Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

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Blind Loyalty, Betrayal and Self Preservation: The Silencing of Dissent

August 23, 2009

A person can’t be expected to be loyal to something or someone who is hurting or destroying them, that causes them pain or asks them to go against their personal morals, values or integrity.  It also requires the person from whom this blind loyalty is demanded to overlook, ignore or set aside their own ethics and beliefs and replace them with those of the person or group from whom the demand emanates. Such expectation of blind loyalty runs contrary to our fundamental human instinct of self-preservation and results in a loss of self.  Indeed, a high price to pay.

Expecting someone to chose another over themselves is akin to demanding an abused spouse stay in a dysfunctional marriage or risk being labeled disloyal or a betrayer. It puts all the blame on the person who has the courage to preserve themselves and end or leave the relationship. Speaking up as a way to defend oneself is simply not a viable option because to those who demand blind loyalty, objecting, or voicing dissent is, in itself, an act of disloyalty. And, it will nearly always be punished.

When one human being treats another badly, abuses them either physically, mentally, psychologically or emotionally, or asks or expects them to engage in behavior that goes against their personal values and/or morals, in essence, they force them to make a choice. Either choose to continue the relationship and suffer in silence in the dysfunctional environment; or, save yourself and preserve your integrity. Sometimes in life we must, for our own well being, choose ourselves or risk loosing our mental health and/or our integrity. This is true whether the dysfunction comes at the hands of a single person or through participation in a group.

When problems arise in groups, effective leaders focus on problem solving strategies in order to explore various ways to make things better. They are willing to open the lines of communication and hear all voices, whether they be concurring or dissenting ones. When this opportunity is not provided or such a mechanism is not in place, it forces a dichotomous decision on the part of the group’s members – me or them; self or the group.

The narcissistic leaders of dysfunctional groups never take responsibility for problems within the group, are not willing to hear the voices of dissent but rather, scapegoat or blame others, and in particular, those who chose to speak up or leave the group to preserve themselves. In this way, these so-called leaders maintain the myth of loyalty on their part and force the label of betrayer on those who chose themselves over the group. It is a convenient way to silence dissent and to vilify those who depart for their own reasons. And, in the twisted mind of these narcissistic leaders, they believe it builds greater loyalty on the part of those who remain. If they can successfully label someone a betrayer, those who remain will focus on that person rather than on the dysfunction of the group. It also sends a strong message to the members of the group; give us blind loyalty or be punished.

Betrayal is a loaded word, especially when ones only choice is to betray another or to betray yourself. How can a person be expected to maintain their loyalty when doing so is injurious to them, their integrity, mental, psychological, emotional, and in certain circumstances, physical well being?  Either way, the person who is forced to make this choice looses.
Some people like to use the phrase “The magic mirror is always at work” to describe the relationships between people. E.g., if I am feeling distant from my friend, they must be feeling distant from me. If I am not feeling heard by my friend, they must not be feeling heard by me. If indeed there is such a “magic mirror,” then it necessarily follows that when one person labels another “betrayer,” the one being so labeled also feels betrayed by the person labeling them.

Fundamental fairness dictates, at the very least, that the people being accused be given the opportunity to defend themselves; to speak their truth. Aren’t all of us innocent until proven guilty? Doesn’t justice, truth, honesty and love, yes love, demand that the accused betrayer be given a chance to tell their story? And as we all know, no story is one sided. If you love someone, or profess to love them, shouldn’t you treat them with respect and dignity? Shouldn’t you care about what they are feeling or have to say? Or do you act as judge, jury and executioner and condemn the person you allegedly love and demand their voice, which may be one of dissent, remain silent?  Do you threaten punishment in the absence of blind loyalty? If speaking up and telling the truth is considered an act of disloyalty, that speaks volumes about the person or group who requires silence as an act of loyalty. This is, at the very least, hypocrisy, and at most tyranny.

