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The Importance of Self Definition

by Patricia Lefave, D.D.(P), B.R.P., "The Mystical Madwoman"

One of the lessons I have learned from dealing with psychiatry is the necessity for Self definition. To Self define and make it work of course, it has to be based upon a principle that works for everybody, without invalidating the rights of others to do the same. For me, that principle is that of mutual respect for boundaries which must operate in both directions at the same time.

Often, people will say "Sure. that's great to say. But how do you get other people to respect your boundaries if they don't want to? That's a good point. I used to have a big problem with that myself. I can't make someone treat me the way I want them to treat me, but I can let them know exactly what my expectation is, and why, and what the results will be to our relationship if my boundaries are not respected.

It hasn't been easy for me to get into this new mind set. Often, when we let people know that we are setting boundaries, they immediately go into the dysfunctional act and start the old manipulation, group pressure, and ostracism game. I have lived with a lot of people who were programmed, and who in turn, programmed me, to believe that to complain about boundary violation was a fault in me, and NOT in the one doing the violating. I have found the forming of good boundaries to have much to do with first deprogramming the principles of group dysfunction, that I was taught as a commonly accepted "norm", and reprogramming myself with thoroughly questioned principles that allow me to self-actualize without invalidating other people's attempts to do the same.

For me, the First Principle must be the Mutual Respect Principle. I relate everything else that helps to strengthen me as an individual, to that principle. That does not mean, however, that I must excuse the behavior of those who violate me, don't admit it, and don't change. It only means I must accept their right, to make the choice to do so, whether I consider that choice to be right or wrong. I have to accept the fact that the other, like me, has free will, and uses that free will to self actualize just as I do.

If their choice is to use that will to try to invalidate me as a person, or treat me with contempt because they can't control me, the only thing I can do about that is to detach from the individual emotionally, psychologically and sometimes, physically. That's not always easy. Sometimes the controller is someone we can't escape. Especially when we are young. It is also extremely hard to do, if we are taught, from the time we are small children, that even the attempt to separate from such people, or to self define, a normal part of human development, is a flaw in us.

I try to watch for the old programming errors in myself. It's sometimes hard to do as I respond automatically without noticing that I'm doing it. Entrenched thinking patterns, which are accepted by whole groups as a "normal" way of being, when they are, in fact, dysfunctional, do not deconstruct easily. I am also trying to clarify the meaning of things since I have learned that what something means to dysfunctional people, often means something quite different to functional people.

With that in mind, I have found many things written by others, some known, others not known, to be helpful in my re-programming of myself in healthy ways. This helps me break co-dependent enmeshment and aim towards human intimacy. I perceive intimacy and enmeshment as opposites.

I now complain, about their boundary violations, stating clearly that there are consequences to those who violate me. I also validate my own perception of such violations, though I was taught by those who violate my boundaries, that complaining itself was always WRONG. I now know these are my perfectly normal and appropriate emotional reactions to such violations. I will not accept the invalidation of my experience, perception, or emotions by anyone, including those who try to redefine them as "disease" processes.

Although I have been made metaphysically sick in the past by those who presumed to understand my life and experience better than I do, I will no longer accept the excuses they make for their boundary violating behavior. I will not let them talk me into accepting the existence of the problem as within me, so that they can get themselves off the accountability hook, or so they can believe that invalidating me is "help." Nor will I agree to give up telling them the truth about either them or myself, as long as they have the power to threaten me with losses, physical control of myself, and my environment, or drugging, for daring to do so. I consider the threat to all of us to be worse for failing to speak out against such abuse of power, though I recognize we are in a perilous position when we do so.

Now that I've shared my new attitude with you, I'd like to share a few other things with you that have helped me replace the programming of my past with a new paradigm that has helped me to get past that. AS I said, I have found that in dysfunction, we really don't know what words and ideas actually mean. I have also seen that a lot of other people don't know either, including psychiatrists. Like the difference between "assertive" and "aggressive" for example. So let's start with those.

I believe that when the same rules and rights get applied, universally, the insanity which now exists within, and is supported by, the system which claims to want to heal it, will disappear. I always mean "insanity" in the psychospiritual sense, not the pathological sense. I don't believe the insanity is pathological in either patients or psychiatrists.

Sometimes things which are spiritual appear to be "magical" because those observing it don't understand that most magic is accomplished through misdirection and the use of "mirrors."

So now, I would like to talk a little about how these "rules", which the non labeled person accepts as reasonable, and how they become quite something else for the labeled person.

It is the "differences" with which we are programmed, that causes the labeled person to feel like they must be from some other planet, where "reality" appears to have a whole other meaning. There is a reason for that. I intend to make that reason clear to the most stubborn, resistant, non compliant psychiatrist in the world.

