Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Lesbian Lawyer who wanted to be a Counselor who wanted to be a Performer who wanted to be Famous for Anything who wanted to be a Writer who wanted to be a Judge

This was my guide and partner, Sandy's, response, after I read her aloud my first discussion entry on body piercings for my online Abnormal Psychology class: "That was a comprehensive and exhaustive response...Are you sure you don't want to be a lawyer?" Then she said, "I'll just call you Perry Mason." I said, "I wanted to be a judge when I was little, remember?" She said, "Yeah, well, I think you have to work your way up. You can't go to Judge School."

It's true that as soon as someone speaks or writes or breathes, I mentally prepare to "take them down" (in writing or in oratum). Sometimes I don't know what I want to do or where I'm going. Maybe I'm a lawyer at heart? Or maybe I'm just a power-lovin' judge at heart? Or maybe at heart, I'm really None-of-the-above but I have the body and mind of a legal advocate. I have the spirit of a fierce advocating "tear you to shreds" kinda lawyer, but I also hate in-person confrontation and I smile and laugh out of anxiety too much.

Actually, I prefer to do all of my defending in writing. In person, I'm more docile and easy-going (but if you ask my immediate family members, they may offer a different perspective. Ahem). So what am I? I was a lawyer in my English classes (on paper AND in class), I'm sort of a kind of unorthodox lawyer in my poetry. And now, I'm a lawyer in my Psychology courses as I prepare to become some kinda Clinical Psycho. I mean, Psychologist. Why can't I figure out what I wanna/gotta be when I grow up?

Any thoughts about this? If I don't receive any feedback on this matter, I'll get you (my pretty) and your little dog, too! But that's not a threat and you aren't You. And I have no knowledge of Law (other than the Law and Ethic of my Power Region) to defend any thing I have said, am saying or will say. But if you try to argue with me, even with The Law in your court, I won't go down without an overtly feminist and oddly rational keyboard bangin' fight.

------------ See Below for My Discussion Response to Abnormal Psychology Class Topic --------------

 Many theorists worry about a growing trend toward “victimization” in our society, a tendency to portray undesirable behaviors as inevitable or uncontrollable consequences of early mistreatment or societal stress. What might be some of the dangers of over-applying the “victim” label?

When theorists equate the trend of "shirking responsibility" with "victimization," they are incorrectly confusing two distinct and asymmetrical issues. There is no over-use of "victimization" because "victimization" itself is not debatable. A person is either a victim or not a victim. If a person is pathological liar and claims to be a victim, then we might question whether or not he is a victim (based on our knowledge of him as a pathological liar). Regardless of what we believe and what he tells us, his actual LIVED PAST (which is not accessible to us in the present outside of his narrative, unless it was caught on video - in which case, other gray areas regarding victimization would arise) is the ONLY determiner of his victimization. If he suffered an abuse of some form or another, to any degree or in any context, then he is a victim of abuse. The issue that the theorists seem to be raising is NOT actually about victimization (the act of one victimizing another being), but about a mentality of irresponsibility that informs a growing trend of the misperception of victimization.

In order to begin to approach the questions that Dr. H-R has raised, we need to first consider definitions of victimization. So far, I am not finding a clear and clean and easy definition. I suppose that helps to explain why it is so difficult to answer questions definitively about victimization. Victimization can take on many forms and can occur in many contexts and can be perceived or misperceived on many levels. Victimization may involve a range of injustices: from some benign form of unfair treatment, such as is present in favoritism, to a great ethical breach to an extreme violation of a social rule in which a victimizer commits an injustice (or harm) against a victim. Is victimization determined by the consequence or upon the action/interaction itself? Again, this leads us into philosophical and legal terrains. Who holds the victimization card? Who gets to say what is and is not victimization? It just reemphasizes the issues that exist on a grander scale - issues of perception. Each of us perceives the world in a unique light, through our own experiences, the make-up of our brain and our individuality/personality. Each of us possesses our own, unique perceptive lens through which we define and judge the world that we see-and-perceive. We can never truly see the world outside of our own lens, and so we are cripplingly limited in our ability to define anything for anyone (even for ourselves). A written definition is created in order to create a standard, or shared idea, among a community of individuals. The limits of any definition for a word/concept, "victimization" included, will always arise out of one mutually agreed upon world view. Just because a consensus exists does not mean it holds rights over a concept or is not limited in its consideration or application of that concept. Each of us is going to write about this topic (which I, through my lens, see as being about the prevalence of irresponsibility in the Western World) in her own singular way.

