In a previous post I review a favorite self-help author of mine, Brene Brown (link above). I first learned about her from a now-famous Ted Talk video (see link above). Through her work, I was first introduced to the concept of shame: “an intensely painful feeling that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of accepting and belonging” (Brown, 2006, p45). In this post, I’d like to continue with this train of thought & share some insights on how to recognize shame. While no real preventative cure to shame exists, if you are aware of what triggers feelings of shame, you’re empowered to grow beyond its confines. What follows are insights I’ve recorded in an old journal based on Brene Brown’s work on shame resilience….
FIRST: Insights on the Nature of Personal Growth.
Before I begin discussing the subject of shame, I’d like to first make some comments on the nature of personal growth overall. Despite the inherent growing pains, it is worth the effort. Having wormed her way through the rabbit hole of personal growth, there are three insights are worth noting here….
#1 – With increased self-knowledge comes an awareness of the extent of any personal ignorance.
With heightened self-awareness comes an inability to deny and ignore any issues in your life. We become aware the path that lies before us a perplexing ignorance builds in response to increased self knowledge. We now know we don’t know, (which I guess is something), however we still have a ways left to go.
Working through unresolved hurt and processing it, is critical for healing. As I’ve discovered personally, you perpetuate what you deny. What I’ve discovered personally, is that numbing and denying old hurts only causes them to live within the subconscious as annoying monkey wrenches. It is only through a close examination of these monkey wrenches that an endless cycle of bullshit can be revealed.
NOW WHAT!?!?!: Understanding the Concept…
Brene Brown (2006) defines shame as “an intensely painful feeling that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging”, (p 45). Participants in her research utilized the following adjectives to describe this emotion: “devastating, noxious, consuming, excruciating, filleted, small, rejected, diminished” (Brown, 2006, p. 45). Human beings have a strong and instinctual need for love and belonging. We are social creatures. Shame is an emotional reflection of this instinctual drive. It forces us to accept the fact that we are byproducts of the world in which we live. We create society as it in turn creates us…
Social & psychological components
Shame is a unique sociocultural emotion. The psychological component of shame reflects an individual’s inner perception of self in relation to others (Brown, 2006). Thoughts, beliefs and emotions, play a part of shame’s psychological component. At the same time this emotion is a social construct that exists as a byproduct of interpersonal experiences and sociocultural perspectives.
A double bind situation…
In her research, Brown (2006) states that shame-inducing situations are double-bind in nature. With few if any options for resolution, participants in her research felt stuck, with nothing to do but bathe in their own misery (Brown, 2006). With this stuckness come feelings of powerlessness and isolated. The following quote from Brene’s article resonates with my own ostracism as a bullied kid:
According to Brene Brown (2008), shame is a fear of disconnection from others, or not feeling good enough. Events and circumstances that produce feelings of inadequacy or ostracism are shame-producing. Shame is a result of the internalization of message from others about what is essential for love and belonging. Here are a few blog post, that provide excellent examples of the internalization of “should-be” messages created the experience of shame.
Brene Brown asserts we are all vulnerable to shame. Messages of who we “should be”, come from everywhere and pollute our thinking. Until you’re aware of these “should be’s”, they tend to re-emerge in endless perpetuity throughout your life. Random life events can trigger old memories of shame-laden messages from one’s childhood. Over time, these should be’s become incorporated in our sense of self as measuring sticks of self-worth. Developing resiliency in shame happens when we take time to understand what triggers these feelings. What event/interaction/individual/memory caused us to feel shame? What should-be messages exist within these shame triggers? Where did this “good-enough” measuring stick originate? Who instilled this should-be idea in our minds of what we must aspire to become?
With this in mind, what follows is a list of steps to begin developing a resiliency to shame.
STEP #1 – Understanding Shame’s Physical Symptoms
As a former bullied child, shame triggers produce vivid reminders of ostracism as a kid. For me, shame triggers are those things that remind me I’ve failed in living up to a pre-defined social standard of what good-enough should equate to. Its for this reason that feelings of shame are associated with stress and anxiety. In the presence of reminders of painful experiences, our body is sent into a fight-or-flight mode. Breathing increases, your heart starts pounding, your hands shake, and you start to sweat. .
A school textbook I have defines coping styles as “persistent, consistent, collections of physiological and behavioral responses to stressful stimuli” (Lambert & Kinsley, 2011, p. 379). Additionally, research on the brain shows two types of coping responses. Reactive coping styles are associated with higher parasympathetic activity while proactive coping styles are characterized by high sympathetic activity. Finally, its interesting to note how each coping style influences our level of perceived stress. According to Lambert & Kinsley (2011), proactive coping responses show low levels of activity in a part of the brain called the HPA-Axis. In contrast, reactive coping styles show heightened levels of reactivity in the same region.
So what is an HPA Axis you ask??? Watch this video….
So why does this matter???
Basically, what this research says is that those with proactive coping styles allow some individuals to experience lower levels of stress when faced with a challenging situation (or in this case a shame trigger) (Lambert & Kinsley, 2011). In contrast those with reactive (or passive) coping styles are experience higher levels of stress and less effective coping responses to challenging situations (Lambert & Kinsley, 2011). Interestingly, this reflects research I described in a recent post on the intelligence of emotions here and here……
and for those who are disinterested in clicking the link’s above, here a cliff-notes summary of these two posts…
Emotions play a critical role in our moral judgments. These affective processes occur subconsciously, outside our awareness. They affect our information processing, thought processes, and behaviors (Cushman, et al 2010).
Two systems of moral reasoning exist in the brain. A deliberate process utilizes cost-benefit analysis to maximize one’s overall, well-being. The other is an evolutionary adaptation in the brain promoting survival. It is rapid, automatic and guided by limbic-based moral absolutes (Cushman, et al, 2010).
When faced with a situation deemed by our minds as highly stressful (i.e. shame trigger), rapid limbic responses to moral decisions are based on absolutes and reflect adeontological perspective(Cushman, et al, 2010).
In contrast, when encountering situations perceived as non-emergent and within our capability to handle effectively, a deliberate cost-benefit analysis occurs. This sort of judgment process reflects aconsequentialist perspective (Cushman, et al, 2010).
What sort picture does this research paint of how coping styles affect moral judgment?
Lambert & Kinsley (2011) indicate that proactive coping responses are associated with lower levels of activity in the HPA Axis an area of the brain responsible for the stress response. Cushman, et al, (2010) indicate that in the presence of lower stress response, the brain reacts with a more deliberate system of moral judgment that reflects a cost-benefit approach. In contrast, passive coping styles are associated with higher HPA Axis activity and a heightened stress response (Lambert & Kinsley, 2011). Cushman, et al, (2010) indicate that in the present of a perceived stressful situation, the brain reacts with a rapid-fire limbic reaction that reflects an absolutist deontological perspective.
In light of all this information, it appears understanding our shame triggers is actually quite vital?
Those things that cause shame, send us into fight-or-flight mode. Shameful experiences are perceived as a threat to our instinctual need for love, belonging, and acceptance. What causes us to feel shame? Triggers that remind us of should-be messages from other of what “good enough” is. In a never-ending desire to prove oneself “worthy of belonging”, we can fall into a perpetual fight-or-flight mode. As the above research indicates, shame triggers lead to stress, which hijacks our entire brain, hindering our ability to handle situations effectively.
STEP #2 – First an attitudinal adjustment…
Empathy – the opposite of shame…
In her research, Brene Brown (2006), notes that empathy sits at the opposite end of the continuum from shame. In her article she describes empathy “as the ability to perceive a situation from another person’s perspective – to see, hear, and feel the unique world of the other” (Brown, 2006, p. 47). She continues by noting that it comprises four key attributes:
The ability to see things as someone else does, remain judgmental, understand their feelings & communicate this effectively.
Finding sources of empathy, connection and support, are superb antidotes to shame. It is also worth noting the part of the shame equation in your control. The personal component of shame, pertains to how we incorporate others opinions into our own personal measuring stick.
Brown, (2006), also states that the degree to which we acknowledge our personal vulnerabilities influences a person’s degree of resilience to shame. In fact, whether or not we’re willing to accept this fact, nobody has the right to tell us “who we are”. We are ultimately responsible for how other people make us feel. What opinions become incorporated into our self-perception is a matter of our own determining.
STEP #3 – Shame Triggers
I’ve always had this belief that the key to empowerment is self-responsibility. Understanding our role in things is critical to identify the actionable solution. Knowing your shame triggers is so important for exactly this reason. Since shame is a feeling which is based on messages of perceived worth, understanding where these messages come from is important. Feeling the need to “measure up” is an inevitable byproduct of our own evolutionary social needs. Shame triggers are simply those events, situations, and/or relationships that lead to feelings of shame. Examining these shame-inducing situations and/or relationships requires closer examination….
What are your unwanted identities?
In her research, Brene states that shame is associated with situations that a person’s unwanted identity. Unwanted identities are simply personal characteristics that undermine who we wish to be in the eyes of others. Has there ever been a time in your life when you said “I don’t want people to thin I am a…”? Here are some of mine:
The thing to remember is we all have shame triggers. There are unwanted aspects of ourselves we hope to avoid and can’t see with any clarity. Shame-laden messages from others cloud our vision. The following questions have been helpful in allowing me to gain some perspective…
Where does this perception come from?
Why is this identity unwanted
What measuring-stick underlies it?
What if you were reduced to this unwanted identity?
STEP #3 – What are your Defense Mechanisms?
With an understanding of our shame triggers, it is next important to examine how we defend ourselves against this shitty feeling. What unconscious defense mechanisms do we do to prevent other people and/or events from causing us to feel this way? When overcome with shame, we are overcome by the effects of the brain’s HPA axis. It sets of a series of events throughout the body that create an alarm-bell stress reaction. Brene, (2010) describes two primary types of defense mechanisms that I understand as forms of conformity or rebellion. When reading her descriptions I hear both my sisters story and my own. Here are a few links to recent posts in which I reflect to my own preferred defense mechanisms:
The final piece of the puzzle is simply “getting real” with yourself. When overcome with shame you often can’t see beyond the fear of exposure that a flawed self lies inside. Attempting to see the bigger picture at such moments is important. Asking yourself a some bigger picture questions. Here are excerpts from my own journal…
As a bullied child raising a bullied child, I can think of fewer experience more shame-inducing. To see things from the other side of the coin is truly a mind-fuck. Needless to say, these things occur within a larger sociocultural context and kids tend to fall between the cracks. Teachers and principals are overworked. A child’s behaviors are often a reflection what they see going on in the home. Here is my own follow-up post to provide a bit of perspective on things.
Debunking the Ugly Duckling B.S.
While I haven’t blogged on this issue yet, I’ve always felt I have a “meat suit problem”. The issue in my case is one of having such a “wonderful personality”. These random characteristics defining my own meat suit leave me feeling “less than”. I hate my nose. I need to lose weight. At best, I’m an ignorable BLAH on a good day.
Mind you, these are just a few examples. I’ll end this post with a few final thoughts directly from an old journal…
Brown, B. (2006). Shame Resilience Theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame. Families in Society. 87(1), 43-48.
Brown, B. (2008). I Thought it was Just Me: But it Isn’t: Telling the Truth about Perfectionsim, Inadequacy, and Power. Gotham.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. London: Penguin.
Brown, B. (2015). Rising strong. Random House: New York.
Cushman, F., Young, L., & Greene, J. D. (2010). Our multi-system moral psychology: Towards a consensus view. The Oxford handbook of moral psychology, (1-20).
Lambert, K., & Kinsley, C.H. (2011). Clinical neuroscience: The neurobiological foundations of mental health. 2nd Ed., New York, NY: Worth Publishers
Miller, J.B., & Stiver, I.P. (1997). The healing connection: How wome form relationships in therapy and life. Boston: Beacon.
About three weeks ago I started the final segment of my educational journey: the internship. In a series of three classes I have to complete a minimum of 700 hours over the course of approximately ten months. This will require a 60+ hour work week for almost a year. I will continue to work full-time as a weekend night shift CNA in a float pool for large hospital system. I will be adding 20+ hours of unpaid work as an intern at an inpatient treatment facility for recovering addicts. As a wife and mother, this means I’m literally spending most of my waking hours in the service of others.
Keep in mind, a good majority of those I encounter will not appreciate my efforts, (and if they do, they don’t necessarily show it).
***Parenting a teen often involves being the bad guy as you set firm boundaries.
***Counseling individuals through recovery entails addressing varied levels of resistance.
***Working as a CNA requires you to provide care to individuals who often feel like crap.
I’m now in the third week of my first internship class and have finally settled into this new routine. I’ve tried to hold onto the glimmer of hope that graduation will come sooner than I expect. I continue to plan cautiously this new career path. I registered for that big “exam” required for licensure. I’ve researched other internship placements that can provide experience in populations outside the addiction community.
However, as I muscle through each week, I find my mental health slipping from my grasp.
