Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Some hidden memings to try out!

In school we are taught, that, as much, we know. But what are we taught?

 Many people would answer that we are taught the basics: the 3 Rs, and on them we build our knowledge so that we are equipped for life’s challenges.

 This, I believe is to miss the main point. We are taught so much more than that, and so much less than what we need, because, put simply, school is not so much about learning knowledge as it is about learning not to question our culture.

Try these out for size. I am about to make a series of assertions that challenge Western cultural beliefs. None of them are "wrong" (even the idea that there is intrinsic "rightness" or "wrongness" is a meme that can be questioned)

Assertion 1. It is good to be weak.
Assertion 2. It is important to be inconsistent with children
Assertion 3. Praise can be as destructive as criticism.
Assertion 4. Depression is an essential human emotion
Assertion 5. Telling someone a secret is often an abusive act
Assertion 6. Emotional people are more trustworthy than rational people.
Assertion 7. An impartial approach to people in conflict is destructive to human relationships.

 How are you going? How many of these are you prepared to support? Could you take any of these stances in a debate, or would you feel that you were betraying yourself to do so?

These are some of my beliefs, but I didn’t learn them in school. I learnt the opposite in school, because the above beliefs don’t help greatly in the current cultural pursuit of economic rationalism in which we are all workers and consumers. If these beliefs were not systematically discouraged in school then the fabric of Western society would tear beyond repair. It is my strong belief that what we don’t learn in school is how to discard our cherished beliefs when we need to empathise with someone else who thinks differently to ourselves.

This has never been more painfully demonstrated than in the current gender based “project of misunderstanding” which is leading to an ever increasing rate of failed partnerships. I believe we need to learn to “think different”. A professor of English, Peter Elbow has written about this and calls it the “believing game”.

He describes a process whereby when faced with a challenging belief or set of beliefs, the person actively decides to suspend their own beliefs and to assume, as an exercise, that the opposing or difficult beliefs were actually true, and to “step into” this belief for the purposes of exploration.

His assertion is that by doing so, a person becomes more aware of different approaches to a situation that may be helpful. To do this process effectively is incredibly difficult. When I try it myself I often find myself getting carried away with my own passionate belief in my own way of doing things and I become distracted from the point of view and experience of the other person.

To keep their own reality alive, side by side with mine is a challenge indeed, but if successfully done, very rewarding and can actually be an antidote to conflict and generate surprisingly creative outcomes that could not have been anticipated before the process was conducted.

(Interestingly a blogger has come up with an interesting technique to separate negative thoughts from behaviours by deliberately lying to himself, but seeing through the self trickery- a "counter" believing game. http://www.dumblittleman.com/2013/05/a-simple-5-step-process-to-separate.html
How strange we are!)

Narrative therapist Michael White created a listening exercise in the 1980s which had similar elements and he devised a way of listening to another person's experience with the sole purpose of empathising. This was designed predominantly for men who used abusive practices, without falling into the traps of blaming, trivialising, reassuring, rationalising or problem solving when their partner's were describing their experience. I think we could all benefit from the exercise though. It's one of the most powerful tools when you use it.. to be heard in this way is so unusual for people that they can be blown away by the experience.

He encouraged the almost exclusive use of "tell me more about that" and "is there anything else you want to say about that?". How hard would this be when you want to explain, rationalise, interpret, solve, show you care, and so on? Enough for now...

Oh, about my beliefs above.. I will elaborate later.. so much to say, so little time!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Big fat memes, sugar sweet lies

Some of you might have seen David Gillespie's book "Big fat lies" in which this Australian "recovering corporate lawyer" as described by Penguin Books, exposes the myths and lies that have contributed to our modern epidemic of obesity and metabolic syndrome in the name of "health advice", sadly also dispensed by us doctors who were trusted to be informed. We were misinformed, and my point here is that the meme is a powerful thing once it catches on, even if it's false.

Some false memes are below.

