There Is No Going Back. We Can Go Forward, But We Do Not Go Back.

Dear Visible Man:

     I am a 19-year-old African-American sophomore working toward becoming a chemical engineer.  I live in a residence hall on the school campus. I am really getting fed up with the ridiculous remarks that come from the people around me.
     One of my roommates believes that slavery was a good thing (“they had someone to take care of them.”)  Recently, one of my roommates greeted me (in a room FULL of other students) with a “what’s up my niggaz.”  I felt so humiliated.  When I protested, he stated “if your people can say it, why can’t I?”  I have filed a complaint with the campus residence staff and so far nothing has happened.
     After a year of putting up with this crap, I am sick of it and want to knock his teeth out. I know that I will probably wind up in jail.  I have talked to my parents; they are no help. My father wants me to “man up” and stick it out. He tells me that if other black men can stick it out do it, so can I. My mother wants me to come home.  Coming back home would feel like failure.
     I’ve started to drink alcohol, smoke weed, and skip classes.  As one can guess, my grades are dropping.  I will probably end up on academic probation.
     When I left home, I didn’t think it would be this bad.  I feel like a failure.  I want to go back home to my community.  What should I do?

Man Down, Seattle, WA

Dear Young Man,

      I have several things to say to you.  First, I want to extend to you my sincere congratulations on your decision to attend college and pursue your goal of becoming a chemical engineer.  Your decision to do so shows that you have chosen a path that may lead to a bright and successful future.

     Second, take time out for reflection. I call this stopping point the “way station.”  The way station is a place within the psychological self where you can go and give yourself the opportunity to reflect upon the actions you are taking and the experiences that are occurring.

     Third, and most important, do not fall for the trap of “man up.”  The psychological self is talking to you. Please listen to the pain and the wounds that have been impacted upon the self.  To “man up” is a trap that seeks to separate you from the psychological self and serves to either ignore or minimize the reality of both the pain and the emotional wound that you are now responding to.

Having said all of the above, let’s clearly identify the issues that you are responding to:

·      As one of the few African-Americans within the campus residence system, you are feeling extreme isolation and lacking a clear sense of community.

·      You are being impacted psychologically by comments and remarks that are racist and lacking in sensitivity.

·      You are conflicted with your desires to leave the current environment and your desires to fulfill your father’s demand by remaining in school.

·      You want to go back to the life you previously had.  However you feel that to do so will mean that you are a “failure.”

Now, let’s identify the ways you are currently responding to those issues.

·      You want to physically assault the person who is creating this emotional wound.

·      You are using alcohol and marijuana to ease, minimize or ignore the emotional pain you are experiencing.

·      You are skipping your classes, therefore creating the likelihood of being ejected from school due to inability to maintain the required grade point average.

     YOUNG MAN, life is not a rose garden.  Nor is life promised to you.  If you want it, then you must experience the good, the bad and the ugly.

     However, life can be what you want and work for it to be.  As you take your respite at the “way station,” view this as an opportunity to accept ownership of your feelings and in doing so, reinforce acceptance of your direction.  Empower the self to explore the following:

·      Isolation- Identify activities on campus or within the local area that can assist in developing and reinforcing a sense of community.

·      Anger- the emotional feeling of anger is an appropriate response given the “micro-aggression” you have experienced.  Micro-aggression can be defined as constant repetitive assaults that have the potential to lead to a sense of “hyper-alertness” and stress in those individuals being targeted by the offending behavior.

·      Conflict-there may be a state of “open warfare” going on within as you attempt to resolve the disharmony between two incompatible interests, that being fight (man up!) or flight (go back home).

   YOUNG MAN, learn and accept that there is no such thing as “going back.” 

     You can “return” home to visit; however you can “never, ever go back.”  The life you left, the safety and comforts that live in your memory no longer exist.  The person who left home to “explore the world and beyond” has now changed into the person of today. There is no “stepping back into the past.”   However, the “changing person” can continue to transform and in doing so, “journey into the tomorrow,” and experience new comfort and ways to feel safe there.

Framework for Failure (Living in Fear)

·      Drugs & Alcohol are tools to salve the psychological wound and medicate the pain.  The after effect of the intoxication or drug-induced feelings will not resolve the problems that currently exist.

·      Skipping classes will ultimately serve as disempowering—it will hamper your efforts to achieve academic, professional and personal success.

