The Relativity of Oppression

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Oppression exists, and much like other abstractions, oppression is often cognitively enmeshed with content or with something more concrete. There is often a more tangible entity that gets labeled as ‘oppressive’ or as the ‘oppressor’… through time we often allow for more tangible entities (such as a person, lifestyle, belief system etc) to be labeled objectively (and without relativity) as literally being ‘oppression’.

This tendency creates an irony for many ofus as often it is the constructs about oppression which become the oppressor (the constructs become oppressive – the individuals ability to live a most authentic life is oppressed by an unconscious adherence to an oppressive construct).

here is a list of some common constructs concerning oppression that can lead to an individual oppressing themselves:

  • being a stay-at-home parent is oppressive
  • rules and laws are oppressive
  • all religion is oppressive
  • science is oppressive
  • medicine is oppressive
  • set schedules are oppressive
  • education is oppressive
  • work is oppressive
  • power is oppressive
  • gender roles are oppressive
  • grading is oppressive
  • competition is oppressive

ย I am going to steer us away from a conversation on dialectics = (yes, all the above variables are both oppressive and emancipating)

whether something is oppressive or emancipating is relative … ex. being a stay at home parent could be the source of oppression for one, and the source of emancipation from oppression for another.

History has played a huge role in creating social constructs (belief systems) that many of us are unconsciously dictated by…

For example, Women were systematically and institutionally oppressed for a long period of time in our country by inhibiting their access to careers. In doing so, females were oppressed from attaining existential fulfillment, independent financial security, and the power to positively influence the various components of the system.

The construct which was born out of this reality was: “to be free from oppression one must have unimpeded access to career.” Well many of us have experienced that in the United Stated many careers are extremely oppressive… they can impede our ability to attain: ‘existential fulfillment, independent financial security, and power to positively influence the various components of the system.”

This creates a potential for radical dissonance as many parents would be more fulfilled with more time spent with their families (or spiritual development, personal hobbies etc), but they don’t allow themselves this option because of there unconscious adherence to the construct: ‘being a stay at home parent is oppressive.’

The solutions is to allow curiosity, flexibility, subjectivity and relativity to become involved in the process.

What is the source of MY oppression? What experiences do I inhibit access too because of a belief system which may not be serving me right now?

I personally experienced this dissonance when I entered into parenthood.

I held the belief system that “schedules are oppressive” – After many years in formal education I arrived at this construct as my incredibly scheduled life caused me emotional discomfort – I found happiness in spontaneity (which I dichotomously labeled freedom) and concluded that schedules oppressed my freedom – thereby schedules oppressed my happiness.

Upon becoming a parent the idea of freedom becomes almost humorous as you are completely enveloped into a developmental stage of service – With freedom being heavily influenced by individualism, there is not much ‘freedom’ when you are a parent of young children ๐Ÿ˜‰

yet the desire for freedom remains – and happiness still manifests when I feel like I have more freedom…

Here is where the paradigm needed to be shifted… schedules were the only means of affording time for me and my wife to meet our individual and spousal needs… in other words, schedules created the freedom to meet our needs … and in meeting those needs we are more happy.

so………….

schedules emancipated us from a deficit in perceived freedom… wow

And here is the kicker… If this paradigm isn’t adjusted again as the children get older it could once again be that schedules are the source of our oppression.

In conclusion, what we often label as objectively oppressive may not be oppressive in different relative instances… further, the process of labeling something as objectively oppressive may actually be the source of our oppression.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Happy Relationship – loving another as yourself – loving we to love me

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A relationship is a system… it is a whole with interconnecting parts – and the whole ends up being greater than the sum of its’ parts

so lets think about this is a ‘couple’ context – you and your romantic partner (though yes this could apply to any relational system)

what are some of the variables that might make a whole greater than simply sum of the two parts? (being you and your partner)

With the creation of a system, abstractions are created such as: love, happiness, satisfaction, passion, excitement, courage, safety, nurturance, and wellness… or hate, depression, dis-satisfaction, boredom, resentment and disease.

to break this down a bit, what is the potential for love outside of the context of relationships? Without relation their would be no love… so then the existence of two partners who join into a system creates the potential for love (and therefor the sum is greater than the parts as we now have: partner 1 + partner 2 = two people and love)

now where are we going here and how can this practically help you in your relationship?

I am trying to offer the idea that the simple act of looking at your relationship with your partner as a system… as a whole… can be beneficial to your relationship. This is because what you do to and for your partner will directly effect you (as you are the whole and the part)… the health of the system is a barometer for your own health.

