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A Clinical Description of Racism

When looking at the concept of Racism, one must first decide which level or aspect one wishes to analyses. To mention only a few, racism can be looked at on a political level, racism can be looked at on the level of understanding, the impact of racism can be looked at or even how to deal with racism can be looked at. For the purposes of this discussion racism will be looked at on the level of understanding, in order to paint a clear psychological picture of the process of racism. What is important to note, is that racism is best understood through group dynamics, because of this, as we talk about racism it is likely to create anxiety is some people and even increase feelings of prejudice and racism, as research shows that talking about prejudice actually increases it, making the conversation itself all the more delicate, and perhaps all the more important. With all this in mind, let us begin with a definition. There are of course many many definitions of racism, often involving beliefs, for the purposes of clearly understanding the psychological mechanisms involved, I will be defining the concept in interactional terms, or rather tangible behavioral terms. In this sense, we can define racism as an ACT of prejudice. What is important to note is that this act can be towards an individual or a group and can be subtle or extremely overt. the key to truly understanding this definition is understanding the definition of prejudice. Again here we will view prejudice in interactional terms. In essence, prejudice can be seen as the viewing of an individual as a group member and not as a unique individual with his or her unique characteristics. That is to say, an individual is seen as holding the perceived characteristics of the group to which they belong rather than being seen as the individual. This is an inaccurate view and the moment this view is used, we become an “us” and a “them”. What we know from the functioning of groups is that when we belong to a group we immediately take on elements of the groups identity and, to a degree we loose our individuality. This process is created the moment a group is mentioned. When two groups exist they immediately view each other as a threat and competition occurs. In that moment, we see a distortion in the reality of the group members as they begin to view the members of the other group as all the same, absent of there unique individual qualities. Similarly, when we are a member of a group we see distorted similarities between ourselves and other members and we look at the other group and see distorted differences. One can hypothesize that this is for survival. When people are threatened they tend to come together in groups and fight, as an almost instinctive response. When the threat is over they disperse and become individuals again. We commonly see this mechanism with war. On a personal level each of us belongs to multiple groups, and at any time the groups may be activated, the moment a group we belong to is threatened we immediately become a group member. The level of the threat can vary, sometime it is perhaps less serious and for example may be a joke, perhaps about two spots team, like chiefs and pirates or the bulls and the lions. If you belong to one of these groups you will find yourself feeling activated by the joke. Sometime when we are activated as a group member it is more serious, typically because of a deep pain or a high level of threat to our group is involved. For example men and women. The moment feminism is on the table, two groups are formed, and very often it becomes difficult or in some instances impossible to hear the pain and the anger of one group as the feelings of individuals are lost and one only hears that their group is being threatened. In South Africa racism is extremely threatening because of our history. With group dynamics when we talk about a group, like white male we immediately activate an opposition group, for example black male, this actually creates a threat to both groups and perpetuates the process. In essence, racism is an act of prejudice, of course this act can be subtle or not, however it will hurt either way and result in people seeing each other as group members rather than individuals. The sadness in this process is that once you are looking as a group member belonging to a group it is difficult, if not impossible to experience empathy for another group. Because of this, is someone says in a different group to your own say “this is racism” it is extremely hard to hear their cries, however if they speak as an individual and say “I am hurt” we can once again see their pain and feel empathy towards them. It is in this individuality that the key lies. If we communicate as individuals and not as group members, we can elicit empathy and break through the potential conflict and racism intrinsic in group dynamics.

Understanding Hypnosis

Most people have heard of hypnosis and have formed some sort of an opinion of the phenomenon. Some believe it to be a form of acting or trickery, some are afraid of it, others are intrigued by it. With this brief, I hope to explain the phenomenon in order to dispel any misconceptions surrounding hypnosis and give a clear understanding of the phenomenon and its potential utilisation. First and foremost, to understand hypnosis one must first define the process that is occurring. There have been many definitions, however the most accurate and fruitful definition, is the following: hypnosis is a state of mind, involving the bypass of the critical faculty and the instilling of selective thinking. That exactly does this mean? Lets begin by breaking it down. The first part indicates that hypnosis is a state of mind, and that is exactly what it is. It is a naturally occurring state of mind that every living human being experiences at one time or other. Much like being in a confused state of mind or a happy state of mind. It can be brought on instantaneously and it change instantaneously. In fact, a hypnotic state of mind is one in which there is a high level of focus on one thing, while other things either stop occurring or are occurring automatically. For example, if you have ever driven a car and changed gears without focussing on what you are doing, but rather your mind is focussing on something else. The changing gears is automatic, but how? Surely engaging in an activity that requires timing and attention cannot just happen automatically? And yet it does. This is because at that point you were in a hypnotic state of mind. Similarly, instantaneously, should you need to, you will immediately become aware of the changing of the gears, and immediately shift your state of mind out of a hypnotic state of mind. The second part of the definition refers to bypassing the critical faculty. the “critical faculty” is just a fancy name for the part of you mind that judges and evaluates things. For example if I tell you that the earth is flat (and you believe it to be round), your critical faculty with immediately be utilized and you will begin to critique the statement based on your common sense reasons and you will evaluate the statement to be inaccurate, in essence that thought (that the earth is flat) will be rejected by the critical faculty. During Hypnosis, we are in a state of mind in which our critical faculty is bypassed. In essence, for a moment, we do not use our critical faculty to evaluate the information, we simply accept it and apply it. The final part of the definition, instilling of selective thought essentially refers to what happens when our critical faculty is bypassed. In essence, because we are not using our critical faculty to evaluate a thought, we focus our mind on that thought, we refer to that as a selective thought. What ever the thought is, momentarily it is accepted as truth. For example, if you consider the selective thought that you are beautiful. Immediately your critical faculty will evaluate the thought, you will perhaps compare yourself to others, or to social standards of beauty and reject the thought. However, if you bypass your critical faculty, the thought will simply be, and you will realise that you are beautiful. What is crucial to note at this stage, is that, despite what the stage hypnotists want you to believe, all hypnosis is self hypnosis. By that I mean, someone can guide you to bypass your critical faculty, however, it is actually you who chooses to do it or not. If you choose not to, you simply will not. The techniques used in hypnosis are very cleaver ways of facilitating a bypass of the critical faculty, however the individual being hypnotised actually chooses to accept them or not. Furthermore, once the hypnotic state of mind has been established, as suggestions are being given (suggestions are selective thoughts), the individual in hypnosis actually chooses whether or not to accept them. If a selective thought is undesired by the individual in hypnosis it is simply rejected, sometimes even so much so that the state of mind is changed from a hypnotic state to a evaluative one and the critical faculty is no longer bypassed (in essence, if a suggestion is given that you really don’t want you will either just ignore it or actually pop right out of hypnosis) After understanding this, it becomes clear that everyone is actually able to experience a hypnotic state, it is simply a matter of whether they want to or not or whether they are able to implement the techniques or not that will block them from achieving a hypnotic state. This essentially is how hypnosis works. What is profoundly interesting is that hypnosis can do for us. Once we have bypassed our critical faculty we can access our entire mind, the parts of our mind that control what we feel and how we perceive ourselves, even the parts of our mind that control automatic physiological functioning such as pain can be easily accessed while in a hypnotic state. There are even records of surgeries being done while in a hypnotic state. This is because the power of our minds is quite profound, once we have the ability to access it!

Trauma: what is really happening in our minds

In the field of psychology, the impact of extremely traumatic events on the minds of individuals has been one of interest for a long time. The effects of high levels of trauma have been explained and named different things over the years, for example shell shock. Today, symptomatic behaviour following the exposure to traumatic stimulus is referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The symptomology of PTSD is easy to find online, and includes symptoms involving a general heightened state of alertness and worry, negative changes in mood and thoughts, coupled with symptoms involving avoiding anything that may remind us of the trauma, and finally symptoms involving unwanted reexperiencing of the trauma. Furthermore there are a number of neurobiological changes that occur when exposed to a traumatic stimulus, in essence the parts of the brain and the chemicals involved in the fight or flight response are activated and continue to be activated to a degree in an inappropriate manner, following the incident. In short, our entire body and brain is launched into functioning in a way that is designed to allow us to be ready for action, for our survival. By its very definition, the traumatic event was unpleasant, resulting in our conscious minds attempting to not think about the event. Basically, part of us is trying to be very aware that there is danger, and to focus on it to ensure our survival, while the other part does not want to think about it to avoid the scary discomfort. You can see how this creates a problem. For the purposes of this discussion, I would like to focus a bit deeper into what is occurring in our mind, when a traumatic event occurs. Essentially, we all hold a view of the world and what we will be faced with and what will happen to us. We do not necessarily have a clear blow by blow plan with predictive accuracy of what will happen to us over our lives, however we do have a loose understanding of what is possible. Here is where trauma comes in. Essentially, when we experience a traumatic event, we experience something outside of what we thought was possible. In a sense, it is outside of our view on reality. This shift in reality, is at the heart of what creates the discomfort, as now the are faced with the impossible situation that we have misperceived our world in some way. It is this disconnect between our understanding of our reality and the existence of the trauma that results in the turmoil. We want to pretend it didn’t happen, while at the same time, we need to be on our toes because we are faced with the realization that we have missperceived our environment, making it now seem potentially hostile. What we don’t realize, it that the answer is in the details. When we take a closer look at the details of the traumatic event, we can discover that, actually the event was in line with our view of reality, and we are able to do something about it. It is this shift that allows us to move from feeling traumatized to simply holding a bad memory.

The Psychology of Happiness

Happiness, by its very nature, is governed by the subjective experience of individuals. Essentially, happiness is an emotional state, encompassing a combination of contentment, joy and a deep feeling of meaningfulness. Clinically speaking, our emotional states do not remain constant and fluctuate as we engage in different contexts and, as we are impacted by different stimulus from our environment. As a result of this fluctuation, we observe someone as being “happy” if they experience happiness more often then they experience subjectively unpleasant emotional states. Considering happiness as an emotional state, allows an understanding of what it may feel like, however it does not clarify why one person experiences happiness and another does not. To understand this “why” of happiness I find it of particular use to identify elements that seem to be present within an individual’s functioning when they experience happiness. The first element that I would like to highlight, is living in one context. that is to say, focusing on what one is involved in while one is present and engaged in said context. If we are, for example , at home with a loved one, and we are focused in that context, we would be considering the interactions that we are engaged in not thinking about what is happening at work. This will type of focus allows us to experience, whatever the context has to offer, and therefore allows us to experience happiness. Moreover, if we are focused in a different context than the one we are functioning in, we are helpless to give any input to the context that we are focusing in, this helplessness causes stress, which obviously blocks happiness. For example, if we are at home, but thinking about what we need to do at work tomorrow, we cannot DO anything about tomorrow right now, so we will be powerless and experience a degree of uneasiness. The second element I would like to highlight is the presence of compassionate empathy. Empathy involves the act of understanding another’s subjective experience, from their frame of reference. This understanding allows us to feel a sense of connectedness that gives us a clearer picture of our world, creating a calmness. This however may not be sufficient for happiness as the understanding alone does not require care. When compassion is present with empathy, one feels moved by the understanding resulting in a sense of meaning. For example, if we see the winner of an intense marathon crying at the finish line, we may understand how much the win meant to him/her and how intensely overjoyed and overwhelmed they feel, however if we have compassion in addition to our empathic understanding we may feel a moved and pleased for them as well! This leads me to the next element. Kindness. Social psychology has shown us that acts of kindness, tend to elicit reciprocal behavior, that is to say, when we observe kindness we are more likely to behave in a kind manner. Acts of kindness create emotional closeness between people as they elicit vulnerability and acceptance. It is this closeness that creates a connectedness that allows us to feel a deep sense of belonging, that we are a member of a group of the same species. This group membership ties into group dynamics of belonging to a group which is an integral part of human functioning and creates a role for us, giving a sense of meaning. It is this connectedness that plays a crucial role in happiness, and as such the next element I would like to highlight is having meaningful relationships. that is to say, relationships involving high levels of understanding and acceptance. This allows us to feel connected and gives us an interdependence allowing us to have a role and a purpose. In essence our happiness is strongly impacted by the quality of our relationships. With the knowledge of the crucial role our relationships play in our happiness, I would highlight the next element of happiness as: not having “unfinished business” in our relationships. research has shown that when we receive input within a relationship that has a unpleasant emotional response, our view of the relationship is altered. To give an example, imagine your partner comments about how you look. Imagine you feel hurt by the comment. If you never speak about the hurt impact that you have experienced, you will have a degree of “unfinished business” within that relationship. Our perception of our partner will be altered by this unfinished business, the more unfinished business we accumulate, the more our view of our partner will be altered. Carrying this unfinished business and the resulting alteration of perception creates distance and hurt, which blocks happiness. So, as a result, clearing out unfinished business is crucial to happiness. Finally, being accepting rather than critical is a pivotal element of happiness. If we accept rather that judge what we see in our environment (other people and other things) life is less frustrating. When we are critical, we elicit frustration. We may for example see a crack in the wall in our house and judge it as being bad, creating frustration, however if we are not critical we open the possibility of seeing the beauty in the pattern. This process can be applied to our interactions too, if we believe walking barefoot in p is wrong and we see someone at the mall with no shoes on, we may feel frustrated. However, if we are not critical we may see the freedom the individual sees and appreciate the beauty in that, creating a calming, connected compassion and a feeling of happiness…