As a new student therapist, I’m running several groups on my own…
I spend approximately ten hours a week teaching subjects to residents in an inpatient treatment facility that I have little knowledge of. Since the facility is redesigning the curriculum I’m told it’s my responsibility to come up with the subject materials myself. I enjoy this part, but the experience of standing in front of class each day brings me back to speech class in 8th grade where my childhood bullies taunted me merciless throughout a presentation. Despite my best efforts, my nerves always end up getting the better of me.
I conducted my first intake evaluations & individual sessions this week…
These experiences have had a perplexing effect upon me. While appreciative of the learning opportunity a burgeoning ignorance wells up within. As I learn more I feel I know less – if for no other reason than simply because I’m forced to face the breadth of my lack of knowledge. More importantly, book knowledge and interpersonal application are completely different things. I have one but must work on developing the other. I’ve come to an awareness that I really give to others based on who I am.
***All my efforts thus far have held a unique flavor that is very “Kathleen-like”.
***My life history and personality quirks are found throughout all l do.
***My preferred coping mechanisms (i.e. isolation & withdrawal) are not allowed.
***I must face my fears & allow others to see me fully – if I wish to succeed…
In this (& future) posts I’ve decided to share the material I’ve created for my therapy groups…
The subject matter often leaves me with much to reflect on personally. What follows is material I put together on blame, guilt, remorse & shame: concepts that all have potential to interfere with our efforts to creat lasting change. If handled correctly they can also provide an impetus for a personal transformation. Since this is a personal blog, I’m not sharing this information to educate or give advice. I’m presenting it as information relevant to my life story personally….
Defined as a feeling if responsibility or remorse for some offense, or wrong-doing it’s important to examine carefully how you handle it. The following quote comes from a blog post I found online on the subject of guilt, shame, remorse, and recovery:
“Oftentimes addicts in recovery need a great deal of time before they can even begin to understand that they are not inherently defective, that it was their choices and not their true selves that caused their addiction & its related negative consequences. (recoveryranch.com, 2013)”
As this quote indicates, a monkey-wrench in the recovery process is a misinterpretation of guilt. Interestingly, when replacing a few words, this quote applies to me as well:
“[when healing from trauma], a great deal of time [is needed]before [I] can even begin to understand that [I am] not inherently defective, that it was [my] choices and not [my] true [self] that caused [the] … negative consequences. (recoveryranch.com, 2013)”
With this parallel clearly drawn, further contemplation is now in order: How is it I’ve managed to turn guilt into something else so self-destructive, (i.e. Resentment, Shame, or Blame)????
Interestingly, guilt is not necessarily a bad thing (by itself). It hast the potential to provide an impetus for lasting change. Remorse – a characteristic of healthy guilt – encourages us to looking at past actions in order to understand their consequences. This information has predictive value for our current decisions: If I do “A”, then “B” is the result. The key is in learning how to use guilt for purposes of growth.
What follows are insights on how to use guilt as an impetus for change.
Use your remorse to take a personal inventory of your life.
Share your feelings of guilt & remorse with others (i.e. blog 🙂 )
Examine the origins of your guilt, Is it rational or reasonable?
Learn to forgive yourself & all involved.
Avoid the blame, shame and/or resentment traps (See below).
Change the behaviors that caused you to feel the guilt in the first place.
Apologize where necessary & let go for the sake of inner peace.
Commit to living in the present & moving forward.
guilt can also become healthy when misused:
As stated earlier, guilt can provide us with an understanding of how specific actions result in certain consequences. This information, however can be misused when we focus on attributing responsibility for punitive purposes. This punitive nature, causes us to focus on emotion instead of action. We live in the past, rather than act in the present. We are often blinded by a desire to complain about our problems. Guilt becomes blame when we assign responsibility to others for the “bad thing that happened”. In time, this blame can produce feelings of resentment. Shame, in contrast, is the attribution of responsibility to oneself. In time, they can produce feelings of resentment towards oneself.
when guilt becomes blame….
Blame usually involves assigning someone responsibility for the bad things that happened to you. Synonyms of blame include to condemn or accuse. However justified we might be, it is worth noting that blame is often counterproductive. In the short term, it allows us to escape elements of the truth which are often too painful to examine closely. However, the price we pay in the long term is a huge well of unresolved hurt that pollutes all life decisions. Blaming others has polluted my life with a crap-load of unresolved bullshit. This tendency to blame misery on externalized factors has caused a lifetime of willful blindness us to even the simplest solutions.
There’s more than a grain of truth to the saying that we perpetuate what we deny. So how did I overcome the blame that blinded me???
Step One – Identify your blame-laden complaints.
Listen to the words coming out of your mouth. Start a blog and note the underlying patterns in the ways you tell your life story. Or, if you don’t like writing, get an old digital camera and tape yourself, let the thoughts and feelings flow. Set it aside for about a week or so, and view this video when you’re mind is clearer. You’ll be surprised by what you say. When you notice a blame-laden complaints that involve a sad victim-story, write them down. Here’s a convenient example from a recent post in which I describe a minor misunderstanding between my sister and I that blew completely out of proportion….
Think like Joe Friday says: “Just the facts ma’am”. In other words, try restating your blame-laden complaining. How might you objectively describe your concern? The following example is a convenient neutral concern that takes any blame-laden language out of the above complaint. It also includes a link to a post titled “Transactional Analysis… A Move Beyond Misunderstanding”, where I provide 20/20 hindsight into the “Anatomy of a Misunderstanding” post. As I understand it now, this misunderstanding reflected larger issues pertaining to unmet needs in my childhood.
When you think about it, blame takes the focus off of you, and places it squarely upon others. You can’t see effective solutions because you’re not looking at what actions you can take to create change. Playing victim is good for the ego, but highly self-destructive. Accepting responsibility and seeing the situation in full and complete detail has taken time as it pertains to the above examples. My relationship with my sister has improved with time, and has required much work on my own part…..
Resentment is a bitter and angry indignation over unfair treatment or perceived wrongs. It is the emotional cousin to blame-laden thinking. Blame is a thought process that involves the attribution responsibility for our situation to the action of others. Resentment results when you ruminate over this realization endlessly. When you focus on it too much the anger can build and you can’t see further. All you know is you hurt and they need to understand and pay. Trust me when I tell you, resentment can eat you alive and leave you with nothing else.
It is for this reason that I believe that forgiveness is essential for healing, it is necessary in order to make room for the good stuff.
When Guilt Becomes Shame….
As I mentioned earlier, guilt can be impetus for lasting change. It has the potential to provide valuable and empowering insight. However, when this insight is used to assign responsibilty for punitive purposes, it becomes highly self-destructive. Blame is the attribution of guilt to external factors (i.e. people, events, situations). It causes resentment. In contrast, shame is the attribution of guilt to yourself with a punitive belief that “we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance or belonging.” (Brown, 2010, p4).
Shame is being rejected.
Shame is feeling like an outsider.
Shame is that part of yourself you hide.
Shame is not belonging
Shame vs. Guilt….
Shame tells us we are bad. It is a useless emotion we are all susceptible to. Guilt tells us we have done something wrong and indicates a need for reparation?
Shame = I am bad. It is about the person.
Guilt = I have done something bad. It is a reaction to a person’s actions.
Shame vs. Humiliation…
Humiliation results from a situation of unequal power in which we are made to feel inferior or ashamed. Shame is a private matter. Humiliation is a public event.
Shame = Is a byproduct of internalizing messages from others.
Humiliation = is caused by messages from others which causes us to feel degraded.
Moving Beyond Shame….
Step One – Examining Our Shame Webs.
Shame is the consequence of our interactions with others – and society in general. These interactions carry implicit messages of who we should be to in order to garner acceptance and belonging. For the most part, these messages exist as unresolved expectations. The are a filter through which life experiences are examined and resolved. With this in mind, there are several critical questions to ask yourself:
What messages of perceived-worth underlie your feelings of shame?
Can you describe these wanted and unwanted identities?
Where do these messages of shame come from?
Step Two – Understanding the Consequences of Shame.
Shame is about fear of disconnection (Brene, 2010). This fear of being ridiculed, diminished or ostracized can cause us to actively avoid situations that we associated with it. However, by avoiding situations that make us feel shame, we end up re-living old messages from others about what and/or whom we should be. Others from long ago in our past, tell us who we should be in the present whether we realize it or not. The end result is a hamster-wheel life in which you can create no more of the same thing…
Step Three – Define Your Shame Triggers….
Individuals, who are highly resilient to shame, understand their shame triggers (Brene, 2010). These triggers reflect early messages of shame from our childhood. For example, standing in front of my group therapy class produces heightened anxiety. I recognize this as a byproduct of the implicit messages from peers in my speech class in 8th grade. I feel shame and embarrassment, and want the attention focused away from me. By acknowledging this, I am aware these emotions reflect past memories, and not the current situation. With this in mind, ask yourself the following questions:
How would you like for the world to see you?
How would you hate for others to see you?
How do these aspects of your self-image reflect messages you receive from others?
Shame & Belief Systems….
Shame is based on a system of belief about who we are in relation to others. This belief-system consists of a collectivity of messages about who we are. As belief system, the underlying concepts are matters of opinion and not fact. Beliefs are opinions about how the world works & our place in it. When we share these ideas with others, they become systems of belief. When taken on blind faith they appear to function as objective truth. In reality, they are simply shared systems of meaning that we support collectively as self-fulfilling prophecies with social consequences for violation. The key to overcoming a system of belief based on messages associated with feelings of shame is in differentiating between facts and opinions….
You can change beliefs with facts but you cannot change facts with beliefs. In other words, beliefs require a believer while facts exist independent of them.
For example, lets say you’re boiling noodles in a large dutch oven. When they’re done you drain the noodles in a strainer. The water goes down the drain and what remains are noodles. Life functions like a strainer, it is the perfect reality filter. Bullshit doesn’t hold water, and goes down the drain. The noodles remaining are facts and/or consequences that go nowhere until you deal with them. They are here to stay. KNOW THE DIFFERENCE!!!
recoveryranch.com (2013, December, 9). The ‘recovery value’ of shame, guilt and remorse (part one). [blog post] Retrieved from: https://www.recoveryranch.com/articles/early-recovery/the-recovery-value-of-guilt-shame-and-remorse-part-one/
Brown, B. (2015). Shame Resilience Theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame. Families in Society. 87(1), 43-48.
For anyone who wants to know what shame-based parenting looks like, this picture from my old journal would do splendidly. In this “I’m Fucked up & I’m Fucking up My Kids” journal entry, I review experiences with the mother of my son’s best friend from kindergarten through sixth grade. Over the course of time, as our boys grew close, we developed a friendship as well. However, our sons’ friendship took a slow turn in another direction around fourth grade. Her son was a very sensitive, sweet and creative child. My son had a rebellious streak, and liked “marching to the beat of his own drum”. Early experiences as a critically sick child, had left a lasting impact on his trajectory of physical and emotional development (more on this later). As cliques developed and rules of acceptable “in-group / out-group” behavior solidified, our boys stood out terribly. It was at this point that the bullying began. Rather than banning together, the relationship between our son’s became strained as they responded in highly divergent ways. At the core of their responses was a desire to understand the negative message they received from peers. My son’s rebellious streak and emotional immaturity caused him to react to this bullying by making behavioral statements that communicated to others: “I don’t care what you think”. In contrast, my son’s best friend was much like me. He was hurt terribly by the bullying, blamed my son the fact that they didn’t fit in and wanted nothing more than to be popular. As I reflect on it now, when digging deep beneath these divergent responses, you have kids who were both hurting. They just responded in equally maladaptive ways. My son managed to ostracize himself from others, while her son followed a trajectory similar to mine at that age.
The Turning Point…
In retrospect, things changed so gradually for our boys socially that I can’t point out a turning point. Prior to the bullying and ostracism, all classmates played together, and nobody was really excluded. Gradually, fewer and fewer neighborhood friends came over. By the time my son hit fifth grade, he only had his oldest best friend to play with. The comments became very vicious as one bully would throw homophobic insults their way. The bus rides home then became stages of physical torment. My son would come home crying saying somebody hit him or was calling him names. I found these experiences triggery in a way that words can’t describe. As a bullied child, I couldn’t help but wonder if “it was my fault”. Was I failing as a parent, due to my own ineptness at knowing how to make friends? After all, I was that girl with cooties, and nobody would play with me either. Was this a genetic predisposition for dorkiness, or had I taught it to him? Fortunately, I had a therapist to help me work through all this.
“I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend Anymore…”
By the time they were in sixth grade, the relationship between my son and his best friend was quite strained and tumultuous. Due to divergent coping methods they really rubbed each other the wrong way. One critical incident still sticks in my mind, as evidence their friendship was near its end. I feared for my son who described his worry about losing the only friend he had left. He relayed stories to me after school about how his friend would say “I don’t want to be your friend anymore”. He complained his best friend was more concerned about popularity. I contemplated moving him to another school, and had entered him in counseling at this time, to determine our best course of action. On one day, as I was picking up him up from school, I learned about an altercation in school between them. I asked them what happened, and my son refused to say anything, putting forth his best “tough guy” front. His friend said he wasn’t wanting to be Josiah’s friend anymore because he wanted to be popular. This triggery statement reminded me of a time long ago, and in many respects I was looking at a younger version of my own self. Wanting desperately to be accepted and belong, I simply wanted others to like me and make friends. I tried my best to understand what that involved and couldn’t see beyond it. The end goal became more empowering than considerations of how to meet it. Underlying this steely focus was a wealth of insecurity, and unresolved pain.
