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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…

How to assist depressed loved ones

Over the course of our lives, we are likely to experience ups and downs, and similarly our loved ones are also likely to go through times of joy and times of turmoil. Very often, when someone we care about is really suffering, we feel powerless and stuck, and sometimes even begin to share in their sadness, or desperately try to intervene to change their situation and rescue them from their pain. We may even feel guilty if we speak to them about our happiness or our successes and, as a result, we often try to protect them by minimizing our sharing, or downplaying our achievements, lest we make them feel worse. Of course, it is completely understandable to think feel and react in this way. When someone we care about is depressed, we are mobilized to try to change their situation, but does this kind of interaction assist a depressed loved one? And what is the impact of this kind of response on us, when we behave in this manner? Finally, is this the optimal way to assist, or is there perhaps a more effective manner of assisting our loved ones through a deep sadness in their lives. To answer these questions, we must first have a look at depression itself. Clinically speaking there are different clinical patterns that we have observed that result in depression, for the purposes of this article, I will not go into detail regarding the clinical picture, however, what is important to note is that typically when an individual is depressed, there is a feeling of hopelessness coupled with the low mood. In a sense, there is a feeling of “what is the point”. As a result of this hopelessness, depressed individuals go into an emotional black hole, they tend to want nothing to do with the world. This feeling is not an aggressive one, but rather a sense of “what’s the point”. Speaking about their situation and feelings appears to be pointless, and it feels to them as though nothing can actually change, resulting in wanting to be left alone. This “black hole”, often leaves the individuals feeling small and pathetic as if there is something wrong with them, as if something is lacking in their ability or functioning that makes them less than other people in the world who are not in this emotional state. Of course, this just makes the depression even worse. In this sense the diagnosis of depression (if handled ineffectively) very often gives the depressed person license to just lie down and confirms that there is in fact something wrong with them that cannot be changed. Furthermore, the diagnosis often acts as a barrier to others, pushing people away, as the diagnosis represents something going on that is different to the rest of society. Very often people who are feeling deeply depressed cling on to the diagnosis as it allows them to push the world away, allowing them to be left alone. Sadly, this of course runs the risk of perpetuating the feelings of stuckness and hopelessness, increasing their low mood. When considering this process, we can begin to see how isolated the depressed person becomes and how alone they begin to feel. Very often, when you speak to a loved one who is depressed, they will not share the true depth of their suffering and in that sense, they never truly connect with others and remain stuck viewing the world from their deeply sad, “pointless” viewpoint. All this being said, how do we assist a loved one who is depressed? How do we help them and not feel frustrated of helpless ourselves? The first step is to reach them. There is a profound emotional release that human beings experience when we are understood, and not alone. It instills hope as someone finally gets it, and it allows us to let go of painful emotions. The challenge here is that most of us don’t realize that a depressed loved one is in pain and does not want to suffer and be alone anymore, but simultaneously feels hopeless and wants to be left alone, as it feels pointless, tiresome and painful to share the depth of despair that they are feeling. If we do not understand this our depressed loved ones may feel as though we “don’t get it, and in fact nobody actually gets it” which will of course perpetuate the hopelessness. If we communicate to our loved ones an understanding of these feelings of hopelessness and wanting to be left alone that they are experiencing then they may actually feel understood and they may actually feel a degree of hope. This is the first step to assisting them. It is important to remember that simply by understanding what they are going through will assist them in a profound manner. The next step is the real tricky part. More often than not, a person who is feeling depressed is also feeling useless. They typically feel as though they are too pathetic to affect change in their lives. When we observe someone who we care about feeling this way, more often than not the impact mobilizes us to rescue them. To intervene and assist and change their lives so that they no longer suffer. It is important to try to resist this impact and not rescue a depressed loved one. To fully explain why, I first need to explain what we have discovered about psychological symptoms in human behavior. symptoms (of which depression is one) typically serve a function, they have a purpose, psychologically speaking. The purpose of a psychological symptom is an unconscious effort to assist us, however, they very often perpetuate our suffering. When it comes to depression, the function of the symptom of depression is to mobilize the world to feel pity on the depressed individual and to save them, as they are so down that we try to pick them up and protect them. If a co-worker we care about is depressed we may do their work for them to try to help. If our family member is being teased by someone they know, we may intervene and fight for them or rescue them in some way, to spare them from the real world factors that bringing them down. This behavior is of course fully understandable, however, on a process level, two destructive elements occur when we rescue a depressed loved one. Firstly) our behavior as people is often driven by emotions, when we rescue a depressed loved one, we adopt their emotional experience and mobilize ourselves with their emotions, leaving them immobilized and leaving us carrying the emotional turmoil. For example, let us say you have a loved one who is being disrespected in their work environment. They are feeling more and more depressed about their situation and share their feelings of defeat and powerlessness with you. In this instance you can hear how they are being pushed around and bullied and you become angry! At this point, when you start to share your anger with your depressed loved one, they stop feeling angry about their situation as you are angry enough for the both of you. Typically, at this stage we push them to handle their situation differently or we try to intervene and rescue them. What we don’t realize is the anger itself is what mobilizes humans to push back and if we “take on” the anger of our loved one, we take away the meconium that would build up and allow them to rescue themselves. Not to mention we carry anger that we cannot effectively do anything with, which will run the risk of draining and damaging us. In this sense nobody wins. Secondly) when we adopt the emotions of our depressed loved ones and rescue them, we tell them what they “should do”, or we do it for them. The impact of this on them is typically disempowering as they then feel even more pathetic as they can see how strong you are, confirming their “uselessness” and perpetuating their depression. The key to the second step of assisting a loved one, while assisting ourselves is again to empathize with them and to fight the urge to rescue or instruct them how to handle their situation, but rather to share our feelings that we want to rescue them, but that we trust and respect how they would like to handle the situation. in this way they will build the appropriate mobilizing emotions and they will be empowered when the rescue themselves and we will not carry their emotions, which burden us, as we are not them and as a result have less control over their lives than them, which leaves us helpless and frustrated. The third and final step is to share openly so that they can empathize with us. Part of a depressed persons suffering is that they only experience the world through their frame of reference, and everything seems gloomy through their eyes. If we share our lives and feeling, even if they are the opposite, we give the depressed person the opportunity to put themselves in our shoes, and connect, allowing them to not feel so alone. They may even assist us too if we are struggling, this can be empowering for someone who is depressed and may assist in lifting them up. Furthermore, this sharing allows us to connect to our loved one and is an important part of our mental health. If we limit our sharing to a depressed loved one, not only to we isolate them, we isolate ourselves, resulting in psychological discomfort for both. In a final thought, it is crucial to remember that when engaging with a depressed loved one, to ensure the optimal outcome for themselves and us we need to empathize accurately with them, not rescue them, but rather convey respect for them and to share openly and vulnerably with them so that they can empathize with us. In this way, you will truly assist a loved one struggling with depression and simultaneously assist (rather than drain) yourself.