Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Dangers of Oversharing

People who are young and immature do not just believe that they are bullet-proof. They are convinced that they have nothing to lose. They do not work for a living. They do not have reputations for being responsible, reliable and trustworthy. Or better, they do not think that they do.

Thus, they have apparently chosen Lena Dunham as their heroine. The queen of oversharing is making good use of her years in therapy. She has overcome shame.

Of course, Dunham’s artist parents filled her house with artistic semi-porn, so it might be that she is trying to deal with the trauma you suffer when you feel that you are constantly being flashed.

But, Dunham might have taken things a bit too far in her new book. There she recounted the time her seven-year-old Self decided to examine the genitalia of her baby sister.

For all I know she was trying to figure out whether art imitated life.

In jest, Dunham referred to herself as a “sexual predator” but apparently more than a few people either did not get the joke or did not believe that her childhood antics were very funny.

For most of us it does not feel like a joking matter.

Anyway, members of the psycho profession have rushed to defend Dunham. They insist that normal seven-year-old girls naturally want to examine their baby sisters’ genitalia.

They did not say whether or not they recommended the behavior and do not say whether a seven-year-old should be taking care of a baby, unsupervised.

Therapists have mastered the art of making people feel good about doing bad things. Lately, they have entered the national debate about sexting in order to tell worried and appalled parents that it’s now “normal” for their teenage daughters to send naked selfies to their friends.

One understands that at a time when everyone is sexting, therapists want to attenuate the feelings of shame that accompany this risky and dangerous action. Of course, it isn’t just therapists. Other social psychologists have done studies showing that children who sext do not seem to be more apt to suffer an early initiation into the mysteries of sexual behavior.

And yet, is this something we want to encourage?

Psychologist Elizabeth Englander writes in the Washington Post:

Here’s the bottom line: research suggests that most photos don’t end up in disasters, either socially (being passed around, teased, bullied) or criminally (being prosecuted).

Englander specifies:

If a teen sends a nude photo to a friend, how big is the risk that it will result in serious harm? Recent research is downplaying that risk. I have found that more than three-quarters of teens who sext believe their photo went to the intended recipient and no one else. These teens might be wrong and spreading photos around might be more common; but if the sender believes it has been kept private, then they probably weren’t traumatized by a mass exposure.

If three-quarters of the sexts might not have been passed around, that means that one-quarter has. That is appalling bad odds, don’t you think. It suggests a very high level of risk.

If someone recommended that you undergo a surgical procedure that will likely give you no lasting benefits and placed odds of surviving the procedure at 75%... would you do it?

As if that is not bad enough, large numbers of the girls who sext have been pressured into sending compromising pictures of their private parts. Doesn’t that resemble extortion? Is it easier or harder for a girl to refuse such pressure if she can read in the paper that sexting is now normal teenage activity?

Englander reports:

It’s becoming increasingly clear, however, that not all sexting is about fun and games. My biggest concern is when kids under 18 – often girls – are pressured by their peers to engage in sexting that they really don’t want to do. The younger they are when they sext, the more likely they are to report that they succumbed to pressure. And that pressure isn’t rare.

Overall, about two-thirds of the teens in my research studies report that they were pressured or coerced into sexting at least some of the time. Being pressured into sexting sometimes happened within a dating relationship, or it might come from a person (usually a boy) with whom a girl wants to have a relationship. Wanting to attract that boy, and wanting to be attractive to a boyfriend or girlfriend, were the most common reasons for actually sending the photo. About 92% of the teens who were not pressured reported no problems following sexting; but that number dropped to only 68% of the teens who felt pressured into sexting.

Does this sound like harmless fun?

Perhaps children are too young to understand the risks that are entailed in social humiliation, but adults who do have a moral obligation to warn children off of this activity… not to write articles in the newspaper telling them that it's normal.

Of course, Lena Dunham is a special case. She is a celebrity. We know that celebrities live by a different set of rules. Clearly, many of them hate it when their own sexts are exposed to the public against their will, but they have a better chance of career survival than does, say, a banker or a lawyer.

Which brings us to writer Vicky Ward. Call her the voice of adult reason. If psychologist Englander cannot offer sage advice about oversharing, Ward is happy to do so. At least, someone cares about what happens to children. And not just to children.

But, Ward was not writing about children when she denounced the recent tendency for the wives of powerful businessmen, when involved in divorce cases, to try to destroy their husbands by exposing their dirty linen in public.

For some it will count as a new chapter in female empowerment. Ward sets down her rule for such situations:

rich people get divorced quietly. It’s a simple equation. Scandal equals reputational, emotional and financial ruin—for all concerned.

Take Christina Kelly, involved in nasty divorce proceeding with her husband Sage, a banker at Jeffries and Co.

