Author Archives: Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian - in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at www.susanhammondswhite.com.

The Other Side of the Couch – Tomorrow

Sunrise

I have always enjoyed reading the morning paper.  Having breakfast, sipping coffee and catching up on the news has been a pleasant ritual – well, sometimes not so pleasant, but at least a ritual – for many years.  I especially enjoy the “Funnies”, as my dad used to call them. I can remember in younger years being intrigued by the glamourous “Brenda Starr”, confused by “Little Orphan Annie” and her sidekicks, Punjab and the Asp, and entertained by the antics of Beetle Bailey and Lil Abner and Pogo.

I still enjoy the Funnies, having followed Gary Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” with relish since the 60s.  New entries into the art of creating an “aha” moment are “Breaking Cat News” by Georgia Dunn (commentary on the foibles of humans from the cat viewpoint), “Prickly City” by Scott Stantis, perhaps created as an antidote to Doonesbury, and the amazing “Pearls Before Swine” by Stephen Pastis.

Pastis is the master of the pun, and one often comes away from his morning minute with the groans that good puns elicit.  However, he also has remarkable insight into the sweep of history compacted into four panels – or six on Sundays.  It seems strange to write about all of these wonderful writers without including examples of their work, but because all is licensed and costly, none of it can appear in this writer’s blog.  Instead, I will summarize the panels that appeared in Sunday’s edition.

Panel 1 – 1987 – FCC – Do we really need a fairness doctrine to ensure the media will be fair?  We don’t.

Panel 2 – 2000 – School Board – Do we really need civics classes for these kids?  We don’t.

Panel 3 – 2005 – Senate Committee – Do we really need to be regulating social media companies like publishers?  We don’t.

Panel 4 – 2010 – Daily Tribune – Do we really need this many reporters covering government?  We don’t.

Panel 5 – 2015 – County Supervisors – Do we really need mental health funding?  We don’t.

Panel 6 – 2022 – Pig: Do we really need this much barbed wire around government buildings?  Goat:  We do.  Rat ( throwing a rock at said building) And that’s for faking the moon landing.

Here is the link to this amazing cartoon:

https://www.gocomics.com/pearlsbeforeswine/2022/05/22

It is well worth seeing!

Mr. Pastis takes us step by step down the path that has landed us in this unimaginable place.  It’s just like the frogs that, when placed in a pot of cold water that is slowly heated, will not realize that they should jump out and as a result die.  We are the frogs, and the water has been heating for a long time. We no longer have agreement on basic truth; we no longer trust our institutions.  And our country is awash with guns.

The future is uncertain.  I do believe that the “the arc of the moral universe is long but bends toward justice” – MLK.  I wish that arc were not quite so long, and that I were more sure of where we are in that path.  Sometimes I hear the last gasps of a frantic and frightened group of people who can’t see beyond their fear of differences.   Sometimes I see a retreat into an imagined past that never existed but is somehow believed to be better than it ever was.  Sometimes it seems like the end of all that we have known.  At other times, more hopeful times, I look at the young people who are fighting for the planet, for the acceptance of different kinds of life styles and of different kinds of people, and I do see a possible future that is different from the one we are living.

So I will sing with Orphan Annie and Alicia Morton –

“The sun’ll come out tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow
There’ll be sun

“The sun’ll come out tomorrow
So you gotta hang on ’til tomorrow
Come what may

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow
You’re always a day away”

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 35+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit!

Leave a comment

Filed under Self Savvy, Uncategorized

The Other Side of the Couch – Remembering Tallu

Pink Clouds

 

 Tallu Schuyler Quinn, minister, mother, wife, CEO, writer, poet, fighter for justice, maker of bread, raiser of chickens, lover of life, died two months ago of glioblastoma.  Today the book that gathers the many strands of her life into haunting and beautiful essays is being published.

The Parnassus bookstore website says about Tallu:

“Nonprofit leader and minister Tallu Schuyler Quinn spent her adult life working to alleviate hunger, systemic inequality, and food waste, first as a volunteer throughout the United States and abroad, and then as the founder of the Nashville Food Project, where she supported the vibrant community work of local food justice in Middle Tennessee. That all changed just after her fortieth birthday, when she was diagnosed with stage IV glioblastoma, an aggressive form of terminal brain cancer.