·      Physical Violence may lead to short term satisfaction, but long term regrets. Such actions may lead to academic suspension/expulsion, arrest, and incarceration and serve as a dark cloud as you continue the journey that we know as “LIFE.”  This one action can impact one’s ability to gain employment, obtain credit, buy a home and provide for one’s family.

     YOUNG MAN, The conflict that lies within you is in reality “FEAR.”

     This fear comes from the disconnect between standing up for yourself and your culture through violence and yet knowing that if you do so, you risk making things worse for yourself in the long run. It is the difference between letting this person disrespect you momentarily, and the stark reality that if you react violently, you can adversely impact your own life, which is, in effect, you disrespecting yourself.

     Resolve the conflict by having the willingness to “live with your fear rather than living inyour fear.”  Fear, like other emotions such as joy, happiness, sorrow and laughter, are simply feelings.  It is for the individual to take ownership and learn to “balance” (i.e. live with such feelings.

Framework for Success: (Living with Fear)

·      Communication- In sharing “space” i.e. school/residence/work, you must acknowledge your own vulnerability and exposure to comments that can be on the face based on ignorance (lack of knowledge) or hurtful (with purposeful intent). Show the willingness to “educate” those lacking in knowledge and distance & protect the self from those who seek to inflict hurt and injury.

·      Explore & process your internal conflicts.  Explore the incompatibility that exists. Work towards bringing peace to your internal self.  Contact your local student health services.  Inquire into mental health counseling for support and a safe place to express your feelings.

·      Process your feelings of anger.  Make decisions that will increase your options of success.  Let go of your desire of physical altercation. 

·      Follow up with your grievance to the school officials.  Document your concerns. 

     YOUNG MAN, Process your desire to “man up” or use physical violence. Understand that such desires are traps, and are manifestations of “living in fear” in that it maintains separation from the psychological self, which has been wounded and is experiencing pain.   Such desires reinforce the fear of exploring other ways to resolve conflicts and disagreements.

     Regarding the individual who made the racist remark and afterwards questioned why he and others can’t have the freedom of using such racist language– rather than resort to living in fear, ask yourself what this person seeking from you.

·      Is he really just seeking permission from you to use the racist terms without dealing with the consequences of using the word?

    Rather than accept those feelings of humiliation (reinforced living in fear), engage the individual in a discussion within the same group.  Help him understand that he is free to use any racist terms that are available, but will be held accountable for those terms, and will have to bear those consequences.  Such consequences could include the following:

  •  Loss of relationships with black people
  • The risk of being assaulted by angry individuals who may not choose to partake in intellectual discussion regarding the usage of racist terms
  • Being shunned by other white people who are more culturally sensitive and do not want to associate with a person who they perceive as a racist

     Furthermore, affirm for you and specifically you (as you do not speak for all black people,) that the term is offensive. If he chooses to use racist language, then some people (including you) would consider him to be an offensive person. That’s just reality. He’s now shown himself to be that kind of person, and it is his problem to deal with, not yours.    

     Do not allow this individual to become a victim of physical assault by your hand.  Do not allow yourself to become victimized in a system in which 1 in every 3 African-American males born today can be expected to go prison at some point in their life. 

     Learn from this encounter.  Understand that ignorance (that being, the lack of knowledge) looms along the journey and there will be many more such opportunities for more such experiences to come.

     Have the willingness to transform the view of being a “man down” to being a young man seeking his way, creating his path in the journey we call LIFE.

     YOUNG MAN, in closing, let me share a story.

     In a time long ago, there was a young man, who almost was expelled from graduate school due to almost becoming embroiled in a physical altercation at the internship.  This person was given a second chance to seek a new path.  He took it, and he went on to have a successful academic & professional career as well as a healthy family and marital relationship.  That person was me.

     I am no longer the man I was.  I have become the man I am. There is no going back. However, one can always go forward.  To do so one must be willing to “live with fear” and in doing so let go of the old ways of “living in fear.”  As you sit at the “way station,” you also stand at the “crossroads” where the new path is available to you.

     The “new path” leads to the return to the classroom.  In doing so, you can continue to advance your very promising future.  Or you can continue on the “old road,” isolating, drinking alcohol and getting high and thus continue to living in fear.  The choice is yours. 

What will you do?  Continue what you have started.  Walk your journey and finish the race. 

Living life can be likened to a marathon. Finish the race; don’t worry about coming in first place. Cross the finish line. Just finish the race. Finish what you start.

Ten Flashes of Light For The Journey of Life

The Visible Man
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Another Opportunity: Seizing The Moment And Embracing One’s Fears

Dr. Kane,

My childhood was relatively “normal.” However, my current pregnancy has caused me to review how my parents interacted with me, specifically my mother. I saw her get angry a lot, and I am concerned about doing similar things and isolating my child. Can you provide insight on how to best live with this fear, rather than to live in it?

Thanks,

Pensive and Pregnant

 

Dear Double P:
     I would like to extend to you warm congratulations on the pending birth of your child.  It appears from your writing that you may be “living in fear” of repeating the same behavioral patterns parenting your child that occurred during your childhood and adolescent development.  It is without doubt that your parenting assisted in shaping how you view the world of today.
     First, I would like to affirm your “worst” fears. Yes, in regard to parenting, you will at times initiate behaviors that may appear to be either identical or similar to those you saw in your mother.   In your writing, you indicated the following statements:
·      My childhood was relatively “normal”
·      I saw my mother get angry a lot
·      I am concerned about doing similar things and isolating my child
     As I was “listening” for language indicating stressors, it appears that your concerns or “questioning” may lie in the areas of:
·       How to deal with your anger
·       How to avoid isolating your child
·       How to be an effective parent (without creating behaviors that may emotionally impact your child)
     Although it is desirable to be the “perfect parent,” and in doing so making no errors in 24 hour a day parenting (for 18 years), such desires are truly as unrealistic as they are unattainable.  The realities are the following:
·       We will model our parents’ behavior as they likewise, modeled their parents’ behavior.
·       The modeling of one’s parental behavior will be conscious as well as unconscious.
·       Rather than to avoid mistakes (or to deny making mistakes), the initial goal can be to learn from the mistakes while working towards its reduction and ultimate elimination.
·        The secondary goal can be consciously replacing the identified behavior or action with “corrected” or new behavior.
     Let’s return to the portion of your question regarding “living with fear.”  The alternate choice is to “live in fear.”  Living in fear can lead to paralyzing feelings of doubt in one’s abilities and lead you to return to the pattern of “old behaviors” that are known and used by the generations of parents before you.
     However, you can also choose to “live with fear,” meaning that you will make mistakes, and in this acknowledgment, be able to free yourself from the turmoil that you are creating within the “psychological self.”  In doing so, you can achieve for yourself what your parents may have been unable to due to ignorance (that is, lack of knowledge): the ability to embrace your fears.  As you embrace these fears, do so with the willingness to forgive “yourself” as you seek to replace old behaviors with new ones.
     I would recommend that you consider the utilization of a cognitive behavioral model that I have created.  It is entitled “The Five R’s of Relief.  It has five distinct stages that pace well together. These include the following:
·       Respite- (take) a breath; a time out.
·       Reaction- (internalizing) the acceptance and ownership of one’s feelings.
·       Reflection- (processing) the integration of one’s thoughts and actions.
·       Response- (externalizing) expression or sharing of one’s thoughts/actions.
·       Reevaluation- (review) assessment of the outcome and/or impact of one’s actions.
As you prepare yourself for the impending joys and tasks of parenting, I would encourage you to work to view the future with hope and optimism.  I urge patience and more importantly,forgiveness for the mistakes that you will no doubt make.

 

     In closing, as you seek to do more, give more and be more for your child, also be willing to extend the same resources of empowerment for the psychological self.  Create that safe place for the self that one day will be consciously and unconsciously passed to your child.  Seize this very moment!

Faust Part I

“Are you in earnest?  Seize this very minute
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Only engage and then the mind grows heated
Begin it and the work will be completed!”
-Goethe

 

The Visible Man

Decision At The Crossroads: Same Old Road, Or Discovering The New Path?

Dear Visible Man:

     I am seeking to obtain some feedback regarding an incident in which my adult son and I had an intense disagreement.  I became so angry that I got up and left the house.
    To provide some background, my adult son has continued to reside with me since his childhood and adolescence.  For the last several years, he has been unemployed and I have supported him.  I have allowed him to stay at home rent-free and I have picked up the costs for groceries.
    Recently he got a job and since he has income now, I informed him that he would have to pay $300.00 per month rent plus $150.00 for groceries totaling $450.00 per month.  He replied that I was being unreasonable and thus was considering moving out on his own.  I became so angry and needed to cool down so I stormed out of the house.  Later he texted me and stated he would pay the 450.00 per month rent/groceries.
    He still believes that I am being unreasonable.  I feel his logic is stupid.  Am I right or wrong about this?  What are your thoughts on this issue?
     Bewildered Parent Seattle, WA