"Fat makes you fat"  (false)

"Cholesterol is bad for your heart" (false)

"Sugar is pretty harmless" (false)

"Polyunsaturated fat is better than saturated fat" (probably false.. I certainly believe so)

"Fruit juice is good for you" (probably true if you limit it to a couple of mls- but false in any substantial quantities"

"If it's natural it must be good" (a gross oversimplification)

And for those with deeper medical interest....

"Cholesterol levels are a pretty good indicator of cardiovascular risk" (false)

"high HDL cholesterol levels are good for you" (false- it's HDL particle count that matters, HDL cholesterol levels can be seriously misleading)

"high LDL cholesterol levels are bad for you" (false- it's LDL particle count that matters- high LDL cholesterol levels can be seriously misleading)

So what went wrong? Are we such simple souls that simple explanations which are easily repeated are very attractive to us, to the point that it matters little if they are wrong? Obviously the policy makers, advertisers, politicians, media spokespeople, and your overpressured health professionals don't have the time to research properly what they are told, or to spend the time explaining something complicated to you!

At some stage I will follow this up with a more detailed exposition of what diet is probably healthy, but people have done this much better than I could ever do so...

Check out the following to start your research trail (I wouldn't recommend these if I hadn't checked out many of their assertions by going to the original studies)

David Gillespie's Sweet Poison and Raisin Hell websites. David has done an enormous amount of research and has applied his critical legal mind to everything he learns

What happens when cardiac surgeons (Dwight Lundell and Dr Miller) go searching for the reason we are sicker now after 20 years or more of sound preventive health care advice

Jimmy Moore's podcasts are fantastic. Another passionate inquisitive, intelligent person in search of answers in a very obfuscated field with politics, spin, profits and personal agendas at each turn.

Refined carbohydrates especially sugar and High fructose corn syrup- check out Paediatric Endocrinologist Robert Lustig's video.. contains a good primer on biochemistry when he discusses the metabolic load from a can of "soda" (lemonade to us)- interesting that it's as bad as a can of beer!


Long live the simple meme... even if by propagating it we don't live long ourselves!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Compassionate Personality Disorder


This is about compassionate personality disorder. I invented this diagnosis years ago as I kept finding myself in the DSM IV but in many places but I wasn't happy with any of the diagnoses. For more about my beliefs about the DSM classification system, see what William Glasser has to say (http://nationalpsychologist.com/2006/11/glasser-headlines-psychotherapy-conference/10879.html)  As Michael White used to say "every day's a field day for a psychopathologist".

I seriously believe that the centralised, patriarchal and disempowering model of so-called "mental illness" health care delivery is ineffective at best and at worst, the current model canbe very damaging to people's self esteem and even abusive by 

a) removing people's self faith inadvertently by application of a diagnosis and hidden strong biases towards pharmaceutical treatment processes, and 

b)inadvertently shifting their faith in recovery  from their own community to expensive, scarce and less readily available specialists, and by shifting their focus of help-seeking in the same direction- away from available friends, family and community towards professionals. 

Here I agree with Vikram Patel and his model of "SUNDAR" with us all empowered to help. http://www.ted.com/talks/vikram_patel_mental_health_for_all_by_involving_all.html

I am not saying this disempowerment is deliberate- the hidden memes (eg "you can't do this without chemicals, or a professional", "you are deficient in something that only they can provide, be it strategies, or serotonin") can be the cause of the harm, not the intentions of the carers.  But the system is here to stay....

.. if you can't beat-'em, join-'em.....

COMPASSIONATE PERSONALITY DISORDER (CPD)


People with compassionate personality disorder have a heightened sense of responsibility for what they do. They have a heightened awareness of the effects they have on others.

The criteria for this disorder are as follows...

The valuing of compassion. People with cpd value compassion highly. They are committed to improving experience for people with whom they come into contact. They are commmitted to trying to relieve other people's suffering. They are more interested in connectedness than in individuation, more interested in experience than in facts, more interested in finding common ground with people than differences and more interested in finding the good in people than the bad. They don't believe in blaming others, labelling them, and are more likely to do this to themselves.

