Nine Social Skills I Developed for Myself:
Though in developing these social skills, I initially took a stab at writing from a universal perspective, I have had enough experience running them by people in groups to recognize that many of these are personal. Mad people are very diverse. As a result, the following are meant to be helpful in helping message receivers consider social skills that they need to penetrate the cultural enclave of their choosing. However, it is a wide world with very distinctive individuals and cultures so message receivers need to be constantly exploring their social skills even if they are neuro-divergent, like me, and struggle to do so.
I, for example, have learned to adapt to a ghetto culture and am somewhat comfortable in these contexts, however, have a difficult time switching so that I can be in mainstream culture without losing my social skills. When I feel excluded or sense gossip and slander, I withdraw and lose my ability to socialize. Thus, my ability and sometimes willingness to overcome deficits varies.
The following are set up to help me survive and overcome hostile environments. I’d argue that all message receivers need to consider adjusting social skills to overcome stigma and work together to help each other be successful. Perhaps some of what I have put together for myself may help message receivers and their helpers spot these issues in others and better reflect on the social skills they need to use to replace their retaliation reactions. The goal is to build relationships instead of break them.
Social Skill #1: Learning lessons from being punished or unjustly victimized
When I get victimized I tend to personalize punishment that validates a sense of shame I live with. When this happens, I have noticed that my self-esteem goes down and the power of the message experiences goes up. Personalizing punishment feeds right into my negative divergent views and new special messages take form that support the painful negativity. Since message receivers go through social sanctions associated with message receiving, they need to learn to escape the victimization involved. In other word’s they need to learn to learn from unjust punishment. This may be best exemplified by survivors of great atrocities.
Victor Frankel, a Jewish Holocaust survivor and existential creator of logo-therapy in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, serves as a compelling example of this skill which he defines as the ability to make meaning of suffering. Thus, making meaning via taking spiritual levels of personal responsibility that go beyond that which results from a persons’ intentional actions. In other words the skill of learning valuable life lessons from social sanctions rather than letting them victimize the message receiver is hence exemplified.
In recovery, I have learned to reframe what I went through during two years of message crisis as bearing a lesson that I ultimately needed to know to work effectively as a therapist. Seeing it from a spiritual vantage point, it helped me better understand the privileges I was initially given as a private school kid, privilege that may have been based on the fact that my ancestors may have been exploitive to others. Thus, acknowledging personal responsibility for those advantages helped me accept and tolerate some pretty oppressive circumstances. Thus, seeing ones privileges, talents, and social advantages is an important part of creating the personal responsibility to learn from punishment.
I believe that helpers need to see this and help message receivers realize the advantages they hold to help them develop this sense of personal responsibility. If they cannot see this, how can they help their loved one accept the devastating punishment and suffering so often associated with medical care in this country, especially psychiatric treatment? To do this, it is so important to not fall for the trap of pitying the message receiver as it interferes with developing this personal responsibility. Stigma of all types need to be eradicated. Just like it does not work when a guilt stricken Caucasian person pities an African American person and fails to see the strengths they hold because of the color of their skin, so too does perceiving special messages as a deficit due to the medical model prevent a message receiver from learning from the unjust victimization
Victor Frankel’s work making meaning out of the punishments endured during the Holocaust, it was inspirational to me personally. To stop falling victim, I had to consider the arrogance of my initial whistle blowing belief that I could save institutionalized peoples without even understanding the codes of ethics that informally policed the neighborhood. I didn’t realize that I was no different than the institutionalized person but for my early privilege.
Thus, the making meaning skill needs to be applied to traumatic message experience and to the double whammy of being punished for it as well. Narratives of strengths and privileges need to be seen to build personal responsibility and help message receivers choose functional flexible theories or alternative meanings that they can live with. Even harshly subjugated individuals have advantages in their life that need to be considered to develop the personal responsibility if they are to overcome the senseless persecution they may have experienced in an oppressive context. This has to do with accepting that the social sanction and stigma game is rigged and anticipating abuse and being grateful when it doesn’t come.
Social Skill #2: Creating a public-professional self:
Special message support groups establish and reinforce this principle every time divergent views and retaliation reactions are defined and reviewed. Reinforcing this as a social skill might not be too shocking and does not necessarily have to be explicitly stated. But for many like me the process of professional performance is not easy to maintain without practice and steady opportunities to work at it. Leisure time may involve just not having to fake it. This may be the time we talk back to voices privately or creatively vent and emote our stress.
This skill is based on the presumption that it is not safe to display the customs or styles of the message culture outside the group. In other words, the culture should be used discreetly. In the halls of 12-step meetings they ask: are you friends of Bill? What we have done on the unit I work is discuss whether they should talk about message business right now by uttering Eddie Murphy’s words: Gooney-goo-goo? Other individuals make the “nano, nano” sign with me. These kinds of codes are very culture-building and people are often curious especially when we tell good jokes. It makes them want to be part of the group rather than persecute it. It is a practice I recommend.
On some level, I knew I couldn’t discuss or display my divergent views or retaliation reactions, even early on in the process. When I did, it was often a cry for help, a statement of helplessness, or a test. This is the reason it often takes time for message receivers to open up and discuss divergent views in group.
Clearly throughout this work, I’ve argued that without having a place to be publically open about divergent views, it is hard to conceal them in the places where they must be concealed without medications. In other words, without personally observing and accepting divergent process, it may seep out in unwanted ways through things like social withdrawal, facial expressions, or unchecked oppositional behavior that sabotages the good effort of the message receiver to fit in. The question is: does having a supportive community that acknowledges special message experiences help balance the teeter-totter make it easier to be professional in the halls of human etiquette?
Too many times, by reinforcing professional behavior in therapy, therapists end up happy with the relationship and groups can go on for years that do not address message experience. Additionally, some therapists don’