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Holiday guilt: “Goodbye, deranged-acting relatives!” edition, Part 2.5

December 28, 2010

In the first post, I gave a little background as to why it seemed necessary to cut off or minimize contact with a lot of my relatives. In the second, I started describing why it was an extra-hard decision–and one that’s led to extra guilt–thanks to my culture of origin. In the next one, I’d like to go into basically the brighter side of the last post’s theme: some realizations of how the decision to get away from shoddy treatment has been an extra-good one.

This is more of an addendum to the last post. I’ll call it Part 2.5.

One point I neglected to mention explicitly in the last post, since I got freshly caught up in the validation of “Ye gods! It’s not just me, a lot of this behavior is so far beyond anything that could be considered even vaguely socially acceptable that it’s frightening!”: the extra helping of social isolation angle.

When the “familism”/”horizontal collectivism” approach is working as it should, you just don’t get much in the way of social isolation. You’re born into a support network, which is embedded in a larger one. Remember the “try hard to get along and understand the other person, no matter how eccentric” and “everybody has something to contribute” themes? This works particularly well for elders, disabled people, and the just plain socially awkward and eccentric. People just aren’t left to fend for themselves–and are encouraged to develop their own skills–which is kinda the point. One quote from More on gender, Part 2: “Two-Spirit” sums it up pretty well: “We don’t waste people the way [mainstream American] society does. Every person has their gift.”

Another quote from Collectivism in Appalachia (in which the authors don’t do a bad job overall, in spite of apparently keeping forgetting that they’re dealing with a very different culture in forming hypotheses and interpreting things):

Kinship communities usually include one’s immediate family as well as family of origin, grandparents, and siblings and their families (Abbot, 1992). Family members play a central role in all aspects of one’s life. The Rural and Appalachian Youth and Families Consortium (1996) report that “in addition to providing a sense of identity and belonging, these extended family groups play roles…in obtaining employment, finding places to live, and enforcing moral codes” (p. 390)… For Appalachian people, therefore, family ties and family obligations are of primary importance; however, the differences do not end here. . .

[pp. 14-16] Considering the characteristics of collectivism, one would begin to look at an Appalachian individual’s unwillingness to leave the area and aging family members just to obtain higher education or a better paying job. Such behavior would be contrary to the values with which they were raised… It is not merely a lack of ambition or lack of willingness to better oneself that drives that choice, but rather cultural values that run contrary to moving away simply to profit oneself.

Bearing in mind the observation from Family socialization predictors of autonomy among Appalachian adolescents: hey, surprise, “The strong familistic bonds of Appalachia fostered rather than hindered autonomy”.

That’s the way things should work. When they don’t, things can turn really ugly.

Of course, when this gets twisted by people’s personal problems, your core support network can be made up of people who don’t treat you well while insisting that you are the problem. You can form part of your sense of identity based in some pretty whacked-out examples of how to live your life and relate to other people. With the kind of crazymaking results you can imagine, and which I’ve been describing here. And, unless they are, say, obviously low-functioning alcoholics and/or are known to be beating on people, it’s harder to get away from them without being considered some kind of selfish, antisocial lunatic–short of moving completely away, which I ended up doing.1 When you are dealing with the equivalent of high-functioning alcoholics (which some of my relatives are too–again with the similarities with those who don’t drink)? You are likely to be assumed to be in the wrong for abandoning them.

Social isolation has been a persistent problem for me anyway, and I don’t think it was all coming from being on the autistic spectrum. There weren’t that many friends I was willing to bring into Hoarder House (and again with the similarities of growing up with chaos–actually my introduction to the idea), and expose to the crazy yelling, etc. besides the physical chaos. Most of the ones I did bring home were living in situations at least as chaotic in various ways. Getting convinced that there was something inherently wrong with me that made people treat me like crap did not help, either; talk about a recipe for further social avoidance and bad relationships reinforcing this.

Then I moved across the Atlantic. That introduced a whole new set of challenges, autistic or not.

From Lester B. Brown’s Two Spirit People: American Indian, Lesbian Women and Gay Men (which I wouldn’t mind picking up, from the look of things):

[A] study conducted by Grandbois and Schadt (1994) examined the connection between social isolation and alienation among American Indians residing in urban areas. They found that a positive correlation exists between the number of years an Indian woman resides in an urban area and the degree of social isolation she experiences. Rather than becoming increasingly assimilated into the urban lifestyle, many American Indians experience disaffection. . .

This poem illustrates an American Indian’s experience of the concept of cultural discontinuity presented by anthropologist John Ogbu (1982). Although he formulated this theory to apply to Native Americans in the Western educational system, his observations also hold true in the social arena. According to Ogbu, discontinuity takes place when there is a lack of congruence between dominant society’s values and the Indians’ traditional values of home and community.

This lack of consistency between worldviews not only creates confusion and disorientation for many urban Indians, it is further magnified by the deprivation of significant others and the support of the clan and tribe members. Already isolated from mainstream society, the urban-dwelling American Indian is severed from the support of his or her extended family and social/spiritual support networks, engulfed in a society that does not pay heed to the needs of the individual (Reyhner, 1992).

And, yeah, I have found this more than a little ironic, that the dominant society is considered more individualistic while behaving in a far more authoritarian way, bent on forcing individuals into a limited range of molds. Multiple dimensions, indeed.

This quote also applies to Appalachian people, explicitly and consciously Native in background or not. And, similar to classic Urban Natives who have somewhere to go back to, many, many “expats” end up moving back home even though it frequently means giving up higher-paying jobs elsewhere. Most people plan to go back when they’re older, whether they are ever able to do so or not. Besides just leaving the place (with strong connection to the land) and people you love–which is hard enough–the isolation and dissonance can really get to a person, even before you throw in condescension and discrimination because the person is different and looks at things in a “crazy”, “backward” way. For me, it’s also meant running into very different treatment than what I was accustomed to outside school because I’m different than expected in some other ways (disability, gender identity/presentation, etc).2 That has also been more isolating.

