Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Having Empathy For Yourself?

My therapist recently presented an idea that was very difficult for me to understand: having empathy for yourself. I'm still not sure I get it. It's definitely a concept I've never encountered before. As she described it, empathy for yourself requires you to not be critical of yourself. I think I haven't heard of this idea because it's so contrary to the general culture we have in the US, and then greatly amplified in the LDS culture where I was taught that I need to be constantly making sure I'm thinking and acting "righteously."

I'm still not sure I really understand how to have empathy for myself. So I thought it would be good to understand empathy in general, and then try to apply its aspects to myself. I like the work of Brené Brown and how she defines aspects like empathy:

As given in the video, Wiseman defined empathy as having these qualities:
  • "Perspective taking: the ability to take the perspective of [a] person, or recognize their perspective as their truth"
  • "Staying out of judgement"
  • "Recognizing emotion in ... people" and
  • Communicating the recognition of emotion in the person
How does someone take these traits and apply them to them-self?

Perspective Taking

Taking the perspective of yourself would seem self fulfilling as our individual perspective is constantly our own. While somewhat true, it's not the full picture. Yes we have each of our own perspectives, but we are constantly trying to anticipate the perspectives of others (in a non-empathetic way). As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in No Exit, "Hell is other people." We are all too aware of other people watching and--as the next section covers--judging. (I am at this moment realizing how the idea of God eternally watching every one of our individual thoughts and deeds can create a constant sense of Sartre's Hell.) In anticipating the "other's" perspective we remove our-self from our own perspective, thereby not allowing empathy for our-self. In having empathy for yourself, perhaps we need to learn how to drop such expectations. We need to find the place where we let our own perspective be our truth, instead of constantly trying to mentally nag and adjust ourselves to the "truth" of the "other."

Staying Out of Judgement

Judgment is one of those concepts that is widely used. I've always struggled with it a bit as it's also one of those words that's never really well defined. (I have a number of other words and concept that seem to have the same problem.) So, what is judgment, really? I must say I'm still refining this concept down for myself. What I have so far, and what I think it mostly means for empathy, is the idea of not making decisions about ethical values, whether something is right or wrong, worthy of reward or punishment. This is a concept that runs contrary to general human nature, and even more so against cultures that teach one should be constantly vigilant against "evil" thoughts and deeds (e.g., what I heard from my LDS upbringing). It's very difficult to do, but as I've been learning about the concept of radical acceptance it is vital to good psychological health to be able to at least suspend value judgments and accept that something is. Empathy requires a grounding in reality. Jumping to judgement is an attempt to alter reality; change the past, present, or deterministic future. (Despite what some "Secret" certain people may claim to know, the universe doesn't shift reality to our wishes.)

Recognizing Emotion, and Communicating That Recognition

Again, this seems like an area that should be a given when applied to yourself. I am the one having the emotion to begin with, therefore I should be already aware of those emotions. In my personal experience, it definitely isn't the case. I can look back now at my life and see how I was clearly gay going back as far as I can remember. But that wasn't necessarily the case in my youth. I kept myself in denial of my sexuality all through my childhood and even past high school. I realize now that I had sexual attractions to other men and boys my age, but I always altered it in my conscious mind to something else. I didn't allow myself to recognize those emotions. It's much the same with suffering from PTSD. Yes, I realized I was anxious and angry, but again I didn't allow myself to recognize the true causes and the full aspects of what I felt. Even now, even with all the therapy and self study I do I struggle to identify and understand my own emotions at times. Of course, taking the care to acknowledge and understand your own emotions is very core to the idea of having empathy for yourself.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Marathon of Bullshit!

I ended up doing a Penn & Teller: Bullshit! marathon (all of season 1, half of season 2, plus a few other episodes).  Overall I like it and I plan on watching the rest of the episodes.  I may even do a number of posts based on certain episodes.

