The Energy in Stigma, Yours for the Taking

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There are nothing like lightbulb jokes in the operating room to make you plume your feathers.  The other day, my nurse “enlightened” me with them.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?  One, but the lightbulb has to be willing to change.

How many surgeons does it take to change a lightbulb?  One, because while he holds it, the world revolves around him.

How many nurses does it take to change a lightbulb?  If it’s during shift change, no one will touch it.

That is as far as we got, but please share yours, especially if related to psychiatry :).

Lightbulb jokes are common, clean, dirty, and fairly ageless. It does not take the brightest lightbulb in the room (Teehee!) to know that they are so because they capitalize on stereotypes.  Stereotypes, likewise, are widespread, and fairly ageless.  Even in something as objective, well-defined, and understood as brain disease.

A primary care physician’s assistant, “PA,” was sharing with me the other day about how she deals with stereotypes when she approaches patients who need treatment toward brain health.

I tell them about all the executives and professionals who get treatment ‘because the stress gets to them and they have nervous breakdowns.’  Then they don’t feel so bad about accepting treatment because they associate themselves with these successful people.

Stereotypes can be positive, negative, or neutral.  Everyone has them.  We clinicians, patients, grocers, those who want nothing to do with medical care, and even executives and other professionals (smile) have them.  But what, in dealing with stereotypes, is friendly to Me?  It starts there.  With Me, one little, or largely valued Me.

We stereotype ourselves and maybe that is why we stereotype others.  For example, this struggle of what to call illness of the brain is common, widespread, and fairly ageless. A Menninger Clinic blogger wrote eloquently about it recently, “Does reframing mental illnesses as brain disorders reduce stigma? by JON G. ALLEN, PHD.”  Most pithy, I thought was this,

…we should be skeptical of the view that regarding psychological problems as brain disorders will abolish stigma. Although the disease model decreases blame, this shift comes with a cost: It increases pessimism about recovery and might also contribute to perceived dangerousness.

I have never forgotten the Spiral Dynamics idea that in the magical level of consciousness, there is a sense of being disempowered. “Perceive dangerousness” is magical. Behind negative stereotypes, there is magical thinking.  We give over what is not to be given and take what is not to be taken.  We have fear.  We feel victimized.  We lose what is freely our own.  Disempowerment is terrifying. There is a lot more stigma out there than there is information but giving stigma and/or negative stereotypes power is our own choice.

A fellow blogger wrote to me how he approaches it,

Change brain illness to mental illness. Our problems really are brain illness from physical dysfunction but I can accept that my psyche is sick easier than my brain is sick.

Stereotypes may scare us but they can also inspire.  It is up to the individual, to Me, how to respond.  As in lightbulb jokes, we who are targeted by stereotypes can take pride in them.  They are not the same as “stigma” although there is overlap when negative.  Stereotypes can be neutral or even something to be proud of.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? None–the light bulb will change when it’s ready.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? None. It’s their job to help people find their way in dark places!

There is nothing like the kind of energy in stigma and negative stereotypes to inspire us.  Such force, such Magic, these can get the punk in any of us to love who we are.

I used to be quite turned off by the beatitudes thinking I was supposed to want to be a wimp, and couldn’t quite make myself do it.  Now I realize, being a wimp is just what it is.  The blessing is what is inherently available to Me in my “condition.”

1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Questions:  How have you been able to use stereotypes and stigma as something toward friendliness in your life?  

What have you found is inherently blessing you from where you find the condition of life to be?

How might you use the energy in them toward being good to yourself?  Please tell us your story.

Self-care tip:  Use the energy available in Magic to empower you, rather than disempower.  

5 thoughts on “The Energy in Stigma, Yours for the Taking

  1. Dear friend,
    I am of the opinion that as long as we see the struggles that we have as being based in our mind or brain, we are going to continue to see the solution as some sort of modification in a physical sense. Behaviorism, pharmacological intervention, and processes of that ilk are going to be seen as the best solution when the solutions that last are not going to come from anything external to us.
    Jack Kornfeld talks about the healing coming from relationships with others who are supportive of us sharing those deep seated emotional conflicts that persist below the level of our consciousness. That is why 12 step programs are more effective at treating the dis-ease of alcoholism than any intervention by the medical or mental health fields. As Achaan Chah says, “If you haven’t cried deeply, your meditation hasn’t really begun.”
    This challenges the outside in way of treating that we continue to try to do as a culture. It also challenges the economic paradigm that we live in.
    Thank you as always for taking about the issues that mean the most to us.
    Jim

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