Archive | psychology

America is a 15 year-old boy

Specifically, a 15 year-old cis, hetero boy. And one who needs to get his shit together.

I should have written this post months ago. And that fact that I’m still capable of writing it- because nothing of significance has changed – kinda pisses me off. Alas…we’re here and there’s nothing to do but accept it.

Think of each country in the world as a person unto itself. We might imagine Ireland as a beautiful red-headed woman of about 30 years. She’s been through some violent growth spurts, raging inside herself to decide who really rules her, but she’s finally come to peace in the last few years. We can imagine England as a an older man, still white and cranky, but not so hell-bent on penis-waving conquering as he was in his 20s. (I think of England in its empire-building stage very much like Maverick from “Top Gun”- ready to prove its superiority at every turn, no matter the cost. These are simplified metaphors in many ways, but still valuable for examination and insight purposes, I think.)

And then there’s America. How can we tell America is a 15 year-old boy and not something else? We look at American culture and see: what does America like? What does it value? Uphold? You can tell a lot by what a culture produces and prefers- just like what a person produces and prefers.

Kardashians.
Sex.
It could give a shit about education or facts.
Addiction, and social circumstances that cause a fuck ton of depression.
Lack of critical thinking skills.
Prefers short-term solutions.
Political masturbation of the lowest sort.
Personal (white) supremacy. In other words, ‘if they ain’t me, fuck ’em.’
A distinct lack of wisdom.
Blaming others for its circumstances.
Just wants to go fast and fuck.
Playing power games with bravado and stupidity.
Easily entertained with bright lights and not much substance.
Heroics instead of actual care.
Lack of compassion.

[[I apologize to 15 year-old boys who don’t fit this mold; I know your smart, compassionate selves are out there.]]

And you can most certainly tell that America is a 15 year-old cis-het boy because a significant portion of the electorate felt Donald Trump was a good leader. A man who said so little of substance that everyone could project their hopes and ideas on him- and look at what they projected. Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, class warfare, and white supremacy for miiiiles.

We’re kinda disgusting. And I say “we’re” on purpose- because even if we didn’t vote for the Trashman, we are part of this culture and contributing to it with our every decision and indecision. Unless we are actively fighting it, we’re contributing to it. And I include myself in that judgement.

 

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

 

Here’s the thing, though. America has a better side. It has a better persona that is fighting to make its way out. Which is also how we know America is a 15 year-old; it’s still deciding who it is, and probably will be for a while.

What I know about the other side of America is that it is a side that it holds the opposite of most the qualities I listed previously.

The other side of America, the side that is fighting for its very breath, is so much better. It contains a lot of white supremacy still, but it also contains:

Compassion.
Acceptance of science and facts.
It reads books.
It imagines.
It’s gone to therapy for its issues.
It has broken, wailed, and healed- it knows the path of growth.
It knows that the value + integration of diversity and equality are necessary.
It might like sex, but it asks for consent.
It values transparency, vulnerability, and honesty.
It takes responsibility for its actions.
It seeks long-term solutions that are both efficient and effective for the Earth and its people.
It applies wisdom.
It upholds the feminine.
It doesn’t put up with immature bullshit.

There are people fighting daily to keep this America alive inside the body of the 15 year-old boy version of America. It’s a hard fucking fight- most especially for those who are fighting despite marginalization and resources withheld by policy and policing (and they are often the groups fighting the hardest. A lot of white ladies who marched in pink hats last January are still stepping on the necks of black women).

Here’s the thing about 15 year-old boys, though- nobody really wants to be around a kid like this. Most (not all, but many) other countries have gotten past this age and while they will nod and smile, they’re not about to let this dolt do any damage to the greater good of the planet (thank god). And 15 year-old boy America can stand around and swing its dick everywhere, but eventually everyone gets tired of the show (and really, 15 year-old dicks have no useful experience to offer us anyhow).

I believe that the majority of America, who voted for ‘not Trashman,’ have the upper hand and will eventually win out. It may take a while to undo the pissing contest mess that’s been created in a single year, but I trust it will be done. And I trust that actual jobs bills will be passed and single-payer healthcare will finally get rooted, and maybe even basic income will become a national thing. Because the one thing about fighting with ourselves is that we either die psychologically in the process (which would be fine, we can begin all over again, in that case) or the more evolved side wins out (check your personal experience with 15 year-old boys and see if I’m not right). Human culture always wants to move itself forward, and so I trust in that.

In the mean time, give yourself to the fight for America to grow up and get its shit together as often as you can. Our daily choices spread out beyond us in the same way that stones dropped in a lake make waves and eventually change the shoreline. America can be something smarter, more compassionate and fair, and a good person in the world again. I believe that because I know the sorts of people who fight for this- we are healed, we are aware, we are compassionate and intelligent. And there are more of us.

I’ll leave you with the words of our great leader, Beyonce: boy, bye.

 

 

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all behavior is communication

I’m writing this post partially so I can refer back to it for future writings. Because I know I’ll need it. In any case, here we go…

Whenever I think about people and how to work with them, or how to give context to politics or headlines, or how to make a decision about how to deal with someone or something, I refer to what I know about how people work, psychologically. And one thing I deeply believe is that all behavior is communication– our actions are the outcome of our psychology and emotion. It’s possible to have many feelings and thoughts about a thing, even intentions, but what it comes down to is how we act on those things. Behavior is pretty damn indicative of what we’re really about.

I tend to fall in love with behaviors. Because behavior is the truth. We only use our bodies – our behavior and actions – to do what we most want to, what we most care about, or most believe we are capable of. So, behavior indicates so much more than words.

If we back up, though, here are things I take into consideration when I look at behavior. Because behavior comes from many places, and we need to consider those things if we want to know what is being communicated, what behavior means.