First, let's get out the dictionary for the definitions of assertive and aggressive so that we will all recognize the difference. Assertive people recognize boundaries and do not try to impose their will on others. Aggressive people do not recognize boundaries and try to impose their will on others while finding the fault in the other for objecting to their imposition.

Assertive: "To state positively, affirm, to defend or maintain." Please note that this definition is self contained.

Aggressive: " Quick to attack or act in a hostile manner; "assertive", bold aggression: Hostile action or behavior." Please note the blurring of the term "assertive" by it's inclusion within the definition of "aggressive."

Aggressive to me, is about the imposition of beliefs upon another. It's about OTHER control, not SELF control. In my experience, this desire for other control is our collective problem. It feeds upon itself because it focuses on one side of the problem, and it creates a dichotomy of being either the controller or the controlled. Both roles are psychospiritual perversions. We need to learn to do the opposite. To be NEITHER the controller NOR the controlled. It is the adversarial relationship itself that needs to go. That comes when we ALL learn the kind of Self control that is based on the principle of self restraint, which keeps us from violating the boundaries of others AND the other side of that principle, learning how to psychospiritually block the attempts of others to violate our boundaries. Both sides of that principle have to be functioning for SELF control to become a reality that allows all of us to function as unique individuals, within our own personal and protected space.

In the Schizophrenic relationship, which is a two sided problem, not a "disease" contained within the Identified patient, the patient who cannot keep boundary violators out has usually been prevented from developing that life skill, in a relationship with a violating "authority" of some kind. That "authority", or dominating individual, is the other side of the problem, often a side which goes completely unseen. This is especially true if the "patient" is a child, and the controller is an authority figure, with total control. Even in such cases though, it is still possible to learn this skill in adulthood, IF those around such a person DO NOT perceive the individual as inherently flawed, diseased, or defective.

The following is a couple of definitions, written by others, which have helped me to focus on a way of relating that validates both myself and others, does not accept boundary violation as "normal", and also does not cause me to act out in violence when I cannot change another person who is violating me. It does not mean I don't FEEL angry. I do. For very good reason, and no one is going to talk me out of my feelings. I also believe this has to be expressed verbally, to at least one other person who will accept it, without invalidating it, trying to excuse the violator, or trying to stop the expression of it. This is what most of us can never get from psychiatrists, and many of us can't get in dysfunctional families either, simply because when we try to talk, all they can hear is "symptoms" instead of the truth.

I don't know who wrote this originally, but it certainly is validating to the individual's rights. Below the list, I will explain why this is so difficult for the majority of labeled people to accomplish. It really isn't much of a mystery. It's just that we are actively prevented from speaking. This is why it is so important that we support each other in our healing. Many of us have no family support at all, since most families are convinced by psychiatric authority, that our reality is only pathology. The dysfunctional brainwashing is very powerful. I would like all the mental health professionals, most of whom tell us they are too busy to take the time to listen to us, to think about the difference in this, when the individual has a label through which all we say and do, is first filtered, by psychiatry's beliefs, then judged accordingly. Nothing makes someone feel more invisible than never really being heard as his or her genuine self.

ASSERTIVENESS: Every Person's Bill of Rights

  1. The right to be treated with respect.
  2. The right to have and express your own feelings and opinions as long as you don't violate the rights of others.
  3. The right to be listened to and taken seriously.
  4. The right to set your own priorities.
  5. The right to say no and not feel guilty or selfish.
  6. The right to ask for what you want.
  7. The right to get what you pay for.
  8. The right to ask for information from professionals.
  9. The right to make mistakes.
  10. The right to decide when to assert yourself.

The Reality of the Psychiatric Patient Compared to That of Those Without Labels.

Rule 1. Labeled people are most often treated as though they were guilty of a crime, even when we have done nothing other than try to explain our experience. Since it is judged that we had no experience to complain about, attempting to do so often gets us a fresh round of openly displayed contempt. This sometimes includes physical threats and fervent wishes that we burn in hell. Why should we, or anyone else, "overlook" such abuse? Yet we are routinely told we must do so. How do we assert our right to be treated with respect to such people, when it is defined for us as "whining" every time we try it?

Rule 2. Rarely are we "allowed" to have or express our own opinions and feelings, and most often attempts to do so are discouraged, labeled non compliance, difficult, or disruptive to psychiatry's attempts to control others. I have been told what I will be "allowed" to think, feel, discuss and with whom, and that if I don't cooperate with these rules, I will be controlled until I do. What's psychologically sound about that?

Rule 3. That rule is a joke to us. It never happens.

Rule 4. Our priorities, and often everything in our lives is determined FOR us. We are routinely talked down to, like idiots, the instant somebody thinks we have a label, or that we should have one.

Rule 5. We are not allowed to expect the right to self determination as a norm, and are frequently told the expectation is selfish. The attempt to induce guilt in us, is used frequently by others as a manipulative tactic.