In What We Wish Were True, Quinn achingly grapples with the possibility of leaving behind the husband and children she adores, and what it means to live with a terminal diagnosis and still find meaning. “I think about how my purpose may be the same in death as it continues to be in life–surrendering to the hope that our weaknesses can be made strong, that what is broken can be made whole,” she writes.

Through gorgeous prose, Quinn masterfully weaves together the themes of life and death by integrating spiritually nourishing stories about family, identity, vocational call, beloved community, God’s wide welcome, and living with brain cancer. Taken together, these stunning essays are a piercing reminder to cherish each moment, whether heartbreaking or hilarious, and cast loose other concerns.

As a mother, a kindred spirit, and a dear friend, Tallu Schuyler Quinn looks into our eyes with well-earned tears in her own and tells us the bittersweet truth: We are all searching for what has already found us–present and boundless love. This love will deliver us and never let us go.”

Tallu’s love continues through this beautiful book.  I hope that you will buy it and read it and tell others about it – it is a book meant for giving.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 35+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Other side of the Couch – Ukraine

 

sunflower

I sit here today, safe, in my own warm house with my own possessions around me.  I can use my cell phone to call anyone I want to call.  I can walk outside without worrying.  I can speak my mind to my neighbors, and while we may disagree, I am not afraid that I will be turned in to the police for something I have said or done. I have money to buy food, and if I need cash I can go to the bank and access my checking account to get more cash.  My family is safe, and I know that I can see them whenever I want to do so.

And as I sit here, safe, warm, with choices and a future, I am thinking of the people of Ukraine, who have none of these certainties.  I am thinking of the women and children who are saying goodbye to their husbands and fathers; I am thinking of the young men and women who are choosing to fight for their country at the risk of losing everything, because if they do not they have already lost everything worth living for.  I am thinking of the maternity hospital, bombed by the Russians.  I am thinking of the waves of refugees pouring across the borders into the West.

And I am thinking of the soldiers from both countries, soldiers who are fighting in a war that they neither chose nor believed would happen.  These young men – and women – will die because of the twisted mind of a man whose greed and vanity and ego have released the scourge of war once again on an innocent people.

The Russian people are suffering as well – pulled into a war they, too, did not choose and blinded by the limited access to other perspectives than that which is fed to them by the state-run media.

Here in Fortress America, far away from the realities of war on the European continent, it may be too easy to say to ourselves that this war has nothing to do with us – it is over there, far away.  I know that there are some who are saying exactly that, although their voices have been muted by the extraordinary courage and resilience of the Ukranian people’s fight against Putin.  This is exactly what was said in the 30s and 40s in the runup to WWII by many – until we were attacked at Pearl Harbor.  Let it not come to that – let it not be that our political will to fight Putin and his war machine has to depend on our own country being attacked in order to muster the will to crush him.

I am grateful that the leaders of the European Union have stepped up and that the careful diplomacy of the Biden administration has created a unified response to an unprovoked attack on all democracies.  May it hold firm in the difficult days ahead.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 35+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit!

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Self Savvy

The Other Side of the Couch – A Balanced Life

Bird Feeder

Today is the last day of the Great Back Yard Bird Count for 2022.  Sitting today at the computer I have a view of our bird feeders less than six feet away, and I have loved counting the familiar birds that appear.  Today house finches and mockingbirds have been the most frequent visitors, although an occasional pair of mourning doves have also consistently searched for spilled seed on the ground.  The mockingbird puffs up and acts like the king of the feeder, but the smaller house finches are fierce in their determination to reach the seeds despite his aggressive posturing.  Just now a Carolina wren has appeared – lovely rich brown with a yellow belly – so cheeky, and in love with the dried mealy worms.  The squirrels are in the mix as well, for though we have squirrel-proof feeders, those amazing acrobats have found several ways to defeat the trapping mechanism.  Oh well.  Squirrels must live, too.

The birds of the air live their lives according to the urges and instincts of their species, knowing when to eat, drink, find a mate, build a nest, raise a family, migrate or not.  I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a creature driven by instinct rather than by plan or intention.  I do not think birds plan, exactly, where to find seed or find a mate.  For them it is not “tomorrow morning I will check out the feeders at the Whites – if they are empty, I will go across the green space to the people on the other side.”  They just go.