Collectivism in Appalachia also points out “limited involvement with external communities. This includes not participating in civic or fraternal groups that are not made up predominantly of family.” (More like people from similar cultural backgrounds, IME.) My take on why this might be from my own experience–a lot more to do with screwy-seeming dominant-culture group dynamics than some weird insular tendency–differs significantly from what the authors hypothesize. (And yes, that includes various activist groups–another post may well be on its way!) But that does cut down on social opportunities when you are living well away from your culture of origin. I have trouble meeting and talking to potential friends in person, but have avoided getting involved with groups related to my interests, having seen how some to my view harmful group dynamics can work out without the same “try hard to get along and work together” base assumption (not to mention with the possibility of that abovementioned condescension and discrimination in mind). What looks like acceptable or at least excusable behavior to other members of the dominant culture sometimes looks damned obnoxious to me.

I also can’t help but think of a post from I’m Somewhere Else here, about how privilege and emotional expression interact. A sample:

So if you have privilege, when you show emotion that causes discomfort in someone else, it just shows that your life sucks, and turns the viewer’s discomfort toward the cause that you want to promote. If you don’t have privilege, and you show the same emotion, the viewer’s discomfort stays with you and is turned back towards you.

Whether you’re disabled, from a “backward” culture and/or ethnic group, or whatever–or any combination of the above–this kind of thing can really play out in other groups besides within families. See also Qwo-Li Driskill’s darkly hilarious 25 Ways to Tokenize or Alienate a Non-White Person Around You (pdf), including “25. if you’re white and confronted on your racism, cry”. I’ve dealt with enough of the “What did you do to get $PERSON so upset and acting like an ass?!” within my own family, so my tolerance for it coming from manarchists (and the racist/classist/disablist/otherwise ostentatiously pseudo-egalitarian equivalents), lifestyle activists, other people who will hijack groups to their own ends and then act like anyone who objects is the one with The Problem–and their apologists/enablers–is pretty damned low by now. As is my tolerance for clique-forming, so that anyone on the outside of the “right” one(s) is automatically not to be taken seriously.

Yeah, maybe I don’t need to write up a full post on this.😉

OTOH, when I thought we would be moving to the Bay Area for Nigel’s work, I was hoping to look into Cherokee Society of the Greater Bay Area, or maybe the smaller-but-closer Silicon Valley one. 3 I also think it says a lot that there is such an apparent need for satellite groups like this among Urban Indians. Some extra support when you’re living between worlds is good. The stress from isolation can contribute to a lot of health problems and make you more prone to addiction and all kinds of unpleasant stuff, if you don’t find better ways of coping with it.

So, yeah, moving away and cutting off contact with the existing support network has been rough in a lot of ways. It also has a definite set of advantages, however. More on that in the intended third and final post!

_____________

1 As did my mother, who dropped out of her last year of college to marry someone who was getting sent to Germany by the military. (My grandmother was apparently not subtle about hoping she’d get married and gone, either. My grandfather cried at the educational sabotage and too-early marriage, never letting himself see why she felt compelled to do it.) The big problem there was, she didn’t know any better than to marry another nasty-acting narcissist, and ended up both being abused and never learning that, hey, you don’t have to put up with that kind of treatment. She moved back, ended up marrying a second nasty-acting narcissist and living just down the street from Grandma–and when she became terminally ill was providing 24/7, live-in care for her abusive mother and said second narcissist. She would also go on about how nice it was to get away from my grandmother’s deranged behavior, but couldn’t let herself see the similarities of my move to London.😐

And I almost got sucked back into the situation a couple of years after leaving, and spent months in misery out of a thoroughly programmed and played-upon sense of responsibility toward everyone but myself. (Taking 24/7 care of Grandma, Mom, and Stepdad because Mom was too physically and emotionally ill to cope. Bad situation.) Good thing I did leave again, selfish as it made me feel at the time.

ETA: I should probably add that I had no intention of leaving Nigel, despite some of the assumptions made at the time by people who didn’t know much about the situation. No, I felt very uncomfortably torn between responsibilities (not to mention what I wanted in life) but had no idea at all what else to do in response to a “Help, it’s an emergency!” call–where the emergency never seemed anywhere close to ending, once I was there. “Oh, you really should get back to Nigel… Oh shit, another crisis!” Yeah, it was like that. For six months.Back

2 Part of the crazymakingness of my family was that they did indeed espouse pretty much the full set of supportive values. And tried to abide by them–except when they didn’t, but decided to scapegoat someone, and you could never tell when that would be. It wasn’t even really hypocrisy, but more of a serious lack of insight into their own motivations and behavior; I think most of them are really convinced that they’re doing the right thing. Which makes it even more dangerous to live with and learn from, even if you’re not one of the ones who keeps getting scapegoated.Back

3 Even though I was a bit concerned about the unenrolled Wannabeness factor, especially since I turned out rather pale and am married to a Swede. I can’t help but think that maybe there have been problems in past if a group is feeling a need to explicitly state:

Although the CSGBA is directed predominantly by citizens of the Cherokee Nation, members of the Eastern Band Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, non-citizens of Cherokee descent, Cherokee Freedman, intermarried whites, spouses and other family members, and anyone with a sincere interest in the Cherokee Nation are also welcome to participate.

But, I don’t want to spend time around a group that will treat people that way anyway. The traditional “who do we know, and who are we related to” dance ought to be enough (and I sure can participate in that one).Back

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