Friday, November 25, 2016

Differentiation, Political Parties & Thanksgiving 2016!

A theoretical concept I have taught hundreds of times over the last decade is the concept of differentiation:

Differentiation: The ability to differentiate and integrate two fundamental drives.
1) Attachment.
2) Self-Regulation

Differentiation is about balancing connection and independence. It is about the ability to be deeply engaged with those you love without losing yourself or your own personal truth. 

Applying this theory to this year’s election; I would think that the opposite of differentiation would be deleting those you love from your Facebook or boycotting Thanksgiving. Changing your worldview or suffocating in silence to avoid the anxiety that comes from disagreements would be another example. I wrote that as a statement but felt more like a question. I feel like I have a firm intellectual grasp of the theory of differentiation. Why then, has the 2016 Election left me feeing so undifferentiated? I do not like being different from everyone in my family. It is lonely. It is keenly obvious to me that I have not found that perfect balance of differentiation because I do not feel peace. I feel confused, sad and reactive. 

When my family says, “I hate Hillary and the democrats” and in the next breath state that they would never vote for “my party”, I hear “I hate you.” That is a ridiculous reactive emotional response (in my particular family context, but perhaps not in yours) and it evokes a number of immediate defensive thoughts. The main one is that I didn’t even know I was a democrat. I could argue that I have never even voted for a democrat. The truth is that I would have voted for Obama if my ballot had arrived on time, as opposed two months late through the Mexican mail system, but officially it is still true. It does not matter though. They are onto something. At some point something has mentally shifted for me years agoand my family noticed and I was labeled a liberal. It is not a label I enjoy. In my familial and cultural context, “liberal” is code for a bad and unprincipled person. It also implies that I must also be a democrat (which is code for the same thing). And now during this election it seems I have made it official. In my immediate family of thirteen people and among my enormous extended family, I am the only one who did not vote for Trump. 

My family loyalty would not let me support Trump because he has spoken so poorly about so many people I love within our family. Our family has people with disabilities and membership in minority groups being targeted. Half my siblings are Latinos. A member of our family, who I love deeply, will inevitably be seen through the “all people from Middle-Eastern backgrounds are terrorists” lens that Trump actively promotes. As a therapist, I have worked with sexual assault survivors for fifteen years now. I know the concrete and horrific ways the rape culture harms women. How could I not be concerned for the women in my family now that “locker room” about grabbing women by their genitals has been normalized and basically given the official Presidential seal of approval? I do not understand why I am alone on this side, but it comes from a place within me of love and loyalty. 

The Platt family Faith also would not allow me to support Trump. My family is LDS (Mormon). I was raised LDS. While I have little credibility as a Mormon, the values I was raised with still shape everything I do every day. Including all the many reasons I could not vote for Trump. My LDSness significantly shaped my experience of this election. It may also contribute to why it is not easy for us to talk about our different views

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. 3 Nephi 11:29

That same scripture though is one of the many LDS tenets that makes me recoil from Trump and his hatemongering. I feel like there are countless other scriptures and LDS tenets that directly counter Trump. Two examples:

Immigrants/Refugees in General

 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 
Matthew 25:35-40

Our Neighbor Mexico and/or Nationalism

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with ... And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Matthew 22:37-39

The incongruences I see between LDS values and teachings and Trump’s way of being in the world could fill a library. And others have already pointed out the conflict of LDS values with Trump's "values"

I mentioned the oddness I felt about being the only one on this side to my sister Maria. She said, “That is the thing. There is no ‘sides’ in family. We will always be on the same side. Don’t forget that.” I found her comment reassuring in the moment. My having independent thought doesn’t really mean I lose my group membership, right?

Differentiation. I am not there yet, but I am working on it. 

This is where I should begin a new blog entry. Actually, I should probably put the above in a private journal or talk to a therapist about it in a confidential space. Though I am working on what could be considered self of the therapist or self of the educator work (that entails examining your own thinking in order to avoid negatively effect your work). We are encouraged to do that, right?

“I cannot be a teacher without exposing who I am.”
-Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom

 In her book, Teaching to Transgress, (1994) Bell Hooks suggested that faculty often maintain the status quo of oppressive societal structures by remaining hidden in the role of “...all knowing silent interrogators,” whereas, “when education is the practice of freedom, students are not the only ones who are asked to share, to confess” (p.21).

I am a therapist. I believe that most problems between people and groups can be solved through thoughtful dialogue. Therapists often help people with communication issues. They help clients to listen to each other and to understand the person’s point of view. Therapists generally are peacemakers. We understand the power of being non-reactive and non-judgmental. Most of us would agree that we are best able to do our jobs when we are grounded and do not join in emotionally with the crisis. My colleagues and I often critique the use of labels and see how labels limit our ability to consider complexity and block the consideration of alternative stories. We are all pretty good at all these things, except when it comes to politics. 