I do not know a great deal about bird physiology, but I do not imagine that they experience stress in the way that humans do.

What do I know about managing stress?  I know that rest is essential.  I know that being present in the moment is helpful.  Any kind of creativity – drawing, painting, writing, playing the piano – all of these are calming.  Meditating, quiet music, warm baths, cuddly blankets – all help.  Anything that helps the body move out of fight or flight (the activation of the autonomic nervous system) and into calm (the activation of the para-sympathetic nervous system) helps the body calm down.  An essential tool in this process is breathing.  A breath in – a longer breath out – repeated at least three times – signals that vagal nerve system to move into PSN – and the body responds with letting go and calming down.

What I am recognizing about myself, however, is that I am not always aware of stress.  I live my life, I think, in such a way as to be always ready for and thinking ahead into the next thing.  For example, cleaning up the breakfast dishes – group tasks so that all is done most efficiently with least effort. Going to the bedroom?  Find objects that are out of place and need to be picked up on that trip. Errands to run? List the stops and plan the most productive route.  I accomplish a great deal by living this way.  My question to myself, however, is whether leaning into the future is creating a problem with balance in my life.

I do not plan time to stop.  I do not plan time to rest.  I seem to be almost driven to do.  And so, I ask myself, what am I driving toward or pushing away from?  If I stop and rest, if I let myself meander a bit, if I take the longer way to go just because I want to see what is there – if I stay in the present moment and take those breaths – what could happen?

As I pause here to feel into those questions, the answer that surfaces is not a surprise.  I will grieve.  I will experience the losses of these past years yet again.

So, to find my balance I need to re-balance – a time of experiencing being in the moment that will include more tears, and more journaling, and more just being quiet with the memories.  No “to-do” list on grief.  It takes the time it takes and follows its own song.

If you find yourself caught in the cycle of never-ending doing, perhaps watching birds as they live in the moment could be a reminder of the power of now.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 35+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit!

Leave a comment

Filed under Self Savvy

The Other Side of the Couch – Patience Rewarded

Kara 2022

20131206_213818

When a feline companion of eighteen years left us last May, I knew that at some point I would want to adopt another cat.  Our resident cat, Jasmine, now ten years old, came to us at age two when her first family moved to New Zealand.  She and Oscar became friends – he was ten at the time – and although they were never buddies, they did tolerate each other to the extent that they sometimes even sat on the bed together.

Jasmine adapted well to being on her on, especially because the pandemic has resulted in my being home almost all the time.  However, as things began to open, it became apparent that she would be home alone for some stretches of time, and I was worried about that for her.  She had always been with other animals.

We decided to adopt a younger cat in hopes that they would become playmates.  Alas – best-laid plans – when we went to the cat rescue to choose a cat, we were chosen – by a nine-year-old female named Kara.  She was a greeter – she was seated in a small box on a table right next to the door as we came in, and she was friendly right away.  We looked around, and we spent time with several of the younger cats (there were twenty-five cats roaming around) – but the one we thought we had come for turned out to be “playful” in a bit of a rough way.  My husband wanted none of that – and Kara was our choice.

In adopting an older, female cat and attempting to integrate her into our home with an even-older female cat, we were embarking of a journey that would require patience!

So began the Saga of Jasmine and Kara, a continuing story told in weekly installments to an avid audience of friends.  Following the instructions gleaned from our cat whisperer friend and from Jackson Galaxy YouTube videos, we began by not even allowing the two cats to see each other.  Kara was whisked into the house and placed in a secure room with her own box, food bowls, toys and water. This happened to be the room in which we watch TV, so she would be sure of company in the evening.  The next steps were to exchange scents – rub old socks or t-shirts on each cat and put those objects in the other cat’s areas.  Next we moved Kara into another room for a bit and let Jasmine into the TV room to sniff around.  We did this repeatedly.

