It is time for a new tale

I’m proposing a novel diagnosis for the DSM-6. Yes, 411.07, Privileged Dystopian Syndrome. I hope the APA will move swiftly and assemble a committee to review this new proposal. In fact, throughout recent history, there are vast examples of how this sociomedical disease has wreaked havoc on individuals and families.  More on this soon… bear with me.

I lectured in class yesterday about how far removed Western culture has gravitated from the center of our hearts.  What prompted this was an email I received from a client of the MISS Foundation.

I met with her for a few hours, provided some psychological first aid, perhaps, and bore witness to the immense pain she was experiencing over the tragic death of her beautiful 19-year-old son to cancer.  After our meeting, and not uncharacteristically, her story – her beloved child, resonated in my heart for days.

So, I sent her a card telling her how deeply I care, and I sent her a book I thought would be meaningful for her. A few days later, I sent her an email to check on her.

She responded with deep expressions of gratitude and an emphatic “You are AMAZING!” intended for me.

While I do so appreciate her sentiment, this is woefully overstated. Since when, in our history, does basic human compassion and kindness qualify as “AMAZING”?

I wrote back, thanking her; but indeed, it is who feels tragically-privileged to have been invited into her sacred space where memories and pain and love for her son exist.

Really. How did it come to this?

when one weeps

How did it come to the place where loving another through their time of suffering is some sort of heroic or extraordinary performance of the human being? Is this not our natural state? Or, should it not be?

Back to my proposal for the DSM-6.

411.07, Privileged Dystopian Syndrome

A woefully self-absorbed sociomedical elitist system which is disconnected from the suffering in the world, causing it to keep others who are hurting at a safe emotional distance by pathologizing them, making them the “other”, so as not to disrupt its own delusion of security. Often seems to be hubris-based disorder but is, in fact, rooted in deep-seated fear of vulnerability, extinction, annihilation, and death anxiety (Becker, 1970). This system often hides behind numbers, codes, and superfluous vernacular as a means through which it can mesmerize and enchant itself. In particular, normal, authentic human emotions are often medicalized in this syndrome as it helps the system feel more in control and powerful. It derives most of its gratification, valuation, and self-fulfillment, though transitory, from these pathological states, and takes pleasure when other, less powerful systems bow at its throne.

Intolerance for deep emotional expression; a persistent sense of entitlement for happiness at all costs yet with a nagging inability to actually ever experience such joy; persistent disillusionment of impermeability not to be interrupted by the psychological, social, economic, spiritual, and physical distress of others; forced detachment and disconnection often co-morbid with over-intellectualization; inability to experience compassion (from com– meaning to be with the other andpati– suffering); reactivity to high cultural variability resulting in the system’s self-soothing (note that the primary resolution of such conflict is forced nosological labeling of said “other”, hasty utilization of less sophisticated, laconic interventions, and the personification of a prescription pad as “best friend”); a tendency to prioritize economics over humanity; failure to recognize the collusion between its own existence and exogenously powerful stakeholders; a morbid preoccupation with monoculturalism combined with an unrelenting and maniacal desire toward social and emotional conformation of the masses; incapacity of the system to accept responsibility for the immense harm it has foisted on powerless others, from immigrants and minorities to women, children, and elderly to war veterans and the homeless. Oh, and let’s not forget the grievers.

To date, the only known treatment for such a system is a well-informed, courageous, and educated countermovement. Oh, and human connection, compassion, and love.

Unfortunately, my profession, puts all the emphasis on genetics rather than the environment which of course is a simple explanation but it really takes society off the hook… if behaviors and dysfunctions are controlled by genes, we don’t have to look at child welfare policies, we don’t have to look at the kind of support we give to pregnant women, we don’t have to look at the non-support we give to families…  and society becomes innocent,
and we don’t have to take a hard look at it and its role…
-Gabor Mate, MD

Our ongoing reductionist view of physical and mental illness is killing us in more ways than we know.   And, the system is a danger to self and others. People are buying into PDS-induced disillusionment that normal behavior is somehow abnormal: For example, “bipolar disorder” in two-year olds (really parents? Aren’t two year olds, by definition, “bipolar”?), schizophrenia as a life-long disease from which there is no recovery, and grief as precursor to serious mental illness.

Our sociomedical system is stagnate, it is sick, it is mentally ill, it is wounded, broken, diseased (dis-eased), and it costs us all in many ways. The system doesn’t know it yet. But, often such serious illness isn’t easily recognizable from the inside.

PDS’ers promulgate dangerous ideology, the slippery slope toward the automotonizing of our race: No touch. No tears. No apologizing. The pathology interferes with their ability to to be, uh, well, human. Doubt it?

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Joanne Cacciatore

About Joanne Cacciatore

I am a reasonably happy, contemplative person with plenty of quirks who cries every day at both the beauty and the pain in the world. My daily mindfulness practice is what helps me work in a very challenging field and benefits "I, Thou, and Us." For the past 16 years, I worked with and counseled those affected by traumatic death, particularly the death of a baby or child at any age and from any cause. I spend much of my time as a professor & researcher at Arizona State University and the founder of the MISS Foundation, an international nonprofit organization with 75 chapters around the world aiding parents whose children have died or are dying. And, I began the Kindness Project in 1997 as a way to help many grieving parents honor their beloved children who have died (please, join us in the Kindness Project). My research has been published in peer reviewed journals such as The Lancet, Death Studies, Omega, Birth, Social Work, and Families in Society. I received my Doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, under the guidance of a truly amazing mentor, Dr. John DeFrain, and Masters from Arizona State University. I am also a medical consultant and trainer who has presented grand rounds and provided individual and agency consulting and training all around the world. I was humbled to receive the prestigious Hon Kachina Award, the Sr Teresa Compassionate Care Award, the Empathic Therapist of the Year Award, Arizona Foothills Arizona Women Who Move the Valley Award, and the Parents of Murdered Children Father Ken Czillinger Award. I am a Diplomate of the American Academy of Psychotherapy and an advocate of "green" mental health to care for those suffering traumatic grief. In addition, I spearhead the graduate Certificate of Trauma and Bereavement at ASU with a usual cohort of 12-15 students. On a personal note, I have been a vegetarian for almost 40 years, and I hike barefoot up mountain trails regularly. I surf when I can get to an ocean, and I love rock climbing. I don't kill anything, even bugs. I am a voracious reader. I love pomegranates and sunshine. I rescue too many animals for the amount of space in which I live. I love cloud watching, star gazing, and my toes in the sand. I'm inspired by people like my friend, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Noam Chomsky, Thich Nat Hahn, Pema Chodron, Michaela Odoni, Carl Sagan, Martin Buber, Carl Jung, Martin Heidegger, Francesco Bernadone (St Francis), Teresa of Avila, San Juan de la Cruz, Jalal ad-din Rumi, Ranier Maria Rilke, Ajahn Chah, Kathe Kollwitz, Desmond Tutu, Jany Deng, C.S. Lewis, Jack Kornfield, Thomas Merton, and the many families and their children whose lives - and deaths - have touched my heart. I have had many anachronistic death losses during the course of my early life. I lost both my parents to death. They were both passionately Sicilian, with a fierce and enduring love for one another. My best friend and teacher died in 2004 and I have lost parters and many friends. But July of 1994 changed the course of my life: the day my baby daughter died. I will never be the same person I was before my daughter's death. Nor do I wish to be. Since then, I have committed my life to the service of others suffering traumatic deaths, as it was in the darkness when I truly found my self. I am a mother to five children, now mostly grown, "four who walk and one who soars".