Ex, LDS, psychology

The “princess treatment”…

About ten years ago, I was a big fan of the Project Rant series on YouTube. This channel featured actors who would take the most entertaining rants from Craig’s List and recite them as if they were the people who wrote them. I can’t remember which rant attracted me first, but I was hooked after I saw my first video– which wasn’t actually their first video. I have a habit of catching on to things after they’ve been established for awhile. For instance, it took me four years to discover Desperate Housewives. I never got into Nurse Jackie until long after it was off TV.

This morning, I discovered a video by Project Rant that I hadn’t yet seen. It’s entitled “Bully”, and appears below…

This one is a bit darker than most of them… I had somehow missed its release. I like her parting shot.

I hate bullies. I understand on a cognitive level that bullies exist because they have unmet psychological needs, and they take out their angst on people they perceive to be different and/or weaker than they are. I still hate them, though. I have been on the receiving end of bullies for most of my life, and it’s caused me a lot of pain. It’s also made me surprisingly resilient and resolute about some things. As I watched the above Project Rant video, I related to the actress as she describes mean people provoking her to take action.

What is a bully? Simply put, a bully is “a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable”. I’ve seen some people and behaviors described as “bullying”, when they don’t actually fit the definition of “bully”. For instance, I don’t think mere criticism of someone counts as bullying. There has to be a threat or intimidation involved. There also has to be a perceived power imbalance– whether or not there is an actual power imbalance– which causes the bully to act.

This morning, Bill and I were discussing a sad and distressing situation involving a female bully and her victims. For years, we were the only ones who seemed to see what was happening. Other people have now noticed the bully and the bad behavior perpetrated by this person.

Having a relationship with a bully, particularly when it’s someone as close as one’s parent, is like falling into quicksand or being caught in an undertow. It’s very troublesome and exhausting to extricate oneself from those situations. Once you’re out of that metaphorical quicksand or undertow, you’re wise to stay out of the morass and avoid the area. That’s what going “no contact” is about. A person can go “no contact” with a bully and still forgive them, and even wish the best for them.

But, as the actress in the above Project Rant video points out, sometimes you have to take bullies down a notch. There are times when it’s appropriate and even necessary to take action against them. Sometimes, you have to fight back. Sometimes, the smallest and most subtle and obscure clues can be profound in how they illustrate an actual scenario of how a bully is operating. Context is important.

The above video is pretty funny… especially at the beginning, as the missionaries ring the doorbells to the stars.

This morning, Bill related a story he’d heard from someone who had served as a Mormon missionary. Mormon missionaries, as you may or may not know, are not often treated well by the public. They tend to get a lot of doors slammed in their faces. But every once in awhile, they run into people who offer unexpected kindness to them. It’s those people who are the most memorable, and who often have a profound affect on the missionary’s experiences in the field.

I have kind of a special affinity for missionaries. I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, which isn’t the same as being a Mormon missionary in terms of my purposes for being away, or the day to day lifestyle. How the experience is similar, however, is that Peace Corps Volunteers and missionaries are far away from home and typically don’t have a lot of money. Both groups of people can be somewhat vulnerable in a number of ways. And since they are so far from the comforts of home, some situations are magnified in terms of how they are experienced and remembered.

Sometimes, people are cruel, but sometimes they’re not. I think the LDS missionary and Peace Corps situations are also similar in that, a lot of times, missionaries and Volunteers find themselves daydreaming about being at home and feeling comfortable among material possessions and loved ones. However, it’s possible for a PCV to visit home during their service. It’s generally not possible for LDS missionaries to go home while they are “serving the Lord”, even if there’s an emergency. Being a Mormon missionary can be very tough, unpleasant, and uncomfortable.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Bill said that this missionary had been treated like a “princess” by a couple she and her companion met when they were missionaries. The couple, who were members of the church, helped them out by giving them a place to stay for a couple of weeks. For some reason, the sister missionaries had nowhere to stay, so the couple had taken them in on a temporary basis. Years later, she remembers the experience of staying with the couple and describes their treatment of her as “like a princess”.

