Thursday, April 08, 2010

You don't recall being abused? It's all part of the syndrome.

Just a quickie here as I prepare my next major post, but this short article from the UK Telegraph is, in my view, a must-read. It provides more evidence of a phenomenon that I emphasized in my book, and that's arguably the most insidious and unforgivable of self-help's many sins: that as a prelude to selling you its dubious fixes, SHAMland must first persuade you that you're damaged in some sense. The specific phenomenon described in the piece was most patently visible in the McMartin case and other sex-abuse witch-hunts of the late '80s and early '90s, but the mentality behind it can be traced back to that watershed self-help work of the postmodern period, I'm OK, You're OK (1967), whose central thesis was, in essence, that nobody's OK, at least not without a great deal of formal therapy or other psychic remediation. We're all victims of implanted dysfunction...and if you don't believe that, you're in denial and may require an actual intervention by those who love you.

The same maddening tactic remains clear in the meta-message of all those (so-called) women's magazines, whose essential news for today's woman is that "you're too fat, you're too passive, you're never pretty enough as you are,
your alleged friends are gossiping about you behind your back, you'll never really find balance or peace in life, you don't know how to get a man (or keep him once you get him), and on top of everything else...you even smell bad 'down there.' " All this in the name of "empowerment."

It's pretty sad, folks.
S

28 comments:

Duff said...

Isn't selling people a solution to a contrived problem a feature of Capitalism generally and not only self-help? Marketing 101 is to create a false problem or need, then present a solution with your product or service.

Certainly false memory syndrome is very problematic, and has been part of the criticism of Scientology's "auditing" process.

I got the opposite message from "I'm OK, You're OK"--that in fact, everyone is fundamentally OK. Certainly all messages of love and acceptance have been used as a weapon to coerce and control--but is this a problem with the message itself, or the political power structure that distorts the message into its opposite?

Steve Salerno said...

They're interesting observations all, Duff. Unfortunately I must leave it to others to sort out, as I'm woefully behind in my work. Thanks for weighing in.

Anonymous said...

Duff, I was just about to comment when I read yours. I think the difference where self-help is concerned is that it's one thing to make a woman feel she needs a new mop, but another thing entirely when you start attacking her ego and her feelings of self-worth. They're related phenomenons but I agree with Steve that the self-help industry has elevated them to a high art and the lack of empathy for the people they degrade and abuse in the process is appalling.

Duff said...

Fair enough!

Duff said...

@anonymous Personally I think the fashion/beauty industry is equally bad if not worse--see this related article in my RSS reader on the subject: http://www.seobook.com/beauty

If you shave any of your hairs, regularly bathe using any products whatsoever, or attempt to change your bodyfat percentage in any way, you have been sold an ideal created by these industries for profit.

The high-tech industry tends to get me. This edit of an Apple presentation captures the propaganda well:
http://www.fakesteve.net/2010/02/how-our-nlp-embedding-works.html

My opinion is that all marketing in Capitalist economies will tend in this direction. Consumer products will tend towards much more predatory marketing. The most successful will change the culture more subtly, like say Google, until you can't live without them.

Duff said...

...but yes, abuse is abuse and should be stopped wherever it is found.

roger o'keefe said...

Personally I think this is the problem with psychology/psychiatry in general. All of that stuff, including the support groups, just force people to focus on their problems. I honestly think it makes things worse for the vast majority of people who aren't disturbed in some genuine way to begin with.

RevRon's Rants said...

Harris' "I'm OK, You're OK" was actually a popularized (as in dumbed-down) treatise on Eric Verne's 1964 seminal work, "Games People Play," which established the Transactional Analysis mode of / alternative to Freudian psychotherapy. While both works did serve to pinpoint nonproductive and asocial behaviors and help patients recognize the root cause of those behaviors, neither approached the reader with the notion that there was some underlying pathology that required extensive treatment. On the contrary, the TA model met with significant resistance from the psychiatric community, mainly because it challenged the primacy of - even the requirement for - the therapist role. As one would imagine, psychiatrists as a group did not take too kindly to the insinuation that they were superfluous to the process of (non-psychotic) patients' healing. It is this very conflict that sets the TA model clearly apart from the SHAMsters, IMO. The SHAM hucksters plant the diagnostic seeds of pathology, then tend the psychic "soil," constantly reinforcing the notion that "more" is always needed. With tA, once the individual understands the mechanism, he/she assumes responsibility for and control over whatever changes are required.

I think it a misconception to assert that either book encourages the reader to self-diagnose and treat. Rather, the model used defines the probable foundation for many different behaviors, and leaves it up to the reader to determine whether those behaviors - and their underlying traits - constitute pathological state requiring treatment, or merely a tendency to be aware of and deal with as appropriately as possible.