“Why should I do something, go somewhere, learn something, try something, meet someone etc. if I don’t want to?” this question is very commonly postulated in our minds… and we have been somewhat indoctrinated into the dichotomous dogma of “If I do something, go somewhere, learn something, try something, meet someone because my partner wants to, but I don’t, then I am oppressing my freedom… I am oppressing my right to be me!”

wow – seems like the conclusion that we unintentionally accepted is that doing things for another when there isn’t an obvious benefit for the self is wrong… past wrong = a violation of freewill and liberty!

individualistic utilitarianism is the result of a strict adherence to this method of perceiving reality.

We have been taught that you should not do something for your partner if you don’t want to. (to be clear I am not talking about doing something that would be a violation to your sense of self and dignity)

Research in couples satisfaction has actually found the exact opposite to be true… couples that think of themselves as a system and make decisions for the sole benefit of the whole, through intentionally acting in the best interest of their partner, experience significantly more relational and life satisfaction. why?

lets look at a car… why should the tires care about the well being of the shocks or the breaks?

There are two answers: The obvious answer is that the tires will last longer and work better if their health is supported by the complimentary functionality of the breaks and shocks (this is the individualistic utilitarian answer).

The more illusive answer is that the car will work better and that tire is the car. There is no car without tires – in this way a car (like a relationship) is greater than the sum of its parts – when you put all the parts together you have a car – when you remove some of the pieces it turns back into a conglomerate of parts alone.

So now we arrive at an interesting conclusion

you are your relationship… the health of your relationship is the health of you

So doing things for the other part (almost was able to use a pun there – part-ner) is an act of doing something for the relationship… which is you

So what’s the big conclusion?

When we have no compelling reason for avoiding a behavior which would benefit our partner we ought to go ahead and do it!

If they wanna walk – go for a walk, if they wanna talk – have a talk, if they want to try some strange new cuisine – try away, If they want some romance – enjoy it.

Waiting for you and your partner to want the exact same thing at the exact same time leads many relationships into a really boring unfulfilling rut… lots of TV watching and other forms of inactivity seem to manifest or a lot of parallel lives are formed where there are too people, but its hard to say that a system exists.

If one partner is indifferent or apathetic and the other partner is enthusiastic and excited… it might be best to jump on your inspired partner’s metaphorical surf board and ride that wave for a bit.

that way you get to connect, embellish your whole, and engage in life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

The Depression Bubble

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The Depression Bubble – a metaphor for understanding a loved-one’s depression – and compassion

and suggestions for the healer…

Depression can be like a bubble blocking the person inside from receiving positive influence from the outside world.

Inside the depression bubble the person is left to deal with their hopelessness, apathy, sadness, meaninglessness, lethargy and despair all by themselves… we try to pull them out of the bubble or to push them into positive activities, but the bubble prevails.

Left to their own devices, the person in the bubble attempts to make their life more bearable by engaging in behaviors that lesson the burden… Substance use, TV watching, empty calorie eating, responsibility avoidance, video gaming, indifference, self-sabotage, lashing out, and sedative behaviors ensue in an attempt to bring a moment of relief.

We get frustrated with the bubble… and eventually, we get frustrated with the person in the bubble. Our thoughts attack us… telling us that the bubble is the person’s fault. “the Bubble will go away if you exercise, stop watching tv, stop smoking pot, start eating better, make plans with friends, go to therapy, get on meds, dedicate yourself to school/work, and find a hobby”

Our frustration leads to desperation and we forget the impossible truth… the bubble is stronger than our coaching… the bubble does not allow our positive influence to reach the encapsulated person.

humbled we find that no amount concrete action is having any impact. There is no force which is effective at budging the immovable object… strength is irrelevant… behavioral techniques consisting of consequences and rewards seem to only strengthen the bubble – thereby reducing our potential influence.

But it feels impossible to let go of control and we often resort to punishing the person for engaging in the behaviors which are a symptom of being trapped in a depression bubble. We punish them for not doing their school work, constantly critique their substance use, and take away their electronics while at the same time bribing them to exercise.

how do you move an immovable object… how to you impact something that is not receptive to behavioral conditioning?

This is where the healers’ job becomes impossibly hard… we must love unconditionally past the disruptive behaviors. We must not condone and yet accept fully at the same time. We must see the person despite the bubble.

We have only one tool – Love

and one mechanism of intervention – Connection

The strategy of connection takes patients and perseverance… but perhaps more challenging than those attributes is our own growth towards a more honest perception of reality. Past cognitive reprogramming, we have the opportunity to spiritually transcend into an acceptance of that which is beyond our control.

We want to believe that life is controllable and through our actions we can create predictability and permanence. We are so tied to this belief system that we, the potential healer, find ourselves in a bubble of rigid repetition – endlessly engaging in the same feudal behavioral interventions – endlessly upping the consequences set on the person trapped in the depression bubble. Without connection we have no positive influence (other than fear – which works very poorly on an apathetic person) … and as we move into the role of punisher we unintentionally remove our ability to help.

