Tag Archives: victim

Why Is It So Hard to Find Urgency? Part 2


This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “The Art of Getting Out of the Way.”

3. Until we’re willing to experience the nature and extent of the pain we’re in, we have a limited perspective on our situation and how to find a way out of it. Urgency springs from a transfer of energy that occurs when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the pain underlying an habitual behavior or emotional state. The energy that was applied to suppressing the pain becomes available when we stop the suppression. It is a shift from a mental effort—suppression—to an effortless act—being vulnerable to our feelings.

That available energy is what we draw from to stay grounded and make a conscious decision to change an undesirable situation. Without that available energy, having a choice in the situation is in name only, because we will reflexively choose our conditioned, default behavior time and time again.

By the time we’re young adults, we’ve portioned out all almost all of our life force toward propping up a persona that we can live with and display to the public. Unfortunately, the script written for that persona is based on childhood adaptive strategies, traumas (real and perceived), borrowed beliefs, misinterpretations, fantasies, and false information. Besides making it very difficult to have a direct experience of what is right in front of us, it is our unwillingness to disassemble this web of misperceptions that stands between us and urgency.

In addition, episodes of illness and injury are woven into the story of our life and become associated with repressed emotions, such that a complete healing of the physical ailment requires revisiting the unresolved emotional component. We often fear what may lie on the other side of healing, because it will likely include the exposure of our hidden agendas around maintaining a certain degree of pain in our lives, and those agendas have to be sacrificed in order to achieve real healing.

In my 15 years in health care, I’ve watched clients (and myself) repeatedly choose chronic pain and illness—even death– over honest self-examination. We permit a depth of healing that corresponds to, but does not exceed, the degree of self-exposure that our ego can comfortably handle. In other words, the depth of our healing is directly proportional to how badly we want to know who we are and what motivates our behavior.

4. The mind leverages small discomforts to exert maximum control over our access to urgency. There is a whole universe of sensations and feelings that informs us about our emotional, psychological, and physical state at any given moment, but our mind dutifully chooses which ones to recognize and which ones to ignore and suppress based on the version of reality we’ve painstakingly assembled.

On cue, our mind-body produces mild, context-specific discomforts that signal the very tip of the pain we will have to confront in order to create change in our lives. However, these physical annoyances are not consciously acknowledged as heralding fear, rage, shame or whatever taboo emotion threatens us so profoundly. The more undefined the danger, the more the mind can keep us under its thumb. These discomforts and annoyances surface in that slippery interface between our everyday awareness and the unconscious, and may take many forms: jaw clenching, chest tightness, holding one’s breath, drowsiness, sour stomach, dizziness, and neck pain, to name just a few.

The discomfort’s message is a subtle, but powerful implication that whatever repressed emotions are uncovered will result in a worst-case scenario: death, destruction, public humiliation, or total loss of control. Until the repressed emotion is actually allowed expression, it is only indicated by this sensation-based signature of the repressed emotion.

Here’s an example. A man desperately wants to tell his father he loves him, but every time the thought occurs to him it is accompanied by a tightening of his throat. This has occurred so many times over the years that he no longer notices the discomfort, although without fail it has the effect of squelching the simple words, “Dad, I love you.” The throat tightening delivers the message that if he were to tell his father this simple fact, something bad will happen. It also masks the real reason he cannot say these words: a deep resentment for something that happened in childhood for which he’s never forgiven his father.

Not telling his father he loves him is the son’s way of withholding love in payment for that episode that happened so long ago. The underlying statement is, “I won’t tell you I love you until you admit that you were wrong.” The throat constriction is tied to the son’s inability to relinquish being right about the incident, and the trade-off is the loss of emotional connection to his father.

Since the son will not consciously admit to himself that he cannot let go of a petty grudge against the person who raised him, all that remains is the throat tightening to control his behavior. The end result is the son’s rationalization, “It just wasn’t the right time. I’ll tell him the next time I see him.” And urgency is successfully sidestepped yet again.