It’s my understanding that the church arranges apartments for the missionaries. The apartments tend to be cheap and spartan in nature, and sometimes they aren’t in the best or safest neighborhoods. But supposedly, the onus is not on the missionary to go out and find an apartment on their own. I am left thinking that the missionary in this story was waiting for a spot to open in an existing apartment, but I’m not sure exactly what the situation was.

I was just awestruck that the former missionary felt this couple who had taken her and her companion into their home– strangers to them, except for being fellow church members– had treated her so well that she felt like a princess. Either the couple who had offered hospitality are extraordinary people who weren’t aware of the concept of what missionary life is supposed to be like, or the missionary’s life at home was extraordinarily terrible. Bill happens to know something about this particular missionary’s home life. Indeed, he knows about it quite intimately. And he can attest that life at home was probably pretty horrible for her.

Still… hearing that story this morning really gobsmacked me. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of accounts from former LDS missionaries. I know that for a lot of them, the mission is pretty tough. It’s physically, emotionally, and mentally uncomfortable. Sometimes, it’s even dangerous. Sometimes missionaries come home with lifelong health issues related to their missions, or lose limbs or senses.

A number of missionaries have even died while serving. Some get sick with diseases like dysentery, or they become seriously ill because they don’t get adequate medical treatment. That tends to happen when the missionaries are in remote areas in developing countries. Some missionaries are victims of crimes. I remember in 2006, an “elder” (male missionary) from Utah was killed in Virginia when he and his companion stumbled across a criminal in the process of committing an offense. The criminal shot the missionaries, and one of them– Morgan Young– died, while the other was wounded.

Church members tend to regard those who die while serving a mission as somehow blessed– they had a special purpose that God needed them for in the Celestial Kingdom, or something. I remember, in particular, the missionary who died in Virginia, since that’s my home state and where I was living at the time of the death. His mother said her son had “died with his boots on”. Below is a quote from Gordon B. Hinckley, who was president of the LDS church when the missionary was murdered:

“I’m impressed with the thought that Elder Young has joined the ranks of a very select group who stand so very, very high in the estimate of God,” he said. “There is some special place and some special work for them to do under our Father’s plan.”

Some missionaries have accidents, which run the gamut from the garden variety car crash, to falling off cliffs while hiking, or even being mauled by animals. Many missionaries make it through the experience just fine, although some are left with emotional scars that haunt them. I’ve read a lot of stories by people who have been LDS missionaries and have left the experience worse for wear. But sometimes, the mission– as tough as it can be– is even better than being at home.

It’s not that different for Peace Corps Volunteers. Sometimes, PCVs die, have accidents, are victims of crimes, or contract exotic illnesses that affect them for the rest of their lives. I think that PCVs may have access to better healthcare. I know that they can be “medevacked” to the States or a western country for treatment, if it’s necessary. The LDS church, on the other hand, tends to do things as cheaply as possible. A lot of times, church members are tapped for help– donations of skills or material things, like a room in a house. So, say a church member is a doctor or a dentist. The church might call on that person to offer treatment for an ailing missionary free of charge, or at a much reduced rate. Sometimes people are glad to help, but other times, it’s an imposition.

I would think hosting two young women in a home, particularly since missionaries have to live by rather strict standards and rules, could be an imposition. I would not expect a missionary to be treated like royalty. But then, I also know that sometimes, just being treated with basic kindness, dignity, and respect when one has spent their whole lives being abused, can feel like royal treatment. So, knowing what we do about this situation, I guess I can understand why it felt like “princess treatment” for the missionary in question. She was getting treated like someone with value. And now, she wants to help others who are not being treated with value escape the morass, and get away from the bully who has victimized them for years.

It’s very satisfying to escape the toxic clutches of a bully. It’s even more satisfying to help someone else escape, and to help them realize that they can and should be treated with basic respect. But it’s absolutely mind blowing when someone describes being treated with dignity and decency as “the princess treatment”. I have no words for that. It’s possible that this missionary was really treated as if she was a princess, but I doubt it. I think being treated with warmth, friendliness, fairness, and love was so foreign and comforting to her that it felt like “the princess treatment”, much like a plate of bland vegetables or saltines tastes like the best food in the world to a starving person. It’s all about perspective.

Anyway… we hope we can help her take the bully down a notch. Maybe not with a literal baseball bat… but with something just as devastating and powerful. Time will tell.

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LDS, lessons learned, mental health, music

Turn it off!

Yesterday, after I finished my hated vacuuming chore, it was time for lunch. Bill had dressed for work, as he spent the morning teleworking and planned to go into the office for a few hours. We often have lunch together before he goes, and he was making me a sandwich. Just as he was about to bring it to me, he dropped some of it on the floor, which I had just dry vacuumed with the Dyson and cleaned with the Tineco wet/dry vacuum (a new toy I just bought).

“FUCK!” Bill yelled in a very annoyed tone of voice. “Goddammit! You just cleaned the floor! Shit!”

I don’t know why, but that little explosion of profanity just struck my funny bone so hard and I started laughing hysterically. Arran came up and cleaned the floor for me. He did a good job, too. You’d think I would have been upset about the mess and the cursing, but I actually think it’s hilarious when Bill swears. When I met him, he was a Mormon. Now he’s a heathen like me.

I asked Bill if his still devout Mormon daughter ever swears. He said no, when she feels like cussing, she starts thinking of Jesus or humming Mormon hymns. I remember hearing this the one time I met the girls. They said that whenever they have any “bad” thoughts, they sing a hymn. That supposedly squelches the “bad” impulse to use a word that some people had declared “naughty”. That brings to mind a song from The Book of Mormon, which rather brilliantly sums up how members of the LDS church “turn off” inappropriate or “bad” thoughts or impulses.

This song is so perfect… and so accurate.

Funny… I just watched the above performance of “Turn It Off” by this very talented group of young men. The song is often hilarious, yet it’s also so poignant on many levels. As they finished their number, I sat here with real tears in my eyes. I can just tell that a lot went into making this performance what it is– everything from the little movements as if they were “turning off” switches to the show stopping dance moves and solos. But the lyrics to this song are so very true for so many of us, but particularly those who are dealing with very difficult life situations that might cripple anyone else.

I remember years ago, reading a book about the late Karen Carpenter, who famously grew up in very close-knit and controlling circumstances. In every book or documentary I’ve seen about the Carpenters, I’ve heard that she had a very overbearing mother who was involved in everything Karen did. And one person who knew Karen had said that if she’d just let loose with a good “fuck you!”, maybe she wouldn’t have gotten so sick with anorexia nervosa, which ultimately led to her premature death at age 32.

Hell, I remember reading in that same book about how, after Karen made a self-titled solo album in 1979, she asked if she was allowed to swear. When she was granted permission, Karen reportedly gleefully said to the producer, Phil Ramone, “That album is fucking great!” Karen’s solo album had a disco song on it called “My Body Keeps Changing My Mind”, which is supposedly a big hit at gay bars. People go fucking nuts when it comes on. Why? Because Karen Carpenter, who was a study in putting out heartfelt, deeply emotional, very serious, and even sad songs was having fun. She was letting loose with something kind of ridiculous, and it was obviously something she enjoyed doing.

Someone cleverly set Karen’s song to clips of her when she was alive.

Unfortunately, Karen’s album never saw the light of day until 1996, when it was finally made available for sale. That was 13 years after her death. Her brother, Richard Carpenter, had been in rehab at The Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas (it’s since moved to Houston, Texas) for Quaalude abuse, while Karen was making her album. Richard had asked Karen not to do disco. He and the rest of the Carpenters’ handlers hadn’t liked Karen’s album, so they scrapped production of it. Maybe if they had let Karen spread her wings a bit– utter a few swear words and cut loose– she might not have become so ill. Or maybe she still would have. Unfortunately, the world will never know what might have happened. Still, I don’t think a hearty “fuck you” from Karen, particularly toward those who tried to squelch her authentic voice and control her, would have done her any harm.

Famed German psychiatrist, Hilde Bruch, wrote a book about anorexia nervosa called The Golden Cage. I think the idea of a “golden cage” is an excellent description of what it’s like to be oppressed, yet living in comfortable circumstances. The cage might be beautiful and comfortable– comprised of a mother’s love, an audience’s respect, or lots of money, but when it comes down to it, it’s still a cage. And while being physically comfortable is a very important part of enjoying life, being able to be one’s true self and cut loose a bit, without being pressured to “turn it off” and pretend, is a major stepping stone to true happiness. It takes a lot less effort to simply relax and be oneself, than be fake and constrained by convention, only doing what is socially acceptable and “correct”. But being too “free” can lead to some consequences, as well as lots of pressure to conform to the status quo.

I read Dr. Bruch’s book, The Golden Cage, many years ago. I wasn’t that impressed with the book, even at a time when I was fascinated by eating disorders. I found it a dull read, at best. However, I do think the title is excellent. It’s probably the best thing about the book, and I think it describes a lot of people who are kept from living their best lives because they are afraid to give up comfort and safety. The mortifying idea of upsetting the apple cart, or doing something embarrassing, “inappropriate”, or “offensive to God” keeps a lot of people from experiencing all they could… or should. Imagine what would happen if people simply allowed themselves to feel the bad things instead of crushing them down or numbing them with drugs, alcohol, or bullshit speak. I think we might have a lot more mentally healthy people and even more happiness.

In any case, I did laugh heartily at Bill’s profane outburst yesterday. I don’t always like it when he cuts loose with cursing. That will surprise some people, since I cuss like a sailor. But in my case, I don’t think it’s the cursing that bothers me as much as hearing him being angry. It reminds me of my dad.

I had a dream about my dad this morning… I dreamt I had decided to go to a nice hotel in my hometown (which probably doesn’t actually exist), sit in the bar, and drink. Then, I decided to stay the night. But I remembered thinking that I should call my dad to tell him and maybe even ask permission! Even in my dream, I knew that I shouldn’t have to ask permission. I remembered thinking to myself that I was a 48 year old woman, and if I wanted to stay the night, I could… and I didn’t have to have anyone’s approval. I even remember thinking that they were going to charge me for the room, anyway, so I didn’t have to go home (my parents’ home that I grew up in). My thrifty dad wouldn’t have wanted me to waste the money, either. Still, I was hesitant, even though the hotel was an oasis of mask free people enjoying life.

When I woke up, I realized that my dad is dead and I was in my own bed, and, when my dad was alive, I had actually said the word “fuck” in front of him. He almost knocked me into the next week when I did so, but that was also the time in which I told him that if he ever laid a finger on me again, I’d have him arrested. And I realized that I became a lot more contented when I started realizing that not being liked by everyone isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it’s freeing as hell not to have to worry about what other people think of me, even if I do sometimes fall back into that habit. I figure, if people don’t like me for who I am, they won’t like the fake version of me, either. And really, it’s not my problem if they don’t like me. It’s more their loss than mine… or, if you prefer, “it’s not me; it’s them.” As long as a person isn’t trying to be cruel or hateful or doing something obviously harmful to others, I think they should be allowed to be who they are, even if they cuss in the process. Being authentic is what makes people unique and interesting… and free.

Bill is one of the kindest, gentlest, most genuinely decent people I’ve ever known. He’s always a gentleman, and would never intentionally hurt anyone, unless it was a matter of life and death for himself or someone he loved. But even he sometimes has to go off with a little cussing spree. I’m glad that no one was ever able to turn him into someone who feels compelled to “turn it off” like a light switch. Or, if he ever did feel that way, he’s learned to break the switch.

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