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April 24, 2005

Welcome To Bedlam

How does a sick mind know it's sick?

Answer: we're all co-dependent, people... we just don't know it yet. Charlotte Hays of IWF takes on one of my betes noire: human beings as soulless, will-less victims incapable of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. This theory has been aptly called "therapism":

In the months following 9/11, television ads featuring celebrities such as Alan Alda and Susan Sarandon encouraged New Yorkers to seek mental health services through Project Liberty, a heavily funded federal initiative created in response to the attacks. "Feel free to feel better," the motto went, and at the time it seemed likely that many people would take up the offer. Eight months into the program, less than a 10th of the estimated 1.5 million New Yorkers in need of counseling had bothered to come in for help.

Project Liberty accelerated its outreach. A psychiatrist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine characterized the new attitude: If patients weren't going to come in, she said, "you've got to go to them." One psychotherapist, uncomfortable pushing treatment on people who insisted that they were fine, was told that "future psychiatric symptoms could still develop." Project Liberty's position seemed to be that New Yorkers were traumatized but just didn't realize it.

I'll never forget the day I first encountered this pernicious idea. I was an officer for a charitable and social club on base. Imagine my surprise when a young wife who had asked me for permission to address the board described a rather novel rape and spousal abuse "outreach" program.

The concept was brilliant: since we of the fairer sex shrink from confrontations with men, her office had helpfully distributed "bra cards" urging women to turn in their significant others at our local powder rooms. What a happy thought! At any hour of the day or night, if the urge should suddenly strike, empowered women everywhere could now whip out their bra cards and report the big meanies!

I suppose I can be forgiven for wondering whether a brassiere wasn't perhaps an infelicitous hiding place against a lusty Marine with a spot of rape on his mind? I was already going to hell for wondering how many people on our tiny base didn't know where Family Services was, or musing snarkily that the number of the Base Police was already plastered in bright orange stickers on every telephone in base housing.

So while it seemed unlikely that many ladies remained unaware of how to summon help, I couldn't help wondering whether we'd now be seeing a bumper crop of false accusations. Business being slow, they were, in effect, advertising for rape and spousal abuse reports.

This sort of thing has taken off on military bases over the past few years; a by-product of DOD's efforts to be more supportive of military families. The reach-out-and-touch-me movement quickly spread to the local hospital: at my next OB-GYN appointment my doctor asked me if my husband had ever forced me to have sex against my will. After briefly contemplating asking him if he had ever forced his wife to have sex with his wife against her will, I let him have it with both barrels.

At pre-deployment briefs, some commands now have rafts of counselors to talk with children and wives about their feelings. Occasionally I've seen it handled well, but more often I've seen it handled poorly. There is a difference between availability and proselytizing. Now don't get me wrong: I know deployments can be tough.

I grew up in a Navy family. I've lived through my share of deployments myself. My husband has been gone less than some, but more than many others. We've weathered two one-year unaccompanied tours quite well and many long separations over his long career, and my advice to wives has always been this: you can view this as a hardship or an opportunity, but either way you choose to view it, it's not going away. So you are presented with a choice. You can wallow in self-pity and focus on all the shortcomings and hardships, or you can look at this as a chance to grow and do some of the things you can't do when your husband is home. Go back to school, get a job, color your hair, lose some weight, write music or poetry (this is what I did), pick something you're scared to do and do it anyway. Make a new friend.

Broaden your horizons. Be a more interesting person when he comes back, than you were when he left. Make him see the girl he fell in love with, rather than the wife he's gotten used to ignoring when he comes home at 6:30. But all too often the therapy mavens just want to talk about separation anxiety and how you'll fight when he comes home (you will, but that passes) and how traumatized the kids will be (they won't be unless you act like a nitwit in front of them).

At the heart of this misuse of therapy is a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature: a kindness that weakens the very people it tries to help and can leave them defenseless against the adversities of life. This same philosophy pervades our modern culture:

Children in schools must be shielded from competitive environments, lest their self-esteem be damaged. Society will become healthier as people learn to share their emotions, no matter how unwelcome these may be to others. The only thing worse than suppressing one's feelings is passing judgment on someone else's. Suffering or discontent of any kind is not ennobling but pathological and must be treated.