This is one of the mind’s primary methods of keeping us in our prison, both at the individual and collective levels. In this way, our past is always informing our present experience, and spontaneity, hence urgency, is kept at bay.

5. The mind may create a constant crisis state to avoid real urgency. This is a very successful strategy as evidenced by people who use rehab like a vacation home, make a hobby of attending multiple support groups, use permanent disability as a gravy train, or spend all their time putting out other people’s fires. If a person’s baseline state is to be in a crisis situation, how will he possibly be able to discern when he actually is in a crisis?

Hitting bottom for these people will be elusive, since bottom has become the norm. This phenomenon also attests to the extremely subjective nature of pain. Someone may, for instance, be willing to subject himself to the physical pain of heroin withdrawal, but not have the courage to confront the shame that fuels the addiction.

For someone to escape from this horrible trap, they have to recover a baseline experience of well-being, or at least neutrality. For someone who has lived her entire life in a crisis mode, this can be extremely threatening because feeling good has become such an alien experience and is not easily trusted.

If healing completely is too much of a threat to a victim identity, then the mind knows precisely where to draw the line to feel just well enough to keep the identity operational.

The Trap of the Politically Correct Mindset

Under the guise of respect for diversity, we have quietly cleansed American culture of any chance for honest public discussion around race, sexuality, gender, class, or any other distinguishing feature that would differentiate one person from the next. Political correctness is one of those cultural phenomena that cause us to shake our heads and think, “This must’ve seemed like a good idea at some point.” And then it becomes another cobblestone in the rickety road to hell.

The disconnect between what is allowed in public conversation or discussion and how we talk in private behind closed doors has reached an unprecedented level of absurdity. The PC mindset is a form of mental and emotional conditioning that accomplishes the exact opposite of its implied intention, resulting in divisiveness rather than unity. It is the literal embodiment of the “thought police” from Orwell’s 1984. PC behavior is what passes for respect in a society that wants to show how accepting it is, but is not really interested in honest connection between individuals, because that’s too dangerous.

PC is a brand of censorship uniquely suited to American sensibilities because of our persistent belief that we are the good, decent ones who won WWII, the protectors of democracy, the white knight of the western world, and the caretakers of a Disneyland where anyone can be anything they want to be. We instinctively know that the iron-fisted oppression of free expression and activism exemplified by the Russian, Chinese, or North Korean approach to censorship, for example, would never fly here. But, give us Americans a strategy to gag ourselves that can be justified as compassionate and democratic, and we’re all in.

It has become such a morass that it’s difficult to tell whom, if anyone, exactly benefits from the perpetuation of PC: Groups who want to retain the advantages of victim status? Prominent individuals or organizations that want to strengthen their façade of being the champion of the oppressed?

Guilt and shame are possibly the strongest elements that can sustain an intensely polarized situation, outside of an overt threat of physical violence. PC utilizes guilt and shame with a surgeon’s skill, playing on our secret fears that we’re not actually the good, honest, virtuous people that we hoped we were, but in fact that we’re just like everyone else. If we tow the PC line, though, we can at least fool ourselves and perhaps others that we are those guiltless beings of light.

Like everyone, I spent most of my life cherry-picking which thoughts I accepted as “my own” and which ones were “something else that wasn’t me” in order to create an identity I could bear. Eventually, though, it stopped making sense that the bad, evil people were always over there. I would find myself watching the news and continually asking, “Who are these fucking people who think it’s okay to believe in white supremacy, or think it’s okay to fire someone because he’s gay?” Eventually, the extremely uncomfortable answer was, those people are me!

Now, if I’m honest about the totality of what I see in myself, I see a homophobe, a racist, a misogynist, a misanthrope, a classist, and any other clichéd type of prejudice that can be imagined. And if there’s one I haven’t found yet, it’s just because I haven’t looked hard enough. And if anyone who’s reading this thinks they are not in the same boat, then they are deluding themselves.

