-perceived reality that we wish to uphold.  Goleman, (1996) states:  “There are, it seems, vital parts of our lives which are, in a sense, missing – blanks in experience….our failure to experience these aspects of our lives…results in an incapacity to bring attention to bear on certain crucial aspects of our reality” (p. 15). In a post titled “Twisted Self-Deception” I make the following comments on the nature of unseen things:

It continues when bullshit creates unseen things in our lives…

Self-deception, is defined by those things that produce anxiety.  Various aspects of who we are and what we experience are too painful to face, so we create a zone of blocked attention.  For example, my sister and her friends were motivated by desire for acceptance.  By focusing only on wanting to fit in, my sister’s friends failed to question the logic or morality of these random social rules that guided their efforts.  In their desire to present a specific image to the world, my parents failed to develop emotionally.  As is the case with all of us, the reality they experience is based on what they attend to.  “Perception is selection” (Goleman, 1996, p. 21)….

We pay a price for repression with a self-fulling prophecy based on this bullshit.

So its clear, based on this description that self-deception is an emotional hot potatoes.  We find unseen things unpleasant and try to pretend they aren’t there.    In a post titled “stages of change” I provide an excellent example of what emotional hot potatoes look like.   If (hopefully) you read this link, you can see that my emotional hot potato was a desire to avoid re-experiencing the ostracism and bullying from my childhood.  Rather than experience this again, I entered a relationship with promises of more in the midst of more of the same.  I was so overwhelmed by unresolved trauma that it became a missing piece in my understand the world.  I became what others said I was and developed relationships with others based on this skewed self-perception.    You can’t solve a problem with the same mindset you had when entering into it.

Finally, blind spots in our thinking infect the relationships we have with others…

There’s definitely more than a grain of truth to the whole idea that like attracts like.   The key to being a bullshit magnet is failing to sort through your own crap.  Its impossible to see and perceive others with any sense of clarity if you’re wearing shit-stained lenses.  The following quote comes from a book “Secrets in the Family”:

“I will attempt to be some of the many important things you want of me, even though some of them are impossible, contradictory, and crazy, if you will be for me some of the important, impossible, contradictory, and crazy things I want of you.  We don’t have to let each other know what these things are, but we will be cross, sulk, become depressed or difficult if we do not keep up with the bargain” (Pincus & Dare, 1978).

References

Bjerring, J. C., Hansen, J. U., Pedersen, Nikolaj Jang Lee (2014). On the rationality of pluralistic ignorance. Synthese, 191(11), 2445-2470. doi:10.1007/s11229-014-0434-1
dictionary.com, (n.d.) Suspension of disbelief. Retrieved from: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/suspension-of-disbelief
Dostoevsky, F. (2014). Notes from the Underground. Broadview Press.
Epstein, L. (1982, October 10).  Roundup of the Usual Suspects.  Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/1982/10/10/books/roundup-of-the-usual-suspects.html?pagewanted=all
Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Books.
Goleman, D. (1996). Vital lies, simple truths: The psychology of self deception. Simon and Schuster.
Pincus, L., & Dare, C. (1978). Secrets in the Family. Pantheon.
Plato.stanford.edu. (2016, November, 7).  Self-Deception. Retrieved from:  https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/self-deception/
Laing, R. D. (1971). The politics of the family, and other essays (Vol. 5). Psychology Press.
Schreber, D. P. (1955). Memoirs of my nervous illness. New York Review of Books.
Shapiro, D. (1996). On the Psychology of Self-Deception.  Social Research, 63(3). Retrieved from: http://www.communicationcache.com/uploads/1/0/8/8/10887248/on_the_psychology_of_self-deception.pdf
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I hate my fucking job….

On the surface, this blog post appears to represent a brief piss-n-moan session.  However, it also reflects my hopes for the future.  As I reach the end of my educational journey, I am starting to see the finish line just over the horizon.

I am a full-time working mother who is also in graduate school.  I work at a homeless shelter as an intern, providing individual & group therapy to clients with substance use and mental health issues.  I also work as a C.N.A on the weekends (Friday – Sunday, 7p – 7a).   When I’m not at my internship or job, I spend my time as the domestic goddess (trying to live up to the roles of wife & mother).  I rarely get a day off and am overwhelmed by the endless and relentless pace of it all.  I need a break but see none in sight until I graduate this summer. I just need to hold on a little longer…

What follows is a little list of things I get to say goodbye to once I finish my degree & find a job… 🙂

I am a “Certified Nurse Assistant” (aka professional ass wiper).  I work three back-to back 12-hour shifts over the weekend.  Since my husband works Monday through Friday 8-5, it’s been a practical solution to avoiding daycare.  However, pragmatism doesn’t necessarily yield happiness.

From the moment I get to work I am “hitting the ground running”.  I joke to my patients I’m their “personal gopher”.  If they need it, push the button and I’ll get it for them.  Intermingled within assigned tasks (vitals, blood sugars, etc), are nurse’s requests and call lights.  I’m frazzled by this constant pushing and pulling of my time.  Everyone needs something, they want it now, and don’t understand I have others to attend to.

…and I can’t blame my patients for this really. The old lady with a bad hip & bladder control problem can’t help it that she needs to go hourly.  The man down the hall who has a colonoscopy in the morning can’t help it that he’s having endless “code browns” for me to clean up.

