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Consciousness Raising: Is It Always Good?

(Names changed)


 


         Once upon a time we lived with limited expectations. We expected life to be hard and unfortunately it did not disappoint us. Life was set out for us. We were born and if we survived our childhood we married within our community. Hopefully it was a compatible marriage and we would make ends meet. We had children, many of whom did not survive into adulthood. Those that did followed in our footsteps.

 

         Expecting life to be good, to be happy and successful, is a concept that is new and has only been around for two or three generations (depending on your age). Along with those expectations is the notion that if life is not good, not the way we want it to be, we need to work on it till it is. And so consciousness raising is very much a part of this century. If we are unhappy with our spouses, if our children seem too shy, if our teen is at risk there are groups, lectures and books to help us deal with it and make the changes we seek.

 

          This, to my way of thinking, is a good thing. Knowledge is important, and the more knowledge we have, the better we are able to make good decisions for our families and ourselves. However, sometimes an individual may find consciousness raising detrimental and decide to retreat to what was. For them, that could be the right decision. For them, not having higher expectations brings happiness.

 

         Surah Baylah was happy in her marriage. She loved to cook and care for her children. She didn’t mind helping her mother with her frail and ill father. It was true she didn’t have much time for anything else since she had a large family and worked outside the home as well. Yet Surah Baylah was content. Tired, sometimes exhausted, but content.

 

         One day Surah Baylah’s friend had just come back from an inspiring lecture. She shared with Sarah Baylah how upset she was that she worked so hard and her husband never helped with the children or participated in the housework. He never cleared the table or changed a diaper. She wasn’t sure he even knew where to find things, even his own things, in his own house without her help. The more the friend spoke about her feelings after the lecture, the more Surah Baylah began to identify with her. It was as if her friend was talking about Surah Baylah’s husband and not her own.

 

         Maybe her friend was right. Maybe she needed to insist that her husband help more. Maybe she did need some time to herself as the lecturer had said − for the sake of her family, of course. Maybe it would make her a better wife and mother. And so, Surah Bayleh began attending the lecture series with her friend. She began insisting that her husband take on more responsibilities around the house. Her husband agreed with what she said, but never followed through, and over time, Surah Bayleh became angrier and angrier as discontentment set in when her new expectations were not met.

 

         Surah Bayleh even began thinking about divorce. She was nostalgic about the contentment she used to feel. She hadn’t felt that way in a long time. She began to wonder if she hadn’t been better off, before setting up expectations for her husband that he couldn’t or wouldn’t meet. And so she decided to go back in time. She gave up − not on her husband, but on the expectations that she felt were impossible for him to meet. She knew he loved her, but he was not able to accept this new role she had laid out for him as husband and father.

 

         And so, Surah Bayleh left the lecture group. She parted ways with her friend, whose talk was contributing to her feelings of discontent. She chose to go back to the way that made her feel better, happier. Maybe it wasn’t the best way for most people. Maybe it wasn’t the modern way. But, for Surah Baylah it felt right.

 

         Expectations bring with them wonderful feelings of success −or terrible feelings of disappointment. It all depends on how successful one is in meeting those expectations and getting everyone around them to buy into them. When everyone around you chooses not to acquiesce to your desires and has different expectations in a relationship, while you keep demanding that they see it your way and give you what you want, the result is often anger and disappointment.

 

         For some people, the choice at that point, is to retreat to a time when they were happier − when they expected less and maybe didn’t even feel they were entitled to more. For the women who choose this path, it is the right decision for them and they deserve the support of those of us who choose a different path. In the end, each of us must decide for ourselves how we want to live our lives and accept just what makes us feel content.

 

         You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/consciousness-raising-is-it-always-good/2007/05/16/

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