PC encourages the suppression of thoughts that we don’t want to accept as our own, and beefs up our need to punish others for those very same thoughts so that we don’t have to look at them within ourselves. This is what creates the world in all its brutal duality. If these thoughts are not ours and don’t reflect our own nature and beliefs, then whose are they and how did they get into our heads? If we keep our taboo thoughts buried in the unconscious, then we can sustain the illusion of our innocence in it all. And that’s how history repeats itself ad nauseam.

Our social conditioning encourages us from the moment we slide out of the womb to choose a very narrow definition of who we think we are, and defend it until we die. That necessarily includes choosing what thoughts we’ll regard as our own. Rarely, if ever, are we presented with the alternative of acknowledging thoughts and acting out behaviors that seem to contradict each other. This could be superficially dismissed as hypocritical, but in fact it is just the opposite. We can weigh all the aspects that reside within us and go with what our heart decides, instead of choosing one side and going with what our mind decides.

Very few people buy into the idea that more you acquaint yourself with your own prejudices, the greater is your capacity for true compassion and acceptance. We simply don’t trust that a human being is capable of doing the right thing while consciously recognizing his or her judgments of others.

Unfortunately, the willingness and ability to witness all these conflicting forces and influences would be labeled by a lot of people as mental illness, instability, or at least a reason to see a shrink. Our mental health system would pathologize what is a normal and necessary recognition and expression of the vast range of a person’s mental and emotional being. Rather than expand our recognition of who and what we are, we’re told to change the way we think, when it reflects traits or beliefs that are deemed undesirable. It’s another exercise in contraction rather than expansion, because we stubbornly believe we have a choice in being who we are.

I feel this begins with a standard for human behavior that is embarrassingly over-inflated. It’s one of those “despite all evidence to the contrary, we still believe . . .” moments. It’s abundantly clear on both gross and subtle levels that one of our fundamental challenges as human beings is to live our lives from a place other than fear and survival. Look at how we behave even when our situation far exceeds having met our most basic survival needs. Yes, we’re quite capable of many admirable qualities, but we’re often chasing and appreciating only those, and in the process completely denying the messy ones even as they’re played out on the grandest stage possible. We want to clean up everything about ourselves, while we destroy the planet in the meantime.

The best we can hope for in a lot of situations is tolerance, not love, or even acceptance. But tolerance is a quality that is often not valued. No, we expect humanity to leapfrog right from bigotry and hatred to love, acceptance, and understanding, and anything less is unacceptable. This is way beyond a reasonable expectation. And, because being tolerant just isn’t enough, then we get to feel guilty about that as well.

All of us believe that the world should accept us for who we are, and on the surface it seems like a reasonable request. However, as individuals we often struggle with accepting ourselves for who we are, and we can’t count on others to do it for us. Look at your family and friends and see how many are on antidepressants, sleeping aids, or in rehab. It can be a painful process to become who we really are in this world because we know it may result in not being accepted.

The degradation of language is another aspect of PC that makes it so insidious. There’s no better example currently than the use of the word “racist.” In the past, as I recall, the word was used to describe a person or policy based on racial prejudice that prevented one from freely living one’s life. This included where you could work, live, or socialize, and included physical violence, verbal threats, and segregation.

These days the definition of the word has been expanded to include anyone who even has thoughts of racial prejudice, which includes all of us. This causes us to feel even more guilt and repress our own prejudices, and focus our efforts toward finding the “real racists.” This arbitrariness of the word “racist” is incredibly dangerous because the word has lost none of its incendiary nature yet is meaningless at the same time, which means it can be manipulated to serve any purpose and create instant reaction and action. There is no reference point anymore for what a racist is, so we are looking behind every bush and around every corner to find them. It is awfully reminiscent of Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare tactics.

We don’t even know from week to week what words are acceptable, and so any public discourse becomes increasingly artificial and constrained because of the fear of offending and being labeled as insensitive at best, and at worst a racist. This results in even more resentment of minorities and special interest groups because they’re given special protection from language, and we have to navigate a verbal minefield to have any meaningful discussion.

It also dulls our ability to recognize actual racism because so many false examples are thrown in our faces daily, and the over-saturation and mental exhaustion causes us to lose our capacity for empathy. Rather than opening a discussion, PC language is intended to immediately identify the victim and oppressor, polarize the situation, and prohibit any further discussion of substance. The language loses its meaning and people stop listening.