And Here Comes The “Shameful Parent”…
I struggled after this encounter. More than ever, I felt it was essential that we begin discussing our son’s crumbling friendship. Hoping to salvage his last childhood friendship, I saw a situation in which two kids who were struggling with similar issues, but responding to them differently. However, I was very perplexed around this time, by a series of mixed messages and passive-aggressive actions from his mother. I sat down with my therapist and asked her what she thought about the situation. I even attempted to outline an appropriate plan of action, in which I could begin discussing key issues (See pics).
As you might guess, things didn’t go exactly as I had hoped. I had been troubled by our own crumbling friendship for some time. As a bullied child, my last good friend was in sixth grade. Throughout the remainder of my childhood I was very lonely. Today, these early experiences have left me a missing piece in the puzzle of childhood development. I never learned how to make friends. From this mindset, I found my own perspective reflecting her son’s, I desperately sought acceptance. I wanted someone to be my friend.
Instead, our discussion revealed something else. Her own skewed perception of matters revealed an incomplete understanding, that left out critical components of the puzzle. Not fully understanding the depth of my son’s ostracism or pain, she insisted he had plenty of friends to play with and was dismissive of my concerns. Failing to understand the nature of the close relationship with my son and his unique needs (due to early shared traumas), she felt I allowed him to walk over me. She picked apart specific aspects of my parenting, no home cooked meals, stay up to late, too many electronics in the house. All things that can bring about that endless cycle of shame. Her burgeoning anger, seemed to underlie a desire that I change in the ways she felt was needed to fix the situation as she understood it. The nail on the head moment, came in dramatic scene, in which she only acknowledged my son’s problems, but failed to address her own son’s issues. My son was deserving what was happening, I am overreacting & I was to blame. The mother in me felt a well of anger building. A pang of old hurt soon followed, as I recall being a child much like her son. I had issues, I needed someone there, but somehow nobody was “willing” to see this.
The Dramatic Scene…
My memory of this incident is a blur, but was nonetheless quite traumatic for me in ways I can’t describe. Mind you, I’m a bullied child, raising a bullied child. This was a shame-inducing minefield, in which I blamed myself. No parent wants their children to suffer the worst of their own childhood experiences. As I attempted to discuss my concerns (as I delineated in a journal with my own therapist), her own emotions escalated. At some point, hoping to put an end to the conversation, she sat up suddenly from her chair and pointed at me as I was getting ready to leave:
“You’re Fucked Up and You’re Fucking Up Your Kids!!!”
My head grew hot, my hands were shaking as the full onslaught of her words hit me like knives. I walked up to her, threw pop in her face, and stormed out the door. As I drove away, she sent me this sickening message: “I’m sorry, I should have given a hug instead”. I drove directly to our school district’s administrative office, and requested an immediate transfer. I shuddered at the possibility of my son having to experience what it is like to have nobody to play with.
One good thing about leaving an “unhealthy” relationship is you know how to effectively cut out the baggage of your life. Whenever I find somebody who crosses a line like this, I cut off all contact immediately. I shared these experiences with my husband during his lunch hour, and my decision on the matter of our son. I hoped he could see beyond my emotions, to understand the gravity of his situation. As a bullied child with no friends, much of his self-esteem lie in a delicate balance. My husband was supportive of this plan, and our son moved to a new school.. Neither one of us has spoken to this family again.
“I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show and they had one thing in common: they all wanted validation” – Oprah
So what exactly is invalidation, and why is it so important? Marsha Linehan, Phd., founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, defines invalidation as trivializing, punishing, judging, or ignoring a person’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and identity (Linehan, 1997). In order to understand the importance of this concept it helps to know how its definition in the field of psychology is unique. A quick review of Merriam Webster’s online dictionary yields the following definition:
Invalid: “being without foundation or force in fact, truth, or law…logically inconsequent.” (invalid, n.d.)
In laymen terms, when we call something valid, we are pointing out its logical and factually-based nature (invalid, n.d.). In contrast, when used in the field of psychology, validation means acknowledging and accepting another someone’s thoughts and feelings. It is a way of communicating to someone else that you understand them, it’s okay to feel the way they do, and you respect their viewpoint. While this may seem fairly straightforward, it is often easily overlooked. Especially, for those who have never experienced it before. In fact, attempting to explain this issue as a critical need in past relationships, has been a source of great frustration. Before discussing this concept further, I’d like to delve into the nature of emotions a bit…
What Are Emotions?
Emotions are mental states, experienced as physical sensations in response to our perceptions. These perceptions are byproducts of the brain’s ongoing mental efforts to interpret sensory information. It is through this ongoing effort that a mind-body connection is created. Our body responds to the quality of our thoughts by producing symptoms that provide feedback on the nature of these thoughts. In this respect, emotions are signals from the body that tell us how it is affected by our thought processes. Beliefs and past experiences play an interesting role here, by instilling emotional schemas: internal templates for how we regulate and respond to emotional experiences. For example, a parent’s emotional philosophy determines how they handle their child’s expression of feeling. This in turn has a tremendous long-term impact on a child’s overall emotional intelligence.
“Some parents view the child’s experience and expression of emotions…as an event that must be avoided…[others see] these ‘unpleasant events’ as an opportunity for intimacy and support” (Gilbert, 2005, p185).
Consequences of Invalidation
Problematic emotional schemas develop as a result of chronic invalidation in childhood. A belief that one’s feelings are incomprehensible and flawed produce an array of negative responses to an initial feeling including shame, avoidance, and rumination. In his book Compassion, Gilbert (2005) describes an emotionally feral child in the following quote:
“Let us imagine the following: a child grows up and never experienced any validation of thoughts or feelings. He is an emotionally feral child, but lives within a community of other people who ignore validation. His parents have a radical behaviorist approach…adhering to the strictly behavioral position that emotions and cognitions are meaningless constructs” (Gilbert, 2005, page 199).
The long-term consequences of emotional invalidation like this are a pervasive distrust of your emotions, thoughts, and belief that you are inherently flawed. From within this preconceived vantage point, it is nearly impossible to develop any sense of personal agency or worth. The predefined lens through which you enter adulthood is shame and self-invalidation. A quick preventative remedy to this is validation: experienced as an acceptance of one’s feelings that excludes attempts to change them. This response allows you to openly share what you feel and facilitates emotional regulation. When you communicate that someone’s emotions make sense in light of their own life situation, you respect the legitimacy of their perspective. On the basis of this shared understanding, emotions can be processed.
According to R.D. Laing, “When we invalidate or deny people’s experiences, or how they see things, we make mental invalids out of them.” (Steiner, 2003, pxxvi)
Self-invalidation – reliving others’ worst opinions of you…
The consequences of receiving very little validation in childhood are a pervasive distrust of your own emotions and belief that you are inherently flawed. From this vantage point, self-worth is an impossibility. Instead, life is viewed through a lens of self-invalidation and feelings of shame: “an intensely painful feeling that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of accepting and belonging” (Brown, 2006, p45). It’s taken me a while to overcome this issue. Until I acknowledged my own shame-based orientation, it ran my life like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’m ashamed to admit that this tarnished self-image has haunted me well into adulthood. It wasn’t until I entered counseling in my late thirties that I began to understand why I felt like a “walking sh*t magnet”. The seeds of my own destruction came as I decided to put too much stock in others opinions. With no sense if inherent value in my being, the only feelings of worth I experienced were based on the scraps of approval I garnered from others. This measuring stick of self-worth became a conglomeration of any negative messages my childhood bullies beat into me. I failed to measure up, and I had to pay.
As a bullied child I had few, if any, friends. I was the girl with cooties that nobody wanted to sit next to. I struggled to understand why I was unworthy. Why did my sister have such an easy time making friends? Was she really better? Watching her enjoy the acceptance and belonging I desired, made my loneliness unbearable. I spent middle school and high school alone, depressed, and suicidal. I walked thru life with a deep well of pain and anger. At times, it was almost enough to make me go postal…That is, until I came to understand that the only acceptable person to take these feelings out on was myself. I consider myself very lucky to have survived this.
My family, in the meantime, was blissfully ignorant of my struggles and unknowingly contributed to matters. As an INFP, Myers Briggs type, I was always very sensitive and lived in my own rich and imaginative inner world. My parents had a hard time understanding me. As college professors, they lead with their intellect. The Jungian thinking function defined our home and objective pragmatism was preferred over the chaotic nonsense brought about by emotions.
You see, as fate would have it, my ESTJ mother also grew up in the Philippines. The cultural, temperamental, and generational gaps produced by this, left an ongoing miscommunication that took a while to resolve itself. We couldn’t effectively express what needed to be said or hear what the other was telling us. My father, the INTP, was immersed in his latest intellectual pursuit. Preferring to let my mother be the “bad guy”, he adopted a laid back and hands-off approach. Aware of his inability to handle my problems, I kept them to myself. I hated to cause distress.
looking beyond self-invalidation
When I reflect on these memories as a mother, I have an appreciation for the my parents’ humanity. You see, children do not come with instruction manuals and we are left to make things up as we go along. Your imperfections and shortcomings end up spilling into all efforts to raise your kids. There’s definitely a grain of truth to the notion that we give to others on the basis of who we are.
Through the eyes of 20/20 hindsight I have gained some perspective on these childhood experiences. When I recall all the significant individuals throughout my life, multiple perspectives from which I am able to view myself, unfold. Each is a window into others’ interpretations of “me” and contains a unique set of divergent distortions….liked an “f’d up hall of mirrors…
I’ve since learned to recognize this self-invalidation as a tendency to hold myself up to a measuring stick of preconceived worth. This self-judgment has been a sadomasochistic form of control. Underlying this judgmentality, is a desire transform myself into what I believe “good enough” means.
Turning things around…
As a self-help junkie, this information has been lurking in my mind for quite some time. When I decided to start a blog, I ran across a few old journal pages on this subject matter. My thinking at the time was: what am I doing now to invalidate myself and how can I stop? What follows is a expounded version of these journal pages with insights on how to stop invalidating yourself.
Step one – Pay attention to how often you judge yourself & the quality of your own self-talk
“Validation – finding the truth in what we think and feel – stands as the fulcrum between empathy…and compassion…Finding the ‘truth’ even if the truth is in a distorted thought….allows us to bear ‘witness’ to the fact that the other person’s suffering means something to us.” (Leahy, 2005)
All too often, I find myself running on mental auto-pilot. I focus on the tasks of the day and all the responsibilities I am left to juggle. The first step to cutting this bad habit of shame-addiction was to pay attention to my own self-talk and the sorts of things I’d say to myself. I decided to record videos of myself just before a nap like a mini-confessional/brain dump. I thought it would be best to do so after a long night shift when the kids are at school and I would be alone to record my thoughts. Any ability to edit my thoughts would also be worn down.
What I discovered was my self-talk is laden with negative messages from an array of sources that are largely untrue based on the current state of affairs in my life. It appears my mind has chosen to fill itself with negative self-talk, set at auto rewind.
Step two: Seeking the grain of truth & your distortions of them.
After several weeks, when the fog of exhaustion had dissipated, I decided to watch these videos. I then asked myself the following questions: (1) What sort of shame-based messages are contained in your self talk? (2) Are these judgments based on a desire to win or gain approval? (3) Where is the grain of truth and how are you distorting it?
After taking time to reflect upon these questions I came upon the realization that I had a real “hot-air [problem]” (Wiley, 2003, p507). I allowed valuable self-knowledge to fall to the way-side as I made others’ opinions a priority. In reality, my problem wasn’t what I saw about myself, but how I was choosing to view myself. This perpetual stuck-ness was a byproduct of a new kind of rose-colored lenses with huge sh*t stains on them. A parting question to chew over as you consider these thoughts: “who has the right to tell you who you are supposed to feel about yourself?”
Step three: Create a new truth.
As I stop and reflect upon the insights from this exercise, I find the experience to be reminiscent of the Hans Christian Andersen’s fable “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The truth of who I am, has been foresaken for a lifetime of shame-inducing messages based on complete bullsh*t. What I love about this fable is it effectively showcases the notion of pluralistic ignorance. Everybody assumes the group is correct in failing to recognize the king is naked. Nobody wants to be the first to point this fact out and be the oddball out. Therefore, everyone pretends not to notice. As a result, in the context of the social situation at hand, truth becomes bullsh*t and bullsh*t becomes truth. As that boy who yells to the king: “put some f*cking clothes on you retard!”, this is a truly crazy-making experience.
A big lesson I learned learned the hard way, pertains to how one might begin wading through all this perceptual baggage:
You can change an opinion with the mind but facts exist independent of what your thoughts are on the matter.
