Mind Matters — Babies and bullies

Here I am thinking about my mother again. Perhaps it is because now that I have become a grandmother, I am coming to understand how she felt not only as a mother but as a grandmother herself, how she saw a “grander” picture of parenting — the larger, long term view.

So what is my larger, long-term view now that I identify with her so much? Perhaps it is the acknowledgement that how we raise our children and model behavior for them has a rippling effect down the generations.

To some readers I probably sound like a broken record. However, some messages need to be said again and again just to override the loud voices of bigotry and bullying that bombard us.

The founder of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychiatrist Aaron Beck wrote “Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence” in 1999, after he developed his brand of individual therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is noted for its focus on the automatic thoughts that, along with an upsurge of emotion, prompts a behavior in an individual.

In the therapeutic process of examining these automatic thoughts, an individual can learn what leads to certain negative behaviors and begin the process of change. Family systems therapists often talk about learning how to regulate reactivity. Jungians talk about how to recognize entrenched patterns of thinking that lead to unwanted behaviors in order to work through our complexes. Whatever the words, the therapeutic message is similar: that psychological health depends upon awareness of thoughts and feelings so that emotional regulation is possible and behaviors are managed.

Yet, Aaron Beck, in “Prisoners of Hate,” takes a grander view, beyond the individual to society at large. Indeed family systems theorists, and Jungians too, see the psycho-dynamics of the individual and family play out societally, and globally as well.

We absolutely need to recognize that what we model to our “babies” at the microcosmic scale has a direct connection to what gets enacted at the macrocosmic level. It matters what we say and how we act toward each other. It is not the automatic thought that counts so much as what we do with it. We may not at first be able to help that an ingrained prejudice appears or that a glimmer of an angry feeling starts to stir. However, we can learn to self-soothe, talk ourselves down out of the negative thoughts towards ourselves, or the other — the feared “enemy,” and then be witness to our emotions. With practice, over time, we become quicker and quicker at calming our reactivity.

Demagogues — political figures, for example — use the individual’s primal reactivity to their advantage. They foment fear of “other,” of differences, for their own self-aggrandizement and usurpation of power. If we ourselves on an individual level are aware of our own lingering fears and are working towards emotional regulation, we are not hoodwinked by bigots, bullies, and bravado.

We are all works in progress: I know I am. I was reminded recently of my own potential for “judging mind,” when, in a New England store, I saw a family who looked very different — to me. The women and girls were in long dresses and the men had beards. I am used to seeing Amish, who dress similarly, so they are not “other” because they are my neighbors. These people were not that, so they were “foreign” to me. I caught myself in my wonderment — curiosity is one thing, but judging or making fun of another’s difference is the emotionally reactive part. I stopped myself before I went galloping off on that pony named Prejudice.

The antidote to prejudice and fear of other can be found in Ysaye Barnwell’s song, “Would You Harbor Me?” Anna Crusis, the Philadelphia-based women’s choir of which I am a member will be singing it this spring. Here are the words:

Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a heretic, convict or spy?
Would you harbor a runaway woman, or child, a poet, a prophet, a king?
Would you harbor an exile, or a refugee, a person living with AIDS?
Would you harbor a Tubman, a Garrett, a Truth a fugitive or a slave?
Would you harbor a Haitian, Korean, or Czech, a lesbian or a gay?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me?
Would I harbor you?

My wish is that we would all sing this song to drown out the loudest bigoted bullies in our midst. Let’s sing for the babies.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to: editor@chaddsfordlive.com

 

About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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