Recently this was driven home to me by the headline, “Oprah Claims Obama is Target of Racism.” Now, how much focus can I spare for one person who makes many millions of dollars for simply giving her stamp of approval to products and productions, and another who has the power to give a verbal command to blow my house up with a drone? Even after someone has clearly amassed the maximum power and influence that this country allows, can they still play the victim card whenever they see fit, despite the fact that their capacity for retaliation is practically limitless? Is victimhood a lifetime membership in a club or is it defined by a moment in time? Isn’t this disrespectful to the plight of those whose lives are being severely limited as the result of racial discrimination, or who face a threat of violence every day and are comparatively powerless to oppose it?

We’re making victimization a form of empowerment. If we don’t think there are distinct advantages to being regarded as a victim, then we’re being truly naïve about human nature. When a single word can be wielded to cause someone to lose his or her job or cause a company to go broke, it replaces personal responsibility and dialogue with the verbal equivalent of a handgun.

PC also perpetuates the lie that there is a rational fix for prejudice, and that all we need to do is think the right way, have the right exposure to people and circumstances, and then we’ll see the light. In reality, though, we acquire so many of our beliefs from family, friends, culture, tradition, education, and other unknown sources, that it is largely impossible to discern where we’ve come to believe what we do. In fact, prejudice is the epitome of irrationality, and that is one major reason for its confounding persistence.

We cannot simply tell people “don’t think like that” or “it’s wrong to believe that,” because any one individual has to come to those conclusions from his or her own experience. It can actually worsen our resentment when we’re instructed to think a different way and we don’t even know why we think that way in the first place. It doesn’t make sense to us that we judge people the way we do even without having a personal experience of them, so it becomes an additional source of shame.

Prejudice is largely a reflection of self-loathing, so expecting such an approach to work is like asking someone why they can’t simply love and accept themselves. When it comes to loving and accepting oneself, we’re talking about a very bumpy road that takes a lifetime to travel if indeed it ever happens at all.

We can legislate against discrimination but not against prejudiced thinking. It’s incredibly important to legislate against discrimination because we can show ourselves that we will at least take responsibility for fairness at some level, regardless of whether we’re willing to explore our own prejudices or not.

It’s incomprehensible to me why anyone would purposely pursue fame in America anymore, since the PC thought police have clearly made celebrities a prime target to use as high profile scapegoats. How many times have we seen this occur in the last five years or so? Here’s how it goes. If you follow a celebrity around long enough, you’ll catch them in a verbal misstep that you can hear on any street corner or bar, made even more possible nowadays by Twitter. Then the quote is immediately made public, mortification ensues, and then the contrite and humbled celebrity makes his or her public apology. Then there is the race among the so-called experts as to who’ll proclaim this a “teaching moment,” and thus has legitimacy and importance been bestowed upon an offhand remark.

This happened recently to Serena Williams, who had the misfortune to suggest publicly that a 16-year-old girl might bear some responsibility in not getting drunk out of her mind while being in the company of a group of horny teenage boys. Then came the mortification, and right on cue, the public apology.

The tentacles of PC are now spreading to silencing comedians, such as Tracy Morgan, Michael Richards, and Chris Rock. The most recent whipping boy was Steve Martin, who unfortunately caved and made his public apology. There is a very real danger to a free society in censoring comedians, because we rely on them to give voice to a lot of our cultural taboos under the rubric of “entertainment.” Without this, we lose a critical pressure release valve on the collective suppression of our socially unacceptable selves.

With our government’s increased surveillance of our daily activities, the PC nightmare will not get any better any time soon. One word in an email, blog, or a facebook post and you’re done. May as well learn how to life your life in a state of constant exposure and vulnerability. We are so afraid of who and what we are in so many different contexts it’s very difficult to know how an unfettered human being might act. Maybe it will lead some of us to a state of simply not caring about protecting ourselves anymore. Wouldn’t that be something?