Before I start getting into specific subjects, I want to first mention something that kind of bugs me about the tone the show takes at times.  There's a definite Libertarian bend to it (especially when mentioning taxes).  It's somewhat common how they will berate someone from or something in the government for screwing something up or perpetuating some false/misleading information.  This often seems to set off implications about the inherent ineptitude of government and how government is not to be trusted, and so on in usual Libertarian style philosophy.  This bothers me a little as I do not quite bend in that direction, but I can understand it.  However, what gets me is that fairly often there will be an argument in the same segment about how there is regulation by a government agency and they will use that as a good thing to support their claims or to debunk what they are going up against.  I can't help feeling there is some hypocrisy there.

Of course, I think I still like the show because of the fact that they tend to admit to their own hypocrisy (albeit in some subtle ways); actually don't mind people believing or living in debunked ways as long as those people aren't hurting, manipulating, scamming, etc. others; and even occasionally call bullshit on some things they have believed in their own lives. As one philosopher friend of mine says, "You cannot go through life without being hypocritical.  Just don't be hypocritical about your hypocrisy."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hairspray and Changes in Prejudice

Some years ago, when I watched the movie musical Hairspray a thought came to my mind.  I think it was something of the point to the movie, and maybe even what John Waters had in mind when he first made the original movie.  To sum it up I made this "meme":

Before people start going off I will say a few things.  No, racism is far from over.  Fat shaming and racism is not the same thing.  What I am saying is that I feel, especially as a person of size, is that the cultural acceptance of racial prejudice from the past has been and is being replaced with a cultural acceptance of prejudice against people who are overweight.  Also, it's not just women who are shamed for it.  Men are also deeply shamed for it as well.  Also, the demands of what is considered "acceptable" for male appearance is becoming more and more demanding, as discussed in this article about what is being demanded from movie actors.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sometimes Walls Are About Keeping Things In

I want you to come along with me on an emotional thought experiment.  This is the best analogy I have been able to formulate in my mind, even with its flaws and hyperbole, to try to bring others along to the appropriate levels of sympathy of my emotional state.

Imagine you were raped.  Not an I-regret-what-I-did-last-night, morning-after regret kind of "rape"; a brutal, violent rape where you were left for dead.  Now the rapist is not just a random stranger.  This person is someone you know and your community knows.  They are prominent, well regarded, and heavily involved in both the community at large and your own personal life.  This person is someone you grew up being taught to admire, respect, trust, and follow.

As time goes by after your rape, you learn about other people the rapist has attacked and abused.  Some have died.  Others take their own lives later.  Still, many survive and live with the scars.  Accusations have been made against the rapist.  Legal action has been attempted.  In the end, however, no solidly convicting evidence comes forth.  Plus, given the person's prominence and public image in the community, many turn a blind eye, dismiss the charges as "evil" people trying to destroy a good person, or even justifying the events in favor of the rapist.  If anything, the result is you are the one the community sees as the villain.  You are censured.  You are blamed for the damage.  You are damaged further by trying to come out about the events.

Imagine, with all of this, how you would feel whenever the rapist would be treated as an exemplary person.  Consider what it might bring up whenever someone praises the rapist for all the "good" they do for both the community and the praiser themselves.  Now, consider that this person praising the rapist is not just anyone; they are someone in a relationship with the rapist where they are being abused directly.  How would you feel about that scenario?  How might you react?

To put this analogy into place--and I remind you I admit it is with its flaws and hyperbole--this is how I feel about the LDS church in regards to my PTSD.  From my mission experience where I was emotionally and even physically abused and manipulated to the point of suicide, to the constant war they have backed and fought against homosexuals I have been violated.  I have been working for over a decade to somehow deal with this violation.  Much of what I have written in this blog has been some part of that process.  However, it is never enough.  I cannot escape my own anxiety.  Living in Utah, I cannot avoid the omnipresent culture and influence of the church in general society and communities.  I cannot find complete healing for the damage that has been and continues to be done to my soul.

In the past I have tried to make a reconciliation between myself and the LDS church.  Until very recently I thought I had reached a reasonably good place.  However, I realize now that is not the case.  Instead of reaching a reconciliation, I walled myself in emotionally.  I stopped letting myself think about it.  I kept away from people who talked about it.  When all else failed, I just blocked it off.  I think that is, at least in part, why I have had such gaps in writing the past few years.

