Thursday, June 27, 2013

Paula Deen: What She Did Wrong

I’d link to a pic about Ms. Deen, but at this point just can't look at her anymore. 

Check out  Carlo Allegri / AssociatedPress / January 17, 2012 in the LA Times Daily Dish.

Ms. Deen used to host a beloved cooking show. Now perhaps she's back to the restaurant, among friends, maybe hostessing. What happened there?

In case you’re unfamiliar, harassment/discrimination suits would tag any one of six protected classes:

 race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. This according to Title VII of the 1964 United States Civil Rights Act  [U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)]

Paula's status as owner of the restaurant makes her culpable, possibly, of three of the five:

(1) pornography: showing pornography or links to it in the workplace when others are offended by it constitutes unwelcome sexual conduct,

(2) racism, and 

(3) anti-Semitism -- a national-origin ping.

We have a new interpretation of that law, as of June 25, 2013, vis-a-vis retaliation and the "but for" clause of tort law. Not being a lawyer, I can't tell you if it will help Ms. Deen, but it is fascinating reading. The short version is a little less wordy, lacks the individual justice opinions. 

 But quickly, employers are not to discriminate against the protected classes. Amendments to the Civil Rights Act since added age, veteran status, pregnancy, and disability, maybe others. Sexual orientation is subsumed under "sex, " tested originally when Joseph Oncale quit his job on an oil rig because he couldn't stand harassment from his crew, men threatening daily to rape him. The Supreme Court ruled it a form of harassment based upon sex.

The story about Ms. Deen caught me because as a therapist, I know that cultural discrimination and sexual harassment, certainly all of the hate "isms" hurt people.  There is an entire industry, thankfully, of designer workshops to stop relationship violence. Some workshop professionals load them heavily with empathy training. The goal is to teach it, what it feels like to be on the receiving end of harassment, abuse. That's the objective. 

Crossing the line isn't always conscious. Paula Deen will say as much. A hostile environment isn't usually recognized as hostile. Harassment often makes other people laugh, ironically, obsessed with inclusion they are afraid to speak up, join instead. This is the group think we've discussed on this blog before.

Worse, many still find jokes about the isms funny. Oy vey.

Every workplace, every public figure, everyone over the age of three, really, should have empathy training. We therapists would have less work to do, but that's good.

So thank you, Ms. Deen, for bringing this world-wide attention.

We will hear that Paula loves black people. And Jews, too.

Jackie Mason, a famous Jewish comedian (I went to see him live, expected to laugh but couldn't), is caught on tape in 2009, calling newly elected Barack Obama a shvartze.

If you Google the word shvartze you’ll find it means black in Yiddish, a derogatory expression, one our grandparents, if they immigrated in the twenties, might have used. The children of those immigrants, now in their sixties, like Paula Deen, used the word, too, people like my parents who knew it was derogatory.
 The schvartes are going to riot downtown because that man assassinated Martin Luther King.
And people did riot. People broke into businesses, expressed their rage, tired of oppression, low wages, discrimination. 

My generation doesn't use it, never did. But people like my parents, who had been oppressed in Europe, who worked hard for what the owned (easier being white, no question) did not particularly admire this behavior, the destruction of property, theft, retaliation. The riots surely reinforced their fears of people who were different from themselves. Jews of that generation, fresh from the Holocaust, feared everyone, really. That experience in Germany, their experience historically with outsiders, tended to be negative, replete with collective memories of the rapes and exterminations of entire villages, courtesy of the Nazi's, but also Cossack pogroms, and the Crusaders, more rape and murder in the name of holy something.  Let’s not forget the Spanish Inquisition. Good times.

So yes, a fear of others surely is laced into their DNA, and let’s not excuse it, but there were no workshops desensitizing the old Jews in the sixties. They needed empathy, and as whites, didn't get it.

But what about Paula Deen?  Her case smacks of wanna’ be White Supremacy, of all things! Although she is sorry, has expressed her remorse sincerely, and we believe her, maybe, she seems a paragon of racist southern white, complete with drawl and sweet tea. And appearances mean something in this world. She will have a hard time bouncing back. Martha Stewart could do it, Tiger Woods, too. But Paula Deen may not. Why?