Connection

Through connection a person may gain the resilience necessary to allow their own self-determination to emancipate the self from the bubble.

Through connection we might keep hope just a little stronger than despair until time affords a quantum shift and the bubble pops in response to any one of an infinite number unpredictable catalysts. (ex. a developmental shift, a change in environment, hormonal/biological changes, entrance of a romantic partner, finding of purpose, a significant event etc.)

through connection a ‘we’ identity is formed and positive influence can permeate the bubble leading the trapped person to potentially make movement towards those behaviors which destroy depression bubbles (exercise, relationships, sleep, purposeful activities, art etc.)

Sometimes connection just slightly reduced the symptoms of being trapped in the depression bubble.

And finally, sometimes connection doesn’t seem to do anything and we are left with our acceptance and faith in the way things are. We gain in our own spirituality and in energy saved from engaging in the impossible. Because when we spend all our energy physically controlling the depression bubble we weaken our self and allow the potential for the depression bubble to encapsulate us.

We offer connection while offering compassion to the self for engaging in such a trying task. Love is intrinsically wonderful, and it is best for us to remember that not even love has the ability to control reality.

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Choice is Oppression

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Wow that is a provocative way to start! of course Choice is also liberation and a billion of other things, but in the post I want to shine some light on how individualism has created a blind infatuation with choice – and how ‘choice’ is actually the very source of our oppression.

perhaps the single most pervasive and uniting variable in the US is our individualism – Our desire to emancipate the self from any barriers to self-fulfillment. It can be so hard for us to see that fulfillment is both in maintaining and emancipating from barriers. both in having choice and in allowing ourselves (irony noted) to not have a choice.

The other Day my 5 year old was balancing on a kitchen chair and was distracted by some other stimuli that stole his attention. He lost his balance and fell pretty hard, only kind-of catching himself on the chair before hitting the wood floor. he’s fine.

Of course he had been told many time not to do this… but even at 5 his strong desire to have a choice in all matters was stronger than his desire to avoid bodily injury in cases were injury was most probable and where there wasn’t really any benefit associated with the risk other then in validating that ‘he had a choice’ (meaning it wasn’t particularly rewarding- fun – for him to be standing on the chair = he just wanted to do it because he wasn’t supposed to).

As adults we have countless examples of such experiences with children and teens – its maddening! “Why can’t they just follow the rules!”

but we tend to avoid looking at the metaphorical mirror to see how often we are doing the same thing. “What don’t we have any rules to follow!” ๐Ÿ˜‰

the defensive sides of us want’s to quickly retort, “wait a minute – I have rules! I would never kill someone… I don’t steal people’s cars! I don’t pee in public places… well wait .. I don’t unless…I don’t drink and drive… well actually I don’t get drunk and drive….well”

I’m not trying to focus us in on the big examples – this isn’t just a conversation about strict adherence to morals.

Ask yourself this question – What choices would be good for me to remove if I had the goal of being a physically, relationally and psychologically healthy person?

If exercise is a choice how often are you going to choose it? How many variables would you have to realistically quantify in order to make that choice? ex. I drank too much last night, I have a minor headache, its windy, my class has a sub teacher, I’ll work out tomorrow etc.”

If intentionally engaging in the health of your relationship is a choice how often would you choose something more suited to the self? How often would you go somewhere you didn’t want to – have sex when your partner was hot and bothered and you were tired- clean up when the mess wasn’t yours – be emotionally available when the ball game is on – play with your kids when you are always exhausted from work?

What if your passion and spirituality surrounds doing something uncomfortable such as camping in the fall, surfing at sunrise, getting first tracks on a ski mountain, practicing your musical instrument, traveling to connect with important relationships etc?

How are our choices oppressing us?

Perhaps if another drink after midnight wasn’t a choice we would have enjoyed the first lift, perhaps if staying in bed wasn’t a choice we would have caught a sunrise set of waves, perhaps if TV was not an option we would know how to play our instruments. Perhaps if waiting for perfectly comfortable weather wasn’t a choice we would have gone camping. Perhaps if choice wasn’t an option I would blog more…

Authenticity and congruence are difficult variables to describe in a spiritual sense… yet we all feel what they mean.

we have offered ourselves the choice to be incongruent… to be inauthentic… to avoid our passions… to live without fulfillment… and to engage in activities that hurt the body and relationships we live in

and this is why choice is our oppressor… we have attached to choice with religious rigidity and in doing so we fell from our authentic path… we chose to avoid our destiny to satisfy our addiction to comfort and individualism.

