JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

Keep on, with the force don’t stop…

Posted by on Apr 12, 2019

Photo credit: Mary Gaitskill

Can you have two opposing thoughts or feelings at the same time? Really think about it, can you like someone while disliking something about them? The ability to do this gives great freedom, a freedom from the need to be right and for everyone in disagreement to be wrong. In all of my travels, I have not met enough people with this seemingly impossible characteristic. Duality is the word to describe this “condition” although that word does not have a positive connotation for some reason. Okay, so I looked it up and I think the reason is the word duality is too close to “dualism” and specifically “non-dualism” which in religion, holds great meaning. In most religions, the end game is to be one, one with God, the Divine, or consciousness, making any divide within incorrect. So, you can see how being able to have two separate thoughts or feelings at a time creates great conflict. However, I think it is a key to healing, a key to understanding each other, and a necessary key to connection. To be able to feel two different ways about someone is not as foreign to you as you might think. I bet that someone you love does something or feels some way that is opposite to what you like, approve of, or believe in…yet you continue to love them. That is duality. Now, why is it so hard to do that with people we don’t know?

My example is difficult so get ready. Difficult to write about, think about, learn about, and figure out. Recently, I watched the documentary Leaving Neverland and haven’t been the same since. But before you read on, I would like you to determine: can you read this piece and think instead of react? More often than not, human beings are in a reaction mode and do NOT think…even though they think they do. The finest line in the world lives between thought and emotion. Our generous capacity to think doesn’t mean we actually do, and especially when things are emotionally charged. I know you have an opinion here and probably a strong one. I haven’t met anyone yet who hasn’t become incredibly charged at the mention of this issue. Heels dig in, faces cringe, body language tightens, and the mind shuts off any ability to receive anything new. I am not asking you to come to my “side” because I am not taking a position here, just trying to sort out some thoughts and feelings and how to arrive at a better place in the middle of a fury like this…or the many others going on right now.

First of all, let’s take “truth” off the table because no matter how much data we think we have collected, we will never know the truth. Remember, there are three sides to every story: my side, your side, and the truth. And perspective prevents “truth” from being true to everyone so don’t look for truth. My intention is to look for a way to process this and other intense issues while staying connected to each other. We have become so controversial and positional that we have forgotten compassion. Being compassionate doesn’t mean you are endorsing the other person’s position, especially if you disagree, but it does mean striving to understand how they got there and what you might be not seeing in your stance. When we write off someone or their opinion, we instantly disconnect. And we disconnect from them as well as anything we might learn about them, the issue, and most importantly, ourselves.

What do you believe happened? And how does it make you feel? And then, what does it make you do? Human beings are designed to avoid discomfort, it is a survival thing. Discomfort leads to pain and pain leads to death and we are designed to survive. As a psychologist, I could talk about avoiding discomfort all day long. We are masterful at it and unfortunately, the mastery makes it invisible and so terribly hard to see and change. Most of our reactions are designed to protect us and to protect the psyche. You see, going crazy is bad for survival.

Secondly, belief is a layered onion and there are as many ways to define or describe it as there are people to have it. Do you know how you develop your beliefs? With as strong as it is, you would think we would all have a defined process for developing belief, but no way. Belief lives in the emotional world and is as hidden from our view as is our nose. Right there, front and center, and we cannot see it (unless you look hard and close one eye—which is a metaphor in and of itself!). Belief forms early in the human brain, some say ages 2 – 7 is when the mind is most open and susceptible to belief. If this is true, our template for how we will relate to things for the rest of our life is set early and without true thought. Changing belief is possible but incredibly difficult work that takes commitment and time. But the benefits can be incredible. Let your thoughts and beliefs about Michael Jackson come to the surface and see if you can step back and watch as they happen to you…

Some of the things that go through my mind as I think about this issue are how mis-matched my belief systems are to what might have happened. Sexual abuse is hard enough to think about but sexually abusing a child is outlandish. It is a problem in our world, and we have no solution for it yet, but still super hard to think about. As I watched this documentary, my mind was forced to multi-task in a terribly difficult way. The other end of the spectrum is how much I love his music. In 1979, Michael Jackson released the album, Off The Wall. I was twelve years old and loved it. I knew every word to every song and played it over and over and over, like millions of others did that year. MJ wasn’t called the King of Pop for no reason. His musical wizardry was obviously legendary and there aren’t too many people around that don’t like at least one of his hundreds of songs. As I was running the other day with my music set to random, one of his songs came on. It was Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough. I had added to the playlist months ago, so it was a bit of a surprise when it started playing. Instantly, I felt two completely conflicting emotions. One was my love of the song and how the music stirred me and catapulted me back to my pre-adolescent days. The second was the vivid descriptions of what he might have done. And I say “might have done” because I wasn’t there so there is no way to say for sure. Or is there?

