Saturday, May 5, 2018

Power, Threat and Unconventional Realities: ONLINE Mini-Retreat: Saturday, May 5th ~ 2-5 PM EST

A Flyer with a Schedule of Events is attached.  It reads:   POWER, THREAT MEANING MONTH     ANATOMY OF A BREAKDOWN (graphic)  1. Life is hard all by it self 2. Basic needs are insecure 3. Bias and prejudice shut us out 4. Trusted institutions let us down 5. Social responses make it worse 6. Injuries add up 7. BREAK DOWN   MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS:  LACK OF POWER AFFECTS US   Body power – society values preferences, attributes and abilities that you don’t have or identify with  Coercive power – you are subjected to violence, aggression, threats  Legal power – systemic rules or sanctions limit your choices  Economic power – you can’t afford needed goods, services, activities or opportunities on a par with others  Interpersonal power – you can’t meet basic relational needs for intimacy, care and human protection  Social/cultural power – limited access to knowledge, connections and qualifications that make life easier  Ideological power – values, language and meaning  are defined by powerful others   MAY 2018 SCHEDULE   Wednesday, May 2nd ~8-9:30 pm EST                                     Power, Threat and the Meaning of “Mental Illness”  Friday,  May 4th ~8-9:30 pm EST                                         Devalued Identities and "Mental Illness"  Saturday, May 5th ~2-5 pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and Unconventional Realities  Wednesday, May 9th ~8-9:30 pm EST                                                         Surviving Rejection and Invalidation  Friday, May 11th ~8-9:30pm EST                                      Surviving Childhood Adversity  Saturday, May 12th ~2pm - 5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                            Power, Threat and the Meanings of “Mothering”  Wednesday, May 16th ~8-9:30pm EST                                          Surviving Disrupted Identities and Roles  Friday, May 18th ~8-9:30pm EST                                 Surviving Setbacks and Defeat  Saturday, May 19 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini Retreat                                Power, Threat and the Meanings of "Suicide"  Sunday, May 20 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and the Meanings of 'Mania'  Wednesday, May 23 ~8-9:30pm EST                                          Surviving Entrapments  Friday, May 25 ~8-9:30pm EST                                            Surviving Disconnection and Loss  Saturday, May 26 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                              Power, Threat and Angry Meanings  Sunday, May 27 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and Addictive Meanings  Sunday, May 27th ~Starting 10 PM EST                                                              Memorial Day Story Telling Marathon                                                     26.2 hour vigil, our lives go the distance                                                                       Tueday, May 29 ~8-9:30pm EST                                               Surviving Social Exclusion and Shame   Wednesday, May 30 ~8-9:30pm EST                                             Surviving Coercive Power  To Join Us:   Join by computer: Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656 Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879 International callers:     More info at: &

Saturday, May 5th ~2-5 pm EST      

Join by computer:

Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656
Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879

International callers:

Making Sense of "Non-Sense"

Twenty-five years ago I was on a psych ward thinking I was Jesus Christ in the Second Coming.  
Forty years ago I was a teenager sitting in church with an almost irrepressible desire to yell out "Satan is here!!" 

The inclination would just appear in my mind as if planted by an outside force.

Then, there would be the initial shock:  "How can I be thinking this?  

Then panic: "What does this say about me?"  

Then shame: "I have to get rid of this before someone finds out and I get kicked out of the human race."

Alongside that would be an eerie feeling that my personal integrity depended on carrying out the suggested action.  The thought had occurred to me, after all.  So how could I be really honest as a person - or true to myself - if I didn't act it out?  

From there the psychic taunters would pipe  in:  "C'mon, you can do it.  Chicken.  Do it.  Do it.  If you had any gumption you'd do it." 

I only wish the impulse to rattle the adults of at the local Episcopal congregation (God's frozen people) was the most embarrassing, frightening thought that occurred to me.  That was far from the case.

There was the time I was jogging in the local park, musing about all the school records I would break in track and field and it 'occurred' to me that "I could probably get away with murder."  The logic went like this:  "I've been a good kid all my life.  They all think I'm a model citizen.  Who would suspect me?  I could just murder someone for the heck of getting away with murder.  

I was acutely aware of my lack of feeling. Just a game.  The lives of my potential victims were irrelevant.  The main thing was:  Could I break this major social more' and get away with it?  Was I above the law that bound everyone else or not? 

Then there were the times, in my 20s, when I was looking after my friend's 6 year old son.  We'd end up wrestling and the thought would come:  You could put your hand on his crotch.  

Again, no feeling.  No concern for his welfare.  No actual desire sexually.  Just the awareness:  I have power.  I can use it.  If I want to, this kid can't stop me.  

Most frightening of all, however, were the thoughts that came up with family, lovers -- anyone I got close enough to to spend a night in the same house with.  "You can murder them while they sleep."

Thoughts like these tortured me for years. I was told by some mental health professionals that these thoughts were meaningless garbage.  "It's just the illness talking."  So I should just ignore it, focus on something else, and take my meds.

Other mental health professionals saw me as deeply damaged.  They were clear that my childhood had to have been very troubled.  Only if we got to the roots of my family pathology could I ever hope to have a functional life.

Neither approach was particularly useful in retrospect.  As to the former approach, the meds didn't help.  The thoughts kept coming, and I could never shake the feeling I was ignoring something important.

As to the second approach, $100,000 of therapy over 20 years and still the same conclusion:  I had it better than most people I knew, and my head was screwed up nevertheless.  Plus, all the focusing on the thoughts made them worse.  And all of that scrutinizing my life history for examples of how others had damaged me only made me feel more damaged.  It was a vicious, inescapable cycle.

Eventually I had to invent my own solution.  I began to approach the thoughts as meaningful entities in their own right.  I tried to see myself and my life from their perspective.  I sincerely asked them what they wanted me to know about myself.  What was the message they were hoping I would get?

Eventually it came to me:

It was terrifying - this awareness of power.  I really did have the power to do evil.  I really did have the power to violate trust.  I really did have the power to harm, irreparably, anyone who was kind enough to let me close to them.

What I didn't know what whether I was trustworthy.  Could I be trusted by the people who were kind enough or vulnerable enough to let me into their lives?  Could I trust myself to not abuse the opportunities for human closeness and connection that I was offered?  How would I know if I was trustworthy?  What would I do if, on examination, I discovered that I wasn't...?

It took a lot of soul searching to get to the core of my own intentions.  Eventually I came to believe that I wouldn't have been agonizing so much about these thoughts of hurting others if I really didn't care about whether I hurt others. Yes, I had my own failings - including intensity, passion and a tendency to get carried away that leads me to overstep bounds if I'm not paying attention. But, at core, I hate the idea of getting my own needs met at someone else's expense.   Not that I never fail in this regard.  But when I do, I can count on some part of me becoming deeply troubled by this and pretty much torturing me until I make the effort to make it right. 

That realization in and of itself helped a lot.  It helped to know that, despite appearances to the contrary, somewhere in myself I really do care about the effects of my actions on other human beings.

Along the way, I also realized that I really must care about being trustworthy and having enough integrity to put the needs of others on a par with my own.  Again, if this kind of stuff didn't matter to some core part of me, I wouldn't be agonizing to the point of incapacity over questions like these in the first place.

This latter awareness was tremendously important to me.  It literally changed the direction of my life.  It helped me see myself not as I was - someone motivated only by punishment and external consequences, like the fear of getting caught - but as the person of principle, integrity and unequivocal regard for others that some deep part of me wanted to become.  From that point on the question became not whether I had integrity or not, but instead how to stay continually accountable to the values and integrity that some part of me deeply wanted me to live.

All good and well so far, but what about the psych ward Jesus stuff?  Where does that fit in?  

Well, for me, that experience, too, was powerful and life-changing.  If I had just followed the advice of the mental health profession - and dismissed it as 'illness' and taken my meds - that would not have been the case.  Equally important, if I had caved to the temptation at the time to take my thoughts literally  - that would not have been the case either.  It would have been easy to get stuck in the powerful attraction of being 'chosen' as some spiritual big shot with superhuman connections to the divine.

In the end, the realization was this:  I'm not any more connected to god or the Universe than the next person.  At the same time, to be at peace with myself, there are certain principles that I have to live.  One of these principles is the importance of taking risks and making personal sacrifice in service of helping to create the world I want to live in.  Essentially, what Christians call "laying down your life for your friends."

Partly that's what convinced me to be open about my own struggles here.  I keep saying that I want world where it is safer for human beings to be vulnerable and honest about who we really are.  But that is never going to happen unless some of us take the risk.  So why not me ?

One of the things I like about the Power Threat Meaning Framework that we are talking about in this series is that it talks about the positive use of power.  For me, taking the risk to be vulnerable and honest is about positive power.  It says I believe there are more important values to human existence than saving face or looking good in the eyes of conventional society.

Surprising as it may seem, I am not alone in that conviction.  Arguably, this was the premise upon which one of the most effective peer support movements in human history was founded.  Indeed, some 80 years ago, a straggly handful of barely-recovered drunks in the fledgling organization Alcoholics Anonymous encouraged their membership as follows:

This painful past may be of infinite value to other families still struggling with their problem.  We think each family which has been relieved owes something to those who have not, and when the occasion requires, each member of it should only be too willing to bring former mistakes, no matter how grievous, out of their hiding places.  Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing that makes life seem so worthwhile to us now.  Cling to the thought that, in God's hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have--the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them.

Alcoholics Anonymous, page 124.

In actuality, this has been my experience.  Nothing has salved my wounds more than discovering others who were kind and courageous enough to risk saying 'me too' in my most alienated, frightened hours.  In effect they said:

I stand with you.  You are not alone.  Your reality may be unconventional, but so is mine.  I will not let you be rejected or thrown out by the human race for owning your truth.  To the contrary, I welcome your truth and honor it.  Your truth is a human truth, as is mine.  Both our truths have value and are welcome here.  I honor your courage in sharing your truth, as you honor me by receiving and welcoming mine.  

This positive use of power - the power to  match vulnerability with vulnerability in service of connection and restoration - is for me the greatest gift we human beings can offer each other.  At least I can say with confidence, it is the greatest, most healing gift anyone has ever offered to me. 

Today's Retreat

The mini-retreat today will offer a facilitated opportunity to explore power, threat, meaning and their relationship to unconventional realities we may be experiencing.  The discussion will focus on 6 core questions adapted from the Power Threat Meaning Framework that inspired this series: 

  1. ‘What has happened to you?’ (In what ways has your experience of unconventional realities led to you feeling over-powered, under-powered, dis-empowered ...?)
  2. ‘How did this affect you?’ (What threats has this posed to your needs and survival?)
  3. ‘What sense can you make of it?’ (What did these situations and experiences mean for you?)
  4. ‘What did you have to do to survive?’ (What strategies did you use to respond to threats or create meaning from adversity?)
  5. ‘What values, strengths and resources have you been able to access? (Or might you try to access?)
  6. ‘What is your story?’ (How does all this fit together?)

The Power Threat Meaning Framework: Guided Discussion, 

For more info:

Power, Threat Meaning in a Nutshell

The Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTM) was introduced by the British Psychological Society in February 2018.  The framework highlights the links between wider social factors - like poverty, discrimination, abuse and violence and distressed or distressing emotional and behavioral responses. It describes the diverse strategies that human beings use to cope with overwhelming emotions in order to survive and protect themselves and meet their core needs.  Introducing the Power Threat Meaning Framework,

Equally important is the solution proposed by the Power Threat Meaning Framework  Unlike most mental health approaches, PTM argues that meaning and distress must be understood and addressed at social, community and cultural levels, not just individual ones. It joins the United Nations in recommending that a shift of focus towards 'power imbalance' rather than 'chemical imbalance' in mental health awareness and practice. In a word, 'the less access you have to conventional or approved forms of power, the more likely you are to adopt socially disturbing or disruptive strategies in the face of adversity.'  PTM Launch Slideshow, slide 28,

Better yet, the framework is non-pathologizing and suggests a unifying, overarching model of human psychosocial functioning that applies to all of human beings, including those without mental health labels. Also encouraging: the approach recognizes that power operates positively (not just negatively!). It therefore encourages both personal agency and social action to create meaningful personal and societal outcomes.  Power Threat Meaning Framework Overview,

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