This thinking has always mystified me. We build our immune systems by gradually being exposed to, and fighting off, germs. We strengthen muscles by exercising them. We sharpen our minds by solving difficult problems. What on earth, then, makes highly-educated and otherwise intelligent people think that shielding people from hard knocks and suffering will make them more emotionally resilient? That never allowing them to face and overcome challenges will allow them to build self-esteem?

George Will elaborates:

From childhood on, Americans are told by "experts" -- therapists, self-esteem educators, grief counselors, traumatologists -- that it is healthy for them to continuously take their emotional temperature, inventory their feelings and vent them. Never mind research indicating that reticence and suppression of feelings can be healthy.

Because children are considered terribly vulnerable and fragile, playground games such as dodgeball are being replaced by anxiety-reducing and self-esteem-enhancing games of tag in which nobody is ever "out." But abundant research indicates no connection between high self-esteem and high achievement or virtue. Is not unearned self-esteem a more pressing problem?

Interestingly, no one would accuse Marines of a lack of self-confidence. Yet from the moment a brand new recruit steps off the bus at Parris Island his sense of self is under full-scale assault. A good DI doesn't waste time building up a recruit's self-esteem.

In fact, it's quite the opposite: everything that happens at boot camp convinces a recruit that there's nothing particularly special about him. He may come in there thinking he's pretty hot stuff, but they shave his head, take away his fancy sneakers and stylish jeans and issue him a funny-looking uniform that looks just like everyone else's. If he screws up, no one makes excuses for him. He gets yelled at as though he were a little kid. It can be humiliating at times. It's designed to be that way.

But if he persists, if he keeps coming, if he hangs in there and he works with the team, he will eventually earn their respect and perhaps even the coveted approval of the drill instructor. And at the end of the line, there is The Crucible. Not some touchy-feely pajama party, where sensitive New Age metrosexuals sip Chardonnay and wallow in their insecurities as they affirm their dependence on each other, but an all-out, balls-to-the-wall ordeal where if he can hang in there, he just might earn the right to be called 'Marine':

"I rappelled off the helicopter skid and didn't break my rope on time," said Cpl. Nate Rymill, a bandsman with the Marine Band, Marine Forces Pacific, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. "I landed flat on my back and had the wind knocked out of me. After everyone figured out I was alive, Sgt. Ferguson stood over me. He asked me, 'You gonna live?' I mumbled something to the effect of 'yes, sir.' He got this sinister smile on his face and said, 'Good, cause that was some motivating trash.' He was completely psycho."
The Crucible emphasizes trainee teamwork under stress. "Recruits get eight hours of sleep during the entire 54 hour exercise," said Sgt. Roger Summers, a Delta Company drill instructor in the 1st Recruit Training Battalion at Parris Island. "They get two-and-a-half MREs and they are responsible for rationing out the food to themselves. Then we put them through tough physical activities like road marches and night infiltration courses. They march about 40 miles in those 54 hours."

It isn't long before the recruits are tired and hungry, Summers said, but as they keep going they realize they can call on reserves they never knew they had.

"Some of these recruits do things they never thought they could do," he said. "Some of them come from middle-class homes where everything has been handed to them. Others come from poorer homes where nothing was ever expected of them. If they finish the Crucible, they have accomplished something."

One recruit put it best. "I am going to finish this," he said. "And when I do, it will be the most positive thing I have done in my life."

After being driven like dogs for two days, do they feel like victims? Do they require psychological counseling to rebuild shattered egos irreparably damaged by their Drill Instructors' insensitive refusal to celebrate their unique "otherness"? They do not:

A color guard raises the flag on the memorial. The chaplain reads a prayer specifically written for the finish of the Crucible, and the company first sergeant addresses the recruits. Then the drill instructors present each of their recruits with the Marine Corps insignia -- the eagle, globe and anchor. He shakes their hands and calls them "Marine" for the first time. Many accept the honor with tears streaming down their faces.