Because discrimination is different than white collar crime and sex addiction. Racism is different. The mere suggestion of a plantation party with black slaves as wait-staff should have made her cringe. An invitation like this should make all of us cringe:

Come to our DJANGO UNCHAINED Ball!  
Where: Anywhere, but it will feel like the Deep South
Why: Because we love that movie, Django, it brings us back to the way things used to be.
Your Hostess: Not sure, but Paula Deen, America Cooks Deep South, is catering!
What to wear: Big hair, heavy make-up, beautiful gowns, gloves, tails
How to speak: Practice that Southern drawl
Meeting you at the door:  Black slaves in their very best. You’ll finally get that respect, the Suh and Ma’am you deserve!
Not funny, right? The Washington Post:

She’s lost her show, her sponsors, and honestly, many of us are very tired of looking at her face. Gazing at us in each photograph we see a person lacking empathy, clueless as to how it might feel to have dark skin, forced to serve white people.*

Picture the ball:  A sea of white faces, dotted only with black ones dressed in black and white serving the white faces their dainty hors d'oeuvres on those little round trays. 

Oh, Paula! How could you even think like this?! Get a workshop.  Don't put it off. You need the intensive version, we're thinking.


*This reminds me of why people choose other service jobs (for the money), like waiting tables at Hooters. The women who wear skimpy clothing to serve men in restaurants, bars, do it to get paid. But they don't always like it.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Extremes, Exaggeration, Cut-offs, Boundaries and Homeostasis

Or: How Failing to Establish Boundaries, thus Needing to Cut Someone Off, an Exaggerated and Extreme but Sometimes Necessary Measure, Can Be Avoided 

(1) Extremes and Exaggerations

There was a Jewish sage, the Rambam, I think, Maimonides, who lived in the twelfth century. A doctor, (they didn't specialize then) he recommended that if you want to change something about yourself, your life, then err on side of extreme. If you are shy, exaggerate working the room. Act social.  Make yourself talk until people are bored listening to you. (All this my interpretation of a distant memory, probably wrong.)

If you are angry, become the Dalai Lama.

If you are late, strive to make every appointment really, really early.

Pushed too far it is ridiculous. If you are old, work at being young. If you are sick, make yourself well. Exaggerating doesn't work for everything, and surely the Rambam knew that.

The chachma (Soft "ch" not like the "ch" in "chuck", but sounds like "chuck", roughly; means wisdom in Hebrew or Yiddish or both), the chachma is that if you try to exaggerate a behavioral trait, if you over-shoot, aim for much more or much less, you are likely to fail, to miss that faraway objective. But the arrow will fall center, and you will be in a better place than before you tried.

I'd add, keep those expectations low (he may have said that, too). We all lose weight, then gain weight, then lose weight, then gain it back, hundreds of thousands of times in a lifetime, and the goals are usually unrealistic. Expect less, try for just a little success, and be grateful that on occasion you still enjoy eating.

Over-shooting works in that we improve, if only temporarily. Systems are homeostatic, especially behavioral systems, depressingly predictable. And yet: if we can handle failure, adopt a benign pick yourself up, brush yourself off, start all over again mentality, then at least we won't completely go to seed. We'll succeed some of the time. The job is to keep those times coming with practice.

Rambam's cognitive-behavioral therapy is useful in that way. The problem, of course, is that someone who is too shy to walk into a room isn't able to work one, not right away, not even for a day. So most behaviorists suggest baby steps. We'll get to those.

But first, what about the hocus pocus of The Secret, that book I never read but heard about from at least a dozen patients when it made the rounds and spotted right away as a great visual cognitive therapy.

The idea, seemingly, is that we all want to be different, better, but before we shoot off our new great idea, or buy new clothes, or invest in a weight-loss pill, maybe even get therapy or a lottery ticket, before doing anything to improve, best to imagine the change.