(Warning...If you aren't finding this helpful I suggest you stop here.. This is MY definition of cpd, as the entity has not really been described. A few people who see me have found it really helpful, as previously they have not been able to relate to the labels that people have given them... depression, inadequate etc. This, for some people provides a label that gives acknowledgement to their experience while valuing them as people rather than devaluing them. If you are happier with a more conventional "diagnosis" there are plenty of other places to go on the internet.. this blog might not be for you!)

The feelings of compassion....

People with cpd feel other peoples pain and anguish. They are readily able to identify with people. Because the world has so much abuse, hardship and suffering, people with cpd feel lots of pain. When joy occurs, people with cpd feel elated and high. They SHARE experience with others, rather than isolate their emotions, thoughts and feelings from others.

Guilt is a common experience for people with cpd. (see the thoughts of compassion).

Anger is extremely common. People with cpd feel anger and outrage about the injustices in the world. They cannot believe how badly some people treat others. Because they are in tune with other peoples’ pain, they often experience outrage and anger.  

Because they are so in touch with their experience, they often express their feelings to others. This attracts others to give them advice to “toughen up”, or “don’t feel so angry”. They get told “that’s just how the world is.. get used to it”. They find this difficult because they are ethically opposed to “just getting used to it” because to do so would allow others to continue to abuse people.

People with cpd are often misdiagnosed with “depression” or “anxiety”. They often get told they need medication. They see doctors. Doctors have been trained to judge people, but, although they are familiar with the feelings of compassion, have been trained by their superiors to think of these feelings (when they have them themselves) as signs of becoming “over-involved”. To be in tune with them would have them overwhelmed by the numbers game that society has imposed on them. So they encourage people with cpd to do what they themselves HAVE to do.. “Switch off”, “toughen up”, “learn to be cruel to be kind”, “be rational, not so emotional”. They diagnose depression or anxiety, and often prescribe tablets. (Don’t get me wrong... the tablets are good for some people, and for some people they are extremely good. They do help, but they aren’t the only answer.. see more below in “some advice”). 

People with cpd feel like they don't fit in with our society. They think that the world could be a better place and can't understand how harsh and cruel cold and remote others can be.

The thoughts of compassion. People with cpd are more likely to think.."I could have done better" or "I can do better". This is what makes them put in 100% for others. They think this rather than "I've done my best, there is nothing more than I can do" .. that thought which allows people to back off from a situation and then blame others for any problems occurring.

Because they feel guilty, they are likely to think "Because I feel guilty I must be bad" (or "there must be something wrong with me" or some other negative variation on a theme.) Other people are likely to reinforce this belief by labelling people with cpd as having something wrong with them, or treating them as if they are weak or deficient. 

CPD sufferers devalue this guilt as something wrong with themselves. Without guilt would not one act more irresponsibly, and create more suffering for others? For CPD sufferers, "guilt" is their conscience which for the moment has happened to stumble upon a megaphone. The problem here is not the guilt, it is the megaphone. We all need a strong conscience.

CPD sufferers are more likely to think "I must not have a negative impact". This is at odds with the belief which is becoming more prevalent in our society which is “I have the right to influence others (and the environment)”. CPD sufferers, when they are suffering, have repeated thoughts which echo "Lack of entitlement", guilt, self-blame, anxiety and shame. Society reinforces these strongly; in fact I argue that society can only force people to do things in the workforce they wouldn't normally do if they have a healthy dose of these entities- call me a conspiracist if you like!.

The actions of compassion
People with compassionate personality disorder often find themselves doing things for others or because of a sense of duty or obligation. They are ethically opposed to letting people down {as compared with people with individualistic personality disorder, or economic-rationalist personality disorder who believe that people fall into two categories.. those who don’t deserve to be let down (their friends) and those who aren’t entitled (the weak, pathetic, those “below” themselves, or the "unwell". Unfortunately the industrialised model of health care makes such discrimination necessary to prevent burn out. Practitioners must divide people into those "deserving" of help and those where the effort might be less rewarding, relying on ideas of professionalism, sustainability, objectivity and pragmatism}

When people with compassionate personality disorder are doing things for others, they often feel bad, put out, or cross with themselves for putting themselves out, BUT THEY KEEP DOING IT. That is because they are very committed to the service of others. When they are regaining energy to go back into service (resting), they feel guilty and selfish. They keep on DOING COMPASSION, RATHER THAN JUST TALKING ABOUT IT. It is this doing that makes them often feel tired. They often strive for “balance” in their lives, and they think that this will provide comfort. It is when they start thinking “life should be comfortable” that they start to feel depressed, because they find that by seeking comfort, they often have to take themselves “out of service” to others.

