Friday, August 11, 2006

I Hurt, Therefore I Am

My first Braxton’s Lear was based on a post by Lisa, a lady upset about the resolution B033 passed on the last day of ECUSA’s General Convention. She has followed it up with two clarifications, here, and here.

It’s hard to know just what to say about this sort of confessional literature. The original post was over-the-top and melodramatic, and was mocked accordingly. Now the writer has upped the ante – ‘THIS is why I wrote what I wrote!” she seems to be saying, “What do you have to say for yourself NOW?”

What I have to say is that this is clearly a damaged person. It’s terrible to be damaged like this. Of course, there are many examples of sounds or smells vividly bringing back past experiences; war veterans have often had to suffer such things. But it has always been considered a handicap, and something to be overcome, if possible. Furthermore, Lisa is extending her reaction from the understandable (hearing a familiar sound that was once the prelude to a beating) to the completely unconnected – a parliamentary procedure by an organization during a general convention. If in 1945, a woman said of her husband who had just gotten back from the war “Joe heard a car backfire, and took cover behind the couch,” everyone would understand that he was suffering a reaction from the sound of warfare, and sympathize. If two years later, she said “When Joe hears static on the radio, or the wind in the trees, he takes cover behind the couch,” people would say, “Hmm, it sounds like he’s getting worse. Maybe he ought to see a doctor?”

This kind of purely emotional reaction is impervious to any kind of argument, because it has nothing to do with reason. Lisa herself announces “I’ll freely admit: These reactions are not rational! They are visceral. Hear that? I’m openly confessing: It’s visceral! I hear the crack of the belt, and I assume it’s coming at me.“ Well, then, she is voluntarily removing herself from the argument. Do I have to state this? The viscera is not the part of a human being that thinks!

There are other visceral, irrational reactions that human beings experience – phobias, for example. In some cases, phobias result from a trauma. If you like, this “explains” the phobia, just as Lisa’s childhood experience “explains” her present reaction. But does it even matter? A therapist might find it useful to know where the root of the problem lies, in order better to cure it, but what difference does it really make to the rest of the world? It doesn’t change the fact that the reaction is irrational, and that the patient would be healthier without it. Irrationality should be fought as an enemy wherever it is found, not coddled and accommodated out of misplaced sympathy or pity.

Lisa’s reactions are irrational – her friend WASN’T about to hit her, even though she heard that sound. Nobody at the General Convention injured her, and furthermore, there wasn’t even any sound to trigger the emotion. These are just facts, no matter how she feels to the contrary. Her feelings are wrong, and in a sane world, she would be advised to seek professional help to correct them.

But that is not the advice she will receive. Instead, she will be flattered in her distorted view of reality, and she will be told that she should cherish her irrationality. The comments received so far confirm this:

I got the same chills when I read this, Lisa. I know the whoosh and crack! that you mean, and that's what B033 did to me and my partner too.

It does not get easier for us with time, but it most certainly gets easier for the abuser with time. Each successive beating comes easier (and faster) than the last.

How quickly will the beating that is to follow B033 come? And how much harder will the blows be?

And how much more self-satisfied will the abusers be when they find how easily they get away with it?

What a courageous piece of writing, Lisa. There's a saying in pastoral care that "pain touches pain." I have found that to be true. I pray that others who read this will understand that dynamic and stop claiming that some of us are "over reacting" to B033. That simply makes it hurt all the more.

Lisa, I only hope this will reach some beaters, both the physical abusers and the spiritual and emotional abusers.

Far from drawing back in dismay from this woman’s illogical, completely personalized response to what was a political decision by an organization (accomplished with a lot of typical haggling and pressure tactics), her supporters want to encourage her in her hysterical self-dramatization. “Feeling” is all – if it’s felt, it’s real, and cannot be disputed. To even argue the point “simply makes it hurt all the more”. And this just brings us full circle – since feelings trumped reality in the initial incident, going on to “make it hurt” automatically negates whatever the disputant can assert, no matter how firmly based on reality.