Start with a vision, a picture of more of a good quality, a picture of less of an undesirable one. If we mentally focus on the new me (rich!) and do it often, spend significant amounts of time imagining what change looks like, we are likely to wear it. In that Iphone video in your head, you are the star:
 No thanks, I'll pass on the cake.  
First you see yourself saying that. There you are, passing on the cake.

As opposed to everyone's favorite lyric, a send-off on a maudlin, yet wonderful Les Mis song, A little drop of rain can hardly hurt me now, that spawned my family's concessionary joke
A little piece of cake can hardly hurt me now.It's here, that's all I need to knowwww.
Better: See me. See the cake. See me taking the classic pass on the cake.
No thanks, I'll pass on the cake.
Too extreme for some people, and too time consuming, all that imagining, if it is going to be effective. And there may be something about depending upon the spirit world and who knows how that will go? Thus many of us recommend moderation.
I'll have just a little piece of cake. Please.
Moderation is the go-to strategy, most likely, of every great philosopher. (All of us don't make it through Philosophy 101, so I really don't know.  But probably even the Rambam loves moderation in another chapter of the same book, or a different book. Ask a scholar.)

So that's good. But as I said, I like Baby Steps, made famous in some movie or another. A toe in the water, then the entire foot, ankle. Take it slow. No need to do everything in a week, no need to accomplish everything in a month, think the year. The New Year's resolution but break that puppy down. Don't swim every day, not at first. Don't jog every day. Don't eat well every day, you won't anyway; why beat yourself up about it. Plan only your next step. Even with religion, slow it down. Baby steps.

Get used to the water.

It's all good, any attempt at change is good, but the extremes get us into trouble if we go there directly. The problem with extremes, even wanting to go there, is that they are so extreme. Never eat chocolate. Never get angry. Can we battle homeostasis, a law of nature? Hardly. The consequence of never get angry is blowing up out of context, scaring the daylights out of everyone.

And as long as we're rambling and losing focus something else happens when we deny our anger. We lose self. Nobody knows who we are. We lose such a huge piece of ourselves, our passion, we become unidentifiable, blend in with the sofa.

We have to manage anger, obviously, but losing it altogether is like losing salt and pepper. The food is missing something and we're not interested. We're not even going to discuss chocolate.

(2) Cut-offs and Boundaries

A social cut-off is extreme. Doing it feels extreme, and being cut-off is sometimes a call to panic. No one there to tell you, No need to freak out. Homeostasis.

Years ago a friend told me that her father-in-law was such an impossibly insensitive man, he said so many insensitive things, that she couldn't be around him, had an averse response to just being with him. Panic attacks at family dinners. Her therapist suggested she cut him off. She called the dad-in-law "borderline."

As if this is a reason to cut someone off. Understandable, but extreme. There are books about difficult people, understanding why a person is difficult. I prefer the word, complicated.

But it happens quite often, therapists recommending cut-offs, usually when someone won't respect boundaries. Figuring that out, how to set a boundary, and keep it set, is an objective of many therapies. Loosening boundaries to open up to more intimacy, is another.

Not going to lie, it is healing to cut off  contact for awhile with particular people, maybe for months, even longer. But it should be discussed. Anyone with the chutzpa to blast through personal boundaries can handle our labeling their behavior. And it shouldn't be forever, the cut-off.

It is easy to cut people off by moving away. Too busy to call anyone back, hoping the needier, more dependent, or difficult individuals will lose our scent, it is a lovely, expensive way to emotional relief.

Inconvenient and cowardly. Better to assert, label the hurt, the criticism, the panic attacks at the sound of criticism, the negativity dripping from that someone's mouth, even when it is negativity about others, not us, when the negativity is about the universe, or one of the protected classes, those gays, those whatever.

All of it, label it all. Make a splash in a calm, assertive, no need to get emotional fashion.
I disagree, why bring yourself up by putting other people down? 
Not that this will necessarily work. But we script it in therapy. Nothing to lose. Nothing. (We're not talking about physically abusive relationships).

Those who are cut off seek help, too.They are sad, don't like that they chase and lose. They are often seeking intimacy, ironically.