Why is this a “disorder”?
CPD is a disorder because it is not consistent with the dominant beliefs of modern society. People with CPD are sometimes not valued as employees because they put in extra effort trying to get to know people, which is not "efficient". Because they don't believe in "having an impact" they can be seen as indecisive. People with "realistic personality disorder" are more likely to blame them for not being strong, decisive and "in action". People with cpd will only be in action if they are confident that they have done their utmost to minimise the negative consequences of their action on others. This is in contrast to people with "realistic personality disorder", "decisive personality disorder", "remote personality disorder" and "economic-rationalist personality disorder". The latter groups use this difference to judge people with cpd, so they are continuously being judged by others. They ethically refuse to do the same back, so others see this as a sign of weakness. These others are into strength, which they see in terms of "standing by your decisions", "defending yourself", "not taking any shit", and "knowing your boundaries" etc. These people are into having an impact or influence, moving on, etc. People with cpd are more into conserving, peace, stillness, rest, appreciation rather than modification of the world.

People with cpd don't climb hierarchies because the practices that are necessary to do so are not consistent with their values.

Treatment. It is not a good idea to try to treat people with cpd, because the world is worse off if their disorder is treated. People who need compassion and support will be denied refuge from the harshness of the world. It is helpful to explain to people with cpd that they have a disorder that was once a desirable condition, but is no longer consistent with modern Western ideas of progress, efficiency and the pursuit and worship of information rather than appreciation of life. It is very important to give people with cpd permission to shout, yell, scream, and do crazy things because the burden of being compassionate all the time is extreme. It is only when they become aware that compassion is their choice that they start to feel more comfortable with the thoughts and feelings and experience of compassion, much of which is negative. When they start thinking... "I'm glad I'm feeling bad... it shows I am in tune with my compassion and love for others" that paradoxically they start feeling better. That is WHEN THEY BECOME COMFORTABLE WITH THEIR DISCOMFORT, RATHER THAN FIGHTING IT. When they become comfortable resting, and see it as a necessary break to replenish themselves before returning to service, rather than selfishness, then they become less distressed.

One risk for people with cpd is to see themselves as compassionate people. For me Compassion is a practice, as is love. I believe that one way of knowing that I am practising love or compassion for others is when I am feeling guilty, or doing something for someone which I really do not feel like doing. But this is my choice. Sometimes I choose to have a different idea of compassion. If I have exhausted all other avenues, it might be compassionate to distance myself from others. But this I see as a last resort.. a temporary way of nourishing myself so that I can continue to serve others...when I feel better. I am not prepared to go down the physical gurgler because of my beliefs about compassion. While I am feeling fit and well, I believe in selflessness. When I am feeling overwhelmed and cornered and sick, I believe in selfishness. When I get back my energy, I believe in selflessness. Like a battery, sometimes I need to be run right down before I will recharge, other times I keep on going, with little top-ups in between.

Some advice (which I am not really entitled to give, as to do so is to participate in inviting people to feel bad about what they have done already.. so please see it only as a sharing of what SOME  other people have found helpful SOME of the time, in SOME circumstances.

