My favourite dictionary defines care, in its more positive sense, as ‘heedfulness’. It implicitly defines heedfulness as ‘attentiveness’, ‘cautious-ness’. Similarly to use, care is both noun and verb but, of course, does not change its pronunciation between the noun and the verb, unlike use. As a verb with for, my dictionary says care means ‘to provide, look after, watch over’. And, with about, care means ‘to have a concern for’. Care can be a lovely array of ideas, can it not.
And, I think that is a key thing about care; it’s an array, a spectrum of possibilities. By contrast, abuse is somehow more of a singularity, a rupture in the psychological fabric, whereas care is more free-ranging in its exponents, the implications of each of which can be exponential in their effects.
Care is essentially and mostly about the relationship between the self and the ‘other’ – the ‘other’ can be the self, as in the relationship between the self and the self, and it can be that other person we are relating to in some way, from superficially to profoundly, and the other can be the group we find ourself in, or brushing up against or reacting to.
The spectrum of care
So, let’s explore that spectrum, that spectrum of care in its forms and ways, such as: care (as in positive care), self-care (with its subsets), zero–care, negative care, negative negative care, anti-care, diminished-response care, pro-care, and, for want of better terms perhaps, negative- and anti-care care and anti-abuse care and, finally, abuse-resistant care. Many forms of care – and I think, in a short article such as this, to touch on them all briefly would show a lack of … care. So, I propose here to only talk about a few of these.
Care is mindfulness about the security, well-being and self-esteem of the ‘other’ and acting to support and enhance that. The capacity for care derives from some degree of security, well-being and self-esteem in the being of the caring. If we do not have those to a sufficient degree, it can, almost needless to say, be all the harder to give care in any genuine or effective way and may, indeed, be unwise to seek to do so, which brings us to …
Self-care is, of course, conventionally used as a term for the day-to-day physical care of the self; those who are not well in terms of some kind of quotient of well-being will tend to be lacking in this kind of day-to-day self-care. But, self-care can extend beyond that to being a reality on a psychological level. In this sphere, the self is a duality; it is both perpetrator and observer, or rather self-observer.
Here, the dynamic plays out within ourselves. In that respect, I’d like to make a distinction between positive self-care and negative self-care. In positive self-care, we can find ourselves questioning our behaviour and, then, deciding it is/was right (morally or practically) and justified in a particular situation or set of situations and we may believe that absolutely.
In negative self-care, we again can question our own behaviour but, this time, decide it was not good in that it was maybe weak and/or possibly damaging to another. For example, a rather forthright friend said to me recently that she was in a meeting and was feeling very irritated by the contributions of the others. But, she then said that, after a while during the meeting, she questioned herself and asked herself in her head “Am I wrong (to be so irritated)?” I responded, perhaps a bit patronisingly, by saying that that’s always a good question to have occur in one‘s mind. But, I do deeply feel that his process of honest self-review is an essential part of self-development and self-renewal. Without it, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to develop.
There can also be negative positive self-care In negative positive self-care, we affirm ourselves in our rightness, but on some level, maybe a subconscious one, we don‘t believe our own self-affirmation. This is where we can get into an unhealthy dynamic between the mind and the psyche, where neither is really talking to the other. In our psyche, we are more honest with ourselves; in our mind, we are more able not to be. A successful flow between the two is blocked through a kind of warped self-care.
And, then, there’s negative, negative self-care. A negative negative self-care is where we have perhaps been the subject of authoritarian parents and, in our fear of their wrath, we have set up in ourselves a brutally self-reprobating authority that tells us frequently, or all the time, that we are wrong. All criticism from outside and from within we receive as truth; the critical response is the only one we really trust.
In addition to all of that, there can be an interplay between self-care on a physical level and self-care on a psychological level. Say, we see someone being attacked, physically attacked, we may probably emote conflicting feelings. Our concern for our physical security may cause us to resist becoming involved. On the other hand, our psychological self-care may cause us to become involved in that, in terms of psychological self-care, we fear the pricks of conscience that may afflict us subsequently if we have to admit to ourselves that we did nothing. Here, psychologically, we are looking at the duality of perpetrator, or in this case non-perpetrator and observer. Of course, the same dynamic applies when we see someone being psychologically attacked, ‘bad-mouthed‘, directly or indirectly; we may take the view that we do not want to risk the consequences of getting involved in a way, a questioning or resistive way, for fear of the consequences for ourselves; but, we also possibly fear the self-reproach we may later feel and maybe the recriminations we may receive from the attacked if we do or say nothing. Of course, some people operate on a deep sense of love and are just plain courageous.