In other words, truths and facts must be sifted through and put into proper perspective. Facts require radical acceptance, since to ignore them is willful ignorance. The serenity prayer is very pertinent here. In contrast, for an opinion to hold truth it must first be believed in. They exist in the realm subjectivity and reflect the meanings we imbue our experiences with. An opinion without basis in fact is bullsh*t. What’s truly pathetic is I chose baseless opinions over undeniable fact as key reference point in the building of my self-esteem. It’s like my husband recently noted: “if self-esteem is a ‘self’ issue why do we blame others for it?” My bullies have called me mean names but I believed them. The same goes for a severely dysfunctional relationship in college. He did what he did, but I stayed and put up with it.
Parting thoughts…. You can’t change a bad situation with the same mindset you used to get yourself in it.
Brown, B. (2006). Shame resilience theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame. Families in Society, 87(1), 43.48.
Gilbert, P. (2005). Compassion: Comceptualzations, research, and use in psychotherapy. Routlege.
In therapy, we give to others based on who we are, and not what we know. Landreth, (2002), asserts this is especially true for when working with children. Creating a therapeutic atmosphere, displays of personal courage, and self-understanding, are important for therapists when working with children (Landreth, 2002). Below, I describe each of these qualities and discuss areas in need of improvement.
Creating a Therapeutic Atmosphere.
The adult-child relationship that exists in the context of play therapy is unique in every child’s experience (Landreth, 2002). Rarely experienced with adults, child therapists engage in a playful interaction that is not “verbally bound” (Landreth, 2002, p96). Child therapists display a genuine sensitivity and interest in a child’s thoughts and feelings. Landreth’s (2002) description of the respect and sensitivity required in play therapy, reminds of Marsha Linehan’s concept of emotional validation. When a child’s perspective is met with validation, they allowed experience acceptance, understanding, and a sense of legitimacy (Linehan, 1997). Rather than managing or correcting a client’s feelings, a child therapist should seek to respect the validity of this experience from the child’s viewpoint (Linehan, 1997). The intentionality required to provide this therapeutic atmosphere, requires a great amount of awareness (Landreth, 2002).
When I consider all that is required to provide this therapeutic environment, there are several areas of improvement that come to mind. As a mother, letting go of “mommy-mode” will be a challenge as I adopt the child therapist’s perspective. The disciplinary and limit setting elements of motherhood would need to take a back seat. Additionally, as someone who tends to process things verbally, letting go of this mode of interaction for a play-oriented one, would be a new experience for me. One key strength I bring is an appreciation of validation, as a critical element in all therapy (Linehan, 1997). I feel my current profession, has provided me many opportunities to develop this basic skill.
Landreth (2002), discusses several personality characteristics essential for a child therapist. When reviewing these characteristics, I thought personal courage presented the biggest challenge for me personally. Landreth (2002), describes it as a willingness to admit our mistakes and shortcomings (p102). This concept is similar to Brene Brown’s (2006), notion of vulnerability which she defines as a willingness be truly seen by risking exposure. This sort of personal courage goes against one’s natural psychological defenses against hurt or shame (Brown, 2006). Acting as a child therapist out of personal courage requires a non-defensive expressiveness. On the one hand, I do have much patience, and am fairly secure in acknowledging my shortcomings (Landreth, 2002). These qualities can help me display personal courage in my interactions with children during therapy. On the other hand, I do believe a high degree of self-awareness and mindfulness is required. This requires an amount of self-care that is currently hard to sustain, as a night-shift worker. Hopefully, with a different work schedule in my future career, this could be remedied somewhat.
An awareness of our “motivations, blind spots, and biases” (Landreth, 2002, p103), is critical for any therapist. As Landreth, (2002) notes, the values and ideals underlying these issues are integral to who we are, and we should be aware of them for this reason. Since we give to others on the basis of who we are, it is our responsibility to understand how these issues can impede or promote our efforts. While I do consider myself to be a highly self-aware individual as a lifelong self-help junkie, this quality still presents a challenge. The idea that my personal motivations or biases could enter a play therapy setting makes me cringe somewhat. The best solution is to make personal growth and self-care is a priority. This would allow me to gain a awareness of how I become an integral part of the therapeutic relationship so I can act more proactively.
Plan for Improvement
As I read through the above descriptions of three essential qualities, I realize improvement is unlikely to occur overnight. As a student therapist, I believe personal development should be an ongoing concern. The following goals can help me develop these essential skills for working with children in therapy.
Goal One: Seek Opportunities to Work with Children. While this class can provide a vital foundation of knowledge to begin working with children, experience is essential. I need to seek opportunities to work with children, in order to better understand how to be of a therapeutic benefit in this community. This can include seeking work-related opportunities, volunteering, and choosing my internship placement carefully.
Goal Two: Be Mindful of How You Respond to Others’ Emotions. The therapeutic environment child therapist’s seek to create provides clients with a unique respectful and validating experience. Being mindful of how I choose to “attend” to the emotions and thoughts of all children in my life is a good start. How do I take time to listen and acknowledged the grain of truth in my sons’ feelings and thoughts? Do I rush to correct any misperception without listening? Considerations such as these, can help me understand how realistically develop this unique way of relating to children and adolescents.
Goal Three: Display Personal Courage in Conversations with Sons. My oldest son is 15 and lately I’ve found the personal dynamic between us changing. He is very bright and observant, and can at times bring up issues that touch upon my own mistakes and shortcomings. While he doesn’t do so in a disrespectful way, I find I may react with occasional twinges of defensiveness. I’ve currently practiced, the vulnerability that is integral to personal courage in these conversations. This effort has taught me what Landreth (2002) says about how we give to children on the basis of who we are and not our internal knowledge bank.
Goal Four: Journal Regularly & Seek Therapy As Needed. Prior to entering this program, I had been in therapy for about five years. I still remain in contact with my therapist, and as needed, I may still visit her from time to time throughout my career. I believe self-understanding requires commitment in the form of adequate self-care coupled with time for reflection. I enjoy journaling and blogging, and these efforts have provided great insight into myself. I will continue doing these things in order to promote greater self-understanding in my new role as a therapist.
Landreth, G. (2002) Play therapy: The art of the relationship (3rd Ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Linehan, M. (1997). Validation and psychotherapy. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Brown, B. (2006). Shame resilience theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame. Families in society: The journal of contemporary social services,87(1), 43-52.
In a video Dr. Imber-Black (Family Secrets, 2006), defines secrets as information which is withheld from someone that produces distress and shame as well as create symptoms of dysfunction in a family. Keeping secrets requires a degree of heightened tension and anxiety. Communication is less open and individuals are less emotionally present. For the secret-keeper a feeling of shame perpetuates the secrete and an anxious worry that “if you knew you wouldn’t love me anymore” pervades their thinking (Family Secrets, 2006). In contrast the person unaware of this secret, exists in the family as an outsider within the system. At some level they are aware of this fact and that there is a problem, but they feel they are not supposed to notice. (Family Secrets, 2006). In addition to worry and confusion, individuals left in the dark begin to doubt their own intuitions. Over time, family secrets develop into a systemic problems that affect many generations. Imber-Black (Family Secrets, 2006), describes relationships as booby-trapped, waiting to explode symptomatically as a result of the ongoing secrecy. Triangles, betrayal, and hidden-alliances as just a few symptoms of secrecy in families that can develop over time (Family Secrets, 2006). In the end, nobody is able to live as a whole individual in full acknowledgment of the truth (Family Secrets, 2006). In time boundaries are laid down in which those who know and don’t know become divided (Family Secrets, 2006). Symptoms of these secrets are maintained and supported by efforts as by family members to maintain secrecy for the sake of a systemic homeostasis.
Secrets Supporting Symptoms
Imber-Black states that “knowing, but acting like you don’t know and pretending you are what you are not” are key components of secret keeping (Family Secrets, 2006). With this in mind, what exactly is meant by Imber-Black’s assertion that “secrets support symptoms” (Family Secrets, 2006)? The maintenance of family secrets requires a concerted and coordinated effort by everyone in the family. These efforts can involve the closed communication systems, rigid boundaries and emotional distance. By keeping a secret, the family is able to maintain homeostasis, although change is unable to happen for the better. For this reason, I am in agreement with Imber-Black’s therapeutic stance regarding the Reiger family secrets. While Imber-Black is supportive of whatever decision the family makes, and allows them to move at their own pace, she makes her position clear (Family Secrets, 2006). Secrets restrict the free flow of information, harming everyone involved. The secret keeper, is left with distress and shame and unable to live life outside this reality (Family Secrets, 2006). At the same time, this secret violates a person’s right to know, and “affects their ability to freely [process all information] about their lives” (Family Secrets, 2006)
Understanding The Positive Outcome
What factors attributed to a positive outcome in this particular case? Not all instances of revealing family secrets, are likely to go as well as they did within the Reiger family. Fortunately several important factors were working in their favor. Firstly, I feel it helps that Dr. Imber-Black was the therapist. As an individual who has studied, written, and researched extensively on this issue, she was able to delineate several symptoms of family secrecy in the video. Additionally, I do feel it helps that some time has pasted since the tragic circumstances of Jerry’s death. The emotions surrounding these events are a bit “less raw”. I also think the strength of Ray and Liz’s marriage helped them work through this issue together. They appeared willing to listen and support each other throughout this process. Finally, while Liz’s parents and Jerry’s family had strong opinions about their marriage at the time, fortunately they were able to move past these issues. It seems they were open-minded enough to see things from Galen’s viewpoint, and how this secrecy was a dis-service to him.
In cases where things do not go very well, I would expect to see a family divided, as a result of this new information. The mourning of a lost relationship is strangely similar to a death “of sorts” as family members stopped communicating. The end result is a long process of “radical acceptance” and “forgiveness” in order to begin moving forward. The toughest thing in such cases is the realization that you can only have control over your own actions and behavior.
I greatly appreciated the fact that the instructor included this video. I struggled with the hypothetical ethical scenarios several weeks ago that touched on this very subject. Having this information in hand, provides a useful perspective with which to better clarify one’s understanding of the systemic effects of secrecy.
Family Secrets: Implications for Theory and Therapy [Video file]. (2006).Psychotherapy.net.
Retrieved October 15, 2015, from The Psychotherapy.net Collection.
Imber-Black, E. (1999). The Secret Life of Families: Making Decisions about Secrets: when Keeping Secrets Can Harm You, when Keeping Secrets Can Heal You–and how to Know the Difference. Bantam Dell Publishing Group.
This series has served as a writing exercise “of sorts” that can allow me to work through feelings of shame that still remain. As is typical with a child’s-eye-view of the world, I perceived life as if it revolved around me. This self-centered viewpoint, made it difficult, to varying degrees, for me to see others’ perspectives. As a sensitive child, I tended to take all the bullying and ostracism of my childhood personally. By the time I reached high school graduation, all I wanted to do is put as much space (physically and chronologically) from this experience as I could. I remember leaving for college with huge hopes. However, it quickly became apparent that this would require a significant amount of effort on my own part. It’s only in the last decade of my life, that I’ve taken time to look back at these experiences without feelings of self-blame and hatred welling up inside me. I’ve learned to accept the fact that there are those from my past who may never see me beyond an outdated set of preconceived notions. In a way, this series represents the final step in the long process of healing, forgiveness, and acceptance.
In the wound-licking phase, I simply began to work through the unresolved hurt instead of burying it…
This process started in my later 30’s when I first sought out a therapist because I felt “Stuck”. It took a while to understand the nature of this stuckness & what was holding me back. Until this point, my life was like an invisible minefield. There were some things – things that reminded me of events I was trying to forget – that became excruciating. It was all too much, so I spent time going through the motions and checked out on the basement sofa watching t.v. like a mindless blob. Or I would nap, my other favorite maladaptive coping tool. I began to see a therapist, I completed a DBT course, worked on the relationship with my sister and slowly, I somehow felt safe in the world. In time, this healing allowed me to gain some clarity by viewing directly things that had previously been too I was empowered with a solution the problem that involved action on my part.
However, more needed to be done. Feelings of shame and invalidation had plagued me. That is, until my mother recommended I read this book….
PART ONE: The Consequences of being an “Other” (i.e. biracial / mixed race)…
ME = “One of those things that is not like the other”
I usually call my mother once every two weeks just to see how she’s doing. At some point in the conversation, I am usually provided an update on the “local gossip”. During one of these conversations, my mother mentioned an old classmate of mine: May-lee Chai. She was a senior in high school while I was a freshman. We didn’t know each other well and I only remember as one of the many faces I passed by in the halls between classes. At any rate, she asked me if I heard about that book she had written: “Hapa Girl: A Memoir”. She said bought a copy and urged me to read it, since she felt it might “resonate” with my own childhood experiences….
When I first read it, I remember reflecting on my childhood from a new perspective. Until this point I thought it was “all my fault”. This book helped me to contextualize my experiences. There were forces much larger than me at work…
So where do I start? How can I begin to adequately describe my own experience of being biracial? How have I dealt with the idea that I’m not perceived as I am? What is it like to live between world’s? What follows are random thoughts, in no particular order….