The next step was crucial – we put up baby gates at one of the entrances to the TV room and began to crack the door open when both cats were eating – thus creating an association with “seeing other cat equals getting food”.  We quickly learned that Kara is an agile escape artist who could climb right over those gates!  However, they did serve the purpose of allowing visual contact if they were monitored.  I also learned that as soon as Jasmine saw Kara that I needed to pet her (the resident cat!), reassure her that this interloper did not mean she had lost us, and play with her using her favorite toy, a fishing pole with feathers attached.

This journey began in September.  We are now at the point at which both Jasmine and Kara are out and about in the house during the day.  Jasmine is the dominant cat – a Maine Coon mix weighing in at twelve pounds; however, Kara, a long-haired black tabby with Maine Coon features as well, and weighing about eight pounds, is a little acrobat and very interested in joining with and playing with Jasmine.

This has not yet occurred, but I would say that the possibility exists that they could end up on a bed together. It has taken patience, time, and determination – some would say why work so hard?  In part it is because we were chosen – but also it is within our ability to provide a safe and loving home to an older cat – and the rewards of that choice are many.  We love them both, quirks and all, and I have hope that the patience we are all displaying will be rewarded.  

Patience is an old-fashioned virtue – in our fast-paced and throw-away society, we are not used to delaying gratification or waiting for things to unfold.  Jasmine and Kara are teaching us time-honored truths by showing us that it takes time to adapt, to trust, and to create new connections.  It will not be rushed – it takes the time it takes – a timely reminder that even fear and conflict can be mitigated by patience and a good meal!

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 35+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit!

Leave a comment

Filed under family, Self Savvy

The Other Side of the Couch – Goodbye and Hello

Sunset

The turning of the year is for many a time of reflection – what has this last year brought to us; what are we leaving behind; what are we welcoming in the year ahead.  As I write this post, we are experiencing yet another wave of COVID-19 distress as the Omicron variant has become the dominant disease vector; we do not yet know enough about this variant to predict much about it other than that it is more contagious than the two prior variants – we hope it is less lethal.

This year for me has been a year of facing loss and mortality.  My brother, brother-in-law, sister and aunt all died of cancer this year – I am the oldest of five siblings, and these losses have really brought into focus the essential question that life presents to all of us.  Our time here is limited.  What do we choose to do with that precious time?

COVID prevented me from spending the time I would have wished with my brother and sister.  We were barely able to see Glenn a few weeks before his death – he was fighting hard to get to another clinical trial that held out so much promise, but his cancer was too far advanced.  My daughter and I flew to San Francisco and spent two precious days with him – just being together, talking, remembering.  When we left, we still were hoping for more time – but it was not to be.

Lindsay’s situation turned so quickly.  She was diagnosed in November of 2020, had surgery, and the extensive tumor was identified and removed.  She joined a clinical trial that worked so well until suddenly it didn’t.  In early June of 2021 she was hospitalized, and scans finally revealed that the cancer was back in all her internal organs.

Because Hawaii was so strict regarding COVID, when we learned that her time was short, we still had to have COVID tests within 72 hours of travel.  The only place in Nashville that gave the tests approved by the Hawaiian government was finally identified, and we flew on July 3.  Arriving at 2 in the afternoon, Lindsay, by this time in hospice at home, recognized us, welcomed us, but was not able to converse.  We were just together. During the night she became unable to respond, and in the early morning hours I talked to her, sang to her, told her it was ok to go.  She left us at 8:45 on July 4.

Three weeks later we said hello to a beautiful new granddaughter – Cora Lindsay.   Named after my sister, her great-aunt, this child carries hope into the world as a legacy of love.

The thread that binds all these experiences together is that legacy.  I am a fortunate person in that I grew up in a family that was and is bound together by love.  Although we have certainly had our struggles – no families in my experience do not have struggles – we got along (for the most part) and valued kindness.  Whatever I can say about my time on this earth, I can at least say that I gave and received love.  That is no small thing.

May you find ways in your own life to love.  The gift will return to you a thousand-fold.

Happy New Year.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 35+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit!

Leave a comment

Filed under Self Savvy

The Other Side of the Couch – Are We There Yet?

Here & Now

Are We There YET?

I remember as a child taking car trips with my family – I was often buried in a book, but I know I must have asked that dreaded question many times – and I am equally sure that my younger siblings often did the same. Time passes differently in childhood. Days are endless; summers last forever, and it seems that Christmas will never come.