 

Gender

We know that male and female brains have some differences. They may not be as disparate as we have been lead to believe, but as someone who had a more testosterone-based brain for five years, there is a difference in brain chemistry based on sex hormones and this difference definitely influences behavior. When I was juiced on testosterone I had more focus, ambition, sexual thoughts, and lowered inhibitions than ever in my life. Hormone-based brain function is not an excuse for shitty behaviors, we are all capable of every human emotion and choice, but it can be explanatory and help us find meaning in behavior.

 

Age

Brains mature at different ages. Males tend to mature later than females, and so I take that into consideration when I look at behavior. Did a bunch of 18 year-old guys do something stupid? Their brains may not have been mature enough to make a better decision. Again, this doesn’t excuse poor behavior, but it can explain choices and help us to develop education and tools to avoid poor behavior in the future.

Also, after the age of 18, unless you have organic brain disorders, I believe you are responsible for every choice you make and the ensuing outcomes. You’re big enough to drive a car and vote, you’re big enough to be responsible for your shit. Even if you’ve had difficulties, you have the choice to get help and tackle the effect of those difficulties in your life (for instance, co-dependency, trauma, or abuse).

 

Upbringing

The ages 0-5 are the years in which ‘normal’ is set for the psyche. This means that what happens during those years is what will feel ‘normal’ or ‘right’ for us for a long time, perhaps our whole life. And if something difficult or horrible happens during these years, that can also feel ‘normal’ – and be problematic. For people who spent ages 0-5 with arguing parents or in abusive homes (or any other awful thing) this feels ‘normal’ to them, and they may seek to perpetuate it in adulthood, even if they know it’s not healthy, good, or right for them.

The impact of images and feelings upon the psyche is especially important in these years because they are the only internal guidance we have- words are almost non-existent for the first 2 years of life, even though we are having significant development experiences. I have watched friends and acquaintances work through abandonment issues, which occurred when they were 8 months old. Traumatic events in the early years have deep, lasting impact, and they have to be accounted for when we look at people’s behavior and what that behavior means.

 

Trauma

Trauma is when an experience is so emotionally overwhelming that we shut off. The emotional point at which trauma occurs is different for each person. For some, a car accident may be unpleasant, but it can be overcome relatively easily. For others, a car accident may mean lasting physical or psychological pain- which may take years to heal.

Trauma informs behavior in so many ways I can’t possibly mention them all here. But what trauma mostly does is make people feel confused, frustrated, and doubt themselves (often because they know they want to do something, but can’t seem to do it). Of course, trauma can also lead to stress and anxiety and unhealthy coping behaviors. Traumatic behaviors can also feel like sub-conscious behaviors, a la “I don’t know why I do that, I just do.”

 

Highly Sensitive People

Perhaps due to trauma, but also sometimes just to physiologic factors, some people are more highly sensitive than others. Their physiologic and sensual systems get overwhelmed with small amounts of data. They can be highly attuned to the energy of places and people, and many HSPs notice lots of details as their system tries to process the environment and make sense of it. This can influence their behavior to turn inwards, ‘hate people,’ or feel anxious (and behave accordingly).

 

Personality

I do believe that humans have stages of development, growth hurdles they must overcome in order to be fully developed (and often, these tasks aren’t fun and produce complicated, difficult feelings). I’m not sure that Erikson has the whole picture, because every human is unique, but his theory is a good place to start.

Knowing that people may be dealing with a particular stage of growth can tell us something about their choices and ensuing behaviors. If someone is trying to know who they are as an adult, we can gain some insight into their behaviors (i.e. hanging out with different groups, trying on different clothing styles, etc). As well, if people skip a particular growth hurdle, they may need to go back and finish it, which can result in behaviors that look immature for a particular age.

I also believe there is something to the idea of personality typing such as Myers-Briggs or even astrological symbols. Maybe we shouldn’t take these too seriously, but I think they are good templates from which to learn about people and be able to make some foundational assessments as to whether we can connect or not.

 

Mental Health Issues

Of course any mental health issue is going to influence behavior. Whether we are talking about depression or schizophrenia, how our brain works is probably the most important factor in our behavior. And if our brain isn’t working along the continuum of ‘normal’ (which is also highly questionable label), behavior may range from confusing to outside the shared reality we currently inhabit. (Which is to say: I’m not entirely sure that people with schizophrenia aren’t just inhabiting a reality the rest of us can’t see, but a reality that also remains completely valid.) It’s always good to know if someone has a mental health issue they are dealing with when we try to figure out what their behavior is trying to communicate.

::: ::: ::: :::

Behavior falls into two categories, generally. Conscious and sub-conscious behavior. Conscious behavior is the things we do and know we are doing them, the actions we take on purpose. Sub-conscious behavior is the things we don’t notice we’re doing or the things we do ‘just because’ or ‘I don’t know why.’ Sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge our conscious behaviors (‘no, I didn’t do that’) because it goes against our sense of ourselves or our greater motives or we suspect we’ll be punished for our choice. Sometimes we’re just straight up lying about what our behavior means, to ourselves and others. But, of course, that is just another form of communication through behavior, isn’t it?

All of this is to say that these are the things I am wondering about when I look at people’s behavior. But, more importantly, I am also looking at behavior as communication of many of these factors- the communication goes both ways. Behavior is also as an indicator of what you really are, what you truly believe in, and what you most want. Everything you are doing, everything I am doing, is an attempt to communicate something, even if we don’t know what we’re doing, even if we don’t know that we’re doing it. The trick in this life is know as much as we can about ourselves, heal ourselves, and be as conscious as we can – in both our words and our actions.

 

 

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