From my perspective, victimization can be looked at from three (if not more) directions: from the perspective of the supposed victim, from the perspective of the supposed victimizer and from the perspective of those on the outside (direct or indirect witnesses). A person who does not see herself as a victim may still, indeed, have been victimized. A person who sees herself as a victim feels like a victim. She experiences herself as a victim, or as having been victimized. Whether or not we, as witnesses, believe that the situation in which she earned the label of victim warranted that label; she, herself, still feels suffering because of some injustice in the past or present that she perceives. Regardless of the situation itself, someone who believes she is a victim is a victim (yes, even if she is only a victim of herself, of the oppressive mentality of victimization that renders her the victim and contributes to some part of her suffering and perception as having been harmed). In this sense, we are all, by some cause or another, victims. We all experience suffering, sometimes because of harm that another intends to commit against us and sometimes because of random circumstance.

Since we can never truly know the root of our suffering (or of our consciousness or of anything, really), then we cannot really know the root or validity of victimization. We can, however, separate the common concept of victimization from the concept of unethical behavior. We can expand our view by considering that people who commit unethical actions or unjust abuses against others can ALSO be victims. There are victims who commit abusive offenses against others and there are perpetrators who have abusive offenses committed against them. For as many different kinds of people there are in the world, there are as many different kinds of victims - because people are victims and victims are people. As we know, it is very common for a perpetrator to have been a victim in childhood. There are people who intend to victimize others and there are others who victimize by default. We cannot pinpoint WHO victims are or WHAT victimization looks like.

There are no dangers in over-applying the victim label. There are dangers in excusing and dismissing behaviors that are harmful to a society in which the values of democracy and fairness are upheld. There are dangers in enabling DANGEROUS BEHAVIOR. There are no dangers in over-applying a label ("victimization"). The label exists because we, as humans, have no better way of understanding or articulating the dimensions of our existence that cause our suffering. There exists no trend in "victimization," although it is entirely possible to consider, separately from the topic of victimization, a trend in irresponsibility.

To make it short and simple, for those who like it that way: There is a danger in confusing victimization with irresponsibility. In a Clinical context, I content that over-applying the victim label is not harmful but that excusing unhealthy behaviors for any reason would be disconcerting.

------------ See Below for My Discussion Response to Abnormal Psychology Class Topic --------------

In the Western world, body piercing is a fad. In other countries it marks status and may be performed as a ritualistic ceremony. Some research suggests that numerous body piercings may be a form of self-mutilation. Is body piercing a form of self-expression? Can we use our bodies as a canvas to express ourselves or is it an indicator of mental illness?

I anticipate that many of us will continue coming back to the underlying difficult nature of determining or classifying abnormality. The process of defining something as abnormal, from a clinical perspective, is complex and can be explored through many perspectives. At each level of our understanding of normality, we are faced with having to break down that given dimension of "abnormality" in order to determine through which angle we are going to view it. It is so very complicated. I think a comprehensive approach is necessary in order to treat the labeling of an individual or a behavior as abnormal. Although a comprehensive approach is much more difficult and requires the ability to have a wide and versatile view of human behavior; it seems to be the most effective (although perhaps not the most efficient) and helpful way of dealing with the difficulties of addressing the concepts and realities of abnormality and mental illness. The way in which we view any behavior, including body piercing, will be informed by the way in which we view the many intricacies of abnormality. It is difficult to address "body piercing" as a whole (as one, singular category of behavior) because there are so many things to consider about the "behavior" itself. Dr. H-R's set of questions highlight the many forms that the behavior of body piercing might assume as well as the many contexts in which they may or may not exist.

