Friday, October 30, 2020

When Normal is Not Normal

How misconceptions about what constitutes normal conditions can result in tragedy

From the body snatchers of the early 19th century and the innovative William Burke, to the illicit cadaver trade of today’s “body brokers,” the corpses of the poor continue to be the mainstay used in autopsies for medical training. This has caused problems...

Read the complete article on medium.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Why Self-Compassion is Important

"Lack of self-compassion manifests in a harsh and judgmental relationship with others. Many people believe that unless they are critical and demanding, they will be failures, unworthy of recognition and undeserving of love."*

Perhaps we feel we deserve to be harsh and critical with ourselves and beat ourselves up for misspoken words and mistakes made. I was used to such negative self-talk after years of practice. My mind was etched with deep familiar ruts of self-reproach. It only took a small mistake, or perceived mistake, for me to stroll down those old, comfortable paths of self-criticism. What's wrong with that? Didn't I deserve it for being such an idiot?

What I hadn't seen was the danger of that habit. Those worn pathways are the very thing that blocks compassion for other people. A mind effortlessly flowing to the trails of self-recrimination is a mind in which negative and critical thinking have become deeply ingrained habits. It then becomes natural to walk down those same rutted pathways when thinking of other people and their actions.

In order to be able to treat others with compassion, we must first cultivate a compassionate attitude towards ourselves. We spend more time inside our heads with ourselves than we do thinking about other people, and the pathways that we use during those hours are the ones most deeply ingrained. We have to create new, positive, mental pathways and to allow the paths of negative self-talk to become grown over and forgotten, which takes conscious effort.

This does not mean lying to ourselves, or living in denial of bad behavior, but rather an honest look at ourselves, doing all we can to make things right with those we've hurt, and then a sincere forgiveness of ourselves. After all, we, too, are vulnerable humans. 

"Understanding and accepting ourselves is fundamental in having compassion for others. It is hard to love others as you love yourself, if you don't love yourself."*

*The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Chapter 25

Monday, September 28, 2020

Cults 2.0: QAnon and Online Conspiracy Groups

Piercing through the bubble of a harmful belief system is difficult, but it can be done.

Read the complete article here.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Advice to Myself Before Meeting the Cult

Life is hard. The teenage years are especially hard. You feel alone. Unloved. Undeserving. Unattractive.

The future seems daunting. How can you know which road to take?

Having lived long and having made many mistakes, let me offer you some advice.

Expand your horizons. Join clubs. Try new things. Develop an interest in others. Engage with people. Go to school dances. Allow people into your life. Spend time talking with your parents and grandmother. Reach out and make friends.

Cultivate an interest in your studies and excel. Of all the billions of people on the earth, you are lucky to have the opportunity to get a good university education. Do it.

Listen to those who are much older than you. They have lived long enough to have made many mistakes and most likely have learned from them. You can benefit from their experience.

Drugs and alcohol are methods of escape from reality and can lead down a dangerous road. Don’t let them take over your life. Learn to face difficult situations and see them as challenges. By doing so, you will grow in maturity and strength of character.

When conflicts arise, and they will, set your emotions aside and teach yourself to look at the situation rationally. Work together with the other party to lay out your individual goals and then develop a plan to reach them together. Your needs and desires are just as valuable as others’. Do not simply acquiesce. Stick up for yourself. Politely.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind if you find yourself in a bad situation or realize a decision you made was a mistake. “It is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.”

Develop boundaries. It is OK to say “no” if you don’t want to do something. Everyone doesn’t have to like you. You don’t have to like everyone.

It’s OK to make mistakes or to feel embarrassed. Everyone does. It’s not the end of the world. Get back up, learn what you can, and move on. Misake are for education, they are not food for remorse.

Volunteer to help the needy. Make yourself a person you can be proud of. You are worthy. You are smart. If you have a hard time believing that, seek out a counselor, psychologist, or therapist that you can trust and talk to them. Find a mentor.

Be aware that your brain will not be fully developed until you reach your mid-twenties and therefore you naturally have difficulty envisioning long-term consequences, so make no momentous life-altering decision until then.