This tactic elevates the most needy and damaged among us to the level of unassailable authority. Of course, the law has always recognized that the most injured cannot be trusted to honestly and rationally evaluate an event, which is why victims and their families aren’t allowed to sit on a jury. They’re entitled to sympathy and support, but their state of mind is not normal, and they can’t be allowed to have a hand in establishing what is truth.

The disconnect between feeling and reality is explicit throughout Lisa’s explanations. Plenty of supportive, liberal Deputies & Bishops have tried to tell me that “manner of life” isn’t a slam. They insist it is not a betrayal. They assure me it is not a weapon.” But she feels that it is. So…which is true? They can’t both be. Are her loving, sympathetic friends lying? She never resolves that conundrum, nor does she seem to realize that it even needs to be resolved. But we are dealing with the nature of reality here – who is the best judge of what really happened? The people who were involved and voted and know their own minds, or the person who is having a visceral reaction, evoked by personal events completely unconnected with the present activity? The popular opinion seems to be that the emotional reaction wins out. “Understanding” this reaction does not mean what it should mean – recognizing that the person is damaged and has a faulty perception of reality. That would mean sidelining the person until she is healthier, because her perceptions cannot be trusted. Instead, it means pretending that the feeling can never lie, and so reality must step aside, and make way for the impervious-to-argument emotional sensibility.

In the great combat between the world as it is and the world as it feels, support is being given to the latter. Just keep feeling what you’re feeling, seems to be the theory, and what IS will eventually conform itself to you. And even if it doesn’t, you can just keep stubbornly contradicting reality and preventing it from being. But reality is deaf to our feelings – she does not hear the songs and rhymes that we’ve composed to replace her, and she can only be kept at a distance for so long.

(Anyone interested in reading about the problems of disentangling emotional reactions from reality should read Dr. Sanity's essay entitled "Feelings, Countertransferrence and Reality" from July 19, 2006.)


Blogger Ellie M said...

Right on, Dr Mabuse. And this is precisely why I object to the revisionists' characterization of themselves as "Thinking Anglicans." From what I have observed, their arguments are based not on analytical thinking but emotionalism. They don't even attempt to make rational arguments. Their position on any issue amounts to: "I *feel* this way, therefore I'm right."

If you read the theological essays of C.S. Lewis, you can clearly see the logical steps whereby he reaches each conclusion. He was a Thinking Anglican, all right. The revisionists...not so much.

10:58 pm  
Blogger Nasty, Brutish & Short said...

Excellent post. I was thinking about this situation while running errands today, and the sadness of it all really set in. She needs to have some very deep conversations with someone about her emotionalism. And about why a perceived attack on her sexuality triggers flashbacks to childhood abuse at the hands of her father. It is not hard to see how their might be a connection there. Sadly, modern psychology is probaby too politicized to help her with this. Lord knows the church is.

2:55 pm  
Blogger Allen Lewis said...

This is an attempt at emotional blackmail -"See how badly you hurt me? Now aren't you ashamed? What are you going to do to fix it?"

I note she claims to be over 40. It is sad that she has allowed herself to suffer dysfunctionality for so long by not seeking professional help to deal with her irrational feelings. I recognize that her pain is deep, but I also know that a competent therapist can cure this dysfunction if she is willing to give up the behavioral crutch she has constructed in order to deal with it. If I may say so, it does not seem like a very effective crutch either. But it does seem to elicit lots of sympathy and affirmation.

Crutches are so difficult to get rid of, even when you don't need them.

10:36 pm  
Blogger muerk said...

I think she's just trying to explain her extreme reaction to the event.

"I’m just trying to explain to you why some of us... are responding to it as if it were violence."

I disagree that God celebrates her choice of sexual behavior. But I think it's fair that she is allowed to express her personal feelings, however unreasonable they may be.

I don't think her emotionalism is authoritative, just personal.

10:51 pm  
Anonymous Liz said...

Why the title? What is the origin of it?

8:16 pm  
Anonymous Brittany said...

It's really hard to move on specially when you hurt inside and out. We tend to keep on reminiscing the past failures and beatings.

7:43 pm  

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