Dear Readers,

     The story being provided is in reality a trap.  It is a trap set to get the reader “caught up” in taking sides with one person as well as identifying the “bad guy” in the interaction: the father or the son.  The goal for the reader is to not fall for the trap; to be able to look beyond what is being offered as both individuals seek answers to this dilemma—one that occurs daily in many families and households.
     Due to the economic realities of this era, many young adults may find themselves at one time or another, in the following situations:
·       Unable to leave the “nest.”
·       Returning to reside at home, similar to latent adolescence.
·       Seeking financial assistance and other resources from parents.
·       Feelings of failure on the part of both the parent and the adult child.
     There will be, of course, disagreements/conflicts from time to time, the combination of which may or may not be obvious to the observer.  These issues are divided into the following areas:
·       Conscious- the awareness of and responding to one’s surroundings
·       Subconscious-the part of which is not fully aware but which influences one’s action and
feelings
·       Unconscious-occurring in the absence of awareness or thought
 Let’s identify some of the conscious issues:
·       Father and son have different perspectives in regarding how much should be charged for
rent and groceries
·       Father gets angry and storms out the house
·       Son contacts father relenting on the monies being sought
Now, let’s look at the underlying or subconscious issues:
·       The focus on who is right or wrong
·       The message sent and received when the father left the house in anger with the issue
unresolved
·       Communication styles of father and son
Finally, let’s identify the unconscious issues:
·       Fear of the unknown
·       Lack of comfort zone
·       Beyond the attained experience
     In the journey known as life, I believe the father and son have arrived at the “Crossroads.”  The signs posted at the divide are marked “OLD ROAD” and “NEW PATH.”
     My assumption is that since the adult son has continued to reside with the father since the beginning of his life without a break in the timeline, each time the two individuals reach the Crossroads (that is, enter into conflict), both make the unilateral decision to continue down the same “old road,” where the same things interchange with the same behaviors (i.e. shouting, name calling, exiting the conflict) and yet expecting a miracle, that being that something different is going to occur.
   One may be quick to label this repetitive behavior and expectations as either “insane or stupid.”  To do so would result in the reader committing another error which is in reality the “trap;” a strategy, set up by the “larger group,” (i.e. family, community and society), so that the individuals involved fail to examine the consequences of their own behavior.
    At any point, the “larger group” could mediate the conflict and provide assistance to both individuals.  However, to do so would “empower” the two individuals and consequentially there would be a risk of loss.  Loss of what?  Answer: Resources, numbers, and yet most importantly, power.
    Of the three issues identified earlier–conscious, subconscious, & unconscious– let us focus on the “unconscious.”  All three segments (the larger group, father and son) are engrossed in fear. Father and son are uncomfortable in the formation of the “new relationship” that has now been created i.e., equity in adulthood.  The larger group fears the loss of participation of both the father and the son.
    Within the journey of Life, the crossroads represent conflict, the posted signs are the directions in which the individual and/or group either “wants to” or “needs to” …..GO.   The posted sign of “OLD ROAD” leads to the known, comfortable and lack of change.  It is a road based its travelers living to either survive or exit.  The other posted sign, “NEW PATH” represents the unknown, uncomfortable, and new.  It is a path in which the individual experiences change and discovery.
    The larger group – the traditionalists– will not be of assistance to the father and son due to its fear of impending loss.  Instead, the traditionalists reinforce the fears of the father and son to bind both of them to the group.   Instead of engaging in the same old behaviors of conflicts, name calling and self-debasing i.e. (insane/stupid), the father and son could, if they are willing, embark on a new path of uncovering, discovering and recovering.  In doing so, unlike the larger group, they must want to learn to “live with fear” instead of living in fear.
     What would this new path look like?  It would require the individuals to focus on examining, responding and coming to “acceptance” of the transition of adult development (adolescence into adulthood) and the transformation of the relationship and interaction i.e. (equity and partnership).  Both individuals would be open to learning empowerment strategies, which would reinforce the newly designed relationships.
     Such strategies would include concepts such as the I Factor, in which both parties would learn the strategies for processing, including the following: information, involvement, integration, implementation and impact, and reframing (i.e. respite, reaction, reflection, response and reevaluation).
     The outcome of learning these new tools would be the opportunity to reach common understanding as both continue onward towards their own destinations within the journey we know as LIFE.
·       Will these two individuals come to resolve their issues?
·       Will they stay on the same “old road” or will they seek the “new path?”
·       Will they stay with the “traditionalists” or will they seek to empower themselves?
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

FEAR!!

