Self-Care in Turbulent Times

by Brandy Parris

In the current political climate, many of us find ourselves switching between wanting to know everything that is going on and desiring nothing more than tuning out all political news and conversation.  While there are multiple factors that can contribute to such mixed feelings, we can point to few elements.

First, as social beings, we are all susceptible to anything that hints at or announces expulsion from a community, also referred to as “belonging threats.”  A broad range of groups have been targeted by the current administration — women, Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, disabled people; none are welcomed in the new version of America, and many feel their rights and safety are threatened.  Disenfranchised groups are suffering more.  Some are fighting with conservative family members, others are facing increased hate in the streets, most are consuming news about such threats.

In addition, the new administration’s rhetoric, with its “alternative facts,” and the preponderance of fake news have the same effect as gaslighting, a device of psychological control common in abusive relationships.  Gaslighting involves manipulation to induce heightened doubt in the victim.  Creating multiple untruths and promoting them as true causes people to question their own sense of reality.  Adding to that fear and confusion, the rapid and dramatic changes being implemented may create a frantic desire to track every new dictum, appointment, or tweet.

Fear of the unknown and a sense of overwhelm can result in heightened anxiety while feelings of powerlessness and worthlessness can lead to depression.  No matter how much or little you may be struggling yourself, you can counter these effects by experimenting with some of the following recommendations.

1)  Limit your consumption of media.  This might mean limiting your news to one or two trusted sources, limiting the amount of time you spend reading the news each day, or some mixture of these.  It might also entail reading only two or three political articles a day and following that up with a palate-cleanser of something more uplifting, such as the features offered on this site — https://www.positive.news/

2)  Limit your social media activity.  While social media can provide a way to connect with others, it can also be a source of intense frustration, fruitless conversations, and fake news.  If you find your interactions with social media are creating more stress in your daily life, consider giving yourself time limits, customizing your feed, reducing weekly use, and/or limiting yourself to one platform.

3)  Stay connected in real life.  Talk to friends, family, and co-workers.  Say hello to people on the street or chat with your bank teller, your barista, your grocery cashier.  This can directly counter those belonging threats as well as keep you grounded in the realities of everyday life.  Some further suggestions along these lines can be found here — http://gratefulness.org/blog/five-small-gestures-gratitude-counteract-fear-violence/

4)  If you are feeling overwhelmed and helpless, choose a cause and spend time connecting with organizations who support that cause:  donate, volunteer, make phone calls.  Trust that there are people fighting on all fronts, so you don’t have to do everything.  You can pick your battles.  Here’s one place you might start — https://loveisaction.us/Resources/

5)  If you are frightened and confused, educate yourself.  Authoritarianism thrives on fear and misinformation.  You can find many excellent resources online that explain our legal system and government structure.  Here are two to get you started: https://www.talksonlaw.com  and  https://www.lawcornell.edu

6)  Keep laughing.  It’s especially important during difficult times to find space for joy, for play, for humor.  Watch videos of baby animals, try laughter yoga, go to a comedy show, read a humorous novel.  There’s a reason satire and political comedy are so popular.

7)  Seek experiences of awe and wonder.  These experiences remind us of beauty and help us continue to find meaning in our daily lives.  Go for a hike, look up in the trees as you walk through a park, read poetry, go to the art museum, see live music, theatre, or dance.  

We all need encouragement and greater self-care when our stress increases.   It can help to write reminders in your calendar or on your to-do list.  However you do it, whether in the forms suggested above or in some other way that speaks to you, make time to give yourself the support you need.

Anna Freud, her Father, and Gay Conversion Therapy

by Anne Ihnen

I came across a post in the Ms. Magazine blog today, about Rebecca Coffey’s 2014 debut novel, Hysterical: Anna Freud’s Story. Based on historical accounts, it tells the story of Anna’s analysis by her father, Sigmund Freud, which included attempts to “cure” her lesbian tendencies.

According to Coffey, the analysis actually happened. At the time, Sigmund was universally acknowledged as the leading expert on sexuality, and he considered lesbianism to be a highway to mental illness that, fortunately, was curable by psychoanalysis.

This sounds like a fascinating and entertaining read – a glimpse into an early attempt to treat homosexuality as a disease (an idea that has been soundly debunked) along with an exploration of the questionable ethics of working on sexual transference with one’s own daughter.

It’s an especially timely read, too, with many US cities and states banning gay conversion therapy and a woman being chosen as the democratic party’s candidate for president.

I am definitely adding this one to my reading list!

Emotions: the feminine advantage

by Martha Reynolds

A recent op-ed piece in the Sunday New York Times caught my attention. Although psychiatrist Julie Holland could say more about the benefits of medication for so many, what she does say is quite convincing. Namely, that having a full range of affect and emotions is vital for a healthy existence, particularly for women who have been subjugated far too long for their emotionality.

One more body part

by Judy Koven

I enjoyed reading a breezy but to-the-point piece in The New York Times Opinion section, 2/15/15,Great! Another Thing to Hate About Ourselves.

Just when we women thought we knew all the things that we could “fix” about our bodies, this essay clues us in to the latest “… body part for women to prune and police.”

For anyone who’s struggled with how she feels about her body, this essay speaks to the nearly constant pressure in our culture to attain unrealistic, even questionable beauty norms, and it does it in a humorous way, reminding us of the ridiculousness of it all.

Sexual Assaults on Campus

By Christine Wick

There has been a lot of press lately about sexual harassment and rape on campus. It has been reported that one in five college women experience some form of inappropriate sexual pressure, and colleges are scrambling to respond appropriately. Should these cases be handed to the police for criminal proceedings? Should colleges expel found perpetrators (and at what level of evidence)? Should there be government investigations of schools considered too lax in their own investigatory processes? These are the difficult questions this issue raises.

According to an article in the Huffington Post, Harvard College Faces Probe For Alleged Mishandling Of Sexual Assault Cases, the US Department of Civil Rights is investigating complaints by sexual assault survivors at Harvard who accuse the university of providing conflicting and incorrect information, denying victims protection from their alleged assailants, and blaming victims. As of June 2014, 64 schools are under investigation by the Department of Civil Rights.

The Sunday New York Times recently ran a front-page article, Reporting Rape and Wishing She Hadn’t, which highlighted the flaws in a college’s investigation of a campus rape:

Whatever precisely happened that September night, the internal records, along with interviews with students, sexual-assault experts and college officials, depict a school ill prepared to evaluate an allegation so serious that, if proved in a court of law, would be a felony, with a likely prison sentence. As the case illustrates, school disciplinary panels are a world unto themselves, operating in secret with scant accountability and limited protections for the accuser or the accused.

Another New York Times article, A Star Player Accused, and a Flawed Rape Investigation, highlighted the biased treatment which can result if the accused is a star football player: “The police investigator who handled the case, Scott Angulo, told her (victim’s lawyer) that because Tallahassee was a big football town, her client would be ‘raked over the coals’ if she pursued the case.”

In a recent article in The Nation, Why the Campus Rape Crisis Confounds Colleges, the author looks at the thorny issues that arise when one compares criminal justice in a court of law, which rarely finds the accused guilty and subjects many accusers to humiliating lines of questioning, to campus disciplinary procedures, where the level of evidence is not as strict nor the punishments as severe, and where the panel is often poorly trained in law, evidence, and appropriate procedures.

Amid the furor, some conservative pundits wonder about justice for the accused, while one, George Will, belittles the issue of sexual harassment and its consequences for the women involved. In an opinion piece published in June, he claimed that colleges are making “…victimhood a coveted status that confers privilege, and therefore victims proliferate”. He was later dropped from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch over these controversial comments.

Obstetrician-gynecologist Jen Gunter has much professional experience dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault. She is also a rape survivor, and wrote a moving response to Will’s column. In particular, she took issue with his pooh-poohing date rape as being ambiguous enough to not qualify as assault. She graphically depicts the physical and emotional distress she, and too many others, have gone through, and how hard it is to come forward in an atmosphere where too often the woman is not believed. “I am a 47 year-old financially and professionally secure woman in a stable, loving relationship and it took 25 years and your jackass column to get me to speak up about my rape. How easy do you think it is for a scared 20 year-old to call 911 or walk into a police station and say, ‘I was just raped’?”

On a positive note, colleges are responding to the lawsuits and publicity with fairer and better-defined policies. In July 2014, Harvard announced a new “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which means that there’s a more than 50% likelihood that the accusation is true. Occidental College, highlighted in The Nation article referenced above, also announced new procedures which attempt to remediate a number of prior complaints. It is also important that colleges, and students, address the drug and booze culture which often sets the stage for abuse; abuse which can affect both accused and accusers far into the future.

Andi Zeisler Speaks Up on Cultural Attitudes and Violence against Women

by Judy Koven

Reflections on an interview with the co-founder of Bitch magazine, Andi Zeisler. (in Real Change, by Sue Zalokar, Street Roots, Portland OR)

It was heartening to read Andi Zeisler’s thoughts on the magazine she created, which in its current on-line and social media platforms, continues to speak out in its feminist critique of all things cultural.

Asked about “fourth wave feminism”, Zeisler affirmed that feminism is alive and well, but dismisses the “wave” metaphor, instead promoting the idea of one generation building on the others. She states, “we are still in this together”, and maintains that the vitality of feminism is apparent on social media.

In response to the #YesAllWomen phenomenon after the Santa Barbara shooting, Zeisler describes the perpetrator as a “young, privileged, disturbed man who was essentially blaming women for not giving him the attention and the sex that he felt he was owed….” She notes how events like this are treated as aberrant actions rather than reflections of “a larger culture that really believes that men are entitled to women and their bodies and their attention.” Though this one man may have been mentally ill, disturbed thinking doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s also a reflection of cultural attitudes and widely held beliefs.

She thinks the Isla Vista shooter “was the product of a very sexist society that had taught him a lot of untrue, but very common myths about masculinity and what it means to be a successful, sexual male….”

These myths play an extremely destructive role in our culture, negatively affecting the emotional development and mental health of both men and women.