Time moves differently as we age. The rushing river of Time of which we are never outside becomes ever faster. The meandering pace of childhood picks up speed, and time passes in minutes as we grow older.

And yet that question remains – are we there yet? Have we reached our destination? The “there” changes over time, and yet it is still somewhere out there in the far distance. We are moving toward a horizon that always is just out of reach.

Have you considered what “there” is for you, and whether the possibility exists that you are already “there”? If we as humans are constantly focused on the next thing, that which is to come, we miss so much of what is here now.

If I have learned anything from these months of pandemic isolation, it is that now is what we have. The opportunity to slow down, pay attention, spend time with people I love has never been more present and essential, especially given that these months included the loss of beloved family members (my brother, sister, brother-in-law, and aunt – none to COVID, but gone nonetheless) – and the loss of a feline friend who gave us eighteen years of loving presence. We also received the gift of another precious granddaughter and the adoption of another feline friend.

Friends, “there” is a mirage – a desert oasis calling us away from the actual present. I hope that you can find ways to stay fully present with your life today. It really is a gift, and it is all that we have.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit!

Leave a comment

Filed under Self Savvy

The Other Side of the Couch – Pandemic Gift

Backyard Birds

The days are already shortening, and the air is occasionally brisk if one arises early enough.  Yesterday as I worked at my desk I watched two squirrels fighting over the bird seeds that had fallen from the feeders – each determined to be the most successful.  A territorial mockingbird has hovered over the feeders at times as well – the smaller birds seem to just give way to this larger and certainly more vociferous creature – they come back when the mockingbird departs.

Watching the birds and wildlife from my window during the last eighteen months has been both solace and lesson.  It’s a small window really, looking out on a little slice of green, some shrubs and a holly bush.  Farther away across the sidewalk path is an oak tree, and farther on are steps and the landscaping and front doors of neighbors.  Few people actually pass this way – so the wildlife is mostly undisturbed.  We have even seen an occasional deer.

I often pause during the day and watch the unfolding drama of survival as the house finches, cardinals, black-capped chickadees, Carolina wrens, blue jays, robins, occasional bluebirds vie for life sustenance.  The squirrels have become adept at defeating the so-called squirrel-proof feeders and perform acrobatics on a daily basis just to get to an occasional reward.

I don’t remember a time before the pandemic when I took the time to sit and watch the panorama of life go by.  I have always been on the go, a doer, completing tasks, getting things done, being organized.  I noticed this morning that I unconsciously create little patterns that streamline the smallest tasks – bunching together the steps it will take to put things in the recycle; making sure I stop at the trash on the way – I do this without much thought.

This way of being has actually served me well over the years – and yet, and yet – as I watch the birds and take time to just be, I am grateful for this unexpected pandemic gift – the gift of slowing down, of taking time for nothing more than being present.

When this challenging time ends – and I do believe it will either end or become mitigated in some way so that we will be able to once again be out in the world – my hope is to hold onto this gift, this experience, of being more centered in present time.  In the end present time is what we have – the past is gone; the future is not here – so I will delight in my birds and squirrels and in being here in this world, at this moment in time.  May we all be so blessed.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit!

Leave a comment

Filed under Self Savvy, Uncategorized

The Other Side of the Couch – Don’t Wait

Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

Twenty years.  Hard to believe it has been twenty years.  The pain has receded; it isn’t daily now as it was in the first several years.  When it returns it is tempered now by sweet memories of better days.  The things we did together, the moments of laughter we shared, the trips we took – these are precious now. 

Twenty years.  Hard to believe it has been twenty years.  The pain has receded, but when it returns it is jagged and still painful and hard to understand.  The pain has not been worked through – it seems instead burned into our memories without healing.

Today, September 11, has two meanings for me. 

First, this day would have been my dad’s 101st birthday.  He was born in 1920, and he died unexpectedly on the 5th of July, 2001.  The first anniversary of his birth occurred on the day that the 9/11 attacks shook our country to the core.  Now, twenty years later, we are remembering as a nation that terrible day.  I, as a single human being, am remembering both the terrorist attack and the loss of a beloved father.