Fear is here…..Forever.

It (fear) never left.
You must choose….
Live in fear….. or ….Live with fear.
Fear is nothing more than an emotion.
Embrace Fear!
Embrace me.

The Visible Man

Self-Acceptance: The Journey of Loving The Self

Dear Visible Man,

I want to share an experience with you that happened at my workplace.  I was in a situation in which my workgroup was receiving coaching on interpersonal skills development.
I shared with the group that I recently informed my daughter that I would provide financial support by directly paying for daycare for my granddaughter.  The HR facilitator interrupted, stating that she was disappointed in me and that I was wrong to do so and that if I continue to provide financial support, my daughter would never learn to stand on her own.

     I informed her that I would never allow my grandchild to suffer, especially when I had the financial resources to assist her.  The HR facilitator added that there was no reason for me to be angry and that she was just sharing her opinion.

     At the time, I was not angry, I was simply being passionate and stating my views.  I then got angry and immediately shut down.  I left the meeting feeling sad and confused.  Her statement of being disappointed in me left me feeling confused because I felt I was doing the right thing for my daughter and granddaughter.

     I am the only African American woman in my workgroup and I feel that the whites in the group are always misunderstanding me.  Do you consider this to be racist?

Grandma, Tacoma WA

Dear Grandmother,
      First I would like to congratulate you on the wellness of your grandchild.  There is a clear statement of love and concern for the welfare of both daughter and grandchild. Now let’s identify the issues that are stated in your commentary:

·      Question of racism within the HR facilitator’s behavior
·      The decision to provide financial assistance for the well-being of your grandchild
·      Your feelings of sadness and confusion

     It does not support the group process when the HR facilitator shares personal disappointment or makes judgments regarding the affairs of another’s person’s life or experiences.  From what is being presented here, there is no indication that the HR facilitator is affirming to any belief of racial superiority or inferiority.
     From this standpoint, there is a concern as to the HR facilitator’s skills regarding the process and dynamics of group work.  Furthermore, there is a lack of clarity as to the intent or potential outcome of the sharing of personal stories that are outside the context of the workplace environment.
    Understanding that you are the only African-American in your workgroup, let’s give your colleagues the benefit of ignorance.  Allow yourself more opportunities of observation and reflection before labeling their misunderstanding about you as racist.
    A way to provide awareness is through information that can be extended as “knowledge.”  It may be beneficial to explore some of what you experienced through the lens of differences in philosophies regarding raising children.
    Specifically, as you indicated when you spoke, you spoke with passion and energy regarding your love and concern about your family.  Rather than focus on the question of whether her interpretation of your actions as being racist, let’s focus on the “disconnect” and its proceeding outcome. In this case, the disconnection occurred following the sharing of different philosophies creating distance or shutting down communications between the two individuals.
     Individuals have many thoughts in providing aid to family members.  As a clinician, I am firmly committed to the concept of empowerment, in this case, empowering your daughter to care for her child.  However, to what end?  Does this mean the child should suffer as the parent learns to improve one’s parenting skills?  Does the grandparent stand by idle and do nothing? Especially when financial resources are available?
     Again, this must be taken in consideration of differences in philosophies in raising children.  It may be in a given situation that the philosophy of the HR facilitator or yourself would be successful.  Furthermore, if we can accept the premise that “one shoe does not fit all,” then we also accept the premise of there being no right or wrong in the difference in philosophies. It is for the individual to come to terms with what direction he or she will decide to go.
     Having spent time on the earlier concerns, let’s address the third and final issue—your feelings of sadness and confusion.  It appears that you may be placing more value on how or what the HR facilitator thinks or feels about you and less value on how or what you think (or feel) about yourself.
      Can it be that the real issue here is about acceptance?  Or self-acceptance? Or, not loving the self?
     Ask yourself, do you have belief, faith and trust in your journey?  Are you willing to be responsible, be accountable, and respond to the consequences of the decisions made during the journey?  If the answers are yes, then the opinions of others (including the HR facilitator) matter far less than what you think or feel about your journey.
      In closing, I would ask you to remember that the life you call your own is “your journey.” Be it long or short, it remains yours to experience.
      Work towards self-acceptance of your life; develop a list of “the wants” you seek. Experience the joys that life holds for you.
 Loving The Self
As much as I love you
I love me more
Loving me more
Does not mean
I love you less
It only means
That I love me more.
More.
 The Visible Man