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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Catharsis, Refusal & Denial

I was thinking today about assumptions I've had about psychology.

I was really convinced in the value of uncovering what is hidden in yourself so it would not control your actions from the inside of you. Speaking or expressing internal struggles brought what was concerning to to the light of reason or at least
expression them brought them to awareness so you could recognize them when they came along. I came to actually welcome cartharsis, to relish it; I would even gleefully exaggerate the problem. I thought diving into what seemed to be the problem helped me unravel it and recognize it so that later I could avoid it's stranglehold.

However, I have learned that sometimes, catharsis takes you where you don't really need to go and is useless in "dealing with" problems. Sometimes the best solution is to refuse to go there. This refusal has nothing to do with denial, and everything to do with making a choice. Deciding to not participate, you can just leave what you do not want to do all behind you in the dust as you move forward into what you do want.

This must have been how people used to deal with psychological issues before psychology came along with the other model. I've learned that diving into what bothers you and exaggerate it, bring it up to the light where it can't have power
over you by being hidden doesn't work in certain situations. Such as ones where you were truly an innocent victim, or other horrible situations that are best forgotten.

There must be more than just these two ways of dealing with our "stuff." I'm open to hearing about them.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Thinking how anger seems to be a "pure" emotion - meaning it seems to act as a foundation to other emotions. I guess that isn't always true about anger, but I'm entertaining the hypothesis here.

The exception that comes to mind is anger that arises from wanting to avoid feeling another emotion that doesn't necessarily have to be fear, say grief, powerlessness, envy, etc. So in this case the anger would be triggered by something or someone, but the person does not say to themselves, "feeling angry is better than feeling this other emotion underneath the anger." I would guess it may be a better description to say, "I'm angry because of this trigger leads me to interpret my situation as needing anger as the necessary response."

Having witnessed that chain of thinking in myself, it led a conviction that there are always more possible responses available - and usually there are responses that are much more constructive than anger. But sometimes, anger is the best choice and not purely an "out of control" response.

I have also witnessed how a close friend formed a reactive chain of emotions, with anger on the tip of the iceberg. It took him some time to observe his anger; it happened in sequence with the closer feelings behind it, driving the anger. Certainly anger feels more powerful than to feel these "weaker" emotions, (such as sadness or vulnerability.) A person would probably have to feel safe to uncover these other emotions. So I'd agree that there can be some sort of fear mixed into anger, but not always.

Also, I can think of circumstances where anger is meant constructively. Anger can be displayed as a control issue or other form of a demand for respect or to have priority. It's constructive because the anger is used to draw boundaries for a trespasser.

What about the sort of anger that acts as a display to have a certain calculated effect on another person for an intended, justified reason? I'm thinking of the tactical displays that someone I knew has used quite liberally with the justification that he is doing it order to "transform" someone else or teach them. Isn't another example the anger that a parent displays with the calculated purpose to give a child some of the wrath of the world upon them, but not the full effect ?

Also, think of straight old manipulation, the motive of which can be of questionable or unknown priorities. Whether the manipulation is constructive or not is certainly a value judgment. The fury or intensity of anger makes the angry person feel powerful & unpredictable and has the effect of intimidating others; for instance the manipulative warning/threat of "you don't want to be my focus while I'm crazed by anger that I can't control."

I think anger is a positive emotional response when there are certain boundary issues that a person is convinced should be rigourously enforced. For instance, when a recalcitrant is trying to "get your goat" purposefully just to see how irritating they can be or what they can get out of you. From their point of view, they're merely investigating to find out you will react in a conciliatory way of benefit to them.

angry looking monkey

I'm thinking of other sorts of anger that can act like vigorous resolve. What about the anger directed at oneself for the purpose of goading yourself into action or admonishing oneself to be more mindful? For instance, the anger of someone who is quitting smoking; every time they want tobacco, they say "NO" with the emphasis of the anger directed to buck the addiction. I'd say in that case that anger is a positive response to the coersion of a situational nuisance.

What about regarding the emotion of anger as being purely a way of generating lots of energy and pointing it somewhere on purpose? Wouldn't that attitude take away the value judgment that anger is "good" or "bad"?

Really, any emotional feeling could be substituted for anger here. See how much information you can learn about yourself. Take away the value judgment about whether the emotion is good or bad.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

How I Make Sense of How People Talk

As I listen to someone speak or write, I'm first paying attention to how they put the building blocks of language together - what they associate, how they jump from one subject to the next, how they tag similarity and difference; where they go when they make these associative leaps.

I threatened to continue the conversation I started about how the structure of language dictates what you can say or think as you're using it.