About doctors and counsellors.
Find the doctor who will not only prescribe, but who will also help you think about your thinking in a way that feels collaborative to you. If your doctor gives you the impression that they are pretty much only interested in diagnosing you and prescribing for you, see someone else as well. Any counsellor who checks on how their style is working for you, and seems happy to adjust it if it is not working is fine.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that your thinking is wrong or deficient. It isn’t. It is simply compassionate thinking. That anger is “ a passion for justice”. That guilt is your conscience.. your moral values system. If you lose them you would be more inclined to let the world self destruct, and you would start contributing more to that destruction. You don’t want to lose them.. just stop feeling bad about anger and guilt. And if you do feel bad about them... Don’t feel bad about feeling bad. Feel good that you can feel bad about feeling bad. Being able to feel bad is the only thing that makes you a good person. Without that ability you would start to do more bad things to people. And you wouldn’t give a stuff. You know the people who do that.. do you want to be like them?

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t want to change your thinking or your experience of your thinking. “Treatment” can help to create a different “space” to step into and out of when you choose. In this space you can ask yourself “Am I ready to re-enter the compassionate (uncomfortable) way of being, or do I need a rest?” You already know that resting space.. it’s the space where you feel selfish. One thing that may help is to change the “aren’t I selfish?” into “isn’t it great to be selfish like this, so that I can regain the energy to continue to be selfless?”

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Avoiding responsibility, and comparing people- not good?

So I will keep going in my elaboration of power words, and my crude attempt to categorise them-

Words which attribute responsibility rather than share it. 

An example of linguistically inviting another to take full responsibility for a problem is
"You misunderstood me", rather than the preferable sharing of responsibility..."We have had a misunderstanding"

Another is "You didn't listen to a single thing I said" or.. "I asked you to do this and you went and did the complete opposite" Once again a naeieve question can go a long way here.. "After our discussion I was expecting A, but what you did was B. I had hoped to communicate X, so I was surprised. I want to know how this misunderstanding happened (maybe I wasn't clear enough). I would be interested in what you heard and understood about what I said..."

I believe that by the speaker admitting the possibility that they might have contributed to the misunderstanding the agenda shifts slightly from blaming to problem solving.

Words which measure others comparatively.

"Too". A comparative term which can be used to imply that the listener's quality does not measure up to the "norm", either defined by the speaker, or by the culture, of which the speaker sees themselves as a representative.

 "You're too sensitive" "You talked about that for too long". If comparison is necessary, an alternative could be "She's busier than I would like to be" rather than "She's too busy". An alternative to "He's too loud" could be "I sometimes/often find it hard to have my say when he's around" as I find it hard to interrupt him. (Does this seem too (!) cumbersome or unnatural? ....Good- many problems in our communication I believe stem from the hurry to be expedient- that's how a 'doing' culture works compared with a 'being' culture)

 If comment must be made I believe consideration of how the other person would comfortably describe themselves is most respectful. For example, rather than "She's too sensitive", consider " She can tune in easily to other's feelings" "She finds negative judgements hurtful" "over-....." or "under-.. .." Prefixes used to rate a quality or action and compare it unfavourably to a standard.

"You're over-reacting" "She's over-sexed" Such statements leave little room for appreciation of difference. These prefixes are best avoided. "Enough" eg- "She doesn't do enough around the house". This defines the desirable or "appropriate" amount of something and discourages expression of alternative views. "Enough said". "Much" can have a similar effect eg: "She doesn't do much around the house". A preferable alternative is to describe what is done without making valued judgements. eg. "She does the ironing and cleaning. She employs a cook for the meals".

 "His response was inappropriate".
Preferable alternatives are descriptions of the event contextualised by reference to the reality to which they are being compared. For example, instead of "inappropriate", consider "She looked hurt and seemed silenced by his response. If it were me, I would not have said that because based on what I know about her previous reactions I would have guessed that such a statement would affect her that way". This leaves at least a little space to compare expectations and assumptions.

Some other negative examples of comparative words are- "extreme", "inadequate". "That was an extreme reaction" "That was inadequate". I reckon these are best avoided as labels, but could probably be introduced as theories followed by a "what do you think?"

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Defining reality- a verbal way of asserting power


Here's my first instalment in my attempt to categorise power words. I want to consider some common words or memes which are often overlooked when considering power play in modern society.

"Actually", "really", "in fact", "in reality".  I believe these words are used to privilege the speaker's reality over the listener. The implication here is that there is only one reality, and that the speaker is being "objective". These may have the effect of raising questions about the validity of the listener's experience, perceptions or understandings.The word "realise" can be used here.

