Friday, May 14, 2010

Who Am I?

“Identity” is one of the terms we use more and more often to explain our own actions, especially as a consequence of the latest social tendencies that push us to express our opinions as often as we can and to reveal personal information that not long ago we used to consider intimate. Although the term is quite frequently used it is not easy to define because it seems to get another meaning every time somebody uses it in another context.
Why is it so important to understand this concept? It must be because it can help us understand a lot of our daily frustrations. To be more precise let us take into consideration two common situations: the case of the women who don’t change their last names anymore when they get married and the case of the women who used to have a carrier as a professional and who after giving birth become very frustrated or even depressed because of the new life style. Both cases can be explained using the “identity” concept.
What is identity? To answer this question we need another one: Who am I? When a person is asked to answer this question he or she will provide a long list of information: the name, marital status, the profession, how many children he has, what are his achievements, what is it that he likes and what he doesn’t like, what are his values.
Identity brings together physical aspects, the social and the personal; the social aspect of identity is made up generally by roles, labels that tell a person to perform certain behaviors in certain situations; this could explain the frustration of the people in the examples above – in the case of the first it is about assuming the role of the married woman, and just like I said, the first element we use to describe “Who am I?” is the name. The name, even from the beginning of our existence is part of our identity, it distinguishes us from the others, it makes us special. In the case of the woman who just had a baby, she has to abandon an old role, one that brought a lot of satisfaction, that has given meaning to her existence, and integrate a new one, the mother role. To understand her frustration we must take into consideration the fact that the identity is a set of attributes, beliefs, desires, principles that make a person stand out in a society, that make the person feel proud, and even if she isn’t proud she feels she cannot change, the elements are continuous and consistent, with a certain degree of flexibility. It is exactly this need of consistency that makes the transition from one role to another so difficult.
Many of the attributes a person uses to describe her identity are reasons to be proud, which means that changing them can alter self respect, so the self esteem of the mother is low because before having the child she used to fit perfectly in the social category that is very much valued right now, the carrier woman.
This means that besides benefits, being part of a certain group comes with constraints and a certain psychological impact on the individual. This explains why very different elements put together can cause such strong emotions, if I don’t act according to my values and principles, I don’t think the way I used to think then I am not myself anymore.
One of the important roles of identity is to motivate us to act a certain manner, so that our behavior makes sense. Often we hear “I would never do that.” Why? Because it would contradict the way I act and it would probably ruin the image I have about myself. It would make me feel as if I would be worth less and as if I would not be special anymore, so identity is the way an individual feels about himself, the way he perceives and understands himself.
Identity help us understand better that the woman that doesn’t want to change her name when she gets married is not following a trend or that the woman that feels depressed because now she is only a mother isn’t just tired and bored or a bad parent. 


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Money - to Share or not to Share

One of the features of the “modern relationship” is financial separation, although the couple is married, each of them is gaining and spending his own money separately, without consulting the other, without sharing the money or managing it together. One of the reasons of financial separation could be the emancipation of women: they are no longer the ones who need financial support and the men lost their “responsible for resources” status, being no longer the ones who brought food to the table and protected the family; it is a declaration of independence for her, it is the way she tells him ”I am with you for who you are inside” and at the same time “I can leave you anytime I want because I don’t need you to support me”. The balance of power in couples is finally stable.
This could turn out to be tricky for some men, who although embrace a modern life style, have more traditional values, and the decisions taken by the women without consulting them could signify castration at a certain level and could result in a feeling of insecurity. He no longer controls resources; he doesn’t have the strong points he used to have, in opposition to the woman: she has the spiritual role in the family…she is even improving in that area because nowadays our society strongly promotes personal development and the development of communication skills. Feminine culture is the one that embraced the most and the quickest this social trend, in comparison to the men. The woman is learning to be more and more assertive, more and more socially efficient, to express her emotions and be open to new experiences. Society promotes open discussions on intimate subjects: we talk about how we feel in difficult situations, about our sexual experiences, but it seems to be taboo to ask your partner what he spends his salary on.

Still, taking into consideration marriage as an institution, when the two decide to tie the knot, once you remove the huge party, the expensive clothes and the emotional relatives, what you get are two people that signed a lifelong contract that makes them co-managers. An institution is supposed to have a single budget, which, after negotiations and common decisions, is divided according to the institution’s needs, and every manager is responsible for his part of the budget. If each manager had a separate budget to begin with there would be two institutions working together.
One of the arguments of the couples that are financially separate is the fact that money is the source of most fights and this is the way to have a long, peaceful life together. Still, if the two are not able to share money, that (to put is very simply) is paper that allows you to get material things, how are they going to share the more important and profound elements of a couple’s life? What happens when the two have very different incomes? This could mean that they cannot share the pleasant things that only one of them can afford, or the fact that when one partner no longer has an income he will become very stressed and insecure, so that one of the family’s fundamental roles is lost – the support role.

Not sharing resources makes today’s sentimental life a lot simpler and safer because family life lasts a lot less than it used to decades ago and couples split up and build up more often, so the resources that remain at the same person don’t diminish, no matter how many relationships that person is involved in.

It is quite clear that the pieces of paper we use to obtain material things are a symbol of security and control that people cannot risk losing by sharing them with the partner. I come to the conclusion that contemporary society that is the creator of modern relationships is a paradox: it is the same society that encourages charity, which tells us to donate money for the less fortunate, to share our food with the ones that don’t have any, it is the same society that, every time we open up a magazine and see the picture of a half naked and starving child, makes us feel selfish because we keep just for ourselves the luxury of running water. 

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Fetishism or Just Quality Time in Bed

Searching the web I found this video on YouTube, that really surprised me because it had over 3 million views and I am quite sure that I am one of the very few that actually watched it because of its psychological aspects.

I watched it together with a friend and started a passionate discussion on how subjective the diagnosis might be (I know, you heard that before from me). Still, never mind the panties, the garters, the stockings, the toes fetish or the one about stiletto heels…what about other non-living objects that you can find lately in the night-stand drawer of many couples: vibrators, dildos, balls, vibrating eggs, artificial vaginas, sex dolls, all kinds of body oils, erection rings and handcuffs. Although there are some fetishes that are quite obvious and are considered to be the most bizarre, like amputation, or hierophilia (sexual attraction to sacred, religious objects), emetophilia (sexual interest centered on vomiting), klismaphilia (sexual interest centered on enemas), for the behavior to be considered pathology we have Criterion B that states that the sexual urges or behavior must cause clinically significant distress OR impairment on important areas of functioning. Now, let us take into consideration people that don’t have a sexual partner, that use sex toys, or even a lonely teenager, very curious and eager to have new sexual experiences, that is just exploring his or her “territory” using a dildo or an artificial vagina, that might feel significantly distressing…always hiding from the parents because of shame or guilt. Taking into account the “OR” from Criterion B, this “distress”, which is quite difficult to quantify, is enough for the diagnosis.
Take for instance the example of a person with urophilia (sexual excitement associated with urine) meets a person that will voluntarily take part at his/her sexual games, will accept them or even have the same fetish…the distress disappears, does this mean the diagnosis disappears too?
At this moment, sex toys, non-living plastic objects that may come with a vibrating mechanism, are available everywhere and are even recommended to couples that want to spice up their sex life. This may just be another diagnosis that has indefinite limits because of the way society perceives and accepts the sexual object.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder a Social Diagnosis?

One of my favorite subjects, two years ago, was Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); actually the controversy of this diagnosis and a completely different side of it that is quite popular lately. Although it has been one of those subjects that have been very popular in the last five or six decades, we just can’t ignore the fact that this concept has been developing for hundreds of years, so that its discovery by Hans Selye was more of a rediscovery.
I was quite intrigued by the abundance of articles that I read about different law suites arguing the infliction of trauma and PTSD as a consequence, which drew my attention to one of the most “vulnerable” aspects of PTSD which is the possibility that this could be a subjective diagnosis. I conducted a research project on this subject taking into consideration 3 different stressful situations, the intensity of the perceived stress and coping strategies, and found that there are very big differences between the diagnosis at the moment it was born and what people understand by it nowadays.
There haven’t been any differences recorded regarding the coping behaviors that the subjects use, either they were confronted with PTSD or grief and loss or just an ordinary stressful situation, which tells us that what trauma is to one individual might just be a problematic situation to another, a situation that he could surpass easily. All this proves that the contemporary clinical approach might not be always right; it might just be a case of global labeling tendency of patients.
The explanation resides in the interaction of many variables like individual characteristics and the social representation of trauma; the social aspect will dictate to the person to consider traumatic an event that socially speaking is considered to be a trauma, although the person has enough resources to surpass it. At this point it appears to be obvious the need to change the psychological definition of trauma and maybe some changes to the PTSD diagnosis, adapting to the characteristic features of the individual, and not including him in a general category. 
To better understand the results of the research we should take into consideration the following case scenarios: the psychiatrist or psychologist, either listens to the symptoms of the patient and establishes a diagnosis, in which case we can conclude that there is indeed a general tendency of these professionals to immediately put a psychopathology label on patients, or in the case of patients that cannot express very well their symptoms, they go through the structured interview, in which case the results of the research may be explained by the clinician's expectancies or by the fact that the individual starts playing the role of patient. The patient might exaggerate the symptoms or just become submissive under the authority of the clinician, this is the case of individuals that are actually experiencing part of some symptoms and are seeking relief, but there is another category of individuals that are only after the material gains.
Another important aspect to be considered is the relationship between the two, the clinician and the patient, they influence each other and they both bring their personal baggage in the situation. This is quite relevant because the clinician might just categorize the patient’s experience as a trauma according to his own experience. For future research a lot more variables should be taken into consideration, especially both the patient’s personality and the clinician’s and the patient’s major life events and life style.

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