Rule 6. We can ask as much, or for as long as we like, in a multitude of ways. It won't do us any good. In fact, it is more likely to get us "medication" for the failure to give up asking. "Writing behaviors" you know.

Rule 7. More importantly, I would like to have the right not to pay at all, for a product I don't want, that I think does me more harm than good. These are the only doctors you can't fire, no matter what they do. I have yet to have a cardiology SWAT team hunt me down like a dog, aided by two burly police officers, and force me to have surgery for my own good. The comparison to other medical specialties just doesn't compute.

Rule 8. No other doctor has ever given me less information than a psychiatrist. Often, my questions or attempts to elicit information have been met with a stony silence and a big sigh.

Rule 9. We don't have the right to be right, let alone make a mistake. Expressing an opinion, a feeling, or relating an event that the doctor doesn't believe is real, is enough to get us silenced and locked up. Especially if we are "upset" or write it down using bad syntax. It is not what we say, we are told, but the way we said it. No apparent "mistake" is even necessary.

Rule 10. With psychiatry in general, there is no good time for a labeled person to assert herself. If we do, it's called "resistance" or being "difficult". That's another "symptom" in an endless supply of "symptoms."

As you can see, what are psychologically sound principles for those of you who are not labeled, become severely distorted, and virtually unrecognizable, when applied to a labeled person. The only real difference between the people, is created BY the label itself.

My own experience with psychiatry has been a total denial of all the above stated principles. As many have stated before me, I was totally invalidated as a human being. I found it incredible that people who were trained in psychology, could behave the way they did, forgetting everything the learned about mental health the minute my problems with other people were declared to be my "delusions." The instant the line from psychology to psychiatry was crossed, my experience, perception and reactions were redefined as meaningless, and part of a disease process.

The other piece I was given by someone, has also served to help me focus in the past on the meaning of boundaries. I also see this now with greater clarity. I believe it is an absolute necessity to examine every idea presented to us, and to clearly state the meaning it has for us, if we are to understand that a difference in meaning exists, depending upon the psychospiritual attitude of the people speaking and hearing the words. The following piece can be used as an example.


(Author unknown-the comments in brackets are my own.)

When we need to set a limit with someone, we need to do so, clearly, preferably without anger, and in as few words as possible. (Setting limits with people who won't accept them is our problem, but we have to learn not to get dragged into their circular debates.)

We cannot simultaneously set a boundary (limit), and take care of another person's feelings. (We are accustomed to being manipulated to feel guilty about the reactions of the other whenever we try to stand up to them)

We will often feel ashamed, guilty and afraid when we set boundaries. (Sure. That's our dysfunctional programming)

Anger, rage, complaining and whining are clues to the need to set boundaries. Others clues include:
        Feeling threatened.
        Feeling suffocated.
        Feeling victimized.

(When you hear these stimulus words, be careful you don't interpret them to mean what the aggressor/boundary violator has trained you to think. Our violators have always responded to LEGITIMATE complaints about their violations by telling US we are having a perception or reaction problem, so that they do not have to know they are wrong. Psychiatrists just don't get that, and they often say exactly the same things, word for word, because they don't understand that our complaints are not just "whining" about nothing as our violators often tell them, usually covertly.)

It says, these are clues to the NEED to Set boundaries. We feel threatened and victimized because we are and because other than trying to reason with the violator, OR withdrawing from the endless effort to do so, we don't know what else to do.)

We need to pay attention to what our bodies are telling us.

We will be tested when we attempt to set boundaries. We can plan on it. It's not so much about convincing others about boundaries we are attempting to establish; it is a matter of convincing ourselves. (We are constantly talked out of it and often doubt our right to do so)

Be prepared to follow through by acting in congruence with boundaries. (In severe dysfunction, this can get us forced out of the group altogether . The mental health profession needs to face that with us for that is often OUR reality.)

We will set boundaries when we are ready, and not a minute sooner.

A support system can be helpful as we strive to establish and enforce boundaries. (We need a real support system. Preferably with people who have already done it themselves, know what we are going through, and have themselves grown past the backsliding and fear. We can be pulled through this by people who have done so, ahead of us.)

There is some enjoyment in setting boundaries. Besides identifying what hurts, and what we don't like, we learn to identify what we like, what feels good, what brings us pleasure etc. (That's what helps us to self actualize, and that is normal healthy psychospiritual growth. It is not selfish to want to define ourselves.)

I hope reading this will help you in your efforts to stabilize by giving you what we all need. Principles that work for everybody and that will anchor you to concrete reality in a way that can't ever be shaken again.

Patricia Lefave
ReActive Assertive Clients' Team

email: Psychevolution @ yahoo.ca
Patricia's Blog: www.beyondthepsychiatricbox.blogspot.com

© 2003, Patricia Lefave

View our related articles:
"The Minds of Psychiatrists Research Project"

The Psychiatric Tautology: Our Collective Nightmare by Paticia Lefave


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