"She doesn't realise how unreasonable she is being".
" What actually happened was...."

Similar (in my humble view) are the words which define another's reality.
These are words which define another's thoughts, motives, intentions, and discourage self representation. I think that because of their offensiveness, they may create a environment which almost inevitably invites defensiveness. For example-

"You deliberately put away the milk when you knew I wanted to use it!" (notice the intentribution here)

"You think"  A blocking statement which has the effect of discouraging the listener from sharing their thoughts, because the speaker has already defined them without inviting comment.
"You think you're so smart"

It can also be used interrogatively to question one's motives or logic -

"What on earth could you have been thinking when you did that?"

"You're confused" is a common statement. Apart from defining someone else's reality, this statement ties a problem (confusion) to the subject's being, by using the "you're" or "you are"  attribution.

How often do you hear "You're confusing A with B" when you listen to an argument? Maybe a simple enquiry might reveal more of the speaker's reasoning. How about "When you say A how do you see it relating to my ideas which are.. B?" ? More respectful do you think?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Defining Abuse- we've got it wrong. No wonder we have a problem


I believe the fact that abuse is not often identified, acknowledged or dealt with is because we define it poorly, and rely on definitions based on objectivity or upon intentions (which allows someone to self-define as "non abuser"). This system of definition encourages perpetuation of abuse.

I propose a definition of abuse based on a person's experience rather than a definition based on intention. I propose the broadest possible definition of abuse.

For me, abuse is anything which causes a negative experience in another person, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. I include passing judgement (eg-"paranoid", "sensitive", "over-reacting" etc.) I believe that we all indulge in abusive practices a lot of the time. Why do I use this broad definition? Because the creation of "milder" categories such as rudeness, persuasion, giving some home truths etc. allows too much scope  for people to continue hurting people and not call it abuse. This correspondence may be seen as abusive by some or all of you. If so, please feel free to let me know, and tell me how I could have addressed this issue in a more caring way.

I  have deliberately removed the concept of INTENTION from my understanding of abuse. I now believe that most abuse is perpetrated with "good" intentions, or is based on "good" assumptions. So abuse is not about intent (in my understanding). I know that when people have a negative experience of me I am often unaware about what it is I have said or done that has caused harm. I still call that abuse....Why?

Who defines abuse?

One way of thinking about abuse is by thinking about who is entitled to define it. My preferred way of approaching this question allows for only 4 possibilities- that it is defined  either-

1. By the recipient*   or
2. By the producer*    or
3. By shared understanding of the recipient and the producer   or
4. By an independent person or group.

*here I do not believe that producer and receiver are mutually exclusive. In many interactions (?most) we are both simultaneously producers and receivers as the abuse flows both ways.

If you allow the "producer" to be the one who determines whether what they have done or said to another is abusive or not, then there is no room for the concept of unintentional or inadvertent abuse. We all have experiences that are negative, even from friends who pass judgement or give advice with good intentions. If these experiences cannot be defined as abuse, then for me there is too much room for confusion because there are too many shades of grey. In the confusion, there is too much scope for the generation of pain to be repeated or worsened. There is ignorance, and therefore LACK OF RESPONSIBILITY. I want a definition of abuse that leaves room for movement away from abusive practices and towards relationships that are caring and compassionate.  I have witnessed many cases of abuse where the "abuser" has no idea that what they have done is harmful, when most other witnesses would call it abuse.

