Clothing to hide behind

Have you ever felt – like not wanting to be you, unlike you. Not that you wanted to shrink or hide behind things, people objects and become invisible, but rather to not be there, to feel invisible, to wield yourself differently in order to see what was around you and might bring itself forward, what would be willing to show itself or be found.

The Addicts Shame

Addiction is a disease that not only affects the physical body, but also crushes the soul. Feeding the disease requires a preoccupation with obtaining and consuming substances. This is often accompanied by deceitful and irresponsible behavior, taking a toll on relationships, family commitments and careers. It is easy to blame the individual for bad behavior – lying, cheating and stealing, as well as angry outbursts – rather than putting the focus on the disease that creates those behaviors. The addicted person is generally not proud of those behaviors. Being shunned by family, friends and society only contributes to greater shame and self-blame.

It is difficult to have compassion for people when presumed poor character is confused with the disease characteristics that undermine it. Compounding this is the common belief that people choose to become addicted, based on weakness, lack of will power and poor judgment. Again, looking beyond myth, science informs us that there is a genetic predisposition for addiction, as well as a range of environmental factors, especially those that occur in early childhood.

Feelings of shame that are become normal to the addict have shown to have a detrimental effect to chances of recovery. Research has consistently demonstrated that whilst guilt can have a positive association with self-forgiveness, shame negatively associated the capacity for self-forgiveness.

Overpowering negative emotions can derail efforts at achieving sobriety. A few therapy-informed techniques can help you stay on course. Many of our feelings are simple reactions to specific events that we perceive as pleasant or unpleasant. After the event is over, the related feeling usually fades away. We can easily see that our emotions are fleeting and impermanent.

Shame does not work this way. The hallmark of shame is a constant awareness of our defects. Without realising it, we become continual victims of shame-based thinking. Every day, we focus on our failures. Every day, we re-convince ourselves that we are defective. Our thoughts become riddled with judgment, regret, and images of impending failure.

There are many thoughts that therapy can bring up to help challenge our internal feelings of shame, judgement and abandonment. When working through specific areas of our lives we may be asked to question our negative thoughts and replace them with more accurate reflections of the self.

Is this thought really true?
How do I know it’s true?
What is the evidence for this thought?
What is the evidence against this thought?
Can I think of any times when this thought has not been true?
Is this thought helping me or hurting me?
What could I do if I let go of this thought?
What’s the worst that could happen if I let go of this thought? Can I live with that?

Working with a therapist who is committed to understanding and promoting recovery can create shifts in the way we regard addiction. Understanding that we need to take fault out of an addicts life and replace it with responsibility can mark a positive step in this direction.

A delight in the misery of others?

We are not always the most noble of creatures. Although we should feel sympathetic when seeing others suffer, we sometimes feel pleased. The German word schadenfreude describes this malicious pleasure. Meaning literally harm joy.

Nietzsche (1887/1967) argued that those who are threatened by the possibility of their own inferiority have “a desire to deaden pain by means of affect” . So, feeling pleasure at another’s misfortune can act as an “imaginary revenge” against the threat of inferiority. In essence, Nietzsche suggested that the affective pleasure of schadenfreude is a way in which in-groups can compensate for a status inferiority that threatens their self-worth.

This common, yet poorly understood, emotion may provide a valuable window into the darker side of humanity. Schadenfreude seems to comprise of three separable but interrelated feelings — aggression, rivalry and justice.

Dehumanization is the process of perceiving a person or social group as lacking the attributes that define what it means to be human. It can range from subtle forms, such as assuming that someone from another ethnic group does not feel the full range of emotions as one’s in-group members do, to more blatant and extreme forms of expression.

There is no agreed definition of schadenfreude. Since ancient times, some scholars have condemned schadenfreude as malicious, while others have perceived it as morally neutral or even virtuous. Schadenfreude is an uncanny emotion that is difficult to assimilate. It can make you feel odd to experience pleasure when hearing about bad things happening to someone else.

