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Nobody Knows Our Sorrow

Sally Field

Pain and loss are deeply personal states and often very lonely ones as well. We share in each other’s joy and accomplishments with ease. Happiness is not complex, it simply is. But pain and loss are layered and very specific. Despite our own personal experiences we can never truly know how someone else feels. This doesn’t matter when we are celebrating happiness. Nobody celebrating a marriage, birthday, or addition to the family needs empathy. It’s when our world has become small and dark and hollow that we crave understanding.

There are people who are comfortable with the loss of others. They are often drawn to professions that care for and about the bereaved. However the majority of people follow the evolutionary dictum of trying to avoid loss and pain. We shy from the enormity or contagion of pain and loss. Often we don’t know what to say, or in our nervousness spew forth a ridiculous (and potentially painful) cliché. Even people who themselves have endured their share of sh*&storms don’t necessarily know what to say. “I’m so sorry”, while honest and empathetic, doesn’t seem sufficient.

The throes of anguish and despair can feel very lonely. How can the world go on as if nothing has happened? The weight of the personal pain often wants to make its presence known. A stranger’s reflexive “How’re ya doing?” sounds like a serious inquiry. It may feel disloyal to a memory or oneself to answer; “Fine.” Expressing our loss and pain is important, but it can exacerbate the misery if we do so indiscriminately. We all want to feel understood and comforted. The former is far trickier than the latter. Only those who really know you can understand you,up to a point. Pain is personal. We can rail, blog, and rant about nobody understanding our specific hurt, and perhaps the very act of purging is of comfort. But expecting others to comprehend the intricacies of our experience while understandable doesn’t advance our own understanding. Self-care, and ultimately recovery necessitates that we understand our own pain. Fully understand it, care for it, and find a place for it.

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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Well-Being

 

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Nobody’s Watching You

A therapist friend recently asked me for advice.  (No this isn’t the opening remark at the American Psychiatric Association convention.)  She was feeling remiss about starting, and not keeping up with, a blog.  What with her practice and her actual life, her energies didn’t seem to be directed into blogging.  I actively listened (until she took a long breath, I’m only human after all) and asked her “why do you want a blog?”  “I guess I don’t, I just thought I should” she replied.  I assured her that no one is watching.

Doing things that have no (positive or negative) impact on anyone else because you feel you should is exhausting.  Time and energy is in fact finite, and to habitually spend any of it on activities that simply don’t resonate for us seems rather self-sabotaging.

Of course I don’t mean to suggest the key to a self-actualized life is to only do what one wants.  Not at all.  There will always be things we must do (i.e., teeth cleanings, insurance wranglings, tax filings, etc.)  There will always be things we do because doing so means something to someone we love.  We will attend partner’s high school reunions (and duck out frequently to text friends back home) we will be by the bedside of a sick and frightened loved one, we will babysit a “I have a permanent marker and I’m not afraid to use it” toddler so his mother can get her hair cut.  Relationships by definition are two-way streets, and no doubt people similarly treat us with generosity.

There is a difference between engaging in the world and with our loved ones and reacting to trends or external pressure.  The tricky part is that the only way to detect what actions resonate for us personally is to listen very closely.  There are some people who love nothing more than staying up until midnight making 60 homemade cupcakes frosted with each classmates’ initials.  These people no doubt love the sense of creativity and accomplishment that comes from such an activity.  But the person next door might be doing the same thing because he/she thinks it is expected.

By whom this activity is expected is an interesting question of course.  No one is watching.  Do we project an exacting parent’s expectations onto strangers?  Maybe.  Do we really think that the world cares that much about what we do or don’t do?  Maybe.  Do we look at the world in a very critical manner ourselves and therefore assume everyone else does as well.  Perhaps.

Not much good can come from living one’s life as if on stage.  Humanity is far too wrapped up in their own lives than to sit and watch ours.  If you find yourself dragging your feet or having a gastrointestinal disturbance when faced with an activity; take a moment.  Are you going to book club or yoga because you love the experience, or because you feel ‘this is what I should do?”  There are enough built-in “should do”s in grown-up life.  Read whatever book you want.  Find a physical activity that makes your heart soar (literally) and blog only if all the words in your head desperately need to get out.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Well-Being

 

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The White Hood Of The Web

There have always been people crouching behind barriers and throwing stones.  In an actual battle, this strategy is in fact prudent.  But when the stones are being thrown at unwilling participants it is abusive, and when the abuser is shielding him/herself it is bullying.  (Bullying is by definition an abuser preying on a weaker person.  Hiding offers protection, exposure leaves one weaker.)

Since the dawn of time, or since there were enough people on the planet to adequately ostracize some of them; people have bullied other people.  Often groups decide that someone, or groups of someones are a threat to the status quo.  The group itself gives rise to an enthusiasm and sense of protection for the abusers.  Persecution of women in Salem, backlashes to integration and voting rights, gay bashing; we have a rich national history of bullying,  And it’s getting worse.

We are in a time of economic uncertainty, political polarization, political correctness pressure and the internet.  People have not become more or less decent, they just may feel more threatened.  Nothing gets the bully’s goat like threat.  But what brings the simmering increase of abuse to the boiling point is the rise of technology.  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and countless website comment sections, have allowed for a new form of white hood.  There is a vile cocktail of exhibitionism and hatred that litters the comment sections of legitimate news outlets.  For some reason web editors and/or executives are allowing their brand to be a platform for hate groups.  These posters use tragically uncreative screen names to hide behind, while rabidly posting.  The unsuspecting reader is affronted with spewing from people calling themselves by war criminal’s names.

I am willing to concede, that just like wildly offensive television programming, the viewer can avoid the offensive material pretty easily.  But I am concerned about the news outlets sense of responsibility and integrity.  Offensive and abusive comments on Facebook and Twitter can easily be blocked and ignored as well.  Even bloggers can block nasty commenters with ugly agendas.  But where does this leave us?

The fact that we can protect ourselves from these high tech hooded thugs, doesn’t address the real issue.  Why are we allowing people to hide in plain sight.  Newspapers have long made it de rigueur to only publish letters from individuals with confirmed identities.  Make no mistake, I am not advocating restraints on free speech.  Far from it.  But surely we have the technology to expose these people?  The rest of us non-software engineers, should ignore the comments (versus engaging) and not patronize sites whose management allows for this behavior.  People are entitled to be as dark and hateful as they desire, but civilized societies should not allow for them to do so in disguise.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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