If you allow an independent person to define abuse, such as the College of Psychiatry or take a dictionary definition, then this also invites lack of responsibility for others feelings. Why? Because each of us has a different history, different life experience and this generates our understandings. So if I say to someone "you are special to me", that may be a term of affection and they may have a positive experience, but If I say it to someone who has been sexually abused as a child, I may be unwittingly using the abusers words and the person may feel physically sick. That, in my book, is abuse. I believe that in each of my relationships with people I have a responsibility to check on the effects of my interactions, and continually adjust how I communicate and respond, and act, to improve that person's experience. This is part of my definition of compassion. An impartial definition of abuse allows people to say or think..."Oh..What a pity that affected you in that way. You're so sensitive. I meant no harm, so I don't need to change. I have a right to tell you the truth. You need to toughen up.  Get real." This is the "like it or lump it response". No change occurs, and that particular relationship is on a downhill run. Our society trafficks in sayings that support this reponse such as "No pain, no gain". Shared meaning becomes less and less accessible, as does working together. If the "abuser" continues to repeat the interaction despite protest, or information from the receiver that they are being harmed, the only option for the receiver is to cut off contact. This is their right. Any method of cutting off from abuse is legitimate to me.

If you try for a shared meaning of abuse, there is little room for the appreciation of difference of peoples experience and each person attempts to recruit the other to their viewpoint. Defensiveness, denial and self righteousness are invited into the relationship, and these, in my book, are the enemies of compassion, collaboration and goodwill. The worst situation is one of compromise, when both parties have to try to extinguish their understanding of some of their experiences- the ones that they now have agreed to no longer call abuse. They are called upon to do so, despite continuation or worsening of their experiences when that particular experiential context is repeated.

So, for me, the only definition that enables both parties to feel empowered is the definition where the receiver can define abuse. This gives explanation to the paradox where a relationship fails, and both parties feel abused. Under the old intention-based beliefs- that only one of them has created abuse, they can avoid seeing themselves as part of the problem and spend most of their energy defending their position. By the experience based definition they have both been abused.. They are both producers of, and recipients of abuse. Rather than defending their position, it leaves them with the choice as to whether to acknowledge and take responsibility for their part in the production. Each person as producer can then spend their energy on trying to "step into the others shoes". What is required of them is firstly unconditional acceptance that the other has felt abused. I believe this means a suspension of understanding. If you accept without understanding, you are more open to slowly learn by trying to share the others experience. The second requirement is often an acknowledgement. Most powerful in our culture is an apology.

An example of such an apology is.. "I'm sorry. I had no idea that what I did/said had caused you this pain. I don't understand how that happened because I am not you, and I don't know what your life has been like, but I accept that you felt abused, and I therefore have been abusive. I am determined not to repeat this, and I appreciate you letting me know. I want to learn more about how what you  find hurtful because I value our relationship and want it to improve. I also appreciate how hard it might have been to let me know".

Because there are groups in our society who are more consistently abused I believe there is more of an onus for apology on those deemed more powerful. That is, more onus for men to apologise to women, Caucasians to apologise to other races, heterosexuals to gays, employed to unemployed, managers to workers, parents to children, the verbally articulate to the less articulate, and so on. There is no onus for acceptance of the apology. Some abuses are not forgivable, but the apology may help as a starting point for the rebuilding of some relationship.

If this sort of interaction occurs then there is room for shared meaning to grow, intimacy and trust, and the slow exclusion of denial, pride, self righteousness, sense of entitlement, anger and impatience from the relationship. There is a new side which emerges which is a SIDING AGAINST ABUSE. This allows people to retreat from the pain caused by having to TAKE SIDES against others.

Why do I define abuse in this way, and why am I so convinced that this is what is needed? Because the "conventional" or dominant cutural understandings of abuse, advice, judgement (and that includes all assessment of personality, including psychiatric diagnosis) have failed me. Until 1996 when I discovered a "narrative" approach to life, my own personal life was going downhill. I won't go into it here, but changing my understanding was the only way forward, and the rewards are great.

If individuals together, or groups can't model "POWER WITH", all that happens is a duplication of "POWER OVER", and POWER OVER, is, I believe, what generates a very large amount of the trouble in this world, both locally and globally. I make no judgement of the individuals who are involved in this abusive process. That is our culture. We are all trained in this way. The fish doesn't notice the water.