Psychologists view schadenfreude through the lens of three theories. Envy theory focuses on a concern for self-evaluation, and a lessening of painful feelings when someone perceived as enviable gets put down. Deservingness theory links schadenfreude to a concern for social justice and the feeling that someone dealt a misfortune received what was coming to them. Intergroup-conflict theory concerns social identity and the schadenfreude experienced after the defeat of members of a rival group, such as during sporting or political competitions.

What pulls people away from schadenfreude is the ability to feel empathy for others and to perceive them as fully human and to care for them. Ordinary people may temporarily lose empathy for others. But those with certain personality disorders and associated traits, such as psychopathy, narcissism or sadism are either less able or less motivated to put themselves in the shoes of others.

A little known and understood emotion, Schadenfreude is something we can possibly all uncomfortably relate to.

Race in the consulting room

My role as a psychotherapist working in Central London brings me face to face with people of many different backgrounds, ages, races, class and political and religious viewpoint. The origins of psychotherapy lie in Europe which was mostly created by middle class white men to treat mainly white women. Much has changed about the world since then and much has changed in the way we see difference and otherness in the consulting room.

At the beginning of treatment and throughout the course of therapy, both the therapist and patient can expect to be silently evaluated by each other. This process leaves us open to our vulnerabilities. Psychotherapy may activate emotional memories that relate to issues such as trust, entitlement, , authority conflicts, and the possibility of being judged. The opportunity for the person in treatment to expose her difficulties and to have these accepted and validated by the therapist, are critical components of the work. A positive therapeutic relationship is predicated on creating a safe enough space to expose our thoughts and desires and the therapist’s ability to handle these, including navigating those occasions when our differences interfere with a sense of emotional safety.

With this in mind I was struck by the relevance of the film ‘Get Out’ by Jordan Peele. The film artfully attempts to allow a white person to see the world through the eyes of a black person for an hour and half.

In the film, Missy, the therapist uses hypnosis to stir up memories of main character losing his mother and the associated pain to enter his mind. She sends him to ‘The Sunken Place’ – this is used as a metaphor for the representation of People of Colour. The “sunken place,” is where people are weighted down by lies they have internalised about their history and racial trauma. This idea refers to W.E.B Du Bois’s theory of “double consciousness” where we see ourselves through the eyes of the dominant culture. Double Consciousness is an internal struggle that affects the Black psyche. Contemplating oneself through the eyes of others, you are forced to live double lives―the life of a person of colour and as a British citizen, both of which are not liberal to you. Hence, the term ‘double consciousness’. You know what racism feels and looks like, but white people do not know what racism is. They have never experienced it after all. They have never felt what it is to be suppressed by people of their own country. They have never felt that pain or misery that many people of colour have been breathing like air since their birth.

As a psychotherapist there is much to be learnt from this experience. Our role asks us to try to understand the difficulties experienced by another human being, quite often with very different backgrounds to our own. The film ‘Get out’ uses imagery and symbolism to demonstrate both the literal meaning of the dialogue as it unfolds, but also the more subtle unconscious aspects of how we relate to each other and the world.

My experience of my difference means that on occasions I can’t quite tell if what I’m seeing has underlying bigotry, or it’s just a normal conversation and I’m being paranoid. I admit sometimes I see race and racism when its not there. That dynamic in itself is unsettling. It is this dynamic the film is able to capture. These aren’t the racists Hollywood is traditionally more comfortable calling out and posturing against. They aren’t Neo-Nazis, or White Nationalists. These are good White People, proud, well off and liberal who are very likely being completely sincere about their Obama votes and desire to connect with a multicultural society. Peele highlights a very specific subset of White racism: Liberals who are insistent of their non-racism because they admire an abstract ideal of Blackness while not actually engaging or regularly encountering any actual Black people.

Peele isn’t showing us that one race is superior to the other. He’s showing us that ideas of racial superiority are learned and passed down in families, workplaces, social groups and through the media.