Make no mistake: those are not tears of weakness. This means something to them. The victory was hard-won. For some of them, it will be the first completely earned praise they have ever had in their lives.

And that's something no amount psychotherapy can deliver. Self-reliance. You can see it in the way they walk: I can usually spot a Marine (even a retired one) a mile away. The carry themselves differently. There's a self-awareness, a calm, not-quite-cockiness in their bearing. At my son's police graduation I picked out the gentleman next to him in the lineup, for no particular reason, as a Marine. There was that indefinable something in his eyes. It stays with them all their lives, what they learned in Marine training.

The discovery that in many ways, life is like an obstacle course. Many of these young men and women come from less than ideal circumstances. But no matter where they came from, they came to the Marine Corps because they were looking for something. And in recruit training, through challenge and adversity, they find the answer to a question, not outside, but deep within themselves. They find hidden reserves of strength and character they never knew they possessed. And they also find the enormous power that comes from voluntarily disciplining yourself, from working as part of a team. From not making excuses, or whining, or complaining, but simply adapting and moving on when life doesn't turn out the way you hoped it would. Many of them find God for the first time.

No, no one would describe Marines as lacking in self-esteem. But it wasn't given to them. They earned it themselves. And perhaps that is the essential difference: what they earned for themselves, they know can never be taken away by life, or by other people.

And the worst thing about it is that they seem so happy. They're obviously extremely sick. Delusional, in fact - in need of therapy.


Posted by Cassandra at April 24, 2005 08:51 AM

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» Marines and self esteem from Marine Corps Moms
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Comments

I beleive it was Socrates who said " an unanalyzed mental disorder is not worth having".

Posted by: Pile On [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2005 01:53 PM

Hey, wasn't he that dude who killed himself?

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2005 02:29 PM

Could have been, but I am sure it was in a completely organic all natural holistic judicious euphamistic sort of way.

Posted by: Pile On [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2005 02:57 PM

Reading this has severely damaged my self-image. I really feel that you expect those who are "more capable" and "work harder" to "excel" in your dog-eat-dog capitalistic system. Well, to that I say, you have really hurt my feelings, and I'm going to tell Barbara Boxer that you are glaring at me.

Posted by: MathMom [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2005 04:11 PM

Socrates caved in to peer pressure. I am sure if he had gone through the crucible (I think Aristotle did attend a few wars and Plato was worthless)he would have knocked the hemlock out of Schiavosta's and Kervorkistanos' hands and beat them senseless.

Then again, he wasn't wearing a bra either.

Posted by: La Femme Crickita [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2005 04:27 PM

How can you be so sure, La Femme C.

I swear to you that I saw a picture at Michael Moores website, shot by photographer George Soros of John Bolton glaring at Socrates' man-boobs, which was nothing more than a ruse to draw attention from Shrubya who snuck in to steal away cases of oil filled crucibles.

Posted by: CKCat [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2005 05:16 PM

Perhaps, someday, Therapists will do a study of the study which came up with the result that those who received no therapy had a recovery rate equal to those who had therapy.

Posted by: RIslander [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2005 07:28 PM

I'm with MathMom. This post made me feel totally lame because, er, I'm not a Marine!

Cass, this post should be the introduction to Michael Barone's extremely entertaining book, Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation's Future. Indeed, if you haven't read Barone's book you should. It won't teach you anything you don't already know, but it will reinforce all your delightful prejudices.

Posted by: TigerHawk [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 06:35 AM

Oh dear...

You know, this post took me almost 3 hours to write instead of my normal 25 minutes - it was like being in labor. I really should have bagged it (I knew that at the time, but I'm stubborn).

The whole time I was writing, I kept getting up and the snarky intro to this Todd Snider song kept playing in my head, where he's trying to write a song - and it really sucks - and he's thinking about just bagging it so he decides to go to the local convenience store for a cup of coffee but when he gets there it's locked because the clerk has just been stabbed (he has this big old knife sticking out of his shoulder) and there's this sign on the door that says "Back in 15 minutes" and he thinks to himself,

"Well where am I going to get my coffee now?"