But this hasn't been so much about keeping things out as it has been about keeping things in.  PTSD is a condition where one re-experiences painful emotions.  Regardless of time that has passed, the emotions return will as full a force as they had when the original experience happened.  My emotional walls are the dam holding back the massive, nearly limitless reservoir of anger and pain.  Those walls keep the emotions suppressed from my consciousness and prevent them from bursting out and harming others. But despite being out of sight and out of (conscious) mind it is still all there, pressurized in the container I've made for it.  I do not know how to release it.  Perhaps one day I thought I did, but not now.  At the moment I don't really see options beyond either suffocating behind the walls I've built or being swept away in a dam burst of pain and anger to rampage and further damage myself and most likely others.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Gay Men and the "Ideal" Body

A Facebook friend posed the questions below about gay men and physical attractiveness.  I wanted to share them, with my answers, as it goes along with my personal issues with body image and trying (or not trying, as is my current status) to date.

1) Gay men are primarily or even exclusively physically attracted to athletic, muscular builds (v-shaped torso, defined pecs and abs)
2) For gay men, physical attraction is the primary or even exclusive determinant in whether they will initiate a conversation with another gay man
3) For gay men, physical attraction is the primary or even exclusive determinant in whether they will respond to a conversation initiated by another gay man
4) Gay men place a higher priority on the physical aspects (including attraction and sexual chemistry/compatibility) of a prospective relationship than on the emotional aspects
5) The likelihood of any of the above statements being "true" for any individual gay man increases in proportion to how closely he approximates the "ideal" of male beauty (i.e. the above are more likely to be true of hunks/twinks than of bears)
For each of the above, please answer T/F for how accurately you feel it describes a *majority* of gay men and then again (if you're comfortable doing so, and if you are a gay man) for how accurately you feel it describes *you*.
For a visual approximation of what is being held as the "attractive" athletic, muscular builds here is this relatively modest picture:

Note: this is a stock image, I do not make any assumptions as to the actual sexuality of the models shown

Here are my responses to the questionnaire:

I'm actually seeking therapy for my messed up ideas on this subject. Where I think emotionally about the issue, and where my experience places it is that #1-4 are true, and #5 is false. As a large gay man (300+lbs) this goes hand in hand with very destructive self image issues. (I'm not sure which is the cause of the other; I do know they feed off of each other.)
As for my current personal reality:
1 - True. I'm predominantly attracted to athletic, muscular bodies. I do have attractions to men who are not that type, but not as strongly or as frequently.
2 - False. I will converse with most people regardless of how attractive I find them, unless they have some aspect I find an outright turn off. As I think about it, physical attraction may actually deter me some from trying to converse with some people.
3 - Part of me wants to say True. However, I'm not sure if this is the reality of the situation, or if I'm just projecting more of my insecurities. In the end I feel I must say, I don't know.
4 - True. I do think the majority of gay men do this. However, I don't think it's a vast majority. As for myself, this is one of the main issues as to why I'm seeking therapy. I realize I do this, but I don't want to be the kind of guy who does it. Also, given my emotional beliefs about the previous questions this attitude is very detrimental to my interaction with other gay men, and especially in my trying to date.
5 - False. As I've shown above, I'm definitely not one who falls into the "ideal" of physical attractiveness. However, I'm riddled with the attitudes of the previous statements. With gay men in general, my experience is that most go for that "ideal" attractiveness regardless of what they, themselves look like; that is why it is the "ideal". On the other side, I have not seen a strong correlation between those who prefer certain other types, such as bears, and their own appearance.

P.S.  I found this article rather interesting along with this discussion:  Gay Men's Body Image: Near 50 Percent Would Sacrifice 1 Year Of Their Lives For The Perfect Body, Survey Finds

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Returning With A Conversation On Government Assistance

This blog has been quiet for some time.  Honestly, I just couldn't stand to write about things for a while.  Now, I feel the need to write a bit again.  I think it's because my health is improving, for the most part, and I am able to think things through and argue a bit better without succoming to major anxiety issues.

Today, I want to share a back and forth I've had on Facebook about the issue of assistance programs, in particular government programs.  Over the past months, and in the past few days in particular, I have noticed an increase in the comments and meme pictures about people abusing programs such as food stamps.  This morning I shared this picture:

with the caption/comment: "There seems to be a bit of a general meme lately ragging on people receiving assistance such as food stamps. Let's take a moment and look at the larger picture about government assistance."

received a comment from a person whom I don't know, but apparently we know some people in common. I will identify their comments simply as from CKC.

CKC: The BIG difference is companies usually shows a return on investment and HELP out the economy vs. the other group that frequently only takes and gives nothing back to the economy.

Me: I think people too easily dismiss how much the poor contribute to the economy. Also, while assistance to the poor may not show quite the direct return, much study has gone into how it does make a return of investment to the economy and even government.

CKC: I do agree that many that receive assistance do eventually contribute to the economy......but all too many able adults play the "Oh, poor me card - the world owes me." I worked with a gentleman that had the IQ of probably a four year old. HE came to work everyday and cleaned our building and loved doing it. We also had a gentleman there that had lost his legs in a war. He worked just as hard as everyone else doing manual labor. HE was very fulfilled in life. A great guy. My children go to school with a child that has NO arms and NO legs. HE is unstoppable. You can not tell that child that he is disabled. He writes much neater than my children. He gets up stairs and down stairs all by himself. He plays sports. He can carve a pumpkin!

Me: Yes, and do you realize that many of those people you list will never be allowed/chosen to fill positions and earn enough to fully support themselves? These people work, in many ways harder than many "average" people. However, due to their conditions they will most likely need additional assistance to be able to afford to cover the medical needs they have to be and remain productive, contributing member of society. In fact these people are probably only able to be where they are and do what they due because of the very programs people are constantly saying are a waste because it just coddles a bunch of "freeloaders" and "parasites" who "give nothing back to the economy." As for "the world owes me," it's hardly just the poor who say that. Everyone, at some point in some way, say it. If anything I've seen that mentality more and more from the very wealthy over the past years.

What bothers me is the mentality I see of so many who completely dismiss anyone receiving assistance as inherently unworthy of it and even a waste of flesh. No consideration is given to what they may have contributed in the past, what they could contribute in the future, or what they are even contributing in the present. Another issue is how much people think it's easy to receive assistance. Putting aside the intense social stigma, personal shame, and all too often hidden soul breaking hardships people go through, I don't think many (any?) people who criticize the poor realize the onerous gauntlet it is to apply to, qualify for, and sustain oneself on public assistance programs. Nothing is just "given" out; everything is scrutinized; all claims must be validated over and over and over again; and the process takes months, if not years, before any actual benefits are paid. No surplus is given and none is allowed--and should a surplus somehow be obtained the assistance is quickly ended. People subsist on poor quality food because it's cheap, and that way they will at least have something to eat the next day. The housing one can afford is barely within zoning requirements, and grossly lacking in anything that would be considered a "comfort." Utilities and basic amenities that have become essential to functionality in today's world must be sacrificed because they are too much of a "luxury" compared to being able to eat and keep from freezing during the night. ...

... All the while, they must endure a constant stream of politician threatening to remove any and all support they have to their survival, and a constant barrage of shaming criticism from people who feel put upon because their actually very low taxes meant the difference between getting the new iPhone the day it came out or a couple weeks later.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Resignation

Dear Utah (and US) job market (and general society):

I quit.

I no longer wish to deal with your expectations as they tear at my psyche and leave me feeling worthless and unwanted. I am not "highly energetic," "upbeat," or "outgoing." I do not multitask, answer phones, or "enjoy" trying to help the proudly mindless masses. I do not own a car, let alone have a driver's license--nor do I see myself getting them anytime in my future. I refuse to be marked down and treated as inefficient due to the flaws in your own systems and/or the failings of others. I am not willing to drop the care and management of my medical needs for the sake of your arbitrary hours of operation.

I am a highly focused, intelligent, efficient person. I practically thrive off of tedium. I enjoy organizing, thinking, and working at my own pace. I am melancholy in personality, but that does not mean I am unpleasant. I prefer to understand what I am doing and how it works with the larger process rather than just going at my part by rote.

Please contact me when you are willing to work with my capabilities and no longer demanding what I cannot give or do.

Ryan R. Hollist