Let’s imagine that someone from Loudland goes to stay in Quietland and someone from Quietland goes to stay in Loudland. Now, the Loudlander in Quietland makes the Quietlanders feel a bit ‘peeved‘; the Quietlanders can‘t understand how anyone could want to make such a huge amount of noise; the racket almost seems to hurt their ears, let alone their sensibilities. Meanwhile in Loudland, the Loudlanders are getting equally irritated with the visiting Quietlander; they find it quite hard to hear what the Quietlander is saying; they have to strain every nerve to hear their words; they feel irritated that, if someone can speak so relatively inaudibly, it‘s like they have no care for, or liking of or interest in the Loudlanders but just want to live pretty much entirely in their introverted self. So, are the visitors being abusive of their hosts’ culture? I don’t think so. Each visitor may be so habituated to their own habits of volume, they can’t change them. It may be that they are completely insensitive to other cultures and are not even aware that there is much, if any, of a problem. Or, it could be they don’t care; they just are as they are and that’s that. But is that abuse of their hosts? I don’t think so. It’s culturally determined as an issue and their action in response to their hosts‘ culture is just an act of no-care, not actually of abuse.
Have you ever had that experience where someone ‘lays into’ you for being weak or foolish, misguided or blind? Did they even get quite angry and frustrated with you when you argued? Well, did you go away and think about it on your own, even if you were still quite angry with them for their seeming presumption? Did you actually, later, decide they were right and act on their advice? If that’s a sequence of ‘yes’es, then, yes, you were the lucky recipient of negative care. It’s important to thank that brave and caring soul. They acted out of care.
Negative negative care
Negative negative care is the key tool and strategy of the abusive; it is actually a warped, distorted form of self-care. In fact, it’s usually a set of strategies, but we’ll come on to that in a moment. First, negative negative care is mindfulness about the scope for engendering insecurity, and self-confusion and/or self-despair in the ‘other’ and acting on that mindfulness to engender those in the ‘other’. A key part of this process is creating fear in the ‘other’ through intimidation techniques. Other strategies that can be employed are for the perpetrator to seek to turn the group against the one in focus of the abuse, but also to turn the group against the group if the focused abuse, focused on the victim, is not working as effectively as hoped. These strategies are a warped form of self-care in that the perpetrator of the abuse has, in themself, a lack of security and self-esteem; their overall strategy is to create a similar, matching lack in the victim, to ease their sense of lack in themself and create a commonality of lack and, if this does not work, they then seek to create a sense of lack of self-esteem and security within, and across, the group. The abusive are not interested in fairness and equality, they are only interested in their comfort and advantage, in their won comfort and advantage – as they see it – exceeding that of the other and over that of the group.
Some thoughts and caveats
I said previously that abuse is what derives from a deficit of care for the ‘other’. But, does that mean that every time we show a lack of care, in other words a lack of heedfulness, we are committing an abuse of some kind, however possibly minor? I don’t think so. As I said above, we can’t give care seriously and reliably when we don’t have inside ourselves the security and self-esteem to carry it through, support it honestly. When we cannot give care reliably, we should be very cautious in trying to do so.
There have been a number of concepts/ideas terminologically described above as ‘negative’. That’s deliberate. We should not be afraid of the negative. It’s in the interplay of the negative and the positive, and in the swings between them, that we achieve balance. If we are all focused on the positive, we live uni-dimensionally and that is not an adequate set of dimensions to have for an effective and growing life. Psychology does not work like money where, say, there can be a positive balance or a zero balance or a negative balance in our account, where the first is good, the second is okay and the last undesirable. Psychologically, the negative is a useful balance to the positive. But, psychologically, it is in the terrain of the negative-negative that we should start to worry, worry for ourselves and for others. The double-negative is hate. Hate is anger that we act on deliberately.
From here to there
Have you felt, at times, in this and the previous post on psychology that things have been a bit chaotic, a swirl of ideas, with lots of ‘maybe’s and ‘possibly’s? Have you felt a need for more simplicity, more obvious structure, at times? I can understand that, but I let this happen and let it stand because I wanted to offer a real sense of what it is like to live in the Paradynamic Self. This is a self of swirls and loops, a place of relatives, but sometimes it can develop a sense of an absolute, as I have also tried to show at times in this and the previous article. At times, it can be extremely impressionistic in its perception and understanding and, at times, extremely analytical, cold even. The Paradynamic Self is a mode of being that moves between the relative and the absolute, back and forth, between impression, intuition and cool logic. It is a mode of being where there is a play of the ‘light’ and the ‘dark’, the ‘thing’ with the ‘anti-thing’. So, what is the Paradynamic Self, in more detail, and what does it offer? We shall see shortly.