Thursday, December 3, 2015

What do I do with all this rage?

People of color have a lot to be angry about. After an anti-racism talk on campus, a young Black man asked, "What do I do with all this rage?"

Tim Wise, a White guy who speaks and writes about racism and social justice, recently spoke at California State University, Northridge and I wrote all these gems down to share...
"White folks have the luxury to not know the experience of people of color. It's a systemic problem - White people are not supposed to know - they are being kept from the truth. That is White privilege - being oblivious. The problem is when we see it and refuse to learn or do something about it." 
"It's a privilege to be oblivious. People of color are taking that privilege away." 
"For anyone who asks, 'why are black folks so angry at the police?' I wonder, 'what world do you live in that you have to ask that question?' What kind of education did you get?" 
"the history of law enforcement is traced back to oppression. it was cops that pulled people of color off restaurant stools to enforce White man segregation." 
"The zoot suit riots are another example of oppression by law enforcement. If you don't know about it then google that shit." 
"Its a privilege to be blind to the consequence of the Black & Brown experience with law enforcement." 
"Half of all White people (in a Gallup Poll survey) refuse to believe that people of color are worse off than them in every category of well-being." 
"Black college grads are 2 times more likely to be out of work than White college grads - black engineers vs. white engineers, black psychology grads vs. white psychology grads. This debunks the nonsense about reverse discrimination." 
"There are 6 people who own Wal-Mart and they have the same amount of wealth as 27 million people (40% of the poorest folks)." Wealth shared by 6 vs. wealth divided between 27 million. 
"What I'm saying is not racist, just descriptive." 
"Are you on the blue pill or the red pill?" (The Matrix movie reference about taking the blue pill to close your eyes to reality or dive into the truth.) 
"Be humble enough to acknowledge that you've been misled and learn the truth to overcome White privilege." 
"White people said, "All men are created equal" and didn't mean that shit."
"When we say, 'Black lives matter," we are just trying to reclaim what has consistently been denied." 
"Your people came to the US for the same damn reason as everybody else - for reasons like food and they felt they had no choice. Nobody likes to move."

According to Gallup poll, 50% of White people don't believe that people of color are worse off in terms of employment, housing, health access, etc. Good for you if you get it. 50% of white people dont get it. So it has got to be said. If I am preaching to the choir, then just say amen, sister. If you are White today, then you are privileged. Just like men walk around privileged not to worry about rape culture. White parents don't have to statistically, realistically worry on a daily basis that their unarmed son will be shot by police. That's what Tim Wise means by White privilege. If your son gets caught with marijuana then he is far less likely to be arrested or jailed than if he was black and caught with marijuana. That's what it means to have White privilege today.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Coming Clean in "The Truth"

The same guy who wrote "The Game" (the bible about picking up women based on his research and experiences) is the same guy who just wrote "The Truth." Neil Strauss realized that after seducing many women, he didn't know how to have a relationship with the one woman he loved. It's a hella full circle story and all about family trauma and overcoming it by becoming whole. I pray that it outsells his last bestseller. Everybody would benefit from reading it. 

It appears that men in this society don't have consistent or reliable rituals, mentors or venues for learning to become grown up men.  As a consequence men may walk around not knowing how to become grown ups. My friend Iris joked, "they should google that shit." If you google, "in this society, how does a male become an adult man?" then I hope "The Truth" is the first hit.

Strauss participates in rehab for sex/love addiction and gains some insights about how his relationship to his mother gets in the way of his other relationships (especially with women) and about being love avoidant in his relationship attachment style. He also signs up for Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), Somatic Experiencing (SE), Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and other modes of treatment. If men around the world adopted his techniques for seducing women because of "The Game," then I hope that men around the world adopt these techniques for treating trauma because of reading "The Truth."

Caveat: the middle part of the book may be too raw and dark for some. Strauss goes to the extreme of his darkness to come out the other side to light. I suppose that what may be considered "dark" is subjective - some may wince by his emotional honesty and others may bristle at his sexual explicitness. Regardless, it's worth the adventurous trip because the love relationship he is able to have after those lessons learned is honest and joyful.

I am fascinated by books written by journalists/non-fiction writers - Malcolm Gladwell, Jon Krakauer, Dave Cullen and now Neil Strauss. I suspect I will marry a journalist/writer and we will read/write together - telling good stories that are important. It's a happy dream.

Here are some gems from Strauss' new book:
"Functional parenting is the secret to world peace. And the only way to make functional parents is to heal psychological wounds with the same urgency that we heal physical wounds."  
"Even when we see the truth, trauma still prevents us from reaching it, like a rockslide blocking the road to our future...Do you see how strong this is? How trauma can destroy individuals and nations and generations?" 
"I'm beyond good and bad. I just am." 
"Find that voice and listen to it." 
"I'm reparenting myself." 
"Live in truth without fear or guilt." 
"In life, we are born innocent and pure, beautiful and honest, and in a state of oneness with each moment. As we develop, however, our caregivers and others load us with baggage. Some of us keep accumulating more and more baggage until we become burdened by all the weight, trapped in beliefs and behaviors that keep us stuck. But the true purpose of life is to divest yourself of that baggage and become light and pure again. You've been searching for freedom this whole time. That is true freedom." 
"Love is when hearts build a safe emotional, mental, and spiritual home that will stand strong no matter how much anyone changes on the inside or outside and expects only one thing: that each person be his or her own true self. Everything else we attach to love is just personal strategy for trying to manage our anxiety about coming so close to something so powerful and uncontrollable."

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My PhD Diploma

legit since 3/20/2015 :)

My Mentor, Jolene


"Everybody has to emotionally emancipate from parents in order to be an adult. In order to be a leader, you have to be an adult." 
--Jolene Swain, director of field education at CSUN, social worker & documentary filmmaker of "No Greater Bond: a mother's influence on manhood. Letting go is loving more." Jolene has been my mentor since 1992.

Jolene Swain speaks to my macro social work class about leadership and parenting.

My mentors drop pearls of wisdom.  Here are some of Jolene's:

  •  "It's the healthy person that asks for help."
  • "You don't know everything. Why do you need to know everything?"
  • "It's easy to follow the group. It's difficult to stand alone."
  • "The mentee chooses the mentor."
  • "Confrontation doesn't have to be negative. Have your say. Deal with it or it grows."
  •  "Know what soothes you vs. looking for someone to take care of you."
  • "Be able to contain and bind your own anxiety."
  • "If you learned it then you can unlearn it and learn something new."
  • Talking about her son: "in order for him to be happy, I have to let him go."
  • "My ultimate joy is to see my son live his life."

Monday, October 26, 2015

Steve, I believe!

Mental Health Treatment

I'm re-reading his biography and I can't put it down. It feels like Steve Jobs is my new and annoying boyfriend. I am by turns enthralled and irritated, repulsed and charmed, inspired and disappointed. It's a rocky romance.

He was clearly a brilliant visionary (duh) but it makes me wonder what could be if brilliant people with mental illness, like him, received treatment.  Mental illness goes way, way back but even in 2015 treatment carries stigma.  People with mental illness, and the people who work with and love them, suffer needlessly when treatment is refused.

Personally, I'm a fan of traditional and Western medicine - in combo - for everything. When Steve got cancer - he didn't feel ashamed to get treatment. Part of our problem is that we artificially separate the mind and body. They are inextricably linked. Why is the body privileged for treatment but the mind is not? Especially considering that trauma is stored in the body! No artificial separation. It's all the same. Heart disease is a predictor of depression and depression is a predictor of heart disease. It's all connected.

Believe
"I was very lucky, because when I was a kid both my dad and the Heathkits [assemble-it-yourself kits for making ham radios] made me believe I could build anything (p. 16)."
Establish self-efficacy while they're young. Self-efficacy is defined as one's belief in one's ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task.
"'It's kind of fun to do the impossible,' Walt Disney once said (p. 284)."
If we're not having fun, then what's the point?
"Jobs said he would provide the money. 'I believed in what John [Lasseter of Pixar] was doing,' he later said. 'It was art. He cared, and I cared. I always said yes'...By this point Jobs had poured close to $50 million of his own money into Pixar - more than half of what he had pocketed when he cashed out of Apple - and he was still losing at NeXT (p. 248)."
Jobs put his money into the people and projects that he valued. Who and what do you value?
"The quote he chose was from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.  After Alice laments that no matter how hard she tries she can't believe impossible things, the White Queen retorts, 'Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.' Especially from the front rows [NeXT employees and former members of the Macintosh team], there was a roar of knowing laughter (p. 235)."
That's a good morning indeed.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lessons from Steve Jobs

I just saw the movie, Steve Jobs.  Before that, I saw the documentary about Steve Jobs.  Before that, I read the biography about Steve Jobs.  I'm reading it again now.

There are sooo many lessons.  My brain wants to explode.  I'm writing them down as a way of protecting my brain from total destruction.

Walking & Talking
"Taking a long walk was his preferred way to have a serious conversation" (Isaacson, 2011, p. xvii)
When friends want to talk about work or relationship problems, I invite them for a 3 mile walk around the Rose Bowl. I no longer agree to talk over lunch. At the end of the walk, we both feel better. It's like the trees and wind and earth have absorbed the energy they were dying to release. We both feel cleaner.

I provide clinical supervision to counselors and therapists at mental health and family agencies. This means we talk about the problems they are having in their work with clients, families and agency staff.  It can mean a lot of sitting and listening and absorbing problem energy.  So I take it outside and we walk around the neighborhood to talk.  Again, I find that we both feel better.  So much better that I encourage them to do the same on home visits with clients.  The literature supports the benefits of outdoor exercise for mood problems.  It makes sense but I can get you the references if needed.

Acceptance & Integrity

Job's official biographer, Walter Isaacson, points out that he agreed to write the book because Jobs ceded control over it saying:
"I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of...but I don't have any skeletons in my closet that can't be allowed out" (p. xix-xx). 
Isaacson confirms that Jobs "didn't seek any control over what I wrote, or even ask to read it in advance" (p. xx). Isaacson writes,
"[Jobs'] wife also did not request any restrictions or control, nor did she ask to see in advance what I would publish.  In fact she strongly encouraged me to be honest about his failings as well as his strengths. She is one of the smartest and most grounded people I have ever met.  'There are parts of his personality that are extremely messy, and that's the truth,' she told me early on.  'You shouldn't whitewash it.  He's good at spin, but he also has a remarkable story, and I'd like to see that it's all told truthfully'" (p. xx).
I am old enough not to do anything I'd be ashamed of other people knowing about. Also, I'm old enough to accept whatever I've done (no matter what it is) and not be ashamed. This is self-acceptance and protection from being manipulated.  No one can blackmail or shame you (emotionally, financially or otherwise) if you're not ashamed of the pictures, videos, text messages or other forms of evidence of your past behavior. :)

We are made up of shadow and light.  That's what makes us human.  Our ability to integrate the shadow and light is what makes us whole.  Amen.

I'm just getting started. I haven't even posted about the whole number pages from the book yet...

Monday, October 19, 2015

Cultural Humility vs. Cultural Competence

I'm prepping for a macro social work lecture and came across a movement away from "cultural competence" in cross-cultural practice to a practice of "cultural humility."

In short, cultural competence can be described as...
  • Interrelated actions, thoughts, and even policies that are joined within a system or organization to facilitate effective cross cultural work.
  • NASW recognizes it as both a process and product that includes self-awareness and respect for diversity and effective practice behaviors.
  • A process of growth that includes practitioner and agency awareness, knowledge and skills.
In turn, cultural humility is presented as...
  • Increasing knowledge and skills accompanied by ongoing self-evaluative processes and relationship building
  • Does not suggest one can master everything about culture
  • Suggests an on-going process that includes:
    • continual commitment to learning and self-reflection, to altering the power imbalances in the interactions between helping professionals and service consumers, and to developing collaborative and equitable relationships with community members.
The change from cultural competence to cultural humility is being sparked by questions like...
  1. Is the goal in cross-cultural practice learning from clients or knowing about clients?
  2. Aren't descriptions of difference by definition stereotypical and potentially overlook the uniqueness of each individual?
  3. Doesn't the ethical value of self-determination risk being undermined by a focus on the group?
  4. Can competence ever be achieved? (due to the lack of clarity of definition and the numerous unique combinations that comprise individual identities)
From Social Work Macro Practice by Netting, Kettner, McMurtry & Thomas

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

I was lucky enough to see this documentary but it was gone from the theater before I could take my daughter to see it.

Among many wonderful stories in the film, there was this one that choked me up with recognition and resonance.  A former member of the Black Panthers describes a 1970s shoot out with LAPD at the Black Panther Headquarters on Central and 41st.  He looks right into the camera with intensity and emotion and said that experience felt like being "free." He said he felt like a "free Negro" in that moment.  

I can totally dig it, brother. The feeling of taking the risk, standing up, not backing down, pushing back, making your own choices. Fuck yes. Freedom.

From the Black Panther 10-point plan:
"...3. We Want Decent Housing Fit For The Shelter Of Human Beings. 
4. We Want Education For Our People...We Want Education That Teaches Us Our True History and Our Role In The Present-Day Society...
7. We Want An Immediate End To Police Brutality And Murder Of Black People...
10. We Want Land, Bread, Housing, Education, Clothing, Justice And Peace." 

Doesn't it seem tragic that these demands sound like basic, simple human rights? And doesn't it seem even more tragic that we still aren't there yet?

Little Pearls I Found While Grading Papers

Grading Papers last week, I stumbled upon these pearls...

Vulnerability of Low-Income Women
  • "Dolores Huerta recalls, 'Harassment was part of the job, so to speak. Women are looked at as sex objects when they’re out there in the field. Sexual harassment is an epidemic in the fields, and it again goes back to the vulnerability that women have, that farmworker women have' (Public Broadcasting Service, 2013)."
Mass Incarceration
  • "Mass incarceration is a form of segregated social control that is all too similar to the Jim Crow laws (Alexander, 2012, p.24)...Limited benefits, limited rights, but full-access to the likelihood of re-arrest. Mass incarceration is a web of policies, laws, social views, and establishments that work together to keep people, who are largely defined by race, in a permanent state of social exclusion (Alexander, 2012, p. 49, p. 52)."
  • "The United States now leads the world with the highest incarceration rates per capita, with 2.2 million of its population currently incarcerated (Racial Disparity, 2015)."
Homelessness
  • "Chronic mental health disorders are one of the leading causes of homelessness and people who are living with untreated mental health disorders make up one third of the estimated 744,000 homeless population in the United States. (Martin, 2015)."
  • "According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, data collected in 2015 reports the homeless count in Los Angeles County is a shocking 44,359. Of that data, 31,018 are unsheltered versus 13,341 who are sheltered. Among this population of homeless are people 12,25 are living with a mental illness."
Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC)
  • "...United States has the highest number of servers hosting child abuse material and young people are frequent users of video chat platforms like Instagram, Facetime, Skype, Snapchat, Kik, and Twitter. This action is being exploited by people using “sextortion” methods. “Sextortion” is the term for the process by which young people are coerced into continuing to produce lewd material by the threat of exposure."
  • "In 2013, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (2015) determined that '68% of all sex trafficking victims were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran' ."
  • "The Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation states that one in three girls are tricked into prostitution by pimps within 48 to 72 hours of running away from home...demand creates supply and commercially sexually exploited children would not exist if the demand for them wasn't so high. The children who are most susceptible to this type of exploitation are minority children residing in large urban areas (Estes & Weiner, 2001)."
  • "Children who have experienced some sort of maltreatment in their home environment and have been involved with Child Protective Services are also flowing into the juvenile justice system (Sickmund, 2014)."
  • "It is estimated that 200,000 to 300,000 occurrences of sexual exploitation or child prostitution take place in the U.S. every year (Hardy et al., 2013)...Children are more likely to be arrested for prostitution than those who solicit or exploit them (FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 2014)...California Against Slavery is a non-profit, non-partisan human rights organization that is devoted to making human trafficking the riskiest criminal business in the state of California."
Deaf Community
  • "The systematic oppression of D/deaf people is called audism...the notion that one is superior based on one's ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears (Harrington & Jacobi, 2009)...While the Deaf have and prefer to use American Sign Language, they are often forbidden and forced to learn the oral method, or oralism."
Transwomen
  • "One study of 500 transwomen found elevated rates of stigma against transwomen. This stigma lead to reduced social support, barriers to educational attainment, and employment discrimination...The unemployment rate of the trans-population is twice that of the state average here in California (Fletcher et al., 2014)."
Teachers
  • "In 2011, Drury and Baer findings showed that teachers list supportive and knowledgeable colleagues/mentors as on of the most significant factors that help them teach." 

Grading Papers

I'm teaching macro social work this semester and just read a stack of papers about social problems.  I learned so much that I just have to share...

Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC)
  • In the U.S., human trafficking is a 32 billion dollar industry and is estimated to involve over 100,000 children (CA Child Welfare Council, 2012)
  • Trafficking involves the recruitment, harboring, provision, or transportation of a person for forced labor or services through force, fraud or coercion (Ijadi-Maghsoodi et al., 2014)
  • Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) is closely related to sex trafficking and it involves crimes of a sexual nature committed against juvenile victims for financial or other economic reason.  These crimes include trafficking for sexual purposes, prostitution, sex tourism, mail-ordered-bride trade, early marriage, pornography, stripping and performing in sexual venues such as peep shows or clubs (Greenbaum et al., 2015)
  • There are 13 high intensity CSEC areas in the US identified by the FBI, three of the areas are in CA including, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles. In all of the CA cities, more than 75% of the CSEC had prior or current involvement with the Child Welfare System (CA Child Welfare Council, 2012).
Domestic/Interpersonal Violence
  • According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is defined as willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated against one intimate partner on another.
  • Abuse may include threats, harm, injury, harassment, control, terrorism, or damage to living being or property (McCue, 2007)
  • Domestic violence is defined as any incident of threatening behavior, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners, regardless of gender or sexuality (Baird, 2011)
  • A variety of tactics are used to maintain power and control, including verbal abuse, minimizing, denial and blame, intimidation, coercion, threats, isolation and using children (Gaines, 2008)
  • In most cases, perpetrators initiate violence through emotional and psychological abuse; they will also isolate their victims from friends and family and in some cases they appear charismatic, responsible and educated.  They become in control of the victim and the family unity.  Perpetrators become increasingly violent when they feel they are losing control over the victim or if the victim begins to reach out to family and friends for support (Ingram, 2007)
  • On 10/2/15, the LA Times posted an article that read, "Sheriff's deputies in the high desert have been known for a harsh brand of policing that singles out blacks and Latinos..."
  • The definition of Teen Dating Violence used by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the following:  the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and might occur between a current or former dating partner.
  • Domestic violence is a public health emergency that affects 1 to 4 million women in the US each year and is responsible for approximately 30% of female murders (Dioloreto, 2001)
Childhood Obesity
  • Latinos have represented the largest at-risk group in the community of children with obesity and consequent chronic illness (Ogden & Carroll, 2010)
  • In Los Angeles, 40% of the Latino children are overweight or obese (DMH, 2010)
  • According to the American Heart Association, nearly 20% of Latino preschoolers are overweight.
Arts Education in Public Schools
  • "We have decimated arts education in this district, and access to arts education has really become not a right, but a privilege for the affluent or the lucky." --Steve Zimmer, LAUSD school board member (Plummer, 2015)
  • Political, societal values, and economic factors have manifested an 'educational apartheid' in which low-socioeconomic and minority students 'are systematically denied exposure to subjects' which has created less capable and competent urban students when compared to more affluent students (Heilig et al., 2010)
  • If the youth of the community have not experienced arts education they are unlikely to have the capacity to create art that is representative of the community's culture.  A population that does not have the knowledge or ability to express itself through its own lens may fall victim to the dominant cultures representation of their community. Therefore, without portraying their community accurately, those within the community may come to identify with the negative dominant portrayal of their community, creating a lack of pride and ownership within community members.
  • Art has the potential to connect students to their inherent human ability to create.  This connection fosters an interest in education and numerous studies have shown art has the capacity to increase the development of the imagination, create greater motivation to learn, lower dropout rates and increase social skills (Melnick, Witmer & Strickland, 2011)
HIV among Latinas in Los Angeles County
  • According to the Los Angeles County of Public Health, the annual HIV surveillance report in 2011 shows that Latinos represented 47% of those newly diagnosed with HIV
  • Among the newly diagnosed HIV cases in Los Angeles County in 2011, 186 were female and 47% of these newly diagnosed cases were females who identify as Latina.
  • The annual HIV surveillance report shows that 80% of Latinas living with HIV reported contracting the virus through heterosexual contact.
  • Despite the fact that Latinas are the females most impacted by HIV in Los Angeles County, research has shown that Latinas are reporting low-risk sexual and drug using behavior compared to their non-Latina counterparts and that other factors, such as their sexual partners may be contributing to their high rate of positive diagnosis (Wohl et al., 2010).

Monday, October 12, 2015

What's the Point of the Assessment Phase in Macro SW?

When I was in grad school at Berkeley, I was given a one paragraph case study and I wanted to jump to interventions that alleviated the client's problems and pain. Now I understand the value of engagement, assessment, diagnostic formulation and treatment planning before jumping in to intervene.
It's no different in macro-level social work practice (that is, bringing about change in communities and organizations).
Helpful points to consider when dealing with problems at the community or organizational level:
  • When anxious to make change, it is tempting to begin at the point of proposing solutions. This risks coming up with simplistic solutions.
  • Professionally guided change efforts make certain that a range of alternative/multiple perspectives and possible causes are adequately explored before proposing a solution
  • Quick solutions without adequate study is the opposite of professional practice
  • Quick and easy solutions are based on the assumption that the problem has one primary cause
  • Changing social conditions always means addressing more than one contributing factor
From Social Work Macro Practice, 5th edition
Netting, Kettner, McMurtry & Thomas
2012
Pearson Education, Inc.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Macro-level Interventions in Social Work

     I'm teaching macro-level interventions this semester.  Some students are interested in macro-level social work and others are at least "open" to it.  In my work experience, the connection between micro to macro has been seamless.  
     When I think about working with families in urban communities, I can't help but use a public health approach because some problems are so widespread.  Take the rates of PTSD for example. At LAUSD, students are reporting rates of PTSD at 32% to 50%.  One-on-one and small group approaches are just not feasible to meet the need.  That got me thinking...
     In studies about the relationship between disclosure and health, James Pennebaker has given the following writing instructions to college students, children, elderly, layed-off white collar workers, prisoners, and so on:
"For the next 3 days, I would like for you to write about your very deepest thoughts and feelings about an extremely important emotional issue that has affected you and your life. In your writing, I'd like you to really let go and explore your very deepest emotions and thoughts. You might tie your topic to your relationships with others, including parents, lovers, friends or relatives, to your past, your present, or your future, or to who you have been, who you would like to be or who you are now. You may write about the same general issues or experiences on all days of writing or on different topics each day. All your writing will be completely confidential. Don't worry about spelling sentence structure, or grammar. The only rule is that once you begin writing continue to do so until your time is up."
     Participants wrote for 3 to 5 days, 15 to 30 min each day. Although it might be painful to write about stressful or traumatic events, participants who did reported improvements in mood and well-being. For example, students showed improvement in grades, senior professionals who had been laid off got new jobs more quickly after writing, university staff had improved work attendance, students experienced a reduction in the number of physician visits, immune system markers improved, and so on.
     Even though a large number of participants report crying or being deeply upset by the experience, the overwhelming majority report that the writing experience was valuable and meaningful in their lives.

With PTSD rates at epidemic levels in urban public schools, I wonder what would happen if all public school English teachers gave this assignment? 


Pennebaker, J. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8(3), 162-166.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Not an Easy Target

we want what we want, when we want it.  that's human and not pathological.

but sometimes, we try to push it.

a writer suggested a book called, "who's pulling your strings? how to break the cycle of manipulation and regain control of your life" - an important read.

it turns out the best protection against manipulation is resistance.  but to be able to resist you gotta be grounded in your own self-love and you gotta know yourself better than the potential manipulator. you gotta be whole.

we got blind spots. they are pretty common and universal. the manipulator knows them, plays on them and uses them as bait:

money
power
position/status
security
love
sexual fulfillment
approval
acceptance
commitment
family
spouse
children
life partner
long-term relationship
happiness
freedom from worry
job/career attainments
praise
reassurance
material possessions/gifts
friends/companionship
success/achievement
good physical and emotional health
relaxation
laughter
self-esteem
freedom
education
competence

Ask yourself, what do i want most or need at this point in my life?  how bad do i want it? what am i willing to sacrifice for it?

a manipulator uses any of these wants or needs as blackmail.  i give you this thingie that you really, really want and you give me what i want.  except you don't ever get what you want, no matter how much you give. what you get is the promise of what you want (the carrot) or the threat of never getting what you want (the stick). it's the promise and/or the threat that keeps you in the game until you decide to walk away.

one day you realize that you can get what you want or need without the manipulator. that's your freedom. sometimes the realization takes months, years, decades.  the longer it takes, the harder it may be to walk away. so much time invested. maybe it's easy - because you are tired of waiting for godot.

whatever it is you really, really want, you can do it. i believe in you.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Notes on Storytelling


  • "...neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature's way of seducing us into paying attention to it. In other words, we're wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world."
  • "Our neural circuitry is designed to crave story. The rush of intoxication a good story triggers...makes us willing pupils, primed to absorb the myriad lessons each story imparts."
  • "...it turns out that a powerful story can have a hand in rewiring the reader's brain - helping instill empathy, for instance - which is why writers are, and have always been, among the most powerful people in the world."
  • "Writers can change the way people think simply by giving  them a glimpse of life through their characters' eyes...reveal subtle universal truths that just might alter their entire perception of reality. In ways large and small, writers help people make it through the night."
  • "Art is fire plus algebra."  --Jorge Luis Borges
  • "Story originated as a method of bringing us together to share specific information that might be lifesaving."
  • "A recent brain-imaging study reported in Psychological Science reveals that the regions of the brain that process the sights, sounds, tastes, and movement of real life are activated when we're engrossed in a compelling narrative. That's what accounts for the vivid mental images and the visceral reactions we feel when we can't stop reading..."
  • "Here's how neuroscientist Antonio Damasio sums it up: 'The problem of how to make all this wisdom understandable, transmissible, persuasive, enforceable - in a word, of how to make it stick - was faced and a solution found.  Storytelling was the solution - storytelling is something brains do, naturally and implicitly...[I]t should be no surprise that it pervades the entire fabric of human societies and cultures."
  • "We think in story.  It's hardwired in our brain.  It's how we make strategic sense of the otherwise overwhelming world around us.  Simply put, the brain constantly seeks meaning from all the input thrown at it, yanks out what's important for our survival on a need-to-know basis, and tells us a story about it, based on what it knows of our past experience with it, how we feel about it, and how it might affect us."
  • "Other people's stories are as important as the stories we tell ourselves.  Because if all we ever had to go on was our own experience, we wouldn't make it..."
  • "Stories allow us to simulate experiences without actually having to live through them."
  • "Story evolved as a way to explore our own mind and the minds of others, as a sort of dress rehearsal for the future.  As a result, story helps us survive not only in the life-and-death physical sense but also in a life-well-live social sense."
  • "Renowned cognitive scientist and Harvard professor Steven Pinker explains our need for story this way:  'Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalogue of the fatal conundrums we might face someday and the outcomes of strategies we could deploy in them.'"
  • "...the story's ability to provide information on how we might safely navigate this earthly plane."
  • "...plunk someone with a clear goal into an increasingly difficult situation they then have to navigate. When a story meets our brain's criteria, we relax and slip into the protagonist's skin, eager to experience what his or her struggle feels like, without having to leave the comfort of home." 
  • "A story is how what happens affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal, and how he or she changes as a result."
  • "Stories are about how we, rather than the world around us, change."
  • "As readers, we eagerly probe each piece of information for significance, constantly wondering, 'What is this meant to tell me?'
  • "It's said people can go forty days without food, three days without water, and about thirty-five seconds without finding meaning in something - truth is, thirty-five seconds is an eternity compared to the warp speed with which our subconscious brain rips through data...we are always on the hunt for meaning..."
  • "We are always looking for the why beneath what's happening on the surface.  Not only because our survival might depend on it, but because it's exhilarating. It makes us feel something - namely, curiosity.  Having our curiosity piqued is visceral.  And it leads to something even more potent: the anticipation of knowledge we're now hungry for, a sensation caused by that pleasurable rush of dopamine. Because being curious is necessary for survival, nature encourages it.  And what better way to encourage curiosity than to make it feel good? This is why, once your curiosity is roused as a reader, you have an emotional, vested interest in finding out what happens next."
  • "...you're beautifully, brutally heartless...As a reader, you owe the writer absolutely nothing. You read their book solely at your own pleasure, where it stands or falls on its own merit. If you don't like it, you simply slip it back onto the shelf and slide out another."
  • "...neuropsychiatrist Richard Restak writes, 'Within the brain, things are always evaluated within a specific context.' It is context that bestows meaning, and it is meaning that your brain is wired to sniff out.  After all, if stories are simulations that our brains plumb for useful information in case we ever find ourselves in a similar situation, we sort of need to know what the situation is."
  • "Elmore Leonard famously said that a story is real life with the boring parts left out.  Think of the boring parts as anything that doesn't relate to or affect your protagonist's quest.  Every single thing in a story - including subplots, weather, setting, even tone - must have a clear impact on what the reader is dying to know:  Will the protagonist achieve her goal? What will it cost her in the process? How will it change her in the end?  What hooks us, and keeps us reading, is the dopamine-fueled desire to know what happens next. Without that, nothing else matters."
  • "Storytelling trumps beautiful writing, every time."

from Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Warrior

"The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others.  His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity."
The Great Sioux Chief, Sitting Bull

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Highlights from UCLA Conference for PhD grads

My alma mater hosted a conference for PhD grads, hoping to prepare us for the after-life.  Dr. Peter S. Fiske wowed the crowd with his take on Effective Communication.  Here are the highlights:


  • 90% of success is just showing up.  10% is sitting in the front row.  So do you show up as a Starfleet Officer or Beeker (yes, the muppet that always explodes at the end of the sketch)?
  • Society has invested in PhD grads with hopes that we will move the forefront of knowledge. This means rigorous scholarship and the ability to be a persuasive and articulate communicator. In short, to be an inspirational leader.
  • We err in thinking that most people make decisions based on logic and analysis. Decisions are based on instinct, emotions, subconscious, trust, likeability, authority.
  • In order to establish trust when presenting to an audience, try the following:  1) Slow down, speak clearly (connotes confidence and assurance), use silence strategically, pace the delivery of information. 2) Pay attention to your Energy. 3) Use confident body posture and gestures. 4) Make comfortable eye contact (think confident and kind eyes). 5) Read the audience's feelings. 6) Pay attention to attire and be well-dressed.
  • In order to be heard, you have to connect.  It is short-sighted to believe that science should speak for itself.  Our human impulse to trust and believe requires warmth, confidence, and engagement with skill, honesty and integrity (KILLER COMBINATION).
  • Non-verbal communication skills are critical:  eye contact & facial expressions, voice, words and language, gestures & movement, body language and posture, energy, attire and accessories (such as business cards). Practice! Take an improv class.
  • Firm handshake (hand holding stimulates comfort) and good eye contact (make a mental note of the color of their eyes).  
  • We are dramatically influenced by non-verbal communication.
  • Fake it and you'll make it.  "The play's the thing. Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." Shakespeare
  • Telling stories is powerful Jedi magic.  We are wired for stories.  Storytelling is effective because audience has a vicarious experience.  We put ourselves in the story.  Stories invite the listener to be in the narrative.  Stories disarm a listener's urge to get to the ending.  
  • Prepare and deliver great stories about yourself. Use the formula, STAR, to write your stories. ST: situation or task, A: action, R: result.
  • You don't get what you want in life by asking once.  Shy, passive, self-doubt, not very persistent, and lack initiative.  If you doubt yourself, then why shouldn't I agree with you?
  • Doctoral studies march you to the precipice of human knowledge and ask you to make the next step.  You are experienced in dealing with uncertainty and limited resources with drive and creativity. 
  • Peter interviewed successful PhDs in non-academic careers and asked, "Of the many skills you developed while in graduate school, which ones are the most valuable to you now?"
    • Finding one's own path and taking initiative with little assistance
    • Ability to work in a high-stress environment
    • Independence
    • Maturity
    • Computer skills
    • Circumventing the rules
    • Learning to seek out problems and solutions
    • Ability to persuade
    • Ability to create
    • Ability to work productively with difficult people
    • (and his favorite): Ability and courage to start something even if you don't know yet

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Framing

"Framing" refers to how messages are encoded with meaning so that they can be efficiently interpreted in relationship to existing beliefs or ideas. 

Dean Gilliam, UCLA

More to come after his workshop: Leadership Communications Workshop: Framing the Message.

Monday, January 19, 2015

My Dissertation Abstract

Guided by the theory of inhibition and confrontation, this dissertation examines the relationship between stressful life events, family communication and PTSD development among diverse (46.9% Latina/o, 18.4% Armenian, 18.4% White, and 16.3% other) west coast public school adolescents (n=98) referred for counseling in schools.

Secondary analysis of a cross-­sectional survey was conducted and revealed that all adolescents in this sample endorsed at least one stressful event in their lifetime with an average of 7 lifetime events, including illness, death, and indirect and direct violence exposure.

Exactly half of the sample reported PTSD symptoms in the clinical range with re-experiencing and arousal symptoms the most commonly endorsed.

Adolescents reported both open and problem family communication with higher open family communication scale scores than problem family communication.

Bivariate relationships showed that:
  • open family communication was negatively associated to PTSD symptom severity
  • the number of lifetime stressful events and problem family communication was positively associated to PTSD symptom severity
  • integrated family storytelling style was negatively associated to avoidance symptoms
However, in the full regression model only the number of life events and problem family communication appeared to have an independent effect on PTSD symptom severity scores.

Testing for potential moderation effects of family communication found no interaction terms significant in this sample.

Implications and directions for future research are discussed, including the importance of reducing problem family communication in order for the protective effects of open family communication to flourish and the potential benefits of PTSD screening in schools.

Dissertation Dedication

This dissertation is dedicated to:  
• My mother, Maria Irene Acuña Cardona, from Chihuahua, Mexico, who taught me the value of frank communication.
• My daughter, Paolina Irene Acuña-González, for trusting my efforts to engage her in open communication and making breakfast so I could write.
• All my family and friends for their love and faith in me.
• All my mentors and students for their guidance and support.
• All urban adolescents and their families for their struggle and heart.
¡Ajúa, we did it, and thank you, Yesus!

PhD Status

I am official.  

Passed dissertation defense. Check.
Revisions completed and approved. Check.
Dissertation uploaded on ProQuest in proper UCLA formatting. Check.
Committee members signed off on my dissertation and revisions. Check.
Dissertation filed before interim deadline of January 5. Check.

Now I can say it without any reservations, I am Dr. Alejandra Acuña.  Hello, world.

Latinos! Latinos! Latinos!

"Currently in the United States, there are 47.8 million Latinos/as (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). 

Latino/as are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, and by the year 2050, it is estimated that approximately one out of every four people in the United States will be Latino/a (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010).

By sheer numbers alone, the Latino/a population should be a focus as both recipients and providers of psychological services

However, in addition to the numerical imperative, U.S. Latino/as disproportionately face issues such as poverty, mental and physical health challenges, high dropout rates from school, and persistent racism and discrimination."

Chavez-Korell, S., Delgado-Romero, E.A, & Illes, R. (2012). The National Latina/o
Psychological Association: Like a Phoenix Rising. The Counseling Psychologist
40(5), 675-684.