In the video above, the narrator describes the twins as “black and white”. Based on phenotype characteristics that each girl carries, they are so labeled. It amazes me, how people are so quick to forget that the meatsuits we wear, don’t accurately reflect what dwells within us. In reality, there are four abstract constructs which together are effective in developing a basic understanding of a biracial individual’s experience of race. Together they explain what it is like to live within an unclear “in-between” space. These constructs are: (1) genotype; (2) phenotype; (3) identity; & (4) culture. Understanding how they converge within an individual’s life can help quite a bit in explaining their racial identity. They are useful in understanding the diversity of experiences amongst biracial experiences, as well as the issue of colorism…
FACTORS 1 & 2: Genotype vs. Phenotype…
Genotype refers to the DNA you carry within you. You get half from your mother and half from your father. For example, at geneaology.com they studies of populations around the world. When individuals are isolated historically these populations tend to share genes for traits that are conducive to survival in that area. When you submit a test at genealogy.com, they tell you what subsets of the human population are present in your genes.
Phenotype has to do with your physical features, how do you look? What is the color of your skin, your face shape, and hair color? The point is, you can have the same set of parents, but inherit different subsets. Therefore, two genetically biracial individuals can have very different appearances.
Critical Point #1 – regarding these two factors, I have a genotype / phenotype mismatch problem. This means I am not what I am. Due to the random qualities that define my meat suit, I am classified within a preconceived ideas that do not relate to my own lived experience of self…
FACTOR 3: What is Identity?
The DSM-5 Manual defines Identity as follows: “[the] experience of oneself as unique with clear boundaries between self and others; stability of self-esteem and accuracy of self appraisal; capacity for, and ability to regulate, a range of emotional experience.” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p823). As a biracial individual the experience of how others see us diverges from the inner knowing of who they are. Regarding how others’ experience, I feel as if I’m a man inside a monkey suit wearing upon my being the preconceived notions of others. I wait for somebody to see within to the real me, but it happens rarely. R.D. Laing (1990), summarizes this experience succinctly in his book “The Divided Self”. In contrast, the description of our inner sense of self is best described in my old course textbook (Corsini & Wedding, 2013).
Critical Point #2: “The usual sense of the self as being who we ‘really are’ and as being continuous and consistent over time seems to be an illusory construction of imprecise awareness….similar to the ‘flicker fusion phenomenon’ by which photographs projected successively on a movie screen…we suffer from a case of mistaken identity. We are not who, or even what, we thought we were. What we take to be our real self is merely an illusory construct” (Wedding & Corsini, 2013, p467).
FACTOR 4: What is culture?
Culture provides another set of mental programs relevant to a society (Chung & Bemak, 2002). It consists of a shared system of meanings within society that define modes of expression and communication, (Chung & Bemak, 2002; Nazir, et al, 2009). It influences how we view the world around us and sets the normative standards for behavior (Chung & Bemak, 2002; Nazir, et al, 2009). As a form of “mental programming” (Chung & Bemak, 2002, p282), it defines our value systems and preferred ways of thinking and feeling.
Critical Factor #3: I was given two diverging, (and frequently oppositional) cultural perspectives. Nobody fully understood this and I was largely left on my own to feel my way in the dark…
While working on my master’s degree, I was working and had little time for anything else. On the back burner, I placed everything unnecessary and “survival” became my priority. I remember reading various articles for homework assignments and being “highly intrigued” by the information I was taking in. It held information that was interesting personally as well as professionally. As I work through this blog, I continue digging through files of things I’ve save, with the intention of “bloggging on it” when time would allow. Here I am about a year later – finally getting around to it.
“individuals who live at the juncture between two cultures and can lay a claim to belonging to both cultures, either by being of mixed racial heritage or born in one culture and raised in a second, should be considered marginal people. Park suggested that marginality leads to psychological conflict, a divided self, and disjointed person” (LaFromboise, et al, 1993, p. 395)
I have these piles of folders divided into subject categories. Inside them are copies of assorted notes, assignments, and articles that I’ve printed with ideas jotted in the margins. The quote above does an excellent job of describing succinctly, how I’ve felt as a biracial individual with a broad-based culturally diverse perspective of the world. The Sesame Street video below describes my experiences as an individual who lives between worlds. I am both my mother and father, yet I am also like neither of them….
ME = Three of these kids belong together. Three of these kids are kind of the same. But one of these kids (i.e. me) is doing his own thing
“The Psychological Impact of Biculturalism”
So without boring you to death, I want to quickly review this article titled: “They Psychological Impact of Biculturalism”, as a jumping off point. This article begins by describing what individual’s need to be culturally competent to function in a society.
“In order to be culturally competent, an individual would have to (a) possess a strong personal identity, (b) have knowledge of and facility with the beliefs and values of the culture, (c) display sensitivity to the affective processes of the culture, (d) communicate clearly in the language of the given cultural group, (e) perform socially sanctioned behavior, (f) maintain active social relations within the cultural group, and (g) negotiate the institutional structures of that culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 395).
This article the provides an overview of different models utilized in research, to describe the varied transitions that occur between an immigrant and the country he has chosen to reside in. What follows is a “quick and dirty” overview….
ASSIMILATION: “The underlying assumption of all assimilation models is that a member of one culture loses his or her original cultural identity as he or she acquires a new identity in a second culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 396).
ACCULTURATION: “assimilation approach emphasizes that individuals, their offspring, or their cultural group will eventually become full members of the majority group’s culture and lose identification with their culture of origin. By contrast, the acculturation model implies that the individual, while becoming a competent participant in the majority culture, will always be identified as a member of the minority culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 397).
ALTERNATION: “The alternation model of second-culture acquisition assumes that it is possible for an individual to know and understand two different cultures. It also supposes that an individual can alter his or her behavior to fit a particular social context.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 400).
MULTICULTURAL: “The multicultural model promotes a pluralistic approach to understanding the relationship between two or more cultures. This model addresses the feasibility of cultures maintaining distinct identities while individuals from one culture work with those of other cultures to serve common national or economic needs. In this model it is recognized that it may not be geographic or social isolation per se that is the critical factor in sustaining cultural diversity but the manner of multifaceted and multidimensional institutional sharing between cultures. Berry (1986) claimed that a multicultural society encourages all groups to (a) maintain and develop their group identities, (b) develop other-group acceptance and tolerance, (c) engage in intergroup contact and sharing, and (d) learn each other’s language.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 401).
FUSHION: “The fusion model of second-culture acquisition represents the assumptions behind the melting pot theory. This model suggests that cultures sharing an economic, political, or geographic space will fuse together until they are indistinguishable to form a new culture. The respectful sharing of institutional structures will produce a new common culture.” (Framboise, et al, 1993, p. 402).
So what’s the need for this list of terms? Why is it necessary?
I simply include it to indicate that the issues that can potentially arise for individuals living in a foreign country are to great to list. For that matter, there is a high degree of variability amongst immigrants who are trying to make a life in a new country. Factors such as socioeconomic status, education level, language familiarity, ethnic pride, and local race relations can all have a huge impact an individual’s experience.
My mother and her sister are an excellent example of this…
My mom is from the Philippines and is the youngest of two children. Her sister Rebecca is just 18 months older. Consequently they’ve always had a very competitive relationship. My mom is describes her older sister is much more popular and much more successful in school. She on the other hand had just a few friends and was very shy. To top this off she kind of had an inferiority complex next to her sister and was never really good in school and didn’t quite catch up to her until about seven to grade. This sense of insecurity and competition also spilled into the issue of appearance. My mother always described her sister as the prettier one. Her sister was always faired skinned and curvy and this made my mother jealous. My mother on the other hand past the paper bag test and your mother I was giving her a hard time about being skinny and was constantly instituting various plans to help her gain weight – all of which never worked. As a kid, I always found my mother’s insecurity strange, living in a “mostly-white” midwest town. All my classmates were obsessed with tanning in the summer and could never ever be thin enough. From this vantage point, it seemed strange to me that anybody would complain about being thin and tan…
However, I’m most struck by how my mother & her sister went about building lives in a new country.
My mother was always the “good girl” and very “values oriented” and in this respect, quiet a bit like her mother. On the other hand, her sister was a bit rebellious and more socially adept. She was always popular and much more knowledgeable socially. Its interesting to now my mothers traditionalism played out in her life and how my aunts rebelliousness played in her own. These two divergent characteristics affected their experiences as immigrants living in a new country. My mother was alone in the midwest. There were only a handful of non-whites so I was never exposed to Filipino culture. In contrast, her sister lived in Texas and employed several Filipino women. So my cousin was exposed to her mother’s culture, visited the Philippines several times, and speaks Tagalog. However my mother’s traditionalism caused her to remain reluctant to understanding what it is like to be an an American Teenager. This meant that I was not allowed to wear makeup, shave my legs, or wear bikini-style underwear, much less date. When you consider the fact that I already had few friends and was bullied constantly, this made things very difficult. I had no social guidance whatsoever. I was the oldest firstborn of all the cousins and as a result I was kind a like the guinea pig. My mother decided to raise me according to her own values that she knew and made them a priority. It probably wasn’t until my sister came around that she some understanding of what was needed to help the child survive socially school. So, I was isolated, overprotected and held to social standards that made fitting in difficult. My sister was given opportunities to experience things that I didn’t at her age. While five years younger, she was able to date first, given spending money first, and allowed to be out with friends late – all before me. Oftentimes, what would happen is they bought her a car and then would think, oh we never got one for Kathleen, lets do that….
So what point am I trying to make here???
I am frustrated with the lack of understanding in my family. I talk to my mother, and she talks about how I know nothing about her culture and am basically American. While this may be true in many respects, I blame this fact on my mother who has refused to speak Tagalog in front of me. It is, however, the case that she held me to standards that were her cultures and not my own. As somebody who was already bullied and ostracized quiet a bit, I needed guidance. Yet I got nothing. I sometimes I sacrificed my childhood and years of social development, so my mother could have her “peace of mind”. I will never forget when I told my sister about how I had to wear granny panties to P.E. She laughed and said, “OMG! There’s no way I would allow that to happen!!!” And in that comment is the problem. She didn’t have any idea how different they were with her and how she had chances for normalcy I never did. You see, the problem is the experiences that come together to influence a biracial’s experiences can vary greatly from person to person.
“I don’t count” due to the random qualities that define my meat-suit. My identity feels a farce, and I had to “act as if” I was what others deemed even though this was a lie.
My sister & cousin were allowed the opportunity to live as a normal American Teenagers.
I was cloistered way like a nun. I had no friends & was ostracized. My different-ness stood out like a sore thumb in my small homogeneous town.
The final thought I’d like to make comes from a few articles by Maria Root, who describes racial identity development for individuals of mixed race. There are a few points she makes about racial identity development amongst biracial siblings that are worth noting:
“Siblings of racially mixed heritage…often identify themselves differently from one another” (Root, 1998, p. 237).
“Phenotype does not determine how people identify themselves” (Root, 1998, p. 238).
“Identity can change over the lifetime” (Root, 1998, p. 238).
“A monoracial framework is usually the guide for interpretation of behavior.” (Root, 1998, p. 238).
An Ecological Model of Identity
“The identity [options} are (a) accept the monoracial identity society assigns, (2) actively choose a monoracial identity (congruent with the identity society would assign), (3) define self as biracial or multiracial, (4) develop a “new race” identity.” (Root, 2003, p. 115).
Ecological Models of identity focus on the social and individual factors that influence Identity development. “This model of identity development acknowledges that there are many different ways people of mixed heritage may identify themselves.” (Root, 1993, p. 240). Mixed race individuals frequently see themselves in a way that diverges significantly from how others tend to. Root, (2003 & 1998), discusses the following concepts in her ecological model of racial identity:
MACRO LENS: Gender; Social Class; Race Relations; Sexual Orientation.
MIDDLE LENS: Family Socialization Influences; Temperament; Community Relationships.
PHENOTYPE: Is a factor that influences many of the factors in the middle lens significantly
A Stage Model of Identity
“Typical behaviors of person’s of mixed heritage are…interpreted as signs of poor adjustment. Some of these behaviors stem from ways of sorting out the meaning of race…from a mixed perspective….negative adjustment is not [related to] being mixed…but rather conflict rising in the family and environment and the lack of guidance in resolving developmental crises…” (Root, 2003, p. 113).
Root begins discussing early stage models of racial identity development by reviewing the two primary stages which seem to encompass (1) a desire to adapt to a new culture, (2) response to inherent inequity and racism in American culture.
INITIAL STAGE: “internalization of white reference group that necessarily is accompanied by devalued messages of [minority group] values and culture.” (Root, 2003 p. 114).
TRAUMATIC EVENT: “Awakens the individual to the lack of equity and fairness…There is a retreat and immersion into the racial group of origin to gain support and…as part of the process of undoing the harm of internalized racism.” (Root, 2003, p. 114).
Next, Root provides the following summary of stages that biracial children progress through as they address the idea of “what they are”
“In the first stage, the awareness of race and ethnicity was not necessarily attached to ethnic background….In [the] second stage, people choose a racial identity; their cognitive capacity [in childhood] usually allows a single identtity. The third stage is driven by dissonance between the chosen identity and the incomplete mismatch with ethnic and racial identity.” (Root, 2003, p. 115).