Naturally, some people will apply the harshest self-diagnoses possible, imagining every "symptom" or trait to be the manifestation of some serious disorder. You should see the reaction of new psych students upon first perusal of the DSM! Even a "healthy" individual will likely see themselves to some degree in any number of diagnoses.

Some individuals prone to such self-diagnosis whose sense of humor leans to the sarcastic may see themselves as being a passive-aggressive personality, and worry that they might need treatment. In truth, we all have some of the same traits exhibited by severely ill individuals, yet not to the degree that the traits cause us difficulty functioning. The key word is "degree." If someone is a hypochondriac, every sneeze becomes pneumonia, and every tiny cyst a malignant tumor.

It is unlikely that we will ever "cure" such individuals of their "sky is falling" attitude toward their physical or mental health. But to assign responsibility to books like those being discussed is, IMO, a disservice, both to the authors of the books and to the many individuals who are able to make their lives more fruitful and enjoyable as a result of the insight offered. Most medicines, if taken incorrectly, can do great harm, yet when properly applied, can do great good. My experience with the above model is that while it can be misconstrued and abused, it is difficult to do so, unless the reader is predisposed to do so. Even then, it's a lot of work.

Anonymous said...

The telegraph article cited one woman's opinion. She had a book to peddle titled "Contesting Stories of Childhood Sexual Abuse" and had 'carried out in-depth interviews with 11 women'
That must have been a slow news day, or perhaps a no news day.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 7:30: I agree that--absent a wider context--this woman's book in and of itself would mean little. However, we go back to what I said in originally explaining my take on the self-help movement: It wasn't an a priori skepticism, but rather a conclusion that I reached only after observing myriad self-help programs and their creators. So if, having observed 100 fraudulent self-help programs, I then see another program that resembles the first 100, it is reasonable for me to say "this program looks an awful lot like the others, and therefore may be fraudulent as well." That's why I pointed out this article. I see it as just a little bit more evidence of a phenomenon whose sins have been amply documented already.

I also resist your implication that because all commercial books are intended to turn a profit, they're all equally tainted and suspect. On the contrary, if 10 people write highly profitable books that argue the equivalent of 2 + 2 = 5, and then someone else writes a book that sets the record straight, pointing out that 2 + 2 actually = 4, you should not greet that latter book with the same level of cynicism that you greeted the first 10. A product that is rooted in some degree of evidence should not be evaluated on the same basis as a product that pulls its arguments out of thin air.

This is in fact becoming a serious problem in today's oh-so-sophisticated society: We have a knee-jerk cynicism/suspicion of everything. We're so jaded that we dismiss all arguments as partisan or mercenary or venal or what-have-you. I'm not saying that we shouldn't subject each new offering/idea to a healthy dose of skepticism. Of course we should. We should examine it, test it, think about it. But too often today the tendency is to just dismiss things out of hand on the basis of our so-called "insights" about the crippling flaws that run through society, human nature, etc. Some Republican or Democrat will give a stirring speech on the Senate floor and--if we're even listening--we brush if off with a wave of the hand: "Ahh, what would you expect a [Republican/Democrat] to say? It's just the same old political b.s..."

That kind of thinking is just wrong. There is such a thing as sincerity.

Stever Robbins said...

I've long been skeptical of the "you must be broken" b.s. that's so prevalent. I took a training to be a peer counselor in college, and they spent an afternoon on locating and fixing "your internalized shame." I couldn't find any. I was raised by loving parents who taught me to talk things out and take responsibility for myself, and never relied on shame or guilt to control me. Finally I made something up, just to appease the facilitator.

This was one surprising aspect of my attending the Byron Katie workshop several years ago. I'd been a big believer in the statistic that 1 out of 3 women were sexually abused as children.

She worked on stage with several women who believed they were victims of childhood abuse. Part of her process is to ask the women what they were thinking that scared them during the incident. When she asked the women for specifics, only one of them had any actual memories of abuse. The rest had one or two isolated events that may not have been sexual at all, but which became the basis in therapy for defining themselves as abuse victims. For example, one woman had a man flash her when she was 7. It didn't even disturb her, she was merely a bit curious. But when she told someone about it, this concerned friend found a therapist who "helped" her come to grips with the "fact' that she was abused ... only she wasn't. She was just flashed, and others reframed it as abuse.

Anonymous said...

'That kind of thinking is just wrong. There is such a thing as sincerity.'

No Steve, there isn't any kind of pure sincerity. Everyone has an agenda and everyone is pushing their own agenda, including you, me, all politicians, Byron Katie and her apologist in this instance, Stever Robbins.
It is more healthy and honest to acknowledge our own agendas than to try to push the absurd notion that we are somehow 'pure' in our sincerity. That is where the b.s. starts: "that other person is guilty and manipulative but I am pure of heart"--pure donkey doo.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 4:30: I have two levels of reaction to that.