The most important lesson for me out of all this loss is a simple one.  Don’t wait.  Don’t wait to visit loved ones. Don’t wait to say you love them.  Don’t wait to take that trip, to write that story down, to share happy memories.  Our time on this earth is not a given, and we never really know what is ahead.

I didn’t know on July 1, 2001 that the phone call I had with my father would be the last time I heard his voice.  Thousands didn’t know on September 11, 2001 that they were saying good-bye for the last time.

Don’t wait.  It may be the last thing you ever get to say or do.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit!

Leave a comment

Filed under Self Savvy

The Other Side of the Couch – Understanding Self-Delusion

download (1) June seems so far away now – a miraculous moment now fading with the miasma of the Delta variant that is reversing the gains that were made.  We were so close to being able to be a bit safer, a bit freer. How is it possible that so many people in this country are so willing to risk their own lives and the LIVES OF THEIR CHILDREN by choosing to forego vaccination against COVID-19.

I have been more than perplexed by this conundrum.  It makes no rational sense.  However, I recently read an article written by Shankar Vedantam that shed some light on this issue.

Shankar Vedantam is the NPR host of the podcast “Hidden Brain”.  He is interested in the issue of delusional thinking, and his latest book, Useful Delusions:  The Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain, presents a fascinating look at events that illustrate the protective power of self-delusion.  Although the buzzwords of the last few years – alternative facts, fake news, QAnon – are not mentioned, these concerns hover in the background of the stories like malevolent fairies just waiting to become visible.

Vedantam cites the story of one Donald Lowry, the founder of the infamous Church of Love that made millions of dollars in the 80s on the backs of lonely men.  Lowry essentially impersonated women who wrote letters to men who subscribed to the program, assuming a variety of personas and including many personalized touches to the letters he sent.  He was eventually caught and prosecuted, but the strange twist to this was that men who were members of his love letter subscription service CAME TO THE COURTHOUSE TO DEFEND HIM.  The men said the letters had saved their lives, stopped addiction, even stopped suicidal behavior.

Vedantam states in an article written for Psychotherapy Networker:

 “Foregoing self-deception isn’t merely a mark of education or enlightenment – it is a sign of privilege…your material, cultural, and social worlds are providing you with other safety nets for your psychological and physical needs.  But should your circumstances change for the worse, were the pillars of your life to buckle and sway, your mind, too, would prove fertile ground for the wildest self-deceptions.” (Psychotherapy Networker, July/August 2021, p. 23)

So, what to do when we see the pillars of rationality challenged by what to many of us can only seem completely without merit.  Vedantam suggests that we are dealing with an evolutionary process in which “old” brain responses are at war with “newer” brain responses.  The two states of the brain have different value systems, and when rationality is seen as the only way of knowing, it is often ignored.

Humans have spent eons using the processes of narrative and storytelling and use of symbols – when we don’t use these processes and rely totally on rationality for truth, we lose sight of much that makes us human.  Joseph Campbell’s monumental work in defining the power of myth in human history is an example, as is Carl Jung’s exploration of the archetypes that live in the collective unconscious of humanity.

So, what does self-deception do for us?  In its best form it protects us when things are just too fragile, too out of control, too frightening.  Self-delusion gives us something to hold onto in a scary world.  It can create a sense of meaning and a sense of community.  We need to think carefully about what self-delusion does, and we need to figure out how to work with it.  How does this self-deception help the believer? What are the consequences of the belief?  Without this insight, it will be hard to create any kind of traction for change.

So, you don’t believe in vaccinations?  Tell me more about that – what are your hesitations?  Oh, your church community is against it? Oh, you feel a strong bond with your fellow church members and wouldn’t want to be different?  Oh, your grandfather was involved in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis research experiment?  That helps me understand.  I still disagree with your choice, but it makes better sense now.  Let me explain to you my experience – would you be willing to listen?

Vedantam closes his article with quite a statement:

“The psychological forces that make it difficult for the members of the Church of Love to see reality accurately fill all our lives.  If we seem less credulous, it’s only because circumstances have not tested us to the same extent. Put another way, those poor, pathetic rubes –but for a few strokes of luck –are us.” Psychotherapy Networker, July/August 2021, p. 25

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized