Communication that alienates and children’s books

“Life-alienating communication both stems from and supports hierarchical or domination societies, where large populations are controlled by a small number of individuals to those individuals, own benefit. It would be in the interest of kings, czars, nobles, and so forth that the masses be educated in a way that renders them slavelike in mentality…… When we are in contact with our feelings and needs, we humans no longer make good slaves and underlings.” Marshall B. Rosenberg

“Do what you can with what you have, in the time you have, in the place you are” Nkosi Johnson (a South African boy born with HIV who became an advocate for children with AIDS before he died at about age 12)

Perverse communication – red flags

A. In today’s post I will make a brief reference to Dr Marie-France Hirigoyen’s book, Ethical Harassment: Perverse Violence in Everyday Life, which I mentioned in the previous post. In relatively few pages, the book covers a range of topics related to psychological violence and manipulation and points out all the red flags that could warn someone about the destructive communication dynamics in a personal, peer or other professional relationship. In the workplace or in educational settings, for example, the attack often takes place underground in the context of nonverbal communication with sighs, indifference, destabilizing implicit and malicious comments, slanderous lies, in order to push the targeted person into isolation and to their limits so that they are more likely to react and make mistakes. Concerning the workplace Hirigoyen writes: “In order to exterminate a worker, he /she must be isolated – all alliances are dissolved – so that he /she cannot defend him /herself. “When one is alone, it is difficult to revolt, especially when one believes that everyone is against them.”

Marie-France Hirigoyen opens her book by writing: “In life there are exciting encounters that motivate us to do our best, and others that wear us down and possibly break us. One person can destroy another through the process of ethical/psychological harassment. In fact, at some point, this persistent effort can result in real mental / psychic annihilation.” She discusses the necessity of using the term perverse and what it suggests in this context, and also, clarifies that her discussion will be informed from her expertise as a victimologist. She situates herself on the side of the victimized person from the start. The first part of the book focuses on both our private and professional life, psychological violence within the family and the couple’s relationship, as well as, in the workplace. The second part analyzes perverse ways of relating either in our private lives or in the public space, and describes the victim and the attacker, and the characteristics of this perverse violence and communication. The rest of the book is devoted to the effects of these tactics on the victimized individual both during the influence phase and in the long run, as well as, suggestions and advice on how to get help. In today’s text I will focus on this type of perverse communication. Hirigoyen writes that this kind of “influence uses means that give the illusion of communication – a peculiar communication, which does not bring together, but removes and prevents exchange. With this distorted communication, the perpetrator intends to use the other. To maintain and intensify the confusion, he must manipulate verbally. Hiding the real information is important in order to make the victim weak.”

Firstly, in this type of communication there is a systematic denial of direct communication through the avoidance of direct answers and minimal verbal communication. Refusal to name a situation or problem, refusal to dialogue and explain, avoidance of open conflict and finding a solution together are used to prevent the victim from thinking, understanding, reacting. This ultimately leads to alienation. A second characteristic of this type of communication is the frequent distortion of speech. Speech is contradictory, cold, vague and intimidating. A third characteristic of this communication is the frequent use of lies, especially indirect lies and an intense attachment to details, avoiding the essence of the issues (in order to distract the other), vague hints, tall stories and falsification of the truth. Hirigoyen refers to a 5th century BC treatise with the title: The Art of War by the Chinese Sun Che, who writes: “The art of war is the art of deception. In fact, when someone presents himself as different from what he is, he increases the chances of winning “.

A fourth characteristic is contempt. Hirigoyen writes that contempt is a weapon of the weak and provides temporary protection from unwanted emotions, and is often addressed to women. The person who systematically uses perverse communication implements destabilizing moves in public while trying to find allies in their environment. A fifth feature is the frequent use of paradoxical messages. For example, something is expressed verbally while something else is implied non verbally, which results in many messages not being immediately perceived as aggressive or destructive, because they are confused with others, which are transmitted simultaneously.

The sixth characteristic of perverse communication is the constant reducing the other, making them feel smaller. The attacker takes away talents and strengths from the other and because the attacks are indirect it is difficult for the victim to perceive what is going on. Hirigoyen writes that in general, in order to destabilize the other, one needs in the long run to ridicule one’s political positions, values, ideas and preferences, not to address another person often, to undermine one in public, to deprive one of the opportunity to express oneself, to exploit weaknesses, to undermine abilities and self-confidence, to make the person doubt their abilities, to sew discord in their social environment, to create doubts about one’s thoughts and feelings so that one gradually loses one’s sense of identity. The seventh characteristic of this destructive form of communication is the “divide and rule” tactic. The attacker provokes rivalries and envy and then watches with pleasure the exhaustion of the others, as he feels victorious having achieved his goals. This is a tactic that the attacker uses to impose power, inflict punishment, hurt, exhaust, distract and unload their own intense envy. Also, the attacking person, by projecting their intentions and behaviors onto the other person, shifts guilt (embolism of guilt onto the victim).

Finally, a key feature of this dysfunctional and destructive form of communication is the imposition of power. The process is systematic until the other person is subjugated, enslaved, rendered obedient, silenced, deformed. Hirigoyen clarifies that perverse violence is different from direct abuse of power by tyranny. There the oppression is obvious, while in this case the violence is exercised underground. It is “pure violence“. She refers to Reynaldo Perrone, who calls it “violent punishment” because it is asymmetrical, hidden and without respite.

B. Two children’s books on the daily life and joys of Black children

Every now and then I might treat myself to a children’s book. I recently got two illustrated books that celebrate Black children’s daily lives and joys. A little girl and her Mama walking in the rain. A little boy, his Grandpa and the bright yellow moon. Stories of nurture and our natural environment…. Two short extracts below:

Me and Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera

“Outside a pecker pecks. /The side walk is longer than it is wide. / I love the grass that grows in the in-between. / It’s moss, Mama says. / It’s velvet, I say. / A hole is where a branch was. / Nests are left behind in winter. / Some things don’t let go. But for what? / The stores are boxes filled with people.”

Max and the tag-along moon by Floyd Cooper

“Then slowly, very slowly, Max’s bedroom began to fill with a soft yellow glow. The clouds faded away and the moon peeked through! Max gazed up at that ball of light and thought about what Grandpa said. “That ol’ moon will always shine for me….on and on!” Max knew then that whenever he saw the moon, he would think of Grandpa, on and on. And he slept soundly embraced in soft yellow light.”

July 28th, 2021

Art, a model of the psyche and mind metaphors, and moral harassment         (Edited  – July 30th)

Τέχνη, ένα μοντέλο του ψυχικού μας κόσμου και μεταφορές σχετικά με τον νου, και ηθική παρενόχληση

Art as a kind of homecoming / Η Τέχνη ως επιστροφή

I think it was in 2012 that I decided to take my artwork to the street, especially, on the island where I have lived for the last 35 years. It was a small act of resistance and claiming visibility among other things. Almost a decade later I decided to close a cycle and mount posters of my more recent art in the street again. Eventually however, I opted for exhibiting in one of the local online news websites instead. Below is the accompanying short passage:

Homecoming – Summer 2021

The most important adventure of our lives is discovering who we truly, to know the breadth and depth of ourselves. Most of us will never get the chance to ponder on the question: Who am I really? or on Mary Oliver’s line: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” This journey is a slow process that involves shedding layers of experiences and cultural messages that do not serve us in our lives and don’t reflect who we really are, and also, recognizing who we want to be. It is the process of recognizing our vulnerabilities and our personal power, as well as, the dynamics of the contexts we are embedded in. As Janet Louise Stephenson wrote “Authenticity requires a certain measure of vulnerability, transparency and integrity.” The process eventually transforms into a sweet homecoming. There are different paths and ways to navigate this journey, but through creativity and imagination, we find our identity and a reservoir of healing for ourselves and the collective. For me art seems to have been both an intrinsic part of who I am and an important tool that has allowed me to navigate the journey. In the quiet, solitary moments of presence and caring that making art requires, a homecoming to the essence of ourselves and to a sense of belonging to the local and to the whole world, take place. Poet Paul Celan wrote: “Poetry is a sort of homecoming.” These eighteen acrylic paintings are part of a number of paintings I have worked on these last two and a half years. Each one reflects a small step in my own homecoming journey.

Mind metaphors and visual exploration of our mental landscape

Μεταφορές σχετικά με τον νου και διερεύνηση του πνευματικού / ψυχικού τοπίου

I’d also like to refer to some material from Dr Rick Hanson’s last week’s meditation podcast. In this podcast he discusses metaphors of the mind and suggests ways of exploring our mental experience, sub-personalities and different aspects of ourself, through the creation of visual displays of our inner landscape.

One metaphor is that of a committee, another is that of a mansion with sunny rooms, messy ones and the rooms in the basement, where the suppressed, the painful and the implicit material lies. Yet another metaphor is that of a landscape with lakes, rivers, mountains and valleys, deserts, etc. We can engage in drawing or making collages and observing what insights come up. Dr Hanson also presents a visual model of our psyche, which contains three concentric circles.  We develop this structure to survive in the world. The inner most circle could be termed BEING and this is our core, who we truly are, our fundamental nature, a vast awareness, our temperament perhaps, a dynamic and stable sense of who we are, One might expereince this as a central core of unbounded self. Susan McConnell (2020), informed by the IFS model, suggests that “At the core of every individual, when all the extra is peeled away, is this essential loving, creative, wise, courageous state.” The next circle contains what could be termed “the scared or hidden self”, which one might consider as all we have disowned, the non experienced experience, the suppressed and dissociated, the implicit memories. Finally, there is the outer circle, termed ACT, which is what we want to present to the world, who we want to be seen as. It is our persona/s, our presentation to the world in different contexts. Tension exists between these layers of experience or layers of the psyche and healing and growth require integration and communication between the different layers.Rick Hanson (2020) says “One breath at a time, one synapse at a time, you can gradually develop an increasingly unshakable core inside yourself.” The more we grow and heal the less friction there is, and the more often we can reside in a place of authenticity.

Workplace Suffering and Emerging Pathologies

Ταλαιπωρία / Παρενόχληση στο χώρο εργασίας και αναδυόμενες παθολογίες

Finally, I am sharing an extract from an article with the title Workplace Suffering and Emerging Pathologies by Marie-France Hirigoyen (L’information psychiatrique Volume 84, Issue 9, 2008). Dr Marie-France Hirigoyen is a French psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, psychotherapist, victimologist and writer, specializing in moral harassment in diverse contexts, especially, mobbing behaviour in the workplace. She defines moral harassment as the attempt to psychologically annihilate the other with words, gestures, hints without the use of physical violence. I have just started reading two of her books translated into Greek, which I bought locally this summer, which could inform future posts. One is about psychological and emotional abuse of women within familial contexts and the other is about moral harassment and the hidden violence in our daily lives, particularly in work contexts. Read extracts from the article below:

“The Narcissistic Society: The Rise of Individualism and Loneliness

Η Ναρκισσιστική Κοινωνία: Η Άνοδος του Ατομικισμού και της Μοναξιάς

This increase in narcissistic pathologies is explained by the fact that such personalities are well-adapted to the modern world. These changes in the average individual reflect the mutations caused by company life and economic warfare, and are conditioned by the myth of the homo economicus, engaged in a “struggle for life” even at the expense of others. Individualism is a primary characteristic of our time. Until the 1980s, individuals thought of themselves as members of a collective and knew that this collective would support them. Peer groups or trade unions would mediate in conflicts. Today, it’s every man for himself. Relationships of cooperation and solidarity have been eroded, and relationships with institutions have lost their value. Common standards for what counts as good work have become less clear, and a sense of shared values has dissolved. The individual is at the center of the world, but they are alone there – a pawn in a multitude of others just like them. In a world where we are mere clones, everyone wants to be unique. But how does one stand out from the crowd at work? How can a person’s individuality be recognized when their leaders speak with a forked tongue, telling each individual to express their personality, but requiring their employees to fit into a mold? Conflicts, too, are increasingly sidestepped. They no longer manifest themselves at a collective level, but rather at an individual one.……..

Workplace Suffering and Emerging Pathologies What Can Be Done?

Ταλαιπωρία / Παρενόχληση στο χώρο εργασίας και αναδυόμενες παθολογίες. Τι μπορεί να γίνει;

Psychosocial risks are an inescapable problem in occupational health. It is up to psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, and specialists in workplace issues to convince business leaders to take concrete measures to monitor and prevent such dangers. There must be help for executives who find themselves responsible when one of their workers is seriously depressed, and even criminally responsible when complaints about harassment are raised. Steering between management by terror and demagogy, it can be difficult for them to establish a management style that is simply respectful of people. ….. Employers have an obligation to protect their employees’ health. The claiming that some employees are merely fragile does not hold: they are simply human, with all the fragility that naturally brings with it……

Conclusions / Συμπεράσματα

The changes people undergo in response to a changing society are irremediable and management must take it into account. If employers want to improve their employees’ morale once more, they must reintroduce respect for the human element into their management practices…….. Boundaries have also shifted. People are being asked to adapt, and even to over adapt. They must be able to rebound from failures, not questioning themselves and attributing responsibility for their mistakes to others. They must cast aside empathy and become aggressive enough to symbolically kill friends and enemies and lie to close a deal. In such a “game,” those with a hypertrophied Self succeed better than others in imposing their will. The degradation of work makes professional success less and less dependent on competence and far more on luck or opportunism. Hard work and good results are no longer enough. One must also make oneself visible, make oneself valued, expand one’s network. Appearance and visibility count for more than results and efficiency. A large address book and a good network count for more than talent. In a world of appearances, what matters is not what we are, but what we show ourselves to be—not the distant consequences of our actions, but their immediate, apparent results. This is the main reason perversion has become widespread: there is a general tendency to treat others as tools to be discarded when they are no longer useful. In addition to direct work pressures, there are much more subtle social pressures: one must be fit, happy, fulfilled, and high-achieving, because individuals are only valued for what they seem to be……. Developing an adaptive “false self” leads people to lose touch with their true inner feelings and to live an existence without authenticity. The race to succeed creates lonely people who are vulnerable to depression. If we want to reduce absences related to mental health problems, we must accept the vulnerabilities of people who cannot be in top form at all times. We must always consider people holistically. ….. The consequence of these changes is that our societies are becoming increasingly unequal: on the one hand, there are those who play the performance game, the unsentimental ones who are able to conceal their feelings or to let nothing affect them; on the other are the sensitive, over fragile ones, who are perpetually discarded (Marie-France Hirigoyen).”

A painting, an ant farm, a lion’s roar, the trance of unworthiness and a newspaper meditation (Edited)

“The practice of meditation, or coming into presence, is described as having two wings. The wing of mindfulness allows us to see what is actually happening in the present moment without judgment. The other wing is heartfulness or love — holding what we see with tenderness and compassion. You might think of it as two questions: What is happening right now? and Can I be with this and regard it with kindness? These are the two wings that we cultivate to be able to wake up out of the trance of unworthiness — out of the spacesuit self — and sense that gold that’s shining through.” Tara Brach, PhD

Today I’m posting the painting I have been working on quite intensively this month, which I am letting go of so that I can hopefully move on to something new next week (currently I have decided to prioritize expressing more ideas and content than spending a great length of months on one artwork).

I am also sharing short extracts from Dr Tara Brach’s new book; Trusting the Gold.

The first extract is a tender story related to ants and her then young son, which reminded me of my own son when he was little. When my son was three I bought him a book with the title: Stories Fom Our House written by Richard Tulloch and illustrated by Julie Vivas. For the next couple of years it was a favourite read. One of these stories was about ants: “The ants came into our house, marching in a line. A long brown line of ants, some of them coming and some of them going ….” We ended up learning most of the stories by heart and leaving a little food outside our house for the ants. Later I used the story to create grammar worksheets to practise past tenses for my son and students.

Tara Brach writes: “When my son, Narayan, turned six, I gave him a gift that I knew would feed his curiosity about the natural world. Called an ant farm, this “kit” provided a view into the activities of living ants. Fascinated, he watched for hours. He named several and followed their efforts as they hurried back and forth, digging a network of tunnels and carrying food to store away. Watching the ant farm together became part of our daily ritual. One day a few weeks later, Narayan arrived home from school deeply upset. On the playground some of the kids had made a game of stepping on ants. He was horrified that they could be hurting, even killing, some of these amazing creatures that he had come to know and admire. We sat down together, and I held him as I explained that his friends didn’t have ant farms so they hadn’t had a chance, like he did, to get to know what ants are really like. I told him that when we pay attention to any living beings, we get to see how they move and relate to each other, how they are hungry, and what they are looking for. We find out that they are real and that, like us, they want to stay alive. As he listened intently, I told him that if his classmates ever paid really close attention to ants, they wouldn’t hurt them anymore. Narayan turned to me and said, “I want to have them all over, so they can meet my ants.”

The next extract is about how she turned reading the newspaper into a meditation.

She writes: “I’d open the newspaper and find myself feeling anger and hostility toward those in government who were beating the drums of war……… I was increasingly aware that the hostility I was feeling in my own mind was actually another form of violence. And yet I needed to stay engaged; I needed to do something, to take some kind of action. Since I wasn’t going to stop reading the newspaper, I decided to make it into a meditation. Each morning I would open the paper, check out the headlines, read a few paragraphs . . . then pause. I’d notice my reactions— the thoughts and feeling of outrage. I’d allow the experience to move in my mind and body, not denying or feeding it, just witnessing the response I was having to the latest reports. I began to see that when I opened to the full force of the anger I was feeling, I could sense within it fear for our world. And as I opened to the fear, it unfolded into grief for the suffering and devastation that was inevitable in war. And out of the grief arose a deep caring for all the beings— humans and animals and trees— that would be harmed by the violence we were moving toward…… By holding my feelings of anger and frustration with “radical acceptance,” I could find my way to the caring that gives rise to wise action. Acceptance of whatever arises in us in the present moment is not a passive act. Rather, this engaged, mindful presence allows us to respond to our world from our deepest compassion and wisdom….”

Finally, I’ll share another little story about my son that came to mind by another piece in the book. After we had watched Lion King enough times, we were intrigued by the lion cub’s attempts to learn to roar and talked about how sometimes we too need, like the little lion, to practise breathing out our own kind of human roar so that we may come into contact with our own voice, strength and courage.

Tara Brach writes: “Let yourself imagine what it would be like to live every day with the Lion’s Roar, trusting that whatever arises, including the greatest losses and the deepest fears, has the potential to awaken wisdom and love.”