Ward reports on Mrs. Kelly’s actions:

For those who haven’t been keeping track: Mrs Kelly, 38, and her husband, the in-advisedly-named Sage, 42, head of health-care banking at Jefferies & Co, are divorcing. She alleges that he and twenty-or-so named colleagues collectively abused “alcohol, cocaine, mushrooms, Special-K, heroin.”

She also alleges that Sage, who is the father of their two daughters, aged ten and six, urinated on himself at the office annual party and elsewhere; that he defecated on himself while intoxicated and that he encouraged her to have sex with a named client while he had sex with the client’s named girlfriend. Oh, and one of their girls almost ingested cocaine left out on a pool table in their basement.

Sage and the identified colleagues have denied all of it. He has taken a leave of absence from Jefferies, which has reportedly already lost five clients. On Monday it was also reported that, in a desperate-sounding attempt at damage control, Jefferies CEO Richard Handler had taken a random drug test with the health-care bankers (all were clean)— which only added to the surreal nature of the fiasco….

But more important for Christina Kelly, whose husband earns $7 million per annum, is the loss of his earning power that her scandalous allegations may very likely cause. Injuring the family breadwinner is the same as injuring yourself.

Is there any way that this is in Mrs. Kelly’s interest? Of course not. The ensuing scandal will hurt both Kellys, to say nothing of their children. Obviously, it is not quite the same as teenage sexting, but still Mrs. Kelly’s behavior is grossly indiscreet. Some might call it the product of a maniacal will to destroy. Or course, she is expressing her anger, openly, honestly and shamelessly.

Those who recommend that people express their feelings should reconsider their bad advice.

Mrs. Kelly is manifesting a mindless rage, a will to destroy the father of your children, regardless of what it does to your life or the lives of your children. Keep that in mind. It's not just the husband who is going to suffer. So will the children whose reputations will be damaged for bearing the family name.

Despite what they are trying to tell you, overcoming shame is a bad thing.


Sam L. said...

"For those who haven’t been keeping track: Mrs Kelly, 38, and her husband, the in-advisedly-named Sage, 42, head of health-care banking at Jefferies & Co, are divorcing. She alleges that he and twenty-or-so named colleagues collectively abused “alcohol, cocaine, mushrooms, Special-K, heroin.” " Last I heard, Special-K was a Kellog's cereal. I had to look it up, and specify it as a drug name.

I don't think the children will suffer for their last name, there being lots of Kellys and Kelleys, but certainly from their mother's actions. Samson just pulled the temple down on himself, but she's destroying her children's lives for some/many years to come. And she's destroying his income AND her divorce settlement. White-hot anger is highly destructive, much as being too close to the dynamite one sets off.

Ares Olympus said...

re: In gest, Dunham referred to herself as a “sexual predator” ...

I thought that was a typo, "gest" to "jest", but maybe not?
Gest noun \ˈjest\
1 : a tale of adventures; especially : a romance in verse
2 : adventure, exploit

And re: Despite what they are trying to tell you, overcoming shame is a bad thing.

Stuart, I'm really interested in how you could differentiate between "healthy shame" versus "toxic shame". Without definitions, its trouble for all sides of a debate.

The idea of Toxic shame was promoted by John Bradshaw, in relation to alcoholism and physical abuse and the enabling role of family members who learn skills how to cover up unacceptable behavior in families, and it gets passed down generationally.

But in regards to sharing, I don't see a purpose in public confessionals of family dysfunction. The only purpose I can see possibly is to break the assumption that people are alone, and only their family is crazy, but its a weak claim, especially given the ease of the victim narrative that creates its own limited way of facing reality.

I accept the problem with "curing" shame is the cure may be no better than what it replaces. What's important is somehow to differentiate between facts we need to recognizing (when something is wrong) and narratives about those facts that gets stuck in defense mechanisms that sidestep proper action.

Lindsay Harold said...

Our culture has a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of shame. We tend to think of it as a bad thing - something to overcome.

The truth is, shame is a good thing. It’s like physical pain in that it’s a warning sign that something is wrong. People without pain receptors often injure themselves and may even kill themselves without realizing they’re causing damage. Shame is similar. Feeling shame is a warning sign that we have done something wrong or stupid. It’s the normal, proper response that is supposed to help us learn from our mistakes and avoid making them again. We’re supposed to feel shame when we cross lines that ought not to be crossed. People with a blunted sense of shame, like people without pain receptors, may continue to damage themselves, their relationships, or their reputations without realizing it and without making needed changes to their behavior or making amends for it.

Of course, people can feel false shame, where they feel ashamed of things that are not actually shameful. And people can hypocritically point out the shame of others while ignoring their own. Both of these are bad uses of shame. It is also possible for people to respond to shame improperly by focusing so much on it that they become paralyzed and unable to function.