That's why it is so admirable when a person doesn't want to be the bad guy, when we want to say, in so many words, Don't call me anymore, don't visit, and I'm de-friending you on FaceBook, when we want to do this, say it, but don't. We just can't bring ourselves to it. To survive, we make an occasional process comment like the one above about putting people down, or we're straight about why we don't spend so much time with the other person.
I'm a conflict avoider, and you're really negative, a lot.
Such strength to say those words. Feels impossible. It isn't.

People who don't cut off difficult others (again, a disclaimer, not talking about sociopaths or even almost sociopaths) have learned that when there is a reunion, a party, when backed into a corner, our boundaries about to be seriously compromised, we need an exit strategy or a magazine, a puzzle, a game, something to rip out and use to disappear.

You know that cutting someone off is shooting them in the heart.

How do we mend that particular broken heart when it is our heart and we have been cut off?

Best to assume that the one who cut us off is self-protecting, setting a boundary. Most of us, if we rationally examine our behavior, can see our own faults. If we can't, we should ask someone who knows us well. We may not think our words or actions are hurtful, but if someone isn't talking to us, then they may have been hurt. Apologies upon that epiphany, what we did wrong, sometimes work, but are no magic bullet. And if someone doesn't take our apology, at least we tried.

And if rapproachment, or detente, never happen? If the relationship stays disengaged, cut off, a seeming non-relationship (as if there ever could be a non-relationship) wait.

Have it in mind, always, to wait. In the interim, both of you grow, become infinitely more interesting, funnier, smarter, wiser, less-judgmental. Deeper. Not always, but often.  When people change, there's nothing quite like it. We want to be their friend. They want to be ours. We have to respect those boundaries until that happens, even after we have grown.

Those who cut off, who set what feels like an impermeable boundary, can only hope that the ones shut out will still want to be with them by then.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Snapshots: When Your Kid Gets Married

You work long enough at this job, and it feels as if all of the people you see are relatives, kids. Just a few random snaps from the past few weeks.
The New Bride in the Family

Liza Minnelli

(1) Guilt by Association

First Snap:  Maybe This Time

I'm talking to a patient I've known for years. He knows I blog and has always wanted me to blog about him, but I just can't. Shelly is not his real name. I tell him:
"One day, Shelly, one day there will be a way to bring your story in front of the camera and not identify you, embarrass you."
We're there.

Shelly could really be a woman in her sixties, for all you know, but for our purposes we've designated him male, about forty. He has had no luck in relationships, picks the wrong women to love. They find him solid, the perfect catch for marriage because he's kind, loving, works steadily, and can dance. He's also generous, likes to cook, goes to church, and doesn't drink. And he could have been cast for Graceland. He is everything they want a man to be.

The first wife cheated on him, as did the second. His third engagement never made it to the altar because she cheated, too. Now, having fallen deeply in love for the fourth time, he's singing ala Liza Minnelli, straight out of Cabaret, or do you prefer Glee-- Maybe This Time 
Glee Maybe This Time

He's in love again and so, so worried, after four months of dating, that she's interested in someone else, too.

But she isn't. I know she isn't from what he tells me, and we bring her in to talk about Shelly's past, so that she can forgive his paranoid accusations, his insecurities, and they can work on these as a couple.

He has had a bad history with intimate partners, but hearing about his childhood and the women in his family of origin, his adult relationships don't compare. The house?  A crack house. Role models brought home multiple partners. And not only were they not terribly private, they saw nothing wrong with this.

The only true survivor of an unpredictable zoo, Shelly is the stalwart of the family now, the one everyone comes to for advice, for money, too, naturally. He never could be, never wanted to be anything like them.

But he thinks he is, that everyone knows, that he is tainted. You can read the dysfunction on him, or so he believes, can see it in his words, his smile. So goes the irrational way we see ourselves, sometimes, imprinted at a young age by identity.