Study psychology and critical thinking. These will help you in making life decisions.

You only have one life, and it will get easier. Be the best person you can be. What can you make of this life that you have been given?

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Conflict Management

Managing conflict was something that did not happen in the cult. It was not a skill that I ever saw exercised or developed. Certainly, conflicts occurred.

If the conflict had something to do with leadership, corrections for perceived mistakes, bad attitudes, and sins, were delivered harshly in the form of humiliating harangues that went on for way too long. These ended with “desperate prayer,” and then some form of punishment, generally in the form of reading assignments, was dished out. It was a win for leadership, a loss for the peon.

If conflicts arose in interpersonal relationships, in order to avoid the discomfort of dealing with them, I honed my avoidance technique. This went right along with the mindset of denial in the cult. I swept the problem under the rug by praying for the Lord to work things out and then tried to forget about it. "Giving problems to the Lord in prayer," as we were taught. Of course, this only left the conflict to fester, resulting in a loss for both parties. My second-choice technique was accommodation. I would give in to what the other party wanted, a win for them, but a loss for me.

I have only recently learned that conflicts are not to be feared or avoided, but that they can be managed successfully for both parties involved. Doing this requires me to have something that I never had before, something considered sinful in the cult, that is, enough self-esteem to realize that my opinion and my wants have just as much value as other people’s. I don’t have to be a doormat and allow others full reign in what they want. In fact, doing so is not helpful for anyone, and certainly not beneficial for the relationship involved.

Emotions are always present in conflicts, but they do not need to control us nor affect how we deal with the issues. Admitting whatever it is we are feeling, as dispassionately as possible, can help us to set aside emotions so that we can deal with the real issues of events or behaviors that need changing. We should own our emotions. They arise from within us. No need to apologize for them. We just need to realize that they have nothing to do with — and should have nothing to do with — the objective of reaching our goals.

When conflicts arise, and they inevitably will, we must identify our goals — what does each of us want to achieve? What goals do we share? Once those are laid out, it is not a given that one party must lose and one must win, nor that both parties will lose through compromise. The challenge is to find ways to collaborate so that both parties gain what they desire.

We can do this by working out a plan together, respecting each other’s wants, and brainstorming how we can get there. The focus should be on changing events or behaviors, not people. The overall goal is mutual gain. Working together is the best way to help us both achieve our respective goals, a true win-win — and a win for mutual respect in the relationship.

Thanks to Professor Michael Dues and his enlightening course,
Art of Conflict Management: Achieving Solutions for Life, Work, and Beyond, for teaching me valuable lessons.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Abnormal Normal: My Life in the Children of God

After five years of writing, editing, and reflection, my story is finished. Both Kindle and paperback versions are available. The link is on the right side of the blog page.

It is not a happy story, but it does have a happy ending. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Self-Forgiveness

"Have you forgiven your younger self?" an old friend asked.

Although remembering my mistakes and the hurt I caused others will probably always bring me pain, I can finally say that I have forgiven former self.

Through my years of study I have gained insight into why I acted the way I did and why I made the decisions I did. This understanding has given me a measure of compassion for my younger self. 

Continuing to carry on my shoulders regret for the harm I have done by my involvement with the Children of God helps no one. I gain no spiritual merit for that sort of martyrdom. It's best to just apologize, do what I can to make up for the hurt I've caused, and move on.

My passion for learning—born from the desire to make up for the dearth of meaningful input during my years in the cult—has remodeled my brain in healthy ways. Rather than dwelling on my past mistakes, my dislike for myself, and other gloomy thoughts as had been my habit, my head is filled with new knowledge from the books I've been reading and the courses to which I've been listening. There is no end to new things to learn. 

Another pertinent point is that having lived longer than my parents and two of my siblings, I feel a very real sense of my own mortality. There are projects that I would like to complete in my remaining years on this earth. I don't have time to wallow in regrets.

"Never yield to remorse, but at once tell yourself: remorse would simply mean adding to the first act of stupidity a second." Friedrich Nietzsche