And then he comes back and writes the song anyway.

I was just trying to find an angle on why the therapism approach was so wrong, and the Crucible seemed like a good example. But I feared it would come off like most of my posts, sounding vaguely superior and bluestocking-ish. That's never how I mean anything. I just get excited about an idea and I don't stop to make it sound all warm and fuzzy.

If I had any guts at all I'd go whole hog and be an Ann Coulter clone, but I can never quite manage to see things in black and white and besides I worry too much about people's feelings.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 07:01 AM

You certainly can write, Cass.
Now, is there a blog thereapist in the house? I'm feeling inadequate.

Posted by: spd rdr [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 07:14 AM

Occasionally when I'm successful I manage a certain symmetry and order in my writing, mr. rdr. You, on the other hand, write with genuine passion and flair when you're really excited about something.

That's something I would kill to be able to do :)

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 07:34 AM

Well, it would stand to reason he wasn't wearing a bra unless he was transgendered and cross dressing as a result. Maybe that was why he was corrupting the youth of Athens.

The girls actually wanted to get up and pay the Lysistrata themselves instead of the guys doing it.

Cass, the post is fine. We are just being snarky.

Posted by: La Femme Crickita [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 08:16 AM

Cass, the post is great.

A friend of mine's nephew just completed The Crucible last November (I want to say he was in San Diego instead of Parris Island though?). The rest of the family told me that when he left he was rather quiet, almost sheepish and slouched A LOT! The instant my friend saw him after he got back from training my buddy told him "You standing a little tall there ain't ya?!" The change in just the way he carried himself was absolutely unmistakeable.

Posted by: Masked Menace [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 09:41 AM

East coast recruits go to PI, west coast recruits go to San Diego, but the training (for the most part) is the same. I think they had to travel to do some of the stuff at San Diego that they can do at PI (although maybe this is no longer true - it has been at least 10 years since I was there).

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 09:53 AM

...plus you get the sand flea experience at PI and they don't even charge extra for it.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 09:54 AM

Well, that solidifies it. I knew Memphis wasn't part of the South (Ask for tea in a restaurant around here they bring you unsweetened tea). Now that I know the Marine Corp is backing me up I defy anyone to argue with me. :-)

Posted by: Masked Menace [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 10:05 AM

Bathing in sand fleas? How close to nature can you get, unless of course it is Poo B. in the crucible of the third world...no working toilets! How incredibly awesome THAT is? And to think she had to travel halfway around the world to crap in a forest when she could have done it at PI at taxpayer expense!

Posted by: La Femme Crickita [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 11:52 AM

You know, your post touched a lot of my hot buttons. Presumed or assumed guilt. I detested that. If there was a problem that I was aware of, and could get the necessary help without going through the chain, I did so. The chaplain's office can be a great blessing or roadblock.

I may end up in a full scale rant over this, so I will keep it short. There was a lot of "I don't want to hear that" going on. Things like overt sexual harrasment, or alcoholism that impaired duty, as well as some spousal abuse.

What bothered me was the tendency to look away in the face of some very real carp that was going on and shove it under the rug as much as the "all men are beasts" mentality.

There was seldom the happy medium of common sense and the benefit of the doubt.

Oh I could just go on and on.

But I won't.

I will eat truffles and think happy thoughts.

Posted by: La Femme Crickita [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 03:16 PM

I know. I think we've both seen it go both ways, Cricket. I just typed a long comment and realized I was ranting.

It ties you up in knots.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 03:33 PM

I can't think that the bra card is much use anyway when the phone has been ripped out of the wall and the spouse is unconscious.

A sweet little friend of mine had a husband who was truly a beast to her...she got out, got help and is far far away from him. He doesn't know where she lives or who I am, but I believe that was one reason why 911 was kept short and sweet. Not a lot of numbers to memorize.

and let me say that if anyone is being abused by their husband (or wife and it does happen), we have been known to offer our house as a safe house.

'nuff said on that.

Posted by: La Femme Crickita [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 25, 2005 03:43 PM

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