By defining abuse in such a broad way, I do not want to minimise the nature of anyone's own personal experience, and I would in some ways be happier if there were other powerful words for what I describe. However if I don't call harmful ways of being in this world "abusive" I would be shirking my own personal responsibilities. I must assume that at all given moments I am at risk of abusing others. If I fail to keep this thought foremost in my mind then I believe that this is the moment when I am most likely to reproduce the cultural practices of abuse.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A bit about me, and power words

I've reread my blog posts recently and realise they look pretty "negative". This doesn't sit well with the current fashion to "think positive" which (coincidentally ?) resides as a meme of the privileged or less oppressed. I believe that the less fortunate or wealthy you are, the less likely you are to naturally assume/resume the positive thinking "state". (Am I wrong here? Perhaps this is worth checking out more) Anyway, on review I am fairly happy with what I have written, and I am by no means a pessimist... I am more of an optimistic pessimist. Michael White once said to a group of us in discussion "I believe the world is pretty stuffed, so that frees me up to do what I think is helpful" ( maybe not a word for word quote, but that was his message..) I concur.

Anyhow, it is worth sharing a little more about myself before I launch into how I think we use language to exert and maintain power relationships, and how our very language of English hands us the loaded gun and we don't often realise we are firing off continuous salvos at all and sundry, especially those we love.


I am a 53 year old Caucasian male currently working as an academic in Geelong, a provincial city in Victoria, Australia. As such I believe I would be perceived as coming from a dominant gender, racial group and professional group. I am married to a female general practitioner and we have two children. As such I represent a dominant social group (the family) which has been defined as the norm, and as a self defined heterosexual I come from another dominant group which has oppressed and excluded non-heterosexuals. As an Australian of European extraction, I represent Western culture and its lifestyle, a dominant culture with a history of colonisation and displacement or extinguishment of other cultures and their practices.

A statement of my intentions. I hope that by writing i might encourage others to consider possible power practices they might unwittingly be exerting and that in some small way this will lead to a general reduction in the prevalence of abusive use of power.

Significant stimulation to write came years ago after I read "The verbally abusive relationship" by Patricia Evans and from discussions relating to the politics of power in a narrative therapy course. I also acknowledge Michael White as the source for me of numerous ideas espoused here. I have had several opportunities to discuss these ideas with women, individually or in groups, many of whom were "my" patients. I developed an interest in male experience and have had several prolonged interactions with men separating, or separated from their spouses. Thus much of the descriptions relate to gender relationships. My discussions with people who would identify as gay have profoundly educated me about many cultural prejudices we perpetuate. Some of my ideas have doubtless been influenced by working in a Western Desert aboriginal community for 6 months in 1986

Ok.. Enough about me for now.. More later when I feel a little braver about revealing my own frailties (hypocrisy is a big one)..

Back to power words... Let's start with a list. I will elaborate in forthcoming blogs.


I believe the following words are potentially oppressive, and at worst are dangerous and mental illness generating

1. Words that privilege one reality. Eg: "Actually", "really", "in fact", "in reality" and even "realise"

2. Words which define another's reality (generally following "you" Eg: "you deliberately....". "You think"

3. Words which attribute responsibility rather than share it. "You misunderstood me"

4. Words which measure others comparatively: "Too". "over-....." or "under-.. Eg: "You're over-reacting" "Enough" " inappropriate" "extreme", "inadequate".

5. Diminishing or excusing words "Only", "just" "All". As in "all you were doing was..."

6. Words which devalue non reason-related responses: "unreasonable" "emotional" "over involved" "enmeshed" "irrational" "That's nonsense", "..ridiculous", "..preposterous" "..idiotic", "..senseless" etc.

7. Words used to prevail over others. "But "

8. Threatening words. "If" "or else" .

9. Coercive words. "Should" "Ought to" "got to" or "must".

10. Words which spoil identity. They also often are preceded by "You are"

11. Words which disable. "can't"

12. Words used to assume agency. "To". The simple exclamation mark, while not a word can be abusive when used as a command without seeking consent.

13. Words which denigrate protest. For example. "nagging" "whingeing" "complaining" "squawking" "carrying on" "squealing" "whining" and so on.

14. Totalising words. "always" "absolutely"

15. Implications, insinuations. These are the words that are not said. .....More to come... Stay tuned


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~