Go ahead and care
Keep your life in balance while fighting for causes you believe in
By Patti Carmalt-Vener 10/06/2011
Is it healthy, unhealthy or a little bit of both to have extreme reactions to something that comes up in the news and want to get involved? I was driving on the freeway listening to the radio and heard about the 37-year-old homeless man, Kelly Thomas, who was allegedly beaten to death by six Orange County policemen. I was so shaken that I had to pull over on the side of the road and weep when I heard his father talk about how his schizophrenic son was taped screaming “Dad! Dad!” as he was clubbed and Tasered into a coma and then eventually to his death.
While I have great respect for law enforcement, I don’t believe it was just a rogue cop. I think there’s a small but significant number of a policeman drawn to the job due to a desire to bully or act out sadistic urges. It upsets me when society looks the other way when these things happen. I don’t know if it takes higher wages or more screening to acquire more psychologically sophist-
icated police, but it scares me to think that loved ones who have an angry or drunken moment are at risk of this brutality.
I’ve been reading everything regarding the Thomas case and have even driven to Orange County and picketed the police station when I heard there was going to be a peaceful demonstration. It felt good to walk along the picket line for something I believed in but my husband felt I’d gone too far and was really “losing it.” How does one know when they’re just doing their civic duty or as my husband puts it — getting carried away? ~Ursula
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with responding emotionally and passionately to what’s happening in your community or your world. We’d be in serious trouble, in fact, if we didn’t react with outrage and cry out for social change when needed.
In dream analysis there’s often a reference to social conscience and personal conscience. For example, if you dream of being in a bus that gets a flat tire, it may be a reference to society as a whole being “stuck.” Getting a flat tire while driving alone in a car, however, may refer to your personal life journey becoming stagnated. Both are important aspects of one’s life to examine. It sounds like you’re concerned about social change where bullying and hatred are put to a stop. Sometimes the only way that can happen is if many — like you — aren’t deadened with apathy toward society’s wrongs but compassionate to change it.
It only becomes unhealthy when reactive feelings/behaviors become so intense they interfere with the quality of your life. If, for instance, you’re going to so many demonstrations or reading so obsessively about social injustices that your relationships and or your domestic or occupational duties are being compromised, that might be of psychological concern. If so, it can be an opportunity to do some personal therapeutic work on yourself. In order to contribute to society in a grounded, stable way, one must be able to recognize whether overreactions are due to unfinished personal history.
Were you bullied when you were growing up? Have you ever had an unjust experience with law enforcement? Do you have a loved one that’s especially vulnerable to police brutality due to homelessness, handicaps or a tendency to lean toward criminal behavior? Connecting to society through loving or identifying with others isn’t necessarily bad but one needs to make sure it’s an appropriate emotional response.
As for your husband’s concern, ask him to do some self-reflection. Is he worrying out of deep concern for you? Since this is a new interest of yours, is he feeling jealous or a little neglected? Does he feel uncomfortable around confrontation and social change? What change in your behavior would have to happen in order to gain his respect and support? Talk these issues out together in order to be able to pursue your passion without it putting a wedge between you. Fight for the causes you believe in, Ursula, just strive to keep your life in a healthy balance.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her Web site: patticarmalt-vener.com.