I'm reminded of Whorf's work. In Hopi, there are only two forms of the verb - objective and subjective. Meaning, it's built-in to not tell a lie in Hopi; everything is presented as your point of view (POV) as if it is an intangible that you are referring to. You'd use the subjective when what you're talking about is not able to be seen by both people. In Hopi, it is the built-in structure that always says "it seems to me that..." This structure is in what you did yesterday or what you intend to do next. As you talk in Hopi, the past, the future, etc. is all brought to the present moment. The reason you're bringing it to the present is inherent in your motives for saying it. (Actually, there's alot of teasing that goes on in Hopi that speculates and assigns humourous "shameful" motives. )

In Hopi, instead of conjugating verbs, there is a huge category of adverbs that talk about direction, duration, qualities, sequences - it's these many, many adverbs that some say make Hopi regard the world from the POV of physicists and superb observers. To the Hopi, the world is made up of actions that are internal or witnessed; these relationships are described, not defined.

You can try, but you cannot really say "from my point of view" in English. It's always a qualification, a frame, an add-on uttered in an attempt to modify the rest of the what you say. It relies on the the other person to compensate for whatever you say that follows. So saying it implies that the other person has the ability and also does know how to add the frame in to modifiy the meaning of what follows.

In fact many people cannot do this brain-work, because they have little practice at suspending. Suspension is what I'm asking someone to do when I'd qualifiy something that I say with the phrase, "from my point of view." Since that's what I'm asking people to do, now I specifically ask them to do that and teach them how to do it instead of just using the paraphrase.

Every time we open our mouth or write in English, there's a larger implication that we are adding to or defining POV globally - we are saying what reality "is" as if what "is" is an affirmed, shared set of "facts." The repetitive teen expression of "like" seems to try to compensate for this in English. It means, "as if" but not yet quite committed to whatever follows. It's tricky to describe relationships in English, because to describe something, you almost have to exaggerate the characteristic.

What English seems to do better than any other language is reflected in using the direct object - giving the cultural impression that people can "do something" to another thing and affect it, control it. To some extent, you can, so that's why English has become more popular worldwide. English is also useful for gratuituous reordering - you can change the sequence of words in English and still be understood by those other people who order words differently than you do.

Anyway - this is some of what I'm looking at when I think about how language affects my ability to communicate with other people.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Life Saving

It was 1976, just after I'd broken up with the love of my life who had gotten into dealing drugs. I was on RCA Beach. It was the first sunny weekend in April after a storm. The six foot surf was too rough to go bodysurfing. There were other interesting things to watch; people were hangliding from the cliffs, landing on the remote beach. Guessing I was the only person watching, when I noticed that the guy who was hangliding and trying to land on the beach was about to land in crotch-deep surf. So I got up and ran the full length of the beach to help him out.

It was a nude beach, and the seven or eight other people on the beach mildly looked up to see me running nakedly by.

By the time I'd waded into the surf, the guy had been already been caught in the first few waves. I swam up to the glider, climbing over the wires to get close to the person. How to unbuckle him wasn't obvious, except for the front two buckles. So I removed his gloves so he could unbuckle himself. Because the next large wave was coming, I only had a few moments to do something for him before I had to get out of the way of being caught in the hanglider before the next wave. The second time I got close to him, asking him,"How do I unbuckle you?" He panicked and said, "Save me!" and tried to pull me under with him, so I had to swim away. Each time he was being pulled further out by undertow of six foot waves on the surface of his hang glider. The third time I got a good look at him under water and found that he was hopelessly tumbled and wrapped in the glider's lines. I didn't have a knife.

After swimming away from the oncoming wave, I looked back to the beach and saw there were a half dozen people still on shore, watching us. I remembered that I had earlier decided not to go swimming because the six foot surf was too rough. I was already far out almost to the reef where breakers start. My adrenalin was waning and I didn't have a knife to cut the guy free.

I thought the guy was going to die. I also realized that I might need to be saved if I continued trying to help him when I could do no more. I abandoned my self-appointed task and began to swim to shore.

The people on the shore thought I knew the guy. When people watching on shore saw me start to swim back without the guy, they figured out that I didn't have a knife to cut him free. They found a knife among themselves. By the time I made it to shore another person had begun to swim out who was trained in lifesaving and had a knife. The guy in the hang glider was very lucky. Just after his hanglider got caught on the reef, the other lifesaver was there, just in the nick of time.

But I didn't know that yet. By the time I stumbled onto the shore, people still standing on the beach, watching the guy with the knife swimming out. I was angry with the young, fit bystanders. The surf was so rough; why were they all just watching us drown as if it were TV? If they could swim, why weren't they out there helping the life saver or to bring in the hanglider itself? At my admonishments, almost everyone jumped into the surf. I stood on the shore with a pregnant woman who told me if I hadn't have jumped in first, they wouldn't have figured out that I needed a knife.

I stood there later, wrapped up in a towel, looking at this hanglider guy curled up like a cocoon worm that everyone had dragged onto shore. Someone was building a fire to dry us off. Someone was taking off the guy's wet clothes and getting a blanket. Someone else was hiking up the cliff to call an ambulance.

I was thinking about all the other people in my life that I had ever tried to save. I was realizing that here was the first person who I had to accept could be dead because I made the conscious choice at a point of self-preservation. Fortunately, I made the right choice. But without the others, the guy wouldn't have survived. If I had not gone into the surf first, that second lifesaver would have been where I was, also without a knife.

It was a great lesson in boundaries for me.