Finally, common questions that arise
“Who am I?” (Idenitity)
Where do I fit in?” (Is there a place in the world I fit with?
Where is my social role?” (“What cultural standard?)
Who is in charge of my life?” (Who tells me what I am?)
“Where am I going?” (what goals?)
<h5><span style=”font-size: 45pt;”>Point #3: “In my own defense” the issue of racial identity added to my insecurities. I felt as if I “didn’t count” for an assortment of reasons. Additionally, I was dealing with things, nobody could understand when you “live between two worlds.”</h5></span>
Benet‐Martínez, V., & Haritatos, J. (2005). Bicultural identity integration (BII): Components and psychosocial antecedents. Journal of personality, 73(4), 1015-1050.
LaFromboise, T., Coleman, H. L., & Gerton, J. (1993). Psychological impact of biculturalism: evidence and theory. Psychological bulletin, 114(3), 395-412.
Root, M. P. (1998). Experiences and processes affecting racial identity development: Preliminary results from the Biracial Sibling Project. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health, 4(3), 237-247.
Part Two: Exploratory Paper from MCC 638 “Social & Cultural Issues”
The purpose of this paper is to closely examine my personal worldview and sociocultural background. In doing so, the goal will be to understand how this influences my future clinical judgment and client interactions. I will begin by utilizing the Addressing Model, (Hays, 2008), to provide a biographical overview of my sociocultural history. The paper will then conclude with a series of interview-style questions, to help reflect and explore my life history in detail. Any personal understanding of my values, cultural identities, and areas of privilege that come from this activity will be used to direct future growth throughout this program.
According to our textbook, a bias is simply a “tendency to think, act, or feel in a particular way.” (Hays, 2008, p24). Personal biases emerge as a result of our upbringing and sociocultural background, (Hays, 2008). Our life history provides us a worldview, value system, identity and cultural background that produce the very biases we carry into therapeutic relationships, (Hays, 2008). In light of this fact, a cultural self-assessment is the first step toward developing greater multicultural competency as a counselor. I start this self-assessment by utilizing the Addressing Model to provide a rough overview of my sociocultural history. I then move on to a series of interview questions, which can help to shed light on areas of privilege, as well as value systems, and identities.
Utilizing the Addressing Model
Age and Generational Influences
My Parent’s Generation. My mother was born in 1938 and my father was born in 1941. They are members of the “silent generation”, born just prior to the baby boom (Martin, 2004). Their earliest years of life occurred while the world was at war. My mother, from the Philippines, grew up in the middle of war. My dad, an American, was ignorant of war altogether. They were both raised to work hard, get an education, and pursue the American Dream. For my mother’s family this meant gathering resources to put both of their two daughters through medical school and then help them to emigrate to the states. For my father’s family, this meant raising their sons in a strict household, expecting them to work hard, and then put themselves to school. In the end, they all did so, earning advanced degrees.
My Generation. I was born in 1969, and grew up in a small college town in South Dakota. Unlike many of my generation, I was spared from having to experience divorce first-hand. With divorce rates, at the time, soaring to 50% in my childhood (Amato & Cheadle, 2005), I was fortunate to have such a realistically positive view of marriage. The experience of witnessing everyone in my extended family enjoying long and happy marriages, has caused me to place a high value in the commitment of marriage and family.
Nonetheless, I am typical of many women in generation in being skeptical of the idea of “having it all”; a popular notion existing in westernized cultures in the aftermath feminist movement (Genz, 2010). While very appreciative of the strides made, I’ve witnessed many women struggle to keep up with home and work life in frustration. Many women in my generation have chosen to put off family, or opt out all together, (Genz, 2010). Still others, such as myself, have chosen to put off career pursuits in favor of focusing on my family life, (Genz, 2010).
Fortunately, I have no physical disabilities or health issues whatsoever. I’ve had the privilege of ignorance that comes with living in a healthy body, and never having to think about living with disability. (Hays, 2008). Nonetheless, I’ve found plenty of opportunity in my life to learn about living with disability. As a hospital tech I have had a great deal of opportunity to work with disabled individuals. As the mother to a son with a congenital defect, I’ve gained insight into experience of raising a child with special needs. I’ve developed an awareness of what it is to deal with physical disability on a daily basis. In fact, I’ve felt a great deal of satisfaction from these experiences, and wish to explore this area as a potential career path.
Religion and Spiritual Orientation
My religious background is complicated, by the fact that my family isn’t unified in its religious beliefs. My father is an atheist, my mother is devoutly catholic, and my sister considers herself a “born-again” evangelical Christian. As an agnostic, I can see everyone’s point of view and respect each one, as right for that person. I don’t feel it is right for anyone to impose my religious beliefs on others. Nonetheless, I do find the other members of my family disagreeing on matters quite often. My sister and mother disagree with the others beliefs on the grounds that it goes against their own. My father refuses to talk about it altogether and this annoys my mother and sister.
Ethnic & Racial Identity
“The ecological model of racial identity development acknowledges that there are many different ways people of mixed racial heritage may identify themselves….These identities do not necessarily coincide with how other persons identify them. Thus the private identity may be different from the public identity assumed or validated by others.” (Root, 1998, p240).
I am a biracial individual, born to a Filipino mother and White father. A book written about my hometown, by author May-Lee Chai, titled “Hapa Girl” (2007), provides a good depiction of my childhood environment overall. Also biracial, she was a senior in high school when I was a freshman and endured much of what I did growing up.
My racial identity can be best described as a personal knowledge I hold within. It isn’t reflected in my phenotypic appearance and consequently is rarely acknowledged in my interaction with others. (Root, 1998). As a result, my identity as biracial is held with pride despite often being refuted and criticized by others. Additionally, because I’ve never been to the Philippines, it isn’t based on any cultural heritage. (Root, 1998) While purely American, from a cultural perspective, I claim both my Asian and American heritage from an identity viewpoint.
The socioeconomic status of my family of origin is solidly upper middle class. In contrast, my family of procreation would most likely be somewhere in the lower middle class. My husband comes a working class background, and had a rough home life. Adding to this, until recently, I’ve put off career pursuits in favor of family. As a result, I have experienced some downward mobility, in a matter of speaking. By marrying someone of a different socioeconomic class, I’m aware of the huge cultural divide between my husband’s family and my own. I feel comfortable in both worlds, yet my husband doesn’t enjoy being around my extended family, (despite getting along with my parents). A quote from a book titled “Reading Classes” by Barbara Jensen (2012) sums up my husband’s experiences well:
“I knew I wasn’t middle class like some others in the movement, and I believed I wasn’t as smart as they were. I knew my brain worked okay, but they knew more, lots more, and I wanted what they had. They often referred to authors I had never read or even heard of. They used words I didn’t understand, and they often talked about their college experiences, worldly travel, orchestral music, and other things with which I had little opportunity and experience. They appeared to all understand one another, but sometimes I just pretended I understood, and then I felt ashamed of both not knowing and pretending.” (Jensen, 2012, p18)
Sexual Orientation & Gender
Sexual Orientation & Cisgender Status. Regarding the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity, I happen to be a cisgendered heterosexual. Being cisgender, I have moved through life with a body that matches my gender of identification, (Levy, 2013). Being a heterosexual, I have a sexual preference that is deemed acceptable by all facets of our society (Levy, 2013). I have never felt the need to think about my sexual orientation or gender identity to the extent I have my racial identity. Any thought I do give to such matters has been purely political in nature, since I’ve always been very supportive of LGBT rights. Having said this, I do feel simply believing in equal rights isn’t enough With ignorance, can come a lack of awareness of things such as subtleties of interaction and the imposition of our biases that can indeed be felt as discriminatory, regardless of their intention, (Hays, 2008)
Being Female. While being a female certainly implies a second-class status, it must be noted that the degree to which this is experience varies by culture. Fortunately, my sociocultural background has been one which values and empowers women. Having said this, it would be fruitful to learn about the implications of being female in cultures other than my own, as a matter of perspective.
Indigenous Heritage & National Origin.
On the one hand, I’m an American living in the United States and have no experience living in another country. I am neither an immigrant nor of indigenous heritage. On the other hand, with a mother who emigrated from the Philippines, I’ve witnessed a bit of what it is like to balance the influences of two competing cultures. Described best as a biculturalism, (LaFramboise, et al, 1993), raising a family in a foreign culture was certainly problematic for my mom. From my perspective, the cultural gap that resulted did require time to work through. Having not occurred until well into my own adulthood, I have a relationship with my mother today, which is very different from that of my childhood.
Cultural Self-Assessment Interview
In this portion of the paper, I move on to a series of self-assessment interview questions. It is my intention to answer each within the Addressing Model framework. I will consider how each question applies to my sociocultural history as described within this model.
Social Expectation & Identity.
“When I was born what were the social expectations for a person of my identity?” (Ajuoga, 2014). My biggest struggles with social expectations associated with identity, are in the areas of: (1) gender roles, (2) race identity, (3) socioeconomic class, and (4) religious affiliation. Other addressing components such as disability, sexual orientation, and indigenous heritage, have been of little concern. I will address these areas of struggle in turn, leaving female gender roles issues, for later.
Racial & Ethnic Identity. As mentioned already, I have experienced a great deal of confusion regarding my ethnic identity. My own biracial identity has been largely met with messages of disapproval, with others needing to inform me what they believe is the correct one (Root, 1998). It has taken some time, to sort through this issue as I’ve learned to let go of the idea that validation from others is ever a realistic expectation, (LaFramboise, et al, 1993).
Religious Identity. While my mother’s family is devoutly catholic, my father’s family is predominantly agnostic and atheistic. The competing perspectives from this interfaith family background yielded an array of contradictory expectations (McCarthy, 2007). As my sister and I matured, our chosen routes diverged greatly. I came to identify myself as agnostic, while my sister has joined an evangelical church and embraced those ideals. The biggest issues in our family have come as we’ve tried to maintain a sense of integrity while also respecting others’ beliefs (McCarthy, 2007).
Socioeconomic Identity. Maria Root discusses, in her work on mixed race identity, that individuals from such backgrounds can often develop negative biases against one side of their family as result of negative treatment, (Root, 1998). Within my father’s extended family I have experienced just this growing up. The ignorance and ethnocentrism they display, alongside the pride, and unwillingness to see any other perspective has been the source of much pain. As a byproduct of this experience, I’ve developed a negative bias against their upper middle class socioeconomic ideals (Root, 1998). It’s only in my adulthood, that I’ve been aware of how much I rejected this component of my identity, while embracing husband’s working class background instead, (Root, 1998). Coming to terms with this will be essential in my growth as a counselor (Hays, 2008).
Norms, Values & Gender Roles.
“When I was a teenager, what were the norms, values, and gender roles supported within my family, by my peers, in my culture and in the dominant culture” (Ajouga, 2014)” Overall, a great deal of conflict exists with norms, values, and gender role expectations in my extended family. Additional conflicts were present between my familial and environmental norms and values growing up.
In an article an on biculturalism mentioned in our textbook, there is a discussion of the impact of living between cultures (LaFrombroise, et al, 1993). This article mentions feelings of psychological discomfort as the initial result of a dual identity-based consciousness that can have potential benefits in the long run, (LaFrombroise, et al, 1993). Having many conflicting identities, values and belief systems has resulted in much of this discomfort as well as many fruitful life lessons.
Gender roles. Within my family, gender roles brought about much confusion as a child. Conflicting messages existed as a result of complex familial generational and cultural gaps. My dad’s family came from a traditional background, with the belief that women were supposed to stay at home. In contrast, my mother’s family was very forward thinking. Since my maternal grandparents were both teachers, it was very important their daughters go to school. Having two daughters finish medical school was a source of great pride.
These competing perspectives left me with a conflicting and contradictory array of familial gender-based role expectations. Against this backdrop, was the generational influence of being born in the aftermath of the feminist movement, (Genz, 2010). Not feeling the need to having it all, I have instead discovered a path that has worked for me.
Norms and Values. While there were many conflicting norms and values within my extended family, this wasn’t really the biggest issue in the context of day-to-day life as a child. The greatest source of conflict existed between the values and norms my parents held me to in contrast to with what was expected in my hometown. Norms and values regarding: (1) relationships and dating, (2) parental roles, (3) rules of emotional expression, as well as (4) appearance and demeanor stand at the forefront as most problematic.
In keeping with her cultural background, my mother assumed the role of matriarch, and was largely responsible for setting parental limits. My dad, busy at work most of the time, didn’t want to interfere. As a result, my mothers cultural belief systems were the standard we complied with at home. Naturally unbeknownst to them, this key factor resulted in an array of problems throughout my childhood, when it came to fitting in (Chai, 2004; Fortune, 2012).
For example, regarding the issue of appearance, my mother didn’t allow me to shave my legs or wear makeup, and I was bullied endlessly for it. In the arena of dating, I was absolutely forbidden from even considering it until college, because that’s how it was for her growing up, (Fortune, 2012). Added difficulties resulted from differences in parenting role expectations between my mom’s culture and my hometown environment, (Root, 1998). Cultural differences such as these, caused many parents and teachers to misunderstand my mother. They often thought poorly of her parenting style, because it was so different from what they knew. This added to my difficulties in trying fitting in.
