... “It’s a common psychosis!”
At least according to Dr. Greta Pinder-Schloss, the absurd character within a character in the classic (and utterly delightful) 1991 movie The Addams Family. The false doctor explains to Gomez he is suffering an affliction called Displacement. Before his brother, Fester, disappeared decades earlier, Gomez betrayed him in matters of the heart. Now someone claiming to be Fester has returned and Gomez feels guilty about the manner of their parting. Dr. Pinder-Schloss explains to Gomez he has displaced the guilty feelings and identified his discomfort as mistrust for Fester instead.
In the movie, one unacknowledged source of uncomfortable feeling is overlooked in favor of an alternate (and ultimately inaccurate) explanation. If the displacement was allowed to persist unexamined, the mis-explained feelings could not resolve. In that case, actions based on the inaccurate explanation would likely cause misunderstanding, hurt, and prolong suffering for everyone involved. A great volume of fiction exists to explore this very phenomenon, The Addams Family just happens to be one of my favorite examples.
In the real world, this is also an unfortunately common occurrence. How many times have you seen someone act-out rashly in response to the reason they think someone did something before bothering to confirm their assumptions? It happens between strangers, it happens among family and friends, and it describes a lot of modern political rhetoric. Republican politicians have become quite well-known for accusing political rivals of horrific things like pedophilia while excusing actual, known acts of pedophilia perpetrated by fellow party members.
This is part of the problem with conservatism: if you're in it, you can't make mistakes. So if you do err, it better a) not have happened, or b) be someone else's fault. That leads easily to an awful lot of displacement. It also means it's impossible to learn from any failure or to grow in any way. It's also very difficult to actually solve any actual problems, which could explain why they keep manufacturing new problems to solve instead of tackling the ones that already actually exist.
I am personally committed to owning all my mistakes because they are part of me whether I acknowledge them or not. I would much rather be acquainted with all the parts of my self than expend the mental and emotional effort to pretend the pieces I'm not proud of don't exist. I also want to give myself the gift of being in-process. I don't have to have it all figured-out flawlessly because I'm still working on it. I'm continuously working on becoming a more whole and complete me. This practice doesn't mean I am free of all displacement tendencies, but at least I am more likely to recognize when it's happening.
In fact, this week I experienced an altogether different kind of displacement. Last week my partner and I were out of town visiting family. Mid-visit, my partner came down with Covid. We came home and they isolated in our bedroom, feeling awful. I took my still-packed suitcase to the office and set up camp with the guest bed situation. I made soups and teas and cared for my sweetie from a distance. Their illness and isolation are a challenge for them for obvious reasons. The whole experience has also been a challenge for me in ways I wasn't expecting.
I can't bedroom in my own bedroom. I can't bathroom in my own bathroom. I can't office in my office (as it has temporarily become my bedroom). Everyone else in the house has to reschedule their laundry since there is now a person sleeping above the (very loud) washer and dryer. We postponed our Xmas celebration a couple days, but my partner was still not fully recovered so they still had to open presents with us by video. And all the ordinary life things still need to occur, even though nothing can happen in an ordinary way.
I have been feeling displaced in my own home, and without my usual life anchors for support through the stress. That feeling seems to be going around. A lot of the people I talked to this week are experiencing upheaval. Some physical, unable to be in places they usually occupy. Some mental, unable to find solitary space in a house abnormally full of holiday visitors. Some emotional, unable to avoid reminders of prior painful moments amidst all the holiday traditions. It's a time ripe for displacement.
As of 2022 has been full of chaos, unknowns, and upheaval. As it comes to a close, please remember to take care of yourself. If you can resolve whatever displacement you may be experiencing by yourself or with support, please do. Give yourself the gift of starting the year running away from yourself a little less. Embrace wherever you are mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, professionally, and geographically. That's the first step. Then you can review it all and decide if and how you want to make adjustments for 2023 and future.
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I have many hobbies, activities, and practices I enjoy, but I don’t do all of them all year round. In the summer I like camping. I’m not excited about camping when it’s too wet or too cold, so that’s off my radar during early spring, late fall, and all of winter. I love sewing and baking, but they are inherently indoor activities so I get excited about them in fall and winter and pay them no mind during spring and summer when the outdoors is most inviting.
This week I took a martial arts class in a style new to me called White Crane Silat. The instructor offered a reminder to embrace the natural rhythm of what I’m seasonally drawn to and rest-in to those urges. It’s winter time right now and I feel drawn to slower, cozier activities. I don’t want to work at a break-neck pace, cramming in everything I can before the sudden economic marker of year-end. I’d rather wind-down gently and ooze across the date line into next year.
We don't all have the option to control the pace of our work, and we often cannot control the pace of our life, so it feels important to take advantage of whatever moments I am able to direct. The last few years I have closed my office for the final two weeks of the year. This began partly to ensure clients got their year-end questions to me long before December 31st, partly to ensure I could accomplish the necessary year-end tasks for my business, and partly to take time off for the holidays. This year I found myself wishing I had the whole month to hibernate.
Taking any time off as a self-employed person is not easy. It involves an obscene amount of planning and preparation. And even with all the out-of-office notifications and staff working on projects while I'm away, I still have to touch-in periodically if I'm gone more than a couple days. If I don't, I will return to an unscalable mountain of email and too many to-do's. And yet, it's still worth going through all the hassle of leaving and coming back to enjoy some time away.
I wish it was as possible to put the world on pause sometimes. We get close with societally synchronized holidays. When the majority of other people are also paying more attention to family and festivities than business, it lessens the occupational FOMO and makes checking-out of work a little less inconvenient for people like me. It's also a relic of a time when human society was more aligned with natural rhythms because we had to be. A time before we had widely available technology to overcome seasonal fluctuations of temperature, light, and food availability.
Today we can turn on the heat (or the AC) and drive ourselves to the grocery store where we can buy almost any fruit or veg or grain, no matter the season. Before we could adapt the world to our whims, we had to adapt ourselves to the seasonal flow of the world in order to survive it. This year I am appreciating the holiday season as a reminder of a deeper connection between humans and nature. If we can see past the sparkle and dazzle of capitalist holiday tradition, it would probably do us all some good to embrace a little more of the natural season than many of us generally do.
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I spend a lot of intentional time in the practice of being present. Through martial arts, in my relationships, and by staying abreast of current events in the news. I do this because I'm pretty keen on reality. I want to know what's really happening. Not what version filters through the lens of my traumas and insecurities, or what I assume is happening, or what someone else wants me to think is happening, but what actually is. I want to know and understand my internal landscape as well as my local communities and the broader world beyond.
Getting in touch with what's happening internally keeps me sane and feeling grounded. We are all offered near-non-stop messaging everywhere we go in modern society, and some of those messages are unhealthy or harmful. Some of those messages come from companies that want us to buy their products and services. Some of those messages are the expression of other people's trauma. No matter their form or origin, the messages themselves are so ubiquitous we don't even notice when some cling to us as we go about the business of our daily lives.
Taking some time to peer underneath all the layers of Extra is one way I get to know the me-ist me. As I identify what has attached itself to me I can examine it, acknowledge how it served me, and decided whether I need to keep that particular piece anymore. Then I can shed the unhelpful layers I picked up along the way and in their place I can grow new practices that promote my health, peace, and wellbeing in healthy and sustainable ways.
Keeping up with the world and looking under all its layers enables me to see how we got to where we are now and identify my role in perpetuating or changing aspects of it. I can't work against racism and misogyny if I don't know where it comes from or how it manifests. And that's very important work. It's critical for each of us to understand where those toxins seep through the cracks of our daily lives and lovingly plug the holes and fill the gaps to counteract the poison.
Another important practice is checking-out from time to time. This is something I frequently forget and struggle the most to make time for. Modern life is busy busy and full full. It's healing to go slow slow and rejuvenating to visit empty empty. It’s also nice to vacation from reality by visiting a fantasy world, like reading a good book or watching a good movie. It's important to have a balance, of course. Spending more time in Fantasy Land than you spend engaging in your real life might be a sign that something in your reality needs to shift.
Escaping from the real world to avoid processing unpleasant emotions or experiences is only ever a short-term strategy. No matter how long you delay, you will have to deal with whatever life throws at you eventually. And running from those things usually doesn't make them easier to sift through later. Sometimes allowing time and space gives you the chance to grow the skills or the spirit you need to confront the darkest of the demons that dwell in your dungeon. Other times it only serves to let it grow and fester into a tangled briar patch of pain and hurt.
Ultimately, no matter how much time you spend in an alternate reality or what your reasons are for escaping, you'll probably make it just fine as long as you can still tell the difference between when you're engaging reality and when you're indulging in fantasy. There are some companies that would like to profit from blurring those lines. A tech company called Pulse9 created virtual avatars using AI technology to form an 11-member K-pop called Eternity. And we've probably all heard of the "Metaverse" by now.
I don't want to be fully immersed in my entertainment or social media. I'd like to be transported through my imagination, but I still want to feel the earth beneath my feet while I'm standing. Even some of the fantasy places I like to visit can be too much like reality sometimes. I had to take a break after watching the first couple episodes of The Expanse. The future depicted in that series is a very plausible future reality for humanity, complete with all the inequality, inequity, and bigotry present in our current systems and institutions. I enjoyed both the TV series and the book series immensely, but it didn't count as an escape.
The same was true when I tried to watch The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It takes place in a more or less contemporary timeframe, but there are witches and magic layered on top. Unfortunately the story also includes some horrific misogyny in the halls of witchy power. There’s plenty of gross patriarchy bullshit in the real world, I don't need it in my fantasy as well. Sometimes I just want a story where femm humans exist and they have autonomy and agency that isn't under constant threat from the patriarchy or whatever other shitty problematic thing that assaults me every day in the real world.
This week I wanted to escape to the Land of Holiday Spirit. Sunday night I was already over the idea of work before the week even started. All I wanted to do was spend this week sewing, crafting, baking, watching Xmas movies, wrapping presents, and listening to Xmas audiobooks and Xmas music. I had deadlines so I worked anyway, but I didn't want to. I am fortunate enough to be able to take the next couple weeks away from work so I can swim in whatever waters my imagination creates. Then I can check back in to the real world a little more rested.
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A close shave
When I was in the 7th grade we read a short story wherein a man attempts to evade authorities for reasons I no longer remember. I do remember the man visits a barber shop to aid him in altering his appearance. The barber lathers up the man's face and begins shaving, just as the authorities enter the shop. Questions are asked and answered and by some lucky chance the fugitive's identity remains undiscovered. After the authorities are gone and the shave is complete, the barber asks "Was the shave close enough for you?" to which the fugitive replies "Yes, it was a very close shave."
Reading that story was how I learned a close shave is another way to describe a narrow escape. Like most people, I've had my fair share of close calls in my life. Some were brought on by my own choices, like the time I was too tired to drive but my companion was drunk so I did it anyway. I nodded off and came-to just in time to not drive off the road down a steep, tree-lined ravine. The resulting near-death adrenalin rush kept me wide awake for the rest of the ride home.
Other times the circumstances that accumulate into a near miss are firmly outside our control. Like this week's run-off election in Georgia that decided control of the US Senate. I definitely don't live in that jurisdiction, so all I could do was support from the sidelines with my fingers crossed. As soon as the results were in, a significant section of my soul unclenched. It is now much less likely Congress will pass super scary legislation. It's not a whole lot more likely we'll see terrific and helpful legislation, but it definitely feels like we narrowly avoided something much, much worse.
Avoiding potential calamity can be a highly effective serving of perspective from the universe. Or it can barely register amidst the everything we have to do in our pursuit of survival in a challenging world. I hope we all take this election as the lucky break it was and get down to the business of getting our collective shit together once we've had a good night sleep. “Let’s dance because we deserve it,” Senator-elect Raphael Warnock said the evening of his victory, “But tomorrow we go back into the valley to do the work.” Good advice.
When you almost lose someone you love, or when you miss death by an inch yourself, it's a palpable reminder that longevity is not guaranteed. We're all essentially living on borrowed time and we should at least try to make the most of it. In a sense, the same is true for this political moment in the US. We're on borrowed political time. I think it's fair to say we have been since the 2020 election. But somehow enough of us forgot what a near miss that was we almost let it slip in this midterm election.
We can't do that. We have too many real, big, important problems to solve. Like poverty and climate change. White supremacy and the threat of global nuclear war. Those things are not fixing themselves, and they only get worse if ignored or neglected. Even if you don’t want to classify the lack of red wave as a close call, the fact remains: we have only achieved the opportunity to do the work. A short six years after women were finally allowed to vote, Alice Dunbar-Nelson offered this same clarity of position in a piece called “The Negro Woman and the Ballot" published in The Messenger:
Of course we know it didn't work like that. Winning the right to participate in the electoral and political system doesn't in itself solve any of the problems plaguing citizens. That was true in 1927 and it's true today. We have to use our newly won power and position to make things happen. It's not enough to have the opportunity to fight another day, we have to do the fighting. As Lewis & Clark law professor Michele Okoh so poignantly stated in a presentation on implicit bias this week “laws don’t enforce themselves.”
When I narrowly avoid catastrophe, I take a moment to appreciate what didn't come to pass. Even when the stakes are relatively low, like almost locking my keys in the car or almost forgetting my print-at-home tickets to the theater. However monumental or mundane, each near miss is impactful because it's a chance to try again but do it differently. It's not every day we get a do-over in life. We should not waste any second chances. And our elected officials shouldn't either. Your move, Congress.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.