It feels really wonderful for me to think about freeing myself of this burden… to allow myself the freedom to have no choice in the area of congruence. To be congruent – especially when it is the less comfortable choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Breathe before you help others to breathe

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You settle into your seat on the airplane and right before takeoff you hear the familiar mantra:

“In the event of pressure loss in the cabin, oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling above you… please safely secure your own mask before attempting to assist others…”

 

We all hear this and end up remaining mostly fixated on why the bag won’t inflate and what harm would come about if we prematurely turned on our electronic devises.

We often miss the symbolism of this rather wise communication = you can’t be expected to effectively help others if you don’t help yourself first… you can’t help others to breath if you are not breathing.

 

So then we are asked to slow down and contemplate this message for a minute and find our selves saying, “well of course – isn’t that painfully obvious?”

 

here though is the follow up question.. “why are none of us (or very few of us) following this wisdom if it is so undeniable?”

 

to clarify the question – “why are we not taking care of ourselves before engaging in activities aimed at fixing the problems of others?”

 

I would propose two possible answers: shame and our over-reliance on cognitive pragmatics

the hypothesis for this contemplative exercise would be that if we gain insight concerning our automaticity we may be able to use our consciousness to do something different in the future.

 

lets start with cognitive pragmatics as it sounds sophisticated though in truth the phrase was mostly just a product of my never ending desire to add poetics to prose.

 

what I am calling ‘cognitive pragmatics’ is a process in which we engage in problem solving strategies within our thought processes. This activity is really quite an addictive game and you don’t actually need to behaviorally do anything nor do you need to alter your being in order to win – to be successfully in the activity.

So then you get to feel the emotional benefits of winning without doing much of anything to change the reality outside of your own thought process.

What does this have to do with helping others with airplane masks? I am proposing that it may be that it takes significantly less effort to disassociate into your own head and engage in a deductive processes aimed at fixing the problems of others than it is to engage in efforts to change your being or your behavior = it is easier to strategize the process of assisting another with getting their mask on than to put your own mask on.

and now we arrive at a point of irony in that this use of cognitive pragmatics seems to be extremely illogical … but wow doesn’t it feel important?

let me give a quick parenting example: You and your partner are finding yourselves working later and later into the evening… you arrive home stressed and without any time for regulating connection before immersing yourselves into the nighttime routine of dinner making – teeth brushing – book reading – bed-timing. Your 5 year old starts becoming regularly disruptive at the dinner table – he starts getting up without permission and eating with his hands.

option 1.) cognitive pragmatics = on the way to work the next day you spend an hour contemplating a consequence and reward system to get your kid to stay seated at dinner time.

option 2.) Changing your own behaviors and being = you take steps to get home earlier, you make an effort to connect and regulate with your partner when your arrive home, you reorganize your priorities to increase fulfillment and reduce stress in your life, you make efforts to be present and emotionally balanced knowing that your kid is a sponge to your energy.

Which one sounds easier?

 

lets move onto the bigger one – shame

“breathing air is selfish when there are so many in the airplane without any air” = this seems wrong, but there is a part of us that ‘feels’ like we are in emotional agreement.

“meeting all of your own needs when there are so many others out there that are not having their most basic needs met is selfish” = OK now we are getting closer… for some reason this statement feels particularly true. And if it is true to us, then we would feel shame in meeting our own needs.

“It is wrong for you to have abundance when there are so many people without enough” = “It is an act of justice for you to impoverish yourself so that all abundance is is equally distributed.” = now we have arrived at a very common and frequently verbalized belief system… despite the fact that most of us carry this belief to some extent, is there actually any logic in this idea?

What if it was true that their is actually plenty of air for everyone and the best way to distribute this air is to breath abundantly yourself so that you have the health and clarity to help others to breath with abundance?

what is your emotional reaction to that suggestion – what do you feel? Perhaps we are thinking about religious suggestions – perhaps we are angry because fairness isn’t being talked about – perhaps we do not believe that this philosophical examination is integrating other ideas such as power and privileged – perhaps we have begun a rant about how all those with abundance are exploiting other people…

and perhaps we are ashamed that part of us knows that we need to breath in order to help others to breath.

 

the longer I am a therapist the more I find an old wisdom to be most true = it is my being which is my most important and effective tool in the therapy room. My knowledge and skill with techniques and theory is useful, but in truth quite small in comparison to my ability to maintain a presence which is open, balanced, regulated, authentic, accepting, and in the moment.

I do not always make life choices which are congruent with this observation = I sacrifice my state of being in an effort to fix problems = and in sacrificing my state of being I find myself less effective at solving problems. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Breathing then becomes the most selfless thing you can do for other people.

 

this morning writing this blog was what I needed… I just put on my own mask.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.