“How was my view of the world shaped by the social movements of my teen years?” (Ajouga, 2014) With a population that was mostly white, middle class, and well educated, my hometown had a very ethnocentric feel to it (Chai, 2004). At school, a large portion of my classmates came from families that called this town home for several generations (Chai, 2004).. This gave many of my classmates the benefit of a large social network, as well as consistent socialization, on how to follow the values and norms of the local culture (Chai, 2004). Without this knowledge base or support system, fitting in was difficult, and I was bullied throughout much of my childhood, (Chai, 2004). As per Brene Brown’s work on shame, my personal view of the world was based on an underlying identity of shame as she defines it:
“The definition of shame that emerged from the research is, an intensely painful experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance, and belonging.” (Brown, 2006, p45)
“When I was a young adult, what educational opportunities were available to me? And now?” (Ajouga, 2014) While I did enter college with many opportunities for learning, my ability to make the most of them limited by my problematic childhood history. Nonetheless, having been born into an upper-middle class environment to two highly educated parents, provided me with many privileges I failed to appreciate at the time, (Hays, 2008). Today, after having come to terms with my past through counseling, I’m grateful for the opportunity to make the most of these privileges and pursue this degree.
“What generational roles make up my core identity (eg., auntie, father, adult child, grandparent)?” (Ajouga, 2014). Key generational roles which are strongly associated with my identity, include my roles as a daughter and mother. In fact, I hold my role as parent before any others in my life. Having nearly lost my oldest after several open heart surgeries and then suffering a miscarriage before giving birth to my youngest, I value my time with my kids greatly. It’s been my goal in life to learn the lessons from my parents, and be there in ways they were not able to. Making sacrifices for my kids, showering them with affection and cherishing our time together are key priorities in my daily life.
Regarding my role as daughter, while I’m not as close to them as I’d wish, I do strongly identify with my duties to them. As the oldest child with a background in health care, its expected that I be there to care for them when they age. I plan on trying my best to live up to this expectation as a show if respect and love, knowing action and not words work best a communicating such things with them.
In completing this assignment, I’m actually surprised at how much I learned about myself. Rereading my personal history has been quite enlightening, as a much-needed perspective within to contextualize the outcome of my life. It’s cleared while my complex sociocultural history yielded much stress as a child, its also provided me with wonderful opportunities for personal growth. Inspired by this fact, I am committed to a lifelong process of learning as a counselor and plan to use these insights as I worked completing my degree.
Ajouga, P. (2014). Re: MCC 638 Week Two Overview. Retrieved from
Genz, S., (2010). Singled Out: Postfeminism’s “New Woman” and the Dilemma of Having It All. The Journal of Popular Culture, (43)1, 97-119.
Hays, P. (2008). Addressing cultural complexities in practice. (2nd Ed.) Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Jensen, B. (2012). Reading Classes : On Culture and Classism in America. Ithaca: ILR Press.
LaFromboise, Coleman, H.L.K. & Gerton, J. (1993). Psychological impact of biculturalism: Evidence and theory. Psychological Bulletin. 114(3) 395-412.
Levy, Denise L. “On the outside looking in? The experience of being a straight, cisgender qualitative researcher.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 25.2 (2013): 197-209.
Martin, C.A. (2004) “Bridging the generation gap (s).” Nursing2013. 34(12)62-63.
McCarthy, K. (2007). “Pluralist Family Values: Domestic Strategies for Living with Religious Difference” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 612(1) 187-208.
Root, M.P.P. (1998) Experiences and processes affecting racial identity development: Preliminary results from the biracial sibling project. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health. 4(3) 237-247.
Point #3: “In my own defense” the issue of racial identity added to my insecurities. I felt as if I “didn’t count” for an assortment of reasons. Additionally, I was dealing with things, nobody could understand when you “live between two worlds.”
“I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show and they had one thing in common: they all wanted validation” – Oprah
What is Invalidation???
While I haven’t been a therapist for very long, I have noticed that Oprah definitely has a point. Every individual I’ve seen thus far simply seeks validation. In fact, it appears to be a critical factor in the development of a therapeutic relationship. From the outset, it seems my clients are asking themselves: “does this lady get it at all?” So with this in mind, I find myself asking the question, how can I learn to effectively communicate validation with my clients? However, before I can answer this question, it may be essential to first start with defining the concept. Here a few useful quotes that tell us what validation “is not”:
Pervasive invalidation occurs when, more often than not, caregivers treat our valid primary responses as incorrect, inaccurate, inappropriate, pathological, or not to be taken seriously. Primary responses of interest are persistently squelched or mocked; normal needs for soothing are regularly neglected orshamed; honest motives consistently doubted and misinterpreted. The person therefore learns to avoid, interrupt, and control his or her own natural inclinations and primary emotional responses. Like a creature in a chamber with an electrified grid for the floor, he or she learns to avoid any step that results in pain and invalidation. (Koerner, 2012, p28-29)
How others understand your feelings when reacting with invalidation
How others treat your feelings when reacting with invalidation
Linehan, (1993), adds that invalidating responses cause us to feel others are ignoring, minimizing and/or punishing our inner emotional experiences. What are the consequences of emotional invalidation? A pervasive distrust of one’s own emotions, thoughts, and perceptions are inherently flawed. From within this preconceived vantage point it is nearly impossible to develop any sense of personal agency or sense of worth. The predefined lens through which one enters life is defined by shame and self-invalidation. “self-invalidation refers to the adoption by an individual the characteristics of the invalidating environment” (71-72, linehan, 1993)
“in Invalidating Environments a person learns to avoid, interrupt, and control his or her own natural inclinations and primary emotional responses. Like a creature in a chamber with an electrified grid for the floor, he or she learns to avoid any step that results in pain and invalidation…we avoid personal thoughts, sensations, or emotions that put you at risk of experiencing an invalidating event with someone else….”(Koerner, 2012, p. 6).
“Pervasive invalidation creates exquisite sensitivity. The slightest cue can set off emotional pain, the equivalent of touching third-degree burns…Because the individual cannot control the onset and offset of events that trigger emotional responses, the person can become desperate for anything that will make the pain end” (Koerner, 2012, p. 7)
validating responses teach us to use emotion to understand what is happening within and outside our skin as a moment-to-moment readout of our own state and our needs with respect to the environment. In an optimal environment, caregivers provide contingent, appropriate soothing for strong emotions. They strengthen and help the individual refine the naturally adaptive, organizing, and communicative functions of emotions. None of us get the perfectly optimal environment, of course. (Koerner, 2012, p. 28-29)
The essence of validation is this. The therapist communicates to the client that her responses make sense and are understandable within her current life context or situation. The therapist actively accepts the client and communicates this acceptance to the client. The therapist takes the client’s responses seriously and does not discount or trivialize them. Validation strategies require the therapist to search for, recognizeand reflect to the client the validity inherent in her response to events. With unruly children parents have to catch them while they’re good in order to reinforce their behavior, similarly, the therapist has to uncover the validity within the client’s response, sometimes amplify it, and then reinforce it (Linehan, 1993, pp 222-223)
How others understand your feelings when reacting with validation
“A validating response occurs when a person expresses his or her private experience to another person and this expression is met with understanding, legitimacy, and acceptance of this experience (Linehan, 1997). A validating response does not directly seek to change or alter a person’s emotional experience. Instead, it seeks to highlight the emotional experience in order to facilitate an individual’s acceptance and experiencing of the emotion. This validation can influence individual emotion regulation in several ways. First, validating responses are believed to minimize the frequency, intensity, and duration of an emotional reaction, especially those involving negative affect, making regulation more likely. Second, validating responses promote the learning of skills for regulating emotions because they promote more disclosures of emotional states which facilitate the experiencing of an emotion and consequently its expression and regulation” (Fruzzetti & Shenk, 2008).
Validation promotes learning of emotional regulation skills.
Empathy vs. Validation.
“Whereas empathy is the accurate understanding of the world from the client’s perspective, validation is the active communication that the client’s perspective makes sense (i.e., is correct). To validate means to confirm, authenticate, corroborate, substantiate, ratify, or verify. To validate, the therapist actively seeks out and communicates to the client how a response makes sense by being relevant, meaningful, justifiable, correct, or effective. Validating an emotion, thought, or action requires empathy, an understanding of the particular or unique significance of the context from the other person’s perspective. However, validation adds to this the communication that the emotion, thought, or action is a valid response. Were the client to ask, “Can this be true?” empathy would be understanding the “this” whereas validation would be communicating “yes” (Koerner & Linehan, 2004, p. 456).
In part one , I provide a “Cliff’s Notes Overview” to know about validation and information from various sources that can help us discern what validation is not. In this section, I would like to review information from another resource that describes how we do validate others…
QUESTION ONE: “What do we validate???”
Based on information reviewed thus far, its certainly clear that validation is a critical component in the therapeutic process. However, the question which naturally arrises is “what should I validate?” As a therapist, it would be a disservice to my clients to validate everything they say without question. So what does it mean to validate?
With this in mind it is important to consider what we should validate as therapists. Koerner & Linehan provide the following clarification:
“Validation means the acknowledgement of that which is valid. It does not mean the “making” of something valid. Nor does it mean making validating that which is invalid. The therapist observes, experiences and affirms but does not create validity. That which is valid pre-exists the therapeutic action” (Koerner & Linehan, 2004, p. 477).
In other words, therapists affirm those aspects of a client’s experience that hold validity.
Treating invalid perceptions as correct and accurate is a disservice to our clients. So how can we uncover and discern the grain of truth in a client’s viewpoint? In the next section I will review a few suggestions from Koerner & Linehan (2004).
QUESTION TWO: How do we find valid elements in a client’s exeriences?
Something can be valid based on an assessment of the empirical facts.
For example, I’ve had always had conflicting feelings about being biracial. I don’t feel I’m accurately perceived am, due to the random characteristics that define my meat suit. I also have quite a bit of baggage from my childhood due to racist and ethnocentric attitudes in my extended family. I try to validate my own personal sense of identity as a biracial person by reminding me of the empirical facts. I have a Filipino mother and a white father. Therefore, I am biracial. Nobody’s opinions can render these facts invalid.
Sometimes a client’s perspective can be valid in terms of the pre-existing causal factors they describe.
One day, my sister and I were talking about various childhood memories and she made the observation that I could have handled the bullying differently. I was too sensitive and isolated myself. At the time she said this I was quite hurt, (this was several years ago). Based on an objective empirical assessment of facts – my sister certainly had a point. However the problem with empirical assessments is that they are based on logic and external observation. Left out of the equation were unique pre-existing causal factors that she overlooked. Failing to understand my own subjective experience is failing to understand me.
Sometimes a client’s perspective can be valid in terms of their long term goals and the observed consequences of their actions.
“The client’s response may be valid in terms of past learning history…or current circumstances.. But her response may be simultaneously invalid in that it may be ineffective to her long-term goals” (Koerner & Linehan, 3004, p. 458).
QUESTION THREE: When is validation contraindicated?
“The only true contraindication is that therapists should not validate invalid behavior. That is, the therapist does not want to validate responses that are dysfunctional and incompatible with progress toward the agreed-upon therapeutic goals” (Koerner & Linehan, 2004, p. 459), Keep in mind, validation is a form of reinforcement. It is a form of communicated acceptance that can act as a counterbalance to any chance strategies that are utilized.
QUESTION FOUR- How does one validate?
Step #1: Know your client.
Know your client’s biopsychosocial history and the nature of their psychopathology. Be aware of what is valid and invalid for the specific client with this information in mind. “Does the response move the client toward his or her immediate or ultimate goals?” (Koerner & Linehan, 2094, p. 479)
Step #2: Telling it like it is.
If something is valid affirm this fact to be client. If something is not valid address this issue at the appropriate point in time, (depending on the quality of the therapeutic relationship.
“Step 3: Validate at the Highest Possible Level” (Koerner & Linehan, 2004, p 461).
What does this mean? Koerner & Linehan, (2004) are alluding to the idea that it isn’t just what you say but how you say it. In other words, actions speak louder than words.
“The first step in validation is the listening to and observing what the client is saying, feeling, and doing as well as a corresponding active effort to understand what is being said and observed” (Linehan, 1997, p. 360)
The second level of validation is the accurate reflection back to the client of the client’s own feelings, thoughts, assumptions, and behaviors” (Linehan, 1997, p. 360)
”In level three of validation, the therapist communicates to the client his or her understanding of aspects of the client’s experience and response to events that have not been communicated directly by the client.” (Linehan, 1997, p. 364)
“At level four, behavior is validated in terms of its causes. Validation here is based on the notion that all behavior is caused by events occurring in time and, thus, in principle, is understandable…feelings, thoughts, and actions make perfect sense in the context of the person’s current experience” (Linehan, 1997, p. 367)
”At level five, the therapist communicates that behavior is justifiable, reasonable, well-grounded, meaningful, or efficacious in terms of current events, normative biological functioning, and the client’s ultimate life goals.” (Linehan, 1997, p. 370).