Below is a resource from the Public Conversation project. I have been using this resource for teaching since the Gulf War. It is simple, but I think it captures some important points that I believe helps facilitate understanding between opposing groups. 
I believe in the basic skills therapists use to facilitate communication and bridge differences. Yet, since it was announced that Trump had won, I have only been following the example of “the Anatomy of a Conversation Gone Wrong.” As therapists, most of us would intervene if we were witnessed a client stating that another was stupid, horrible or insane, yet daily I have been communicating some version of that message regarding those who supported Trump (and I am witnessing many other therapist doing the same). Of course, those on the right are doing the same. Isn’t that unproductive though if our hope is to create useful dialogues? On the other hand, don’t we have a moral duty to notice and act in some way when we perceive dangerous red flags in current events that seem similar to those that precipitated atrocities throughout history? It also can feel like a betrayal to my family, friends, clients and the world to not speak up. Another Facebook rant is probably not the answer though. 

When is response a rant and when is it advocacy?

A few years ago my colleague Tracey Laszloffy and I wrote an article about patriotism. Our call was for all U.S. citizens to consider more fully how nationality shapes their way of being in the world as well as the need to consider more international perspectives. We also suggested that therapist should develop what we termed as Critical Patriotism:

“Critical Patriotism means: The ability to honestly and fairly reflect and assess the values, history, culture, and traditions of one’s country. Inherent in this process is the ability to consider the nation’s virtues and vices in a balanced way. “ (Platt & Laszloffy 2013)

We also really wanted to clear up the difference between a Critical Patriotism and Nationalism:

Nationalism is the shadow side of patriotism. It is the belief that ones’ own nation is superior to all others and its interests are more important than those of any other nation. 
(Platt & Laszloffy 2013)

While we briefly discussed the differences in how conservatives and liberals define patriotism, our focus was not specifically on U.S. political parties. We only talked about how the profound differences in the worldview of those in the different parties can lead to reactivity and a therefore a lack of dialogue about nationality. We did not talk about how allegiance to a party might be relevant to the training of mental health workers.  This incredible ad from Jeep does a fairly accurate job of capturing what research suggests are the core value differences between Liberal and Conservative versions of Patriotism:

As I am witnessing how profoundly divided and tribal our nation is along political lines, I have wondered if we should have said more about critically considering how our membership in a specific political party influences what we see and do not see. Perhaps I would have added that I think therapists need to be able to honestly and fairly reflect and assess the values, history, culture, and traditions of one’s political party and be able to consider their party’s virtues and vices in a balanced way.

 This past week a group of my students sitting around the International Center for Therapy and Dialogue, a clinic I have opened in Mexico City. We serve both the local Mexican community and Expats from around the world. Almost every client who has come into our clinic has talked about the US election results. The major theme is about stress and concern about how family members in the states, sons and daughters, etc, will be treated now. I was asked by one father if it is still safe to take his daughter on a planned trip to Disneyland. The messages we have sent throughout the world this past year have had a profound impact. Nationalism may seem like some vague inconsequential concept to some people, but I am already seeing the clinical ramifications. 

I also see a concern as a supervisor and a mental health trainer. In the past three weeks I have been with mental health educators and trainees in El Salvador, Mexico and Connecticut. By and large, most adhere to the liberal version of patriotic values. Most share my shame, shock and reactivity to Trump being selected. While this makes sense to me given that our role is to serve diverse populations and to be social justice advocates, it probably should be looked at given that we also serve many people who hold more conservative patriotic values. No? I also still think about the clinical program director who I heard at AAMFT proudly say she wouldn't accept students into her program who would not sign a document stating they adhere to her liberal views (illegal). 

How can therapists best help those whose lives are negatively impacted by the election results?

What are the clinical implications of a therapist from one political party working with a client from a different political party?

What are the implications of the reality that most therapists and supervisors are liberal leaning?

Is seeking to understand the other side in some way the opposite of being a social justice advocate?

What would you do as a supervisor if you had a supervisee who would refuse to work with a Trump supporter?


So yes, I absolutely think the person you voted for is vile and has the potential to destroy the world. I think he is represents the ugliest version of our nation and is an embarrassment. I want to weep for humanity because he has been given so much power to do harm. And I love you all. There is no one I respect more than the members of my family. The values I hold I learned from you. I also know that we are all more complicated and layered than any political label captures. 

Is there any more stuffing? 

1 comment:

  1. You are not alone! I should have been more vocal about my complete disdain for Trump and his politics so that you would know that your familial group is not entirely exclusive.