Star Wars, the Dark Side, and Anger

b6b60673bc5aecef8610fce23150f321If you are like millions of Americans, you went to see the new Star Wars film “Rogue One” this holiday season. Star Wars has made billions of dollars over the years and one of the most iconic and favorite characters of the sci-fi series is Yoda. A small, green, ancient creature, Yoda teaches Luke Skywalker about the force. Yoda tells Luke: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” 

Anger, oddly enough, is one of my favorite topics to cover in group therapy. I enjoy telling group members “anger is one of my favorite subjects!” Because that usually gets a laugh. Laughter is an important part of therapy, just like it’s an important part of all things we do in life. Most people don’t realize that a lot of the philosophies of Star Wars and the force are similar to Buddhist principles. One of the most famous quotes about anger actually comes from the teachings of the Buddha! Perhaps you have heard “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”? This is an interpretation of the Buddha’s statement: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Buddha knew that of all of the gamut of emotions that human beings experience, anger has the ability to damage us in deep and unique ways. Anger is an active emotion, but when we hold onto anger, when we take care of it, when we tuck it away so that it glows inside of us like that hot coal, it turns into something else: resentment. So, similar to what Yoda told Luke, Anger it seems, is the path to deep, enduring pain.

Anger leads to resentment. Resentment leads to bitterness. Bitterness eats us alive, tainting all of our experiences, even those that have little or nothing to do with whatever caused our anger in the first place. It’s a gradual process. For example, someone might say “all men are liars.” This kind of generalization is not accurate, it’s related to a personal experience that has seethed inside that person and turned into bitterness. The situation that caused this was likely a person being lied to by a man that was close to and important to that person – perhaps they were habitually lied to. Still, that doesn’t mean that all men are liars, but the person who was hurt hangs onto that hot coal of anger. Soon, it becomes resentment. Resentment is less fresh and active than anger – resentment is the creek that runs underneath the foundation of the house, washing the concrete away so slowly that we do not realize that it is a problem until it has damaged the home beyond repair.

In anger, I might yell at you, cry “how could you do this to me?” but in resentment I am passive. I might make passive aggressive comments to you, or try to hurt you in small ways to get revenge for the way that you hurt me. The coal of anger remains, and resentment can morph into bitterness. Bitterness is what makes a person say “all men are liars” instead of “that important person lied to me.” Bitterness takes the resentment that you feel for that one lying man and transfers the responsibility to all men. Bitterness is what would make us distrust someone we barely know, or predetermine an outcome we cannot possibly predict. The wonderful thing about this is that this is not the only possible outcome! We actually get to choose what we do with our anger.

When I do a therapy group on anger, I typically start by asking “is anger bad?” I like to do this because people usually disagree with one another. Some will say “no” a few will say “yes.” The answer is it’s neither – anger is a normal, human emotion. We will all experience anger because that is part of who we are. It is what we decide to do with (or about) our anger that causes us problems. A mentor of mine used to tell a humorous story about anger, she would say:

If my husband tells me that he is working late, and I decide to go down to the Red Lobster with my girlfriends, and I walk in and see that he’s in there with another woman, having dinner, I am going to be angry. It’s ok to be angry. I should be angry! Now, if I go outside, and I find his car, and I take my keys and I scraaaaaatch down the side of his car, that’s not ok. 

Ultimately, we get to decide how we will handle our anger. Will we allow it to control us? To effect our relationships and become a part of our daily lives, will we be tormented by our resentment? Will we allow it to turn into bitterness? Or will we take our power back and express our anger in a healthy way and move on? The choice is ours. Resentment, bitterness, they are the path to the dark side, as Yoda might say. If we let go of the coal, that’s the only way that we “win.” Because the sad truth is that the people we are resenting move on. They may not even know that we resent them! They likely do not care that we resent them so hard that we have become bitter – it doesn’t hurt THEM it hurts us. If your anger, resentment, or bitterness seem impossible to let go of; if they are related to pain so deep that you can’t remember a time when it didn’t hurt, I urge you to seek out a mental health professional. We are not made to hurt, and with resentment and bitterness we hurt no one but ourselves.

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Are mental health professionals immune from institutional racism?

I was reading a recent and very disturbing article on PsychCentral this morning, entitled: “What’s In A Name? It May Determine If You Can Get Therapy” by Janice Wood. I was already familiar with the 2003 study that found those with black-sounding names were less likely to receive call-backs for job interviews than those with white-sounding names but I never dreamed that might be a factor in receiving mental health services! A very small scale (but still disheartening) study by the University of Vermont published in The Counseling Psychologist found that while callback rates for black-sounding and white-sounding names were the same, clinicians were more likely to tell those with black-sounding names that their case loads were full and that they would not be able to see them. They found “Allison” was invited to speak to the therapist 12% more often than “Lakisha.”

Institutional racism is the: “…societal patterns that have the net effect of imposing oppressive or otherwise negative conditions against identifiable groups on the basis of race or ethnicity.” –Tom Head*, CivilLiberties. About.com. Rather than the individual prejudice of one person, or in this case one clinician, institutional racism has to do with the prevailing ideas a society has about a race or ethnicity that lead to widespread negative ideas that can be so insidious we do not recognize them. I doubt that any one clinician says to themselves: “I won’t call Lakisha back.” or “I don’t want a black client” but they may have preconceived notions about the class of a potential client based on race. For example, they may assume that “Lakisha” has Medicaid or less attractive insurance that perhaps has a lower reimbursement rate than “Allison.” The may assume that “Lakisha” works a menial job with less flexibility to have daytime appointments that “Allison” might. While they might not realize that these stereotypes and assumptions are racist – they are. In fact, NAMI the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that African American males “are more likely to receive a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia when expressing symptoms related to mood disorders or PTSD.” In fact, African Americans as a whole are overdiagnosed with Schnizophrenia according to William B. Lawson, MD, PhD, professor and chair of psychiatry at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, DC. [1]

It is troubling that in 2016 that an individual in need of mental health services might suffer for their race. It is especially upsetting when you take into consideration that “according to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.” [2] It is important, as professionals, that we strive to give the same quality of care to all those who seek our services. It is equally important for people of color who are seeking mental health services to advocate for themselves as they seek treatment for themselves. Learn more about self advocacy at NAMI.org. For more on Racial Disparities in Mental Health Treatment visit SocialWork at Simmons’ blog

* You will have to forgive me using an old friend as the source of my material, he also happens to be one of the most-read authors on civil liberties on the internet!

Love and control

Some things in life are mutually exclusive; control and love are two of those things. Love is surrendering to faith in the unknowable and belief in the good that resides within us all. We fool ourselves into thinking that when we have the upper hand we have security. You can control yourself, but try to control another person or a situation and you will find that you have nothing. Love is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that there is something greater that can be found in trust.

-Sea

© 2010 Stacey E. Aldridge

What is Love Addiction

What is love addiction?

Very simply, love addiction is an addiction to the feeling of being “in love”. I think that in one sense, this cheapens the word “love” and often when talking about it I put the word love in parentheses. The feeling associated with “in love” is often just the high of a new infatuation. An article in the Huffington Post, is most accurately titled “Falling in Love Affects Brain Much Like Addiction, Scientists Say”. I think it should be the opposite really, drugs affect the brain much like love. The article says: “Intense passionate love uses the same system in the brain that gets activated when a person is addicted to drugs,” said study co-author Arthur Aron, a psychologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.”

What this means for the love addict is often a pattern of short, intense relationships; because he or she (for ease of reading I will use “she” throughout this post) does not realize that what is felt in the beginning of a relationship is a high and not actually “in love.” It can create a pattern unique to love addicts: finding “the one” and falling “in love”, being consumed with thoughts of them so that she can barely eat or sleep, having an inappropriately quick and intense courtship, moving in with them full of plans of being together forever, and eventually walking up in bed next to a virtual stranger whom she often does not love or even particularly like. I call it, “chasing the high.”
At that point, red flags ignored during the “in love” portion of the relationship become clear. Things like a partner’s drug or alcohol addiction; anger problems; inability to process emotions; trouble with intimacy; and huge age, political, religious, geographic and/or lifestyle differences; etc.) Once identified, these problems are then rationalized away by deciding that they were not “the one” as previously thought. The love addict promptly “falls in love” with someone else, usually before extricating herself from the current relationship.

This can all be even further complicated by codependency. If you think you may be codependent or a “love” addict, the first and most important thing to remember is that there is hope. Recovery is possible. It may not be easy, or quick, or fun, and sometimes it may actually feel worse than before you started trying to get better, but once you make the decision to change – change is possible.

-Sea

© 2012 Stacey E. Aldridge