Wednesday, April 5, 2017

When Bubbles Outlive their Usefulness: Cognitive Bias Coping Bubbles Part IV

This post discusses the use of the cognitive bias of optimism as a coping mechanism, continued from Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here. It is a part of a broader discussion of how those in recovery from trauma can make safer choices in their relationships.

Sometimes, I think that life is a process of bursting our bubbles of illusion as we grow to see reality more clearly. The world can be a chaotic and terrifying place, but we creative humans have a remarkable ability to construct an understanding of the world and themselves that gives them the opportunity to make the most of their resources while constructing a meaningful and rewarding life. This bubble might be considered a worldview. And from our culture and our nature, we develop our own style of communicating and our own style of learning. We're also faced with a paradox of human need between a healthy individualism (staying just far enough away from others) and healthy interdependence (establishing connection, rapport, and solidarity with others).

As we see in the example of Gypsy Rose Lee, as we grow and change, our bubbles of how we see the world change. Parents face an even greater challenge as they watch their children change and grow from helpless infant into full grown adult. New bubbles allow for age appropriate behavior and burst when new growth and autonomy demand new ones. Styles of communication and worldviews change as a budding adult finds themselves and their own way in their own world. They make their own bubble, and it may be very different from the family bubble that was once shared by parent and child.

Solidarity presents a challenge for a parent, for it involves power that establishes “equal footing between people so that neither one can tell the other what to do.” Ambition can be misunderstood by a parent as well. On the surface, ambition might seem to be a ploy to gain power to exploit it to control others, but with a parent, their adult child also uses ambition as a means of finding love with their parent. They want to be heard and not ignored (Tannen, pp. 101-112). To the parent, it can seem like a type of treason and lack of appreciation for them instead of a part of their child's journey to build their own unique and meaningful life. light of my own experience, while I felt consumed by the task of building my own neglected self-esteem, I felt as if I didn't have energy enough to take care of my own needs. I certainly didn't have energy to spend on concerns about metacommunication and a more patient and compassionate approach to communicating with my family of origin. I had to work on figuring out who I was first before I could worry too much about figuring out anyone else. I relied on my “old bubble” of outlook until I outgrew it. Only then did I have enough where with all to consider that my unique way of making sense of the world clashed with the way that my parents did. And to me, a good bit of that seemed like betrayal by my parents, though it was just a function of my growth as I learned who I was apart from them.

And after that first decade, I spent the better part of the next decade trying to build a rapport to find that solidarity with my parents. I never succeeded. This must be a great challenge for any parent and child, but family dysfunction and high demand religion intensify this already challenging task. If it took thirty years for me to fully understand this process, I wonder if anything can speed and ease the process of building a bridge over the gap between a parent and adult child? The dynamic process requires that the parent adapt to give their once subordinate child a place of equal footing as an adult along side them. Some parents fail to manage it.

The Challenge of Perspective

As I watched the musical Gypsy through wiser eyes, I saw Mama create her own bubbles of optimism which enabled her to do impossible things. Gypsy Lee Rose creates her own bubble (and boundary) as well. I remind myself again of the pressures that Mama Rose faced as a mother of two daughters, trying to make her way in the world that was so different than ours today. I remind myself that I cannot judge her by today's standards – that I must consider the social and economic world of that day so as to not paint her as a villain. She is both hero and fallible human. She succeeded against impossible odds, thanks to her created bubble of fierce optimism. The guest in the theater witnesses the bursting of these bubbles and the forming of new ones as life changes for all of the characters.
So intriged by this, I've started reading Mama Rose's Turn: The True Story of America's Most Notorious Stage Mom, a book written by Carolyn Quinn that was published in 2013. The author notes how she was intrigued by not only the musical but also by the disparagements in the memoirs of Gypsy (Louise) and those of her sister, June. 

June produced two memoirs that seem almost as though they were written by different people featuring glaring contradictions between them. Quinn found that though Gypsy “tweaked” her account to indeed cover many elements with humor, external evidence corroborated her memoir as quite accurate. But as Quinn puts it, June wrote “one fabrication after another” about her mother and her family.

Quinn also brings to the public's attention a perspective that she found in the letters of Rose Hovick herself, tracing the life of the formidable woman who faced more challenges than I could ever imagine. In her Author's Note, Quinn explains that both daughters made claims to the media that they'd never received any kind of education, though they both often learned from hired tutors and did attend schools when it became possible. Rose responds to her daughters about this matter in a letter that she wrote in November of 1944:

Some day the public will know the truth about your mother and they I am sure will not condemn me like you girls have done. I have a clear conscience thank God for the way I raised you both and I know I did all I could for you with what I had to do with.”

Quinn continues with her own thoughts, noting that I realized, with a start, that Rose had foreseen the day when someone would think to take a closer look at her story and set the record straight— and that the someone in question was me. It gave me chills.”

Consequences for Those Post-Quiverfull

I hope to also find some kernel of wisdom to help other families find a place of peace so that they can do what I could not. So many of the families who suffered through the Quiverfull/Patriarchy Movement not only face the challenges of generation gaps, but they also struggle with what too many experience as an aftermath of destruction caused by the failed religious lifestyle experiment.

As one without a country, I stand apart from both groups of parents and children in this movement – sharing elements of both and neither at the same time while spending most of my adult life surrounded by it. Apart from my own efforts to understand how mothers and daughters can bridge the gaps created by misfortune and religious baggage, I still work to find my rightful place in the discussion. Maybe like Mama Rose, I hope for the day yet to come when all who suffered from this phenomenon can find all that they need to grow beyond it to meet one another in the middle somewhere. But it appears that it will take time.

Mothers and fathers put all of their energy into the bubble they created to make the patriarchy system work for them. They become the bubble, and the bubble becomes more important than they are. My family's bubble was similar and different, but I see after 30 years of hindsight and growth that our family bubble served a purpose that held things together to offer my parents and me the chance to survive in a difficult world.

Most obviously, I hope that something in this tome and history may help to prevent the closed culture bubble of Quiverfull from ever 'reforming.'

For further reading: