Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Soup of Female Sentimentality

Just in case you were wondering how badly therapy has corrupted relationships, here’s a sterling example from a column by Carolyn Hax.

A letter writer asked this question:

Two people in my life recently wanted me to say specific things to them to fulfill their emotional needs. It wasn’t a personal preference, as in, “Please refer to my wedding as my Union” — a simple request — but, “I want you to say sorry even though you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong.” Or, “I want you to ask me about this because I want to talk about it.”

I told both of these people I thought these requests were ludicrous.

What aggravates me is that I don’t think they got what they were looking for, which is asking me to feel emotions I don’t feel, then to express these insincere emotions to their satisfaction.

Seriously, where does a person draw the line? Maybe to just smooth the waters and make people feel better, you’re supposed to say anything?

I suspect that the letter writer is a woman and that she is referring to women friends. Given the media mania over gender neuterdom, we are not told this vital information. I will say that if this exchange happened in relationships between men the country is in a lot worse shape than I thought.

At a time when women are increasingly claiming a place in the worlds of business and the professions, therapists ought not to be encouraging them to indulge this kind of whiny, wimpy, sentimental psychodrama.

I note, in passing, that a coda to Hax’s response, written by a man, identifies the letter writer as a female. I suppose it’s possible that he is using the generic “she,” pronominal form that does not exist, but let’s be optimistic.

For the record, I consider Carolyn Hax one of the better advice columnists out there. Not quite at the same level as Emily Yoffe who used to write as Dear Prudence for, but generally good nonetheless. I will mention in passing that the woman who has replaced Yoffe on Slate is so obviously not up to the job that it’s embarrassing to read her.

Anyway, Hax responds to this letter writer by siding with the friends who want to tell her what to feel, how to feel and how to express it even if she does not feel it. She charges the letter writer for being unwilling or unable to fulfill the emotional needs of her friends. As you can see, this quickly descends into a caricature of female friendship… all sentimentality all the time. Perhaps only females get this.

In her response Hax neuters everyone she can. Otherwise she would have to suggest that some women see relationships as an emotional soup and feel offended when their friends do not just jump in:

These people want something from you that you’re obviously not giving, and I’m not talking about the stock, insincere phrasing that you rightly question but too-combatively deride to their faces.

I’m talking about the emotional satisfaction they would derive from knowing they’ve been heard. If I read correctly between the lines here, you’ve knowingly denied them the “I hear you” assurance they seek….

So, where you see ludicrous requests, I see unfortunately phrased versions of “Please understand me.”

Try that next time, I suggest, in lieu of quibbling with their methods. Listen carefully and make it clear you grasp how they feel, even when your experience puts you entirely somewhere else.

As I said, Hax flings it straight into the soup of sentimentality. She seems to believe that the letter writer is deficient in empathy, God forbid, and thus should be feeling the feelings of her friends. She is offended by the letter writer's derision, but, to me that feels like an appropriate response to absurd demands.

I would humbly suggest that the friends are living their relationships as scripted dramas and that they are feeding their friend her lines. The friend balks, as she rightly should, because that’s no way to conduct a relationship between two human beings. Her friends are trying to deny her her freedom to choose how she wishes to relate to them. If the friends want to play out dramas, they should go to acting school.

Note well in the letter writer’s exposition that both of her friends want her to do what they want her to do because they want her to do it. They have no real sense of their friend as another human but they believe that their desires should be the rule.

The one wants her friend to apologize for something she did, but that the friend, i.e. the letter writer, does not think was wrong.

Truth be told, I am not opposed to insincere apologies. But, insincere apologies only have value when you have done something wrong but are balking at apologizing. When you have wronged someone and have to choose between an insincere apology and no apology at all, I would go with the former.

Yet, in the case at hand, the letter writer seems not to have done anything wrong. Thus, she need not apologize. The person who should apologize is her friend who is making this imperious demand, and who is treating the letter writer like a character in a play who has forgotten her lines.

As for the second friend, the one who says that she wants the letter writer to ask her about something because she wants to talk about it, let’s be serious.

If she wants to talk about it, she should talk about it. No one is stopping her. If she believes that she cannot talk about it unless her friend asks her to talk about it, then she has a serious problem. Can it really be the case that she can only broach the topic when her friend asks about it? Are we seeing a situation where the friend is going to say something insulting about the letter writer and wants to be able to have plausible deniability, thus to retain the right to shift the blame to the letter writer?

Anyway, this letter and the Hax response are dispiriting. I find it sad that this is the way adult human beings conduct their relationships. I strongly suspect that both of these friends have learned their asocial and dysfunctional skills from therapy. And Hax herself seems to have been infected by the same therapy virus: she wants the letter writer to ignore the offensive nature of her friends' demands and to feel their pain.

The solution is clear: the letter writer should choose her friends better. Anyone who goes into high dudgeon because you have failed to recite your lines correctly is not your friend.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

So these friends may have been saying "Please understand me." So what? The letter writer thought it was ridiculous. Buck up, camper! You'll be okay! If they can't get that -- as a stand for their inner strength -- it's time to make some new friends. But daytime TV audiences everywhere will deem this "mean," and fall all over themselves in phony empathy and condemn the evil one who doesn't want to play this juvenile game. And that's where we are. Sigh.

Ares Olympus said...

It seems like the letter writer must have felt some guilt at saying "these requests were ludicrous" and wanted an expert to validate her, so she could let go of that guilt.

I don't know if the source of the requests is from Therapy, or perhaps self-help books on assertiveness?

Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent communication makes a big deal about requests, and he also makes it clear, if you require a positive response, its not a request, but a demand, and even if someone complies you start down a path of resentment.

One quote I liked from Marshall was that all personal communication could be reduced to two words "Please" and "Thank you".
I'm going to show you a technology today which takes insults and criticisms out of the airwaves. With this technology, it will be impossible for you to hear criticisms, harsh remarks, or insults. All you can hear is what all people are ever saying, "please" and "thank you". What used to sound like criticism, judgment, or blame, you will see, are really tragic, suicidal expressions of "please". -- Marshall Rosenberg, The Basics of Nonviolent Communication

So someone says your request is "ludicrous", you could take that personally, and feel humiliated at the rejection, and if you're really sensitive, go back to "never asking anyone for anything" for another 5 years, to avoid such rejection.

Or if the speakers knew of NVC, they'd hear a "Please" in the judgement, and accept it was nothing personal, just didn't make sense.

It also reminds me of a guy who spent a year making outrageous requests of strangers, so he could get used to hearing "no" and not take it personally, but in the process he also discovered many people with generous hearts did say yes, and cooperated with his requests, and that touched him.

If you looked deeper, below conscious awareness, you might find the letter writer feels resentment somewhere in her life, and doesn't feel "safe" to request what she wants, or thinks she wants from others. So she's decided she has to be strong, and not ask for what she wants. So when she finds someone who asks for something really simple, but also silly, it offends that part of herself that protects her from asking for what she might want.

At least that's as interesting of a question as judging who is sentimental.

Sam L. said...

Response 1: What is it exactly that you want me to apologize for?
Response 2: You want to talk to me about something. Go ahead.

Or am I being too direct? Is a male response pattern a problem?

priss rules said...

Sex and the Pity

Sam L. said...

I read her columns occasionally, but gave up on them some time last year.