As we were driving on a highway surrounded by woods and trees, we saw someone in the car ahead of us throw a lit cigarette into the woods…..A metaphor of how out of touch we are with the safety of others, and the protection of beauty.
I gained enormous respect for Speaker John Boehner in these last days. During Boehner’s recent interview with John Dickerson, who has replaced Bob Schieffer as the new host of Face the Nation, he told the truth about the rabid right wing who is harming his Party and our country through lies and distortion. Boehner became a profile of courage in my eyes. John Dickerson’s mother, Nancy Dickerson, was the first woman correspondent for CBS News. She was also an associate producer of Face the Nation, including the very first broadcast of the show in 1954. I knew her when I worked for the Washington Bureau of CBS News. She was a true pioneer, and no one worked harder. Nancy would be so proud of her son! Her book. Among Those Present, published in 1976, is a fascinating read. John Dickerson’s book about her, On Her Trail, published in 2006, is also a truthful and marvelous read. In a 2006 interview with TIME, Dickerson said about his mother, “I owe her more gratitude than I every expressed and more sympathy than I ever demonstrated.” John Dickerson, who grew up in DC at Merrywood, the former home of Jackie and Lee Bouvier, is the political director for CBS News and chief political correspondent for Slate magazine. He is a grad of DC’s Sidwell Friends.
Even before my training as a therapist, I was intrigued by what makes people do and say what we do and say, and why others react as they do to what is done and said. The entrance and appeal of Donald Trump as a seriously considered candidate for the highest office of our land has added grist to this thought mill. How has a grandiose entertainer with the strongest possible killer instinct evolved into a candidate many voters and members of the media are taking seriously?
Yes, of course, we are well acquainted with ugliness in our elections, but the past weeks have brought a new brand of low, one many relish. How and why have cruelty, name-calling, clownish antics, and vicious attacks become acceptable?
Several years ago, concerned about the high percentage of mental health professionals who leave our field after arduous study and preparation, I began to do research and publish on the specifics of burnout and why one becomes vulnerable to its impact. Burnout is a condition brought on by emotional and physical overload due to events outside of our control. It develops through the impact of other lives and circumstances that overwhelm us, depriving us of rational direction, empathy toward others, and submerging us in negativity and feelings of hopelessness. Anyone can be vulnerable.
I see this as the state of being Pope Francis referred to on his first papal visit outside of Rome in 2013. The Pope rode a small boat in the Mediterranean in order to lay a wreath where many migrants drowned on route to seeking refuse in Europe. In the Pontiff’s words: “We have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others.”
The German-born American psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger, first identified the state of burnout in 1974. Fruedenberger chose the word burnout through its definition in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “To fail, to wear out, or become exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources.” According to Freudenberger when we are burned out, we become increasingly “inoperative.” In 1993 Christina Maslach, an American social psychologist, further defined burnout as having three chief components: 1) emotional exhaustion leading to an inability to feel compassion for others, 2) depersonalization leading to detachment from the emotional needs of others, 3) lack of feeling of personal accomplishments leading to a critical evaluation of oneself.
The appeal of the Trump candidacy has shown me that burnout has reached a societal level. Our ethnic, racial, cultural and social transformations, ones unimaginable just a decade ago, have led to complex divisions and uncertainty among us. These differences have overwhelmed and enraged us, leaving us worn out and detached from the emotional needs of our fellow human beings.
To mention just a few examples of dramatic societal changes: We now have acceptance of not only same sex unions, but same sex marriage. There is acceptance of birthing and adopting children in myriad family settings. Our population is older. There are more Asian and Hispanic families. Multiracial identities have grown in importance. Futures for our young and their parents are less insured. More families, by choice or necessity, live under one roof. There are sexual choice options, and there is sexual identity confusion. Add to this our fear of another attack akin to 9/11 and strong differences about “political correctness,” which has both brought relief and caused resentment.
Those vulnerable to burnout or already in its clutches long to escape their feelings of trapped helplessness resulting in simmering rage through any means that offer relief. This, of course, includes entertainment and diversion, especially if these options provide an outlet for anger and opportunity to avoid confronting problems head on by attacking, demeaning, ridiculing, and scape-goating others. Yes, you know my next sentence: Enter a skilled manipulator, who well understands how to keep people pitted against each other in order to consolidate his own power. The timing is impeccable.
Surely Donald Trump is the opposite of the quality of leadership American is crying for – a candidate who can unite us and help us view differences as an opportunity for growth and union. The diet of mean spirited divide, conquer, attack antics Donald Trump has offered does offer diversion, but it is sick diversion, not even up to standards of a Big Top performer, much less a White House contender.
A few days ago I returned from a wonderful family celebration, feeling so blessed and fortunate. Today as I was running errands between appointments I passed a woman. I have passed her before. She is a prostitute who had once been married to someone in my former husband’s law school class. She is a few years younger than I am. I remember how pretty and young and vibrant she used to be. Now, her face is painted with rouge, her lipstick is messy and her mascara thick. She is horribly thin; she looks so sad and painted and ill. She and I were neighbors in the first apartment building that was my home in Philadelphia. It was the building where two of my children (before my present marriage) returned to following their birth.
Her son is about two years younger than the first child I gave birth to, my daughter. I remember that the woman, whom I will call Devora, never went into maternity clothes. She was so proud that she just went up two sizes in what she called “regular clothes.” I once invited Devora and her husband and her to dinner with my first husband and me when I was pregnant. I should have realized that something was terribly wrong. She was also pregnant, but was still in her lovely clothes, when she told me: “If I looked as fat as you I would kill myself.” I decided that she was just joking, and that being thin and beautiful was just more important to her than it ever was to me. Of course, we had nothing in common, and our lives diverged in almost every way.
But her son and my daughter were in school together, and so I would see her, always looking so stunning. But at sometime during or immediately after our kids graduated from high school, she and her husband separated; and soon after he was with a gorgeous younger woman, and they had a baby. And Devora turned to the streets. I am told that her former husband and his wife moved, and that her children no longer live here either. For them to see her this way would be horrible. Sometimes when I have seen Devora I have asked her if I can buy her lunch or if she needs anything I could perhaps give her. She whispers “no” and keeps walking. Sometimes she just stares at me. Sometimes she faintly smiles. Once in a while I see her on the arm of a man. Today when I saw her my eyes misted. She kept on walking and so did I.
I have just completed a brilliant article, “What Makes A Woman?” written by journalist, former professor of women’s studies, and documentary filmmaker, Elinor Burkett (The New York Times, Sunday Review, June 7th). Her words, which described strong differences between feminists and transgender activists, helped me clarify why, though I wish Caitlyn Jenner every happiness, something about her words and the coverage of her life altering transition, has left me uncomfortable. As everyone knows Caitlyn’s emergence is one brimming over with sexual appeal. She has said again and again that from childhood on she wanted to wear women’s clothing. But, as Elinor Burkett has clearly pointed out, Caitlyn has not gone through life as a woman: it is the combination of our inner world, the opportunities and challenges life has offered us, and how we have met these that makes a woman. It is not surgery, or extraordinary lighting and sensual clothing. Further, and these are my thoughts, Caitlyn, even before her transition, has ever lived in the public eye, and will continue to. Exhibitionism is the trademark of her Kardashian family, and she will soon be off to her own reality show. No doubt, this show will attract millions of viewers and make her even wealthier. However, a life of relentless exhibitionism makes one an actor — a performer — not a true human being. Although her financial perks will continue to be extraordinary and public adoration from those who do not know will continue, this way of living does not offer a real life and the chance to grow emotionally and truly come to terms with adulthood.
Through the ages women have fought hard for academic and opportunities. We have worked so hard and fought so many battles that often we no longer even remember them, unless they are called to our attention. Even our own daughters will never completely understand the intensity of our fight for opportunity, where we are seen as true professionals and not office sex objects, there to spice things up, stimulate male thinking power, bring them coffee and order flowers for their wives, mistresses, girlfriends. The world of opportunity of our young adult daughters is so vastly different than ours was that they can never know all we gave and sacrificed to bring this change. There were so many struggles, dangers, indignities — addressed brilliantly in the article. We even had to fight to have our husbands with us in the delivery room when our children were born. We had to fight to reform divorce laws and to educate clergy that prayer alone will not end domestic violence. And this struggle continues: Hillary Clinton and other women in political office know that others will be upset and angry if they talk too much about all they have accomplished. Yes, even today If women express opinions that threaten men in our professional worlds, the fall out can be horrific. Also, sexual abuse on an emotional level remains a huge problem for those who must earn a living, not to mention in relationships many feel they cannot leave.
On a couple of occasions I have had my photo taken for magazines, both locally and nationally. I cannot begin to tell you the hours spent on correct lighting, makeup and clothing. For me this experience was a total waste of time, and I can assure you that without this talent you look very different. When my photo for my next book was taken, I chose a wonderful photo-journalist Sharon Wohlmuth. Sharon sees her clients in her home or theirs, and uses only natural light, which she calls G-d’s light. The whole experience took 20 minutes, and we talked and shared honestly the whole time. It was enriching.
Caitlyn Jenner has been a man who longs to be a woman. Her struggle is noteworthy, and yes, I think she is very brave. But for her to really understand what makes a woman, she will need to leave her stage and join the real world to see how it really is to live and struggle as a woman. The best makeup, the most sensual clothing, and even Annie Leibowitz will not be able to do this for her.
This morning I saw Blythe Danner interviewed on Morning Joe about her new film, “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” also featuring Sam Elliott, Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place, June Squibb and Martin Starr., and directed by a young and insightful Brett Haley. The film is about a woman in her 70s (Danner is 72) who has lived and suffered loss — and is real and fun as well as deep, down to earth and independent. Primarily a stage actor, Danner’s beauty and graciousness were shining throughout this interview. The film seems like a must see for all ages, and I will. From this interview and reviews, those who are young will see that growing older should be an adventure; those Danner’s age and older will be inspired; those in-between will smile, understanding the magic potential in endurance. = Like her character, Carol, who has been widowed for 20 years, Danner, who was married to director Bruce Paltrow, has been widowed for 12. Of course you know who her daughter is, a daughter who seems very different than her mom and would be wise to learn some life-lessons from her!
I am in DC as my youngest daughter hurt her back badly and cannot lift her 11 month old or get to work. My youngest grandbaby is a love, and it is wonderful to care for her and forget about everything else for a while. That said, even after over 35 years, I really do not like being away from my husband. Perhaps we take none of our good fortune for granted because ours is a second marriage, and we well know that hard work is not enough to bring one love and respect.
Surprised at how deeply I am affected by the deaths of John and Alicia Nash and Anne Meara. How very, very sad. Their two sons must be in shock and suffering an enormous loss. Until reading the obit I had no idea that Dr. Nash had a son from a former relationship of. Each son is named after him. There is a very important lesson here. The Nash’s were retuning from a conference abroad, where Dr. Nash was honored. I am sure they were exhausted after a long flight home. One can feel lulled into safety when returning home in a taxi. But we must all remember seat belts, even when they feel like a nuisance or intrusion.
I remember as a child seeing the comedy duo, Anne Meara and her husband, Jerry Stiller, perform on the Ed Sullivan show. Most do not know that Ms. Meara coverted to Judaism. In their early years they portrayed what was so unlikely at the time, a lovely Catholic young woman falling in love with and marrying a Jewish man, who had an appealing personality, but was short and surely not handsome. I remember one segment that stayed with me: Jerry Stiller played a salesman in a shoe store, and Anne Meara was a very nervous, self conscious shopper. She was ashamed to show him that one of her feet was extraordinarily large, much larger than the other. And then the salesman showed her that he, also, had the same foot challenge. And there they were, two who felt like outcasts, determined to live a beautiful life together.
I am thrilled to have written an upcoming book on burnout and self-care that will be available this summer. This is a subject I care deeply about, as burnout can impact severely on all of us, whatever our work, inside or outside of our home.
And I am thrilled to be beginning a new website where for the first time I will be offering thoughts, not blogs or articles……just thoughts.
I want to start by telling you that although I am excited about an upcoming webinar on the subject of my book, which is taking place soon, on June 2nd, this is my first webinar. I will be talking to a blank screen (my computer) for 90 minutes. I am not nervous about speaking to people, or teaching, but I will not be able to see those who signed up for the webinar. I was going to tape photos on my screen, but then I will not see my slides. So I plan to put photos around me, and this way it will feel like I really am talking to people…..