Honestly, cleaning up patients after they soil the bed is really “no big deal”.  I am accustomed to it.  However, it does get old.  I can’t wait for the day when I can say “I’m dome!”

“No more of this shit” 🙂

Believe it or not, it isn’t the human excrement that I hate most.  I dislike how my personal needs slip into the background of my mind as I work hard to provide good care to others.  As I rush from one task to another I think to myself: “I would like the change my tampon, I’m hungry, my feet are killing me.”  I struggle to push aside these thoughts while with the client.  Because I have keep up with the pace of the work and respond to everyone’s needs in a timely manner.

I am a hamster running on a treadmill chasing a carrot on a stick….

For even the most patient of souls, the never ending nature of catering to others’ needs can wear thin on one’s mind.  I do it literally, all the time.  Presenting a pleasant bedside manner requires me to set personal needs aside.  This is often easier said than done….

Maybe I’m sick of the lazy nurse who runs me ragged & refuses to help out with a call light because I’m with another patient. I politely ask for help and remember to thank her for getting that, while seething inside.
or maybe there’s this feisty old lady with Alzheimer’s & a vicious temper. She lets loose an endless barrage of insults, because I won’t leave her alone. My mind fills with anger & frustration over the fact that I can’t reason with her. All I can do is my job, and explain again in the calmest voice I can muster, I’m just here to care for her.
The point is, after 36 hours on the job over a work-weekend, I become filled with these frustrations.  They remain pent-up & unresolved.

 I feel like a bomb about to explode.

Here is a link to a recent post I did of the typical confused patient I’m asked to sit with at work.  Just imagine sitting with somebody like this for a full 12-hour shift.  It gets old very quickly.  Over the course of 15 years on the job, I have seen many patients like this one.  Oftentimes, this sort of behavior is attributable to confusion.   Therefore, the client can’t be held responsible for this sort of behavior.  Consequently, my response in this situation is to: (1) ensure patient safety; (2)  reorient when possible; (3) and maintain agitation by responding promptly to patient needs.

However, a snag I run into pertains to my PTSD diagnosis.  Over the years, I’ve encountered a few verbally abusive & agitated patients that remind me of earlier traumas.  As a bullied child, the constant putdowns from classmates left me with zero self-esteem. I endured high school in a state of complete isolation & para-suicidalit  (primarily due to the fact that I didn’t want my sister to be the one who found the body).  After years of “white knuckling” on the inside, I couldn’t wait to graduate.  However college didn’t yield anything better since I landed in a four-year abusive relationship in my sophomore year.

I drudge up these old memories only to note that verbal abuse like this can be a trauma trigger.  Certain things can produce intrusive memories, and along with it, a wave of old emotional flashbacks.   In the years since being in therapy, EMDR & self-awareness has helped tremendously.  However, I can still become depressed, frustrated and anxious when on the receiving end of psychologically abusive behavior from patients for a length of time @ work.

When I quit this job, I will no longer be forced to endure this verbal abuse….

…Instead, my past will have a purpose in a positive manner while helping others….

Last year I was assaulted at work while working as a safety advocate for a schizophrenic patient.  He beat me several times in the head as I tried my best to keep him from crawling out of bed.  The whole incident flew by fast & occurred within the first 30 minutes of my arrival.   I entered the room full of anxiety & dread.  I didn’t feel safe in the room alone with him, however knew staff would not listen to my concerns since they were short-staffed & everybody was still getting a shift report.

What’s so fucked up, is while this guy kept punched me in the head, I didn’t think to pull away or defend myself. I was only thinking about my job & not getting in trouble for letting the guy fall. I stayed there and “took it like a man”.

The guy didn’t crawl out of bed..

However, I was punched several times & went home an emotional wreck.

When I quit this job, I no longer have to put myself in harms way.

I work every weekend & if my shift falls on a holiday, I have to work it.  I am not allowed to take time off.   Since my family has a regular schedule, we are like “passing ships in the night”.  My sons have school Monday – Friday, 8-3.  My husband works 8-5.  I either nap during the day, do homework, or clock internship hours.  They get to spend the weekend together while I work at night & sleep all day.

It depresses me, knowing I that we never get a whole day to spend together.

When I quit this fucking job, I get my weekends back.

What I hate most about this job is it reflects a decision based on circumstance & necessity.   It pays really well & the hours are conducive to the completion of my graduate education.  However, it is also a circumstantial byproduct of trauma.  I was bullied as a child so badly that survival became a priority over education.  My childhood is filled with missed opportunities of wasted potential.

My childhood bullies altered the course of my life, left me traumatized & robbed me of my potential….

Things didn’t improve in college, when I found myself in an abusive relationship,  Driven forward by the impact of unresolved childhood trauma, I was again in survival mode.  Intent on running away from my problems, I didn’t yet understand I was carrying them within….

At the hands of an abusive asshole, I lost the opportunity of a normal college experience & an education of my choosing.

My parents were too focused on their careers to provide assistance.  I honestly feel, they sacrificed my well being for their career pursuits.  Quitting their job or cutting back their work hours was unthinkable.  Didn’t they know how “bad off” I was?  I guess not.  Part of me will never forgive them for failing to be there.

Upon the altar of their careers, is the sacrificial lamb of my childhood..

This education provides me a chance to realize my full potential & reclaim it….

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