1, the personal: It strikes me as a terribly sad way to live.

2, the rational: I don't think you have any basis for assuming that everyone has "an agenda," if you're using the word the way I think you're using it. There is a difference between a "goal"--an end-point to what you hope to achieve--and an "agenda," in the cynical sense. I believe there are plenty of people who do things because they truly believe those things are the right things to do. They may be wrong about that, in some cosmic sense--but they're sincere in their efforts. (You can't necessarily savage someone's motives just because you don't like his objectives.) Also, I don't know why you chose the emphasis you chose in your "donkey-doo" quote at the end. Who's saying "That other person is guilty but I am pure of heart"? Why select that emphasis instead of "I am guilty but that other person is pure of heart," or "We're both guilty," or "We're both pure of heart"?

RevRon's Rants said...

Stever - Great marketing, eh? Sell 'em on the disease, and the close for the cure is a shoo-in!

Anon - Ever notice that when you buy a new car, you start seeing the same model everywhere you go? This phenomenon is a kind of narcissistic projection. "I buy a Subaru, and all of a sudden, they're everywhere." And I thought "You are what you drive" was just a catchy sales pitch!

RevRon's Rants said...

"Who's saying "That other person is guilty but I am pure of heart"? Why select that emphasis instead of "I am guilty but that other person is pure of heart," or "We're both guilty," or "We're both pure of heart"?"

Steve, in this last paragraph, you have exquisitely described the premise of both "I'm OK / You're OK" and "Games People Play," with the primary assumption being expressed in your last sentence. We humans are to a great extent "OK," but that essential wellness is often hidden from us by our own misinterpretations or "parent tapes." And no, that doesn't mean our parents necessarily wronged us, but rather that we are prone to twisting and applying cynical motives to the things we are taught by those to whom we have assigned authority. The TA model is a means by which we can look past our own tendency to "blame" ourselves and others while accepting responsibility for our own actions & reactions. REAL self-help, if you will.

Anonymous said...

'This phenomenon is a kind of narcissistic projection. "I buy a Subaru, and all of a sudden......'

Less a narcissistic projection and more of a common inbuilt failing of all human cognition, confirmation bias. So common that any attempt to be objective requires an awareness of the phenomenon and a conscious effort to balance it, as in the declaration of one's own agenda, the reason academics and scientists declare personal interests and biases.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

Mary said...

Anon at 4:25 pm said:
"Less a narcissistic projection and more of a common inbuilt failing of all human cognition, confirmation bias. So common that any attempt to be objective requires an awareness of the phenomenon and a conscious effort to balance it, as in the declaration of one's own agenda, the reason academics and scientists declare personal interests and biases.

This is very obvious in certain cases. I was reading the May issue (10 year anniversary) of O Magazine and the Big O did a q & a with her readers where this type of thinking was obvious. She took a lot of random events and shaped them (in her head) as being messages from God that she was going to have a "special" life.

As I read the article, it made me wonder what really separated the Big O from a person suffering from a delusional disorder. I knew the Big O was self-absorbed, by the way she conducted interviews, but the delusional aspect was pretty obvious in this Q&A, especially we she talks about not wanting to be a wife and mother.

I believe the Big O has a lot of charisma, which is rare in itself. The word "charisma" comes from Greek and means "gift" and few people have it. The Big O never really talks about that though, which I find fascinating considering she does no espouse to being humble.

I agree with Duff about capitalism and marketing. We have to be screwed up to sell us stuff. If we were alright, what could marketers sell us?

Steve Salerno said...

Mary: Thanks for joining us.

However, I think your final line bespeaks a different strain of that same gnawing cynicism that's apparent in Anon 4:30's comments throughout this thread: "Everything is evil, everyone is tainted, you can't trust anyone's motives," etc. (Yes, I'm exaggerating and being overly dramatic, but the basic point remains.) The fact that there are marketers out there making us feel terrible about ourselves in order to sell us worthless crap doesn't mean that all products are basically worthless and/or that all attempts to sell us those products are exploitative. We may have hit a bad patch in recent years, but Michael Moore's diatribes notwithstanding, the free market has given us some wonderful (and necessary) innovations, and no other economic system has ever really worked to provide any general level of prosperity for its people.

The marketing paradigm has changed; we've gone from "find a need and fill it" (the original guiding impetus of capitalism) to "create a need that isn't there." And that needs to be looked at. But, if I may be permitted to fall back on a nauseating cliche (it's early), that doesn't mean we throw out the baby with the bathwater. Does it?