Some of us are destined to define ourselves by the people who raised us, our flesh and blood, our families. No matter how different, the shame is so deep that it feels as if it shows, we feel guilty for being a part of all that. Logical? Not at all. But that feeling-- shame, unworthiness, dirty--irrational, ridiculous because he's nothing like anyone in his family, is wonderful in every way, comes from association. Guilt by association.

Second Snap:  Country Boy
Aaron Lewis Country Boy

Andrew (again, all of the details are entirely made up) has a PhD in economics from a top school. He married a girl he met in college, and has two adopted children, one foster child, and one biological child. He adores all of them. He's been working in a university for years, but still doesn't have tenure. He keeps getting knocked around, and publishing, for some reason, eludes him.

He's a country boy.

He doesn't look like a country boy, and he certainly doesn't have Aaron Lewis' self-acceptance, the self-esteem of a real country boy. But Andrew's parents moved him at critical moments in his life, and his haircuts didn't match the haircuts of his peers, his accent stuck out. His clothes were too gray, and he had a last name that predicted he would be the brunt of many jokes for as long as he lived.

Tall, handsome, built, he still sees himself as gawky, awkward, with features that are too large and a voice that sounds, to him, tinny, whiny. It isn't. He could broadcast the news. Hard as he tries, he sees himself as a geek, an outsider. His parents are both shy, socially introverted, and they didn't introduce much panache. Depressed, he calls them.  His diagnosis? Dysthymic Disorder, 300.4. He's suffered that low-grade depressive fever his whole life.

Too much teasing. Too much bullying for being the boy he had to be, coming from the family he didn't choose. He lived in areas of the south that didn't take kindly to all kinds of people, certainly not intellectuals. And although he lived on a farm until he was fifteen, and can milk cows and hunt pheasant, he is an intellectual and always will be. No chicken feed for him.

Guilt by association.

Is there any hope for people who suffer this enduring condition that is bound to sabotage, bite us in some way or another?

Well, of course there is. Begin by not judging so much, not judging anyone, not ever (this is the only way to true empathy and understanding, even of ourselves). Begin by assuming that we all come from someone, and if others don't like where we come from, or who we come from, their bad for assuming themselves better.

Begin changing by tempering the effort to differentiate. No matter how we leave our roots behind, whether or not it is by dressing better (or worse), getting better haircuts, trimming our beards, studying Emily Post or shamelessly social climbing, our history is us. And it makes us so much more interesting than a two-dimensional magazine photo.

Aspiring to being better than the people who raised us works and we should, but to tackle self-esteem, we have to start with what we have, seeing ourselves objectively, as children of the universe, saddled with a past that should be something we can talk about, let go. It is only some of us, not all.

Change on the outside (not that we can't or shouldn't) is so much work.

No wonder the diagnosis for guilt by association, very often, is one form of depression or another.

(2) Marrying off my son
Sure, you deserve pictures, and I stole the one at the top of the post from a friend, and this one below, from her daughter's wedding, with permission, naturally. It was beautiful, and exhausting, no big affair. And I didn't crash, truly, until this week. Between the mental and physical exhaustion and the cottonwood allergy, I thought I needed an annual physical. Married to a doctor, you get one of these every twenty years.

Third Snap:
Girls in White Dresses

The wedding was in New Jersey, and we're from Chicago. But we have people there, and finding things isn't that hard, now that we all have more than a compass. One of the things I took on was hospitality in the hotel. I wanted to be sure people felt cared for, had a few snacks, (good snacks) in the hotel in case they were too tired from traveling to want to go out.

So I rushed around the day before the wedding and took care of people. But there were guests, I soon learned, from the other side, that weren't on my list. I had some extras, but not enough.

A man from the tribe (we identify with those skull caps, you know what I mean), approached the desk in the lobby while I was talking to a clerk about delivering the hospitality bags.

"Are you here for my son's wedding, by any chance?" I ask, smiling.

"Oh, how nice!" he replies. "A wedding. Are you inviting me? I'll come!" (Oy vey.)

"Uh, sure. Maybe. What are you here for?"

"It is Memorial Day and my daughter arranged a memorial service." He's still smiling. (It gets better)

"For who?" I ask, carefully.

"For my wife." (and better, even).