Even when we have information about the cultural or social context, we still are left with other questions (other levels to explore) regarding the individual. Even when we have information about the individual, we still are left with various avenues (life experiences, possible trauma, details about the piercing history itself) to explore. Just like the patters of the returns to and exits from the institutionalization of (and to institutionalized practices in regard to) abnormal individuals, I see the academic (and/or clinical, and/or qualitative) study of abnormality as being in a transient and repetitive (if not cyclical) state. When I consider the way in which Halgin and Whitbourne introduce abnormality to us (linguistically, organizationally and conceptually), I imagine entering a large building (an asylum, if you will!) in which there, laid out before you, are a series of doors. When you enter one door, you end up in a room with one door behind you and several doors ahead of you - you can exit and return to the original entrance of doors to choose another door or you can move forward into one of the next doors. Through every door there awaits another group of doors. After you've entered so many doors, you might wish you could turn around and start all over again but it's hard to imagine going back through all the doors you entered. You may wish, at some point, that you had never entered the building (of knowledge/of theory/ of psychology/ of brain and behavior studies).

It seems there is a whole range of acceptable behavior and a much more narrow range of unacceptable behavior. And even when a majority renounces one behavior (or even one particular instance or form of that behavior), there may be credence to a minority voice that goes against the grain to defend that instance or form of behavior. In other words: it's hard to judge even when we have the most details we could hope for. All we CAN do, given that inescapable quandary, is try to have as comprehensive of an approach to abnormality as possible. Body piercing, like abnormality, can be many things. I don't feel comfortable making generalizations about what body piercing is or is not, given that it is so many things to so many different people. I do -believe- that we can use our bodies in order to express art, but I also -believe- that art is an outlet for creative thought and emotional expression. Think about it - creative thought and emotional expression are associated with the brain. So some might say that some art, as an extension of what is going on internally in our brain and body, expresses mental illness (or mental health!). I think the best we can do is pay attention to the case of the individual - to find out, as much as possible, how the behavior is affecting her life (and that is even more important, I think, than finding out or classifying what purpose she might say it serves). As stated in Chapter One of the text, there are four criteria used by Clinical Psychologists to determine whether or not a behavior should be considered "abnormal:" Distress, impairment, risk, and social or cultural standards for acceptable behavior. If I were to look at an individual and her relationship with body piercing, I would try to consider the role of distress (whether or not the behavior/relationship is causing distress, if it came about because of a distressing situation or if the act is sought out in moments of distress). If distress was a factor, my next step would be to determine whether or not the distress is intense enough to lead to an impairment in her ability to function (and at what level the functioning is at - which might be hard to determine in and of itself). If a degree of impairment is occurring, the next step would be to determine what, if any, risk the behavior might be causing her or others (and this, to me, seems like the paramount criterion...but I can imagine it would be difficult to determine the level of a given risk). And, of course, it is important to consider and evaluate the social and cultural context in which the behavior (body piercing) is occurring.

Ultimately, for me, I would be most concerned with the behavior if it was causing pain or risk or consternation to the individual receiving the piercings. Even if a person is piercing as an act of self-mutilation, the behavior might be more desirable than other self-mutilating acts the person might commit had they not had the piercing option. If the self-mutilating person were interested in exploring other options for dealing with the internal factor that might be contributing to the behavior, then it would make sense to offer alternative solutions. If a person feels good mutilating herself, then why stop her? Who is to say what is good or bad for her? If it IS impairing her ability to function, then that is a sign that something unhealthy is going on. However, if she enjoys the act and sees it as the healthiest possible way of "being herself" or "dealing with emotions," then who am I to do anything but offer her some alternatives and support her in a behavior that doesn't directly harm OTHERS (outside of the pierced individual). Who am I to say what is an unhealthy or healthy way of coping and surviving? If someone is suffering and wants to change, then there is an opportunity to work with her. If someone is causing others to suffer and doesn't want to change, then that brings up a whole other issue. If a girl's father says he is suffering because of her piercings, I would encourage the father to seek help rather than the daughter (or for both of them to seek help together). If the girl were trying to pierce her father in his sleep, then I would consider her an actual harm to his safety and to his right to privacy and to be safe from external harm - and so I would say that is where the law and legal boundaries should come in. It's so complicated and tiring to consider, but I have done my best with having read the first chapter.

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