To tolerate the tension of duality, I seek information and as much perspective as possible, and breathing, lots of breathing. Data and feel are a reliable combination and so here goes. Side A: I love his music and the way it makes me feel. He is one of the most extraordinary musical, dance, and choreographical talents to ever walk the planet (lots of agreement here so not just opinion or a single perspective). He was generous and participated in causes greater than himself. He expressed gratitude and love (careful, we are on side A) openly and publicly, something rare for a mega-star. Having reverence for his King of Pop-ness is obvious and wonderful. And then there is Side B: the documentary, the rumors, the court cases, the doubt, the unimaginable. I successfully avoided reading or watching anything negative about the child abuse rumors for decades. I wanted to stay tucked in my side A bubble and not have to be conflicted about it. Watching the documentary was tough, like I said, but also good in a weird way. The problem here is that we just don’t want to believe someone we have positive feelings for could be bad because having two opposing thoughts or feelings about someone is disruptive and challenging.

The men in the documentary were highly believable to me and I have some ability around spotting liars. So, my gut trusted them for various reasons that emerged over the four hours. Then there was the well-documented and even admitted fact that young boys were a staple in his life and slept in his bedroom. No girls, just boys, changing the claim that he loved children to he loved male children. Add to that his incredibly unconventional life. He was a ballad singer romancing older women with his songs before he was tall enough to ride a rollercoaster. His father was famous for his tough style of parenting which included verbal and physical punishment. His early rise to fame prevented “normal” pre- and adolescent behavior which would include normal sexual development, curiosity, and experimentation. He was a child thrust into an adult world at a time when it was unprecedented and his rise to fame was rapid and lasting. It is unlikely with the demands on his life as a pop star that he ever developed a normal friendship that was subject to ups and downs, teaching him how to relate to others. As a star, no one challenges you, no one calls you out, you make no mistakes…and this is a terrible mistake. None of this is to build excuses, just explanations. He had zero chance of being normal so no great shakes that he turned out to be the way he did.

As I was running, all of this was floating through my mind and body. It made me wonder if I should be enjoying his music if I believe he did those things. And then my body had a moment since I was using it and the music lifted me and infused me with goodness. His music has nothing to do with his bedroom behavior. I do NOT condone, approve of, or even justify what he might have done, however, he was not a personal friend or part of my life other than on a very external level. Me liking his music does not endorse his behavior, it is just me liking his music. There was a part in the documentary where they showed an avid, maybe even rabid MJ fan completely annihilating the accusers on video (something he posted publicly and willingly so I am not calling him out in any way). Calling them names that were nasty and severe, his love and worship of MJ was distinct…and perhaps a bit disturbing. Watching his severity was puzzling: how could he hate someone he didn’t know in such dramatic fashion while loving someone he didn’t know in such desperate fashion? He had no capacity to have two competing thoughts at the same time and not have the emotional conflict overtake him. Love or hate, you choose, but nothing in between. Half of the world ceased to exist in that moment. Such a shame and such a waste. His need to defend his inability to confront side B was more powerful than anything else and took over every possibility.

Time for a check-in with yourself. How are you feeling? What are you thinking? How is your physiology? Is your heartrate elevated, are you irritated? Where did your mind go? Many people go right to blaming the mothers for letting their children sleep in a room with a thirty-five-year-old man. If you did, come back from that because that is how we try to deflect the discomfort and put it on someone else. Did you become angry with me? If you did, I can take it (and sort of asked for it) but look to see why. Look to see how your reaction might not only happen here but in other instances when having two opposing feelings seems impossible. The problem with a feeling is that when it is strong, it can seem overpowering. But the truth is, it is just a feeling and you don’t need to act on or do something with each and every feeling you get (no matter how Jerry Springer has convinced people otherwise). With practice, you can develop a skill that allows you to have your feelings instead of your feelings having you. Instead of trying to stop them (impossible) or shut them down (also impossible) or change them (difficult), what if you could just have them, watch them, and react less to them? Feelings come and go and if you wait long enough, they all eventually go.

Difference is what makes us great and difference is the future. It has been the past but just not as visibly. Someone I love and respect tremendously voted the opposite way I did in 2016, forcing me to confront a duality I did not expect or welcome. Can I love him, stay connected to him, and NOT respect this part of him? I suspect everyone reading this has confronted this situation, no matter how you voted. That election created the greatest divide our country has seen since the Civil War. Psychologists report unimaginable numbers of people suffering from the divide we are now experiencing, and politics gets top billing in therapy sessions, something completely foreign to us. I decided that yes, I could remain connected to him and love and value our relationship aside from our political differences. After all, the same conflict troubled him and he chose to stay in it. That is relationship: the give and take, the amazing and the ordinary, the good and the bad, the transgress and the forgive. Perhaps the duality of thought can produce a non-dualism of connection…because it really all comes down to connection. Is your desire to be connected greater than anything else? It is something I work on every day and I invite you to join me on this rollercoaster ride of a lifetime.