RevRon's Rants said...

"Less a narcissistic projection and more of a common inbuilt failing of all human cognition, confirmation bias."

The example of noticing cars similar to one's own was my clumsy attempt at tact (A trait I've not even remotely mastered), and is a clear example of the confirmation bias anon describes. However, when it comes to declaring that there is no such thing as pure sincerity and that there is some cynical agenda behind everything, I'll stick by the narcissistic projection descriptor.

Anonymous said...

'However, when it comes to declaring that there is no such thing as pure sincerity and that there is some cynical agenda behind everything, I'll stick by the narcissistic projection descriptor.'

You're entitled to stick with your confirmation bias and I'll stick with mine. Mine by the way, does not embrace cynicism, except in the true sense of the word that pertains to the Greek philosophers who coined the term.
When I look at the natural world, unbesmirched by the transient power obssessions of the human mind, I see no cynicism (modern usage)at all.

Mary said...

Steve said:
"The marketing paradigm has changed; we've gone from 'find a need and fill it'' (the original guiding impetus of capitalism) to 'create a need that isn't there.' And that needs to be looked at. But, if I may be permitted to fall back on a nauseating cliche (it's early), that doesn't mean we throw out the baby with the bathwater. Does it?

I read GQ and Elle magazines and there is a striking difference between how marketers target men and women. Yes, the idea of "need to fill" seems to be how marketers work on products aimed at men, but women are still getting the "you're broken and need to be fixed" advertising. The only marketing campaign in recent history, that I can remember, with any positive message was the Dove campaign.

I do not think it is cynical to state the obvious. I would love to be a Cynic like Diogenes though.

Anonymous said...

Just to continue the idea that everyone inevitably has an agenda and can do no other than follow it, brain morphology has made advances in the understanding of the reticular activating system in the human brain. The reticular activating system is believed to act as a filter in allowing particular information into awareness while blocking out the far greater amount of information that is also assaulting awareness at all times. The information that is allowed into awareness is that which fits into a pattern already recognised; that which is discarded is that which cannot be readily fitted into an existing pattern--which explains why the sight of other Subarus gains importance in my worldview once I have committed myself to Subaru devotion by buying one with cash for which I have expended my life energy.
Which is OK if you understand and accept the implicit pact made in the purchase.
The thing is, once this implicit pact is understood there is very little of the material goods available that warrants either devotion or the exchange of life energy and you don't have to be a cynic of either ancient or modern type to see this.

Rational Thinking said...

Anon wrote:

"Less a narcissistic projection and more of a common inbuilt failing of all human cognition, confirmation bias. So common that any attempt to be objective requires an awareness of the phenomenon and a conscious effort to balance it, as in the declaration of one's own agenda, the reason academics and scientists declare personal interests and biases."

I don't think that this phenomenon is either confirmation bias or narcissistic projection. I think it's more likely a variant of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

Trivia of the day :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Mary: But now I'm confused. Wasn't the deplorable nature of today's marketing to women a key point of this whole post to begin with?

RevRon's Rants said...

Nice trick there, RT... Now, we're gonna be seeing references to Baader-Meinhof every time we turn around! :)

RevRon's Rants said...

"I do not think it is cynical to state the obvious."

Of course it's not, Mary... unless the "obvious" is a broad-stroke projection upon others of one's own internal issues.

And barring the erectile dysfunction and hair loss marketing efforts, I'd have to agree that most campaigns targeted at men are of the "fill a need" category, while the vast majority of those targeted at women are of the "you're broken" category. The justification for such different approaches suggests a gender-bias deserving of its own thread, at the very least.

Anonymous said...

'Wasn't the deplorable nature of today's marketing to women a key point of this whole post to begin with?'
What I found annoying was that the example you used, the Telegraph article, was yet another baseless example of this 'you are broken' marketing to women--which you failed to see. You seemed to be using it, regardless of it being only one woman's opinion and based on interviews with only 11 other women, to prop up your personal crusade to minimise the notion that child sexual abuse towards young girls is widespread. It is noticeable that you do not minimise child sexual abuse towards young boys and have become quite vociferous when blogging about that.
So abused boys are believable but abused girls must be 'broken'?
Not too hard to see why the marketing to men and women takes such radically different paths.

Let's hear it for the Baader-Meinhofs. :0

RevRon's Rants said...

"You seemed to be using it, regardless of it being only one woman's opinion and based on interviews with only 11 other women, to prop up your personal crusade to minimise the notion that child sexual abuse towards young girls is widespread.

Wow! I thought I'd picked up on all of Steve's "personal crusades," over the last few years. Could I have missed this entirely, or are we just going back to that whole projection thing? Must be an agenda in here somewhere...