“In level six, the task is to recognize the person as he or she is, seeing and responding to the strengths and capacities of the individual while keeping a firm empathic understanding of the client’s actual difficulties and incapacities” (Linehan, 1997, p. 377).
Gilbert, P. (Ed.). (2005). Compassion: Conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy. Routledge.
Koerner, K (2012). Doing dialectical behavior therapy: A practical guide. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Koerner, K., & Linehan, M. M. (2004). 68 VALIDATION PRINCIPLES AND STRATEGIES. Cognitive behavior therapy: Applying empirically supported techniques in your practice, 456-462.
Leahy, R. L. (2005). A social–cognitive model of validation. Compassion: Conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy, 195-217.
Linehan, M. M. (1997). Validation and psychotherapy. Empathy reconsidered: New directions in psychotherapy, 353-392.
McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2010). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, Emotion regulation & distress tolerance. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications
Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.
Newell, J. M., & MacNeil, G. A. (2010). Professional burnout, vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue. Best Practices in Mental Health, 6(2), 57-68.
I suspect you have no idea how much I have been hurt by your treatment of me. My differentness truly offended you and made you ashamed. It left me feeling like a scarlet letter was tattooed indelibly in my forehead 24:7. Thank’s so much for that.
I was a means to an end & nothing more. Your actions were driven by purely narcissistic motives. I was your ego boost you were my band-aid. It was all part of your grand plan to break me down & build me up to your own specifications. Your abusive behavior left its mark on me.
“The family is the microcosm of the world. By knowing how to heal the family, I know how to heal the world….Peace within, peace between, peace among.” (Metcalf, 2011, p. 175).
Virginia Satir, (1916-1988) is the founder of the Satir system of family therapy. Her humanistic perspective intermingled with a respect for empirical research is what makes her approach interesting (Haber, 2002). It incorporates a few central insights that appear in opposition to one another at first glance. On one hand, her approach is centered toward increasing self-esteem of individuals (McClendon, 1999, p31). This occurs through attempts to achieve greater congruence between the mind, body and spirit as well as from a greater level of self awareness overall (McClendon, 1999, p31). On the other hand, against this self-honoring perspective, is one that attempts to understand people in relation to others (Metcalf, 2011). Her utilizes the concept that the whole is greater than its parts (McClendon, 1999). It’s when you take into consideration her own difficult family background that the underlying reasoning for this dichotomous perspective is seen. Virginnia Satir hopes to help others understand that we are more than our past histories (Mishlove, 2010a). Her work her work is geared toward helping clients achieve this underlying end goal.
Satir’s Human Validation Process
Satir’s Human Validation Process utilizes the concept of emotional validation, a notion closely associated with Linehan’s DBT approach. It is important, therefore to differentiate this concept from the laymen’s definition of “valid” which pertains to the factual nature of a “thing”. As Satir uses the term, validation can be thought of as similar to the compassion & empathy – except that goes much deeper. To understand what I’m talking about, it might help to first discuss the concept of invalidation:
What is Invalidation?
Marsha Linehan (1997), defines invalidation as “trivializing, punishing, judging, or ignoring a persons thoughts and feelings”. In a book I own titled “Compassion” the following example shows what might happen if a child never receives any validation:
“Let us imaging the following: A child grows up and never experienced any validation of thoughts or feelings. He is an emotionally feral child, but lives within a community of other people who ignore validation. His parents have a radical behaviorist approach…adhering to the strictly behavioral position that emotions…are meaningless constructs.” (Gilbert, 2005, 199).
What is Validation?
While invalidation means denying an individual’s experience, validation means finding the grain of truth in the reality of their experiences, even if slightly distorted (Gilbert, 2005). SHVP, developed by Virginia Satir, reflects this concept of validation. It focuses on how family patterns influence the growth and well being of its members (Metcalf, 2011). For example, this SHVP describes a variety dysfunctional communication styles and open vs. closed family systems (Metcalf, 2011). This present and experientially -oriented perspecrtive sees individuals as having innate self-actualizing tendencies (Metcalf, 2011). Change, according to Satir, occurs in six stages that are similar to dialectical behavioral therapy (McKay, 2007). Changes to the status quo of a family can only happen when foreign concepts are introduced into the family dynamic (Linehan, 1997; McKay, et al, 2007; Metcalf 2011). It is only after a period of chaos and integration, a new status quo emerges (Linehan, 1997; McKay, et al, 2007); Metcalf, 2011).
“All humans have the ability to change
humans have internal resources to allow growth throughout life.
Humans are innately good.
Coping is related to a person’s level of self-worth…
Change occurs from experiences and leads to insight….
Healthy relationships are based on equality” (Metcalf, 2011, p. 175-176).
A View of the Family
Metcalf (2011) states that Satir’s approach encourages the therapist to find new ways to view the family by encouraging us to confront our views of it. For example, multicultural sensitivity is important in this approach. Additionally, this approach recognizes family structures considered by some as “unconventional”. Human validation is essential with Satir since this allows us to function as a whole person in our relationhips. Family systems are described here as either closed or open systems.
“Closed Systems represent a troubled family dynamic” (Metcalf, 2011, p. 177).
“Open Systems – represent a nurturing family dynamic” (Metcalf, 2011, p. 177).
Eight Universal Internal Resources
Satir, describes eight internal resources within an individual that can be thought of as lays of experience, much like an onion. Each layer is built from the previous one and are listed as follows: (1) physical, (2) intellectual, (3) emotional, (4) sensual, (5) interactional, (6) nutritional, (7) contextual, & (8) spiritual.
In her conversation with Jeffrey Mishlove on “Communication and Congruence”, Satir brings up the issue of dual dialogues (Mishlove, 2010a). Essentially, she states that we are continually engaging in two simultaneous dialogues (Mishlove, 2010a). While one dialogue is comprised of our words, the other is regarding our suppressed beliefs and feelings. As a result, what you have is a left-brained narration against a subconscious right-schema, that can be seen throughout our nonverbal communication. What makes this notion particularly intriguing, is how it can be taken into context with her idea of promoting congruence throughout our lives. This happens by coming to owning all elements of our experiences into the present, and relating them to a greater familial dynamic. (Bahmen, 1986).
Four Dysfunctional Communication Styles
Satir states that our experiences and self-perception create motivational forces within us that have a huge impact on our relationships and the sort of communication patterns we utilize. Satir states that by examiniing the communication patterns within a family we can learn much about the dynamics amongst its’ members. For example, Satir described the following dysfunctional roles that a therapist can uncover within familal communication styles.
Placatar – avoid and cover up uncomfortable truths
Blamer Feels isolated and then attributes others for feeling this way.
Super-Reasonable – Uses logic to deny or discount stressful emotions
Irrelevant distracter – attempts to deflect stress and may flounder between the first three types
Coping As Cause.
Virginia Satir conceives our preferred coping methods, as developing within a larger familial dynamic that are passed along in a transgenerational manner (Bahmen, 1986). As she has famously noted, “The problem is not the problem; it is the coping that is the problem.” (MCclendon, 1999, p31). What is meant by this exactly?
As Satir explains, our understanding of the problem is based on our coping style. This coping style is a reflection of our self-esteem. In Satir’s conception, self esteem is a matter of congruence between our mental, physical and emotional components (McClendon, 1999, p31). Acceptance and appreciation of our individuality at all these levels is essential for self-esteem (Haber, 2002). So how does this lack of self-esteem result in altered coping?
To explain this, it helps to understand Satir’s reference to systems theory to understand family dynamics. In particular, it is often deficient homeostatic mechanisms within a family that can result in the perpetuation of unhealthy coping styles (McClendon, 1999). In a manner similar to the development of attachment styles, coping styles can also form over time. The underlying goal is to maintain an interactional familiar equilibrium style (McClendon, 1999). Examples of common coping styles in Satir’s coping styles, include placation, blaming, and irreverence, and super-reasonableness (Bageman, 1986).
In the video “Becoming More Fully Human”, (Mishlove, 2010b), Satir mentions the notion of unowned emotions It appears to be a critical component in her assertion that a congruent self-esteem is essential. Without this, you have an experiential reality that excludes subconsciously certain components. For example, for those who are super-reasonable in their coping style, you see a wealth of emotions, which they prefer to disown (Bageman, 1986). So what are disowned emotions?
As per Satir, disowned emotions are those parts of ourselves that we fail to acknowledge. They are the result of an unhealthy relationship with feelings, in which we think with them rather than through them. Seeing through the eyes of disowned feelings, means our energy between different components of ourselves (McClendon, 1999). It is for this reason, that bringing our emotional, psychic, and spiritual selves into convergence is so critical to Satir’s theory (Bageman, 1986). They allow for a fuller attendant understanding of present issues.
How Change Counts
Satir describes a six-stage process that begins with an awareness of the nature of the status quo. In stage two foreign elements are introduced into the family so that change is required if they are to adapt successfully. As might be expected, stage three begins when the status quo is disrupted and chaos reigns. People make new choices and forego routine. Integration involves adapting to new experiences this leads to stage five in which everyone practices new skills. Finally you have a new status quo…
STATUS QUO >>> FOREIGN ELEMENT >>> CHAOS >>> INTEGRATION >>> PRACTICE >>> NEW STATUS QUO…
People as Icebergs
Virginia Satir believes that people are like icebergs, in that a great majority of their inner experience lies beneath a surface (Metcalf, 2011). For this reason, therapists must uncover the inner aspects of our experience and explore them further. As I understand it, this iceberg concept, is an effective way of describing our emotional baggage. This emotional baggage is a byproduct of our interpretations of various emotional experiences in life. Satir describes these reactions to life experiences as “feelings about feelings” (Metcalf, 2011). Interestingly, Satir’s description reflects another concept from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy involving primary and secondary emotions (McKay, 2007). Essentially these concepts indicate that it is our interpretations of various life experiences that cause us problems. These interpretations are byproducts of family expectations. For example, if you were raised in a culture that encourages stoicism, displays of emotion are often met with discomfort and shame. This might be difficult for an individual with clinical depression. “We also show only those parts we want others to know” (Metcalf, 2011, p. 179)
Strengths & Weaknesses
One key strength of this theory is that it works very well in a diverse set of family situations (Metcalf, 2011). Additionally, Satir’s assertion that the family is a microcosm of the world, provides an interesting perspective. It also reflects my belief, that while the field of psychology can help us understand society, the field of sociology can help us understand us as individuals. The biggest weakness of this theory, is that it is based on the idea that all individuals are innately self-actualizing. The reality, in my experience, is that this is not the case for all individuals living in our diverse world
A Point of Disagreement
In the video on “Communication and Congruence”, Satir makes the following statement “I can see and hear better inside you than you can see and hear in yourself because I’m outside you.” (Mishlove, 2010a). When I heard this statement I was troubled. On the one hand, I do seem to understand what she means by it. In making this statement, she appears to be referencing to the idea that our realities aren’t as we perceive them. We have to make an allowance for the fact that we might not ever entirely see things as they are.
Still, even if this is what Satir intended by this statement, the author does still have concerns. Specifically, one can’t help but wonder if there is ever a time that a counselor can be entirely 100% confident they understand their clients inner reality. Is it ever possible that we could possibly know their experiences better than they experience them?
Issues Related To Family Therapy
The first issue that immediately comes to mind upon discussion of any family counseling are the related ethical concerns. For instance, as a new counselor, how is one to conceive of the notion of family as the client. When you consider the ethical ramifications underlying this idea, it is clear supervision and proper education are vital. Issues to iron out ethically, when entering into therapy, are any “ground rules” which may govern the underlying process. For example, if information is shared with one family member, how is the counselor to know when to break that confidence? Mandatory reporting laws aside, what about the issue of veracity versus nonmaleficience? How is one to know which ethical principle takes precedence? Knowing the rules of law, with an understanding of the relevant guiding principles underlying these situations is crucial (Corey, et al, 2011).
Family Needs vs. Individual Needs
The other issue, which does appear as vital as well, is how one balances needs of the family against the needs of individuals. An array of specific scenarios in mind could come to mind, in which the well-being of an individual may contradict that of the family (Corey, et al, 2011) How do you weigh the desire to improve family dynamics, against the need to address individual self-esteem? The answers to this question aren’t obviously clear cut, and therefore require proper supervision, and experience to traverse adeptly.
Satir Human Validation Process
PHASE ONE – JOINING/BUILDING RAPPORT …reaching out…attending…mirroring…observing.
PHASE TWO – UNDERSTANDING THE PRESENTING ISSUE: The problems result from how we choose to cope with them.
PHASE THREE – ASSESSMENT OF FAMILY DYNAMICS: the therapist focuses perceptions, feelings, expectations, & yearnings.
PHASE FOUR – Therapist is educator teaches client’s new ways of responding and perceiving, responding and communicating in relationships.
PHASE FIVE – AMPLIFYING CHANGE: as clients experience higher self-esteem, homework assigned to reinforce.
TERMINATION – In this model, change is ongoing and the work is never completed or finished.
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McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook. Oakland: New Harbinger
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