But shame itself is a tool to help us recognize bad behavior and avoid it. Shame helps society by discouraging behaviors that add to social chaos. Doing away with shame is a bad idea. We need more people with a sense of shame. Much to our discredit, our society has mostly lost its sense of shame.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @November 9, 2014 at 11:26 AM:

Stuart has been clear about shame, on many, many occasions. In fact, he wrote a book on it, which you have maligned in your previous comments, even though you haven't read it. If you want Stuart's opinions on shame, why don't you click on the link conveniently located in the left column of the blog page, listed in alphabetical order? There are 49 articles listed for your research and delight. The risk of his explaining every term and nuance is that the blog will read like a term paper and be boring. Read between the lines.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The consequences of shameless exhibitionism are devastating, and their effects long-term. People don't see it because they're intoxicated with the desire to be famous. Fame begins and ends with the glowing box.

"Toxic Shane," as defined by Bradshaw, is a pathological way of being, brought on by people who pathologically assume the burden of another's shame, often within family systems. Bradshaw was successful with his theories because people are taxed with the burden of toxic shame, and healing comes by communicating it and casting it off, as it is unjust... it is not theirs to bear. Bradshaw's message hit a nerve, because the impact is universal. However, like so many ideas, the desire to eradicate shame took on a life of its own. Some people said to themselves "Too much of a good thing is just enough."

The problem, which Lindsay eloquently points out and Stuart talks about in his post, is that we have come to a point where the therapy culture is effectively intellectualizing shame as a genetic or social inheritance that modern sensibilities now define as irrelevant or cruel. This is nonsense, and a consequence of the therapy model that guilt and shame are signs of psychopathology that people have to be liberated from in order to lead "normal lives," a goal/standard that is never properly defined by the profession. So the never-ending quest for "absence-of" makes people crazy... they just want to offload whatever nagging emotion or feeling is bothering them, often with devastating social consequences. So de-shaming is a cure for a cause that is self-inflicted. Shame is what human creatures with language have developed to protect the tribe, and it's about keeping a functional social system alive. All this sharing does is add more content to the blathersphere that is fully searchable at a later date.

Today's lack of shame is about exhibitionism, and has no purpose but to entertain and titillate the tribe on television. John Silber called daytime talk shows "The museum of American societal decay." And now they're on all the time. What else is reality TV but a large-scale opportunity to make an ass of oneself, while others profit? Do we see a lot of television or internet executives running around making fools of themselves? Eric Schmidt's entire life is designed so you know nothing about him, while his livelihood depends on everyone knowing everything about you!

The problem today, brought on by the pop psychology of Brene Brown, is that all shame is bad. This is nonsense, and it's consequences are devastating for the unwitting people who think it's okay to reenact episodes of Maury Povich in their own lives, or communicate other secrets that might best be kept to themselves. It ruins lives and brings shame to families because people can't shut up and stop "sharing."

And Sam L. is spot-on as well. The "dynamite" here is the loneliness and juvenile need some people have to have others connect with their emotions and feelings at all times, even at the expense of loved ones and economic security (in the Kelley's example).

Ares Olympus said...

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD,

We can agree on overall patterns, but the question of definitions remains for me.

If we have one side advocating against the abuses of toxic shame and overstepping, and another side advocating for healthy shame and denying the toxic/abusive aspects, we have a miscommunication with potential strawmen on both sides.

Its easy enough to see overreach, but if we're going to bridge gaps, we need nuance, and we need a place where two sides can come together without denying the other side contains validity.

re: The problem today, brought on by the pop psychology of Brene Brown, is that all shame is bad.

I don't know why you need to dismiss or deny her message. If she actually says "all shame is bad", then you have to go back to definitions, and see where her definitions allow her that conclusion. I'm happy to accept she's looking at individual pain caused by social dysfunction, rather than how it might allow social order to create more healthy mature individuals.

So and again, I'd advocate for the idea that shame is neither good nor bad, but that there are more and less constructive ways to deal with shame, and even ideals like constructive and destructive ways are troubling because there are multiple layers of effects.

Seeing shame as serving a social role may works well when people DOING THE SHAMING understand what they are doing and why, and how, otherwise it would appear that social shame just becomes a "hot potato" that gets passed from A to B to C to D, as progressively weaker scapegoats are found who are not in a place to defend themselves.

So maybe details are boring to you, but I'm bored by the idea things can only be judged from a single point of view, and believe that risks losing the whole.

I feel no shame for wanting truth and clarity through the details rather than confusion in the generalizations.

I think we can all agree there is a lot of confusion.

Anonymous said...

I forced myself to skim over Lena's tale. I'm blissfully ignorant of some details.

A baby? How long or often I don't know. A baby!

Transgressive Artist that she is, Lena writes about it.

I heard part of her iv w/Terry Gross. She has some Serious psych problems.

I saw the first season. Deracinated, antinomian, frivolous youths - except Coffee Guy. Tres depressing.

I'm anxious for 3d season of "Vikings"! -- Rich Lara