"And when did your wife die?" I squeak out.

"Two weeks ago."  (And still smiling. The power, the sheer power of a positive personality).

"I'm so sorry."

"It was so nice, just being greeted here, invited to your son's wedding" he says, winking. "I'm from Pasadena."

And we launch into a discussion of Pasadena.

(3) Crazy dreams

My youngest, the one who got married, asks me what the band should play when my daughter walks down the aisle with her spouse and their three young sons. They moved back to Chicago last year after ten years in California.  Considering winter past, and this ridiculously cold spring, California Dreaming, obviously.

Which brings us to our last story

Fourth Snap:  About a month ago, having trouble sleeping, up and down all night, I woke up for the fifth time at five a.m. and started the coffee. No big deal.

I told myself, that this is how it is when you're older. You merely don't sleep much. Gradually you need less and less. It is like you want to live every day, every minute, don't want to waste any of those demarcations of time. You're looking at that Facebook timeline of life and the future is coming up short.

My father, in those years before his death, deep into his eighties, hardly slept at all.

But I know that on Friday night I'll catch up, regardless, because I drink a little wine with my meal, and am often down for the count by ten, book open. It will be an eight to ten hour night, no question, and the rest, the sleep, is healing.

Not that I'm recommending anyone drink wine for sleep. It is counter-indicated. Sleep problem? Talk to your primary care doc. He'll probably send you to the likes of me.

Anyway, that night happened to be a Friday night and the system didn't work. The rich food, the glass of wine, no magic bullet. I was up late reading, which is fine, but woke up very early, as usual. On a Saturday! That surprised me, as did my headache. One crummy glass of wine.

Two Tylenol, a cup of half-caff later, I'm in bed again, reading, and asleep in fifteen. This time I REM.

REM is Rapid Eye Movement, the stuff of dream sleep, and there is nothing like it, we all know. Refreshes a body's soul. My dreams are transparent, too, no need to work to understand them.

In this one, FD runs off without me in a strange place, some convention in a suburb not that far away. The subtext is that I am looking for him, but am also looking for my daughter, who has moved away. I can't find anyone to tell me how to get to my car, or where the parking lot is located. I'm in a hotel which is also home to a/synagogue with a hundred people I vaguely know but cannot name. At a convention booth is a news crew shooting footage of someone, maybe a news anchor, speaking into a microphone, looking directly at the camera. Someone points to me and tells the anchor (I think it's Jane Pauley), that she should interview me, that I know a lot about the subject. I say sure, and am waved to a chair, handed a microphone, and answer all of the questions well, loving it. All of my anxiety in the dream dissipates as I pontificate on some random topic that I don't remember upon waking. At the end of the interview I realize I have left my purse somewhere, with my phone, but even this doesn't bother me. I am in the moment, living it, and all is well.

I wake up and In Sickness As In Health, Helping Couples Cope with the Complexities of Illness is open to page 139.Barbara also blogs. Always lovely to stop by to see her.

Outsmarting Anger
Barbara Kivolwitz and Roanne Weisman have pieced together a lovely little how to and I recommend it highly.

How to Outsmart Anger is barely dented, and I don't understand this, and keep apologizing to the publicist, who wants a review. But the truth is that when I get like this I prefer chick lit. I did like it, and am going to read it and discuss it in more depth when something anger-specific comes to mind. But for now, check out the review by Jamie Ducharme on how to outsmart anger, and if it fits, check out the book. And if you have questions, the author, Dr. Shrand, promises to answer them for us. He'll even grant me an interview. Comment and let's take advantage!

 Anger is stupider than it looks. Recommend a rager near and dear, or one you wonder if you love.

Soon after the wedding the spell broke. As you certainly suspect, the sleeplessness had to do in part with aging, but more likely, is that fear of abandonment we've talked about so many times, and definitely a little performance anxiety, stage fright related to an upcoming workshop.

I'll be that person, the one who is supposedly able to work without notes, the one who will be in the moment, entertain, and teach. #readslikeaTedTalk.

And face it. We're all afraid of losing our phones.