The bottom line is that it isn’t right, fair or just to expect any of us to give blind loyalty to someone or something that is toxic, dishonest or unethical, or not what it purports to be. Moreover, it is even more dishonest to silence the voices of dissent. The “magic mirror” is a myth, a convenient excuse used to justify bad behavior. A person who refuses to give blind loyalty to another or to an organization is not a betrayer but simply a person who made a choice that was best for them, to preserve themselves, their well being and in some cases their integrity. We all have freedom of choice and in the end, we are the only ones who can protect and preserve ourselves. We can’t, and shouldn’t, expect others to do it for us. Nor should we be punished for exercising our free will, or, our freedom of speech.

Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court Justice, perhaps said it best: “Those who begin cohersive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”

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Narcissists and Sycophants: A Marriage Made in Hell

July 29, 2009

Whether we realize it or not, we all have at least one narcissist in our lives. In fact, according to authors Jean Twenge, PhD and Keith Campbell, PhD, there is a narcissism epidemic in this country.  (The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, Free Press, 2009, Twenge PhD., Campbell, PhD.).

After reading this eye opening book I found myself thinking about this subject in general and agree with the authors that narcissism is sweeping our country and wreaking havoc on the personal, social and professional relationships of the masses. Most of us, however, live in denial. We don’t want to view someone we look up to as a narcissist and we certainly don’t want to acknowledge the hold narcissists have on us and on the world at large. We also live in denial about the part we play in the creation of the narcissist and the perpetuation of his or her behavior. Far too often the people drawn into the narcissist’s force field enable, condone and tolerate the negative and destructive behavior of the narcissist. We absolve ourselves by saying we are doing it for the greater good, or by apologizing for the narcissist’s behavior. Often we take responsibility for the damage caused to other’s psyches by the narcissist. If truth be known, we do it because we are afraid. We don’t want to wound the highly sensitive narcissist because we will pay dearly for this narcissistic injury. We don’t want to be tossed out of the narcissist’s orbit for speaking up, for disagreeing or challenging the narcissist because what we get from the narcissist fuels our own needs.

I have a theory about why this is. From my life experience, I have come to believe that sycophants fuel narcissists and enable them to exist and even thrive. I am sure this isn’t a new or novel idea on my part. In fact, it is probably overly simplistic.

Let’s begin with some descriptions. A narcissist is a person with inordinate fascination with himself or herself. They have few social control mechanisms, fewer friends, little or no psychic demands to do the right thing (even though they give lip service to this concept) do not look for approval from others, lack social barometers of how to conduct themselves, and are driven to be captivating, inspirational, charming and seductive. They have a desperate need to get others to buy into their worldview–their vision, to create a world that they populate with their devoted followers. They are grandiose, don’t listen to others, are prone to angry outbursts (often used to control others who disagree with them), bully subordinates, dominate meetings and are often isolated and paranoid. According to Twenge and Campbell, narcissism is “a disease that causes others to suffer.” Narcissism is nearly always corrosive to social relationships as it breeds distrust. Narcissists are prone to using people like they use books, information and knowledge—they pump them for information and then when they are through, throw them aside. To the narcissist, there are only friends or foes; you are either for or against their vision. There is no middle ground.

Sycophants are self-serving servile flatterers and are often slavishly submissive to the narcissist.  The narcissist and the sycophant need each other. The narcissist is completely dependent on the sycophant to feed his ego, to feel important and powerful.  The sycophant, on the other hand, is also dependent on the narcissist for the narcissist makes the sycophant feel included and connected to someone the sycophant believes is powerful and important and will elevate the sycophant to great success, recognition or social standing. The sycophant derives a lot of self worth from the narcissist as the relationship with the narcissist gives the sycophant social standing he otherwise would not have. In short, the relationship between the narcissist and sycophant is symbiotic; each feeding and dependent on the other. Without sycophants, the narcissist struggles, becomes depressed and feels his or her life has no meaning. A narcissist must have blind allegiance and the adoration of sycophantic followers because that is the food of the narcissist. Most often, a narcissist surrounds him or herself with “yes men” (slavishly submissive flatterers) who the narcissist sees as no threat to him or herself but yet, who are also not much good for advancing the narcissist’s vision. But that is ok with the narcissist, because he or she has all the answers, knows what is best and right and doesn’t listen to others anyway. The “yes men” are the means to an end, they help the narcissist get what he or she wants and will only be kept close as long as they serve a purpose.

As a group, sycophants find meaning and purpose out of protecting and becoming the narcissist’s handlers. They bond with other sycophants in this common purpose and are simultaneously validated by each other for how dysfunctional this interpersonal interplay is, either on a conscious or unconscious level, depending on the dysfunction of each individual. In such groups, everyone suffers. There are no winners in this symbiotic relationship. The narcissist’s hold is so great it is hard for the sycophant to escape the narcissist’s seductive embrace. At some point, depending on the amount of pain the sycophant has had to endure, they will wake up when they are no longer able to tolerate being used or when their own ethics or integrity will no longer permit them to be passive participants in the destructive world of the narcissist. Faced with abandonment, the narcissist acts more and more out of desperation, devolves deeper into his or her pathology and ends up alone and even more isolated, completing the cycle of narcissistic self-destruction.

In the end, narcissists die alone and sycophants suffer stunted emotional and psychological growth, unless they grow strong enough to break their addiction and choose to value their own self-worth instead of abandoning it for the advancement of the narcissist.

I highly recommend anyone interested in the burgeoning narcissism epidemic read Twenge and Campbell’s excellent book. It is both eye opening and thought provoking.

Another good book on narcissists is Michael Maccoby’s Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails (Broadway Books, 2003).

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The L Word is a Lie

December 5, 2008

About 5 or 6 years ago, the lesbian community rejoiced at the creation of a Showtime original series “The L Word” whose story lines focused on several lesbian characters, their lives and relationships. Every Sunday lesbians across American sat together in living rooms, bars and community centers and watched with deep satisfaction and joy as the lesbian lifestyle was exposed to all of America.  L Word parties became the rage and were the highlight of many a woman’s weekend as well as the hot topic of conversation. Lesbians were finally main stream.

The problem, as I see it, is that the show presents a mythical, fictional and unrealistic view of lesbians and their lives. I mean, come on, have you ever met as many hot, sexy and gorgeous lesbians as the main or supporting characters on the show? Do you know any lesbians who live the kind of life the women on the L Word live? Maybe you will see these types in small numbers at the annual Dinah Shore event in Palm Springs or on occasion in Provincetown, Los Angeles or New York but in my everyday life, I can count the lesbian women I know who look, dress and act like the women on the L Word on one hand, and then using only one or two fingers.

I recently married my partner and we are now one of the 18,000 gay couples who got married in CA before a slim majority of ignorant and bigoted voters passed Prop 8 (it should actually be called Prop Hate) prohibiting gay marriage. For our honeymoon we went on an Olivia Cruise to the Caribbean. In case you don’t know, Olivia cruises are lesbian cruises. Prior to departure we were excited at the prospect of being on a ship with all women, in a community where we could be a couple, hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes at dinner without fear of hateful looks or nasty comments. We could enjoy a real romantic and celebratory honeymoon as a couple and not have to pretend to be roommates or sisters. And, as an added bonus,  having seen footage of Olivia cruises on both the L Word and Work Out, I had a vision that the ship would be filled with beautiful lesbian women such as those featured on both of those shows. For one short week, my wife and I could live the L Word life! Boy was I in for a surprise.

As we embarked on the cruise I looked around at the women on board and thought to myself “The L Word is a LIE!” The majority, and I am talking 80 to 85% of the women on this cruise we not only fat, they were obese. They were not, as a whole, beautiful, hot, sexy or gorgeous. Most had short butchy haircuts. Most were older. Where were the normal looking women? Where were the women like me? I exercise, eat healthy, am fairly attractive, and dress somewhat fashionably. In short, I take care of myself. Before I stepped foot on the ship I thought I would see and meet a lot of women like my wife and myself. This was not to be.

Another thing I found disturbing is how masculine many of the women were.  I am a lesbian because I am attracted to women. I have never understood why a lesbian who purportedly wants to be with another woman would chose to be with a woman who looks like a man. What is up with that? The number of extremely butch and masculine women on this trip astounded me.

Now there is nothing wrong with a woman being athletic, wearing her hair short or having masculine qualities, (I have straight women friends like this) but I really cringe when I see women dressing in men’s clothes and acting like men. I just don’t get it.  On formal night, I was shocked by the number of lesbian women wearing men’s suits, and I mean real men’s suits complete with ties and wing tips. This is not to say that dresses should be required (I only own two and rarely wear them) but couldn’t these women dress in female clothes? Is it lack of self-esteem that drives them to men’s clothes or is it rampant obesity? I guess the obesity should have come as no surprise. After all, nearly two-thirds of Americans are obese or grossly overweight. Why should the lesbian community be immune to the epidemic?

Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the cruise. Olivia is a great company and provides travel opportunities for women in safe, secure and comfortable environments. They have created settings where we can feel free to and simply be ourselves. The company does a great job and I recommend that more lesbians take advantage of the Olivia experience.  But don’t expect to see the type of lesbian community the L Word or Work Out projects. Beautiful, hot, sexy and gorgeous lesbians were in the minority on my cruise. But one thing you can count on, you will feel safe and free to be yourself in a loving and open community.

The point? The L Word IS a lie. Isn’t most everything we see on television or at the movies? If television simply held up a mirror to society, no one would watch. Who among us would watch a show about fat, unattractive lesbians? Every one of us, gay, straight or questioning wants to believe in something better and more beautiful, more perfect than ourselves or our everyday lives. Come the beginning of the final season of the L Word, you will find me and my wife in front of our television every Sunday night imagining ourselves living in the fantasy world created by Showtime.

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Guarantee Mentality: The Cancer of Relationships

September 24, 2008

Over the course of the last several years, I have seen the romantic relationships of many of my friends struggle, crumble and finally fail. There seems to be something inherently difficult in creating a satifying, fulfilling or succesful relationship. In pondering this topic, one day I had an ephiphany; most people view relationships with a guarantee mentality. What do I mean by this?

When we buy a product, such as a car or expensive piece of electronic equipment, we get a manufacturers warranty. This warranty assures, or “guarantees” us that if something goes wrong with our new toy, the manufacturer will either repair or replace the item. We need do nothing. All of the burden of fixing the problem falls on the shoulders of the manufacturer. In this consumption society, we have become accustomed to, rely on and outright expect others to fix any problem we may have.

I have come to the conclusion that this is how many, if not most, people view relationships. Perhaps not consciously but most likely unconsciously. If something is wrong in our relationships, we first blame the creation of the problem on our significant other. (If our car breaks down it is the manufacturer’s fault, right?) Second, we expect, and often demand that our partner fix the problem. After all, “it couldn’t be me who caused this problem. And besides, when we entered into this relationship you promised to stay in the relationship and to solve our problems. So do it!” I call this the guarantee mentality.

So, what is wrong with this? This mentality can, and eventually will doom your relationship to failure. If we always look to  the other to change or solve our relationship problems, we are not truly invested in the success of the relationship. Successful relationships are, or should be, co-creative. Two people must work together to define their relationship and resolve differences as they arise. It cannot fall on the shoulders of only one partner. When that happens it build resentment and contempt; a true relationship nuclear bomb. Once contempt sets in, it is like a disease that spreads and festers. By the time it is discovered, the entire system is infected and death is imminent.

But we can prevent this from happening. How? First, we must stay conscious in our relationship. We must voice our concerns as they arise and feel safe to express our feelings. We must own our part – and yes, there always is one – in any problem. We need to strive to understand before seeking to be understood. And we must be willing to work hard to have effective communication with our partner. It is not simply enough to listen. We must truly hear our partners and let them know they have been heard.

It sounds much harder than it needs to be. Look outside yourself and put your significant other first. If both parties to a relationship do this, everything else will come naturally.

The only guarantee we should expect or demand is from ourselves; to be the best we can be. To get the most out of a relationship we should expect and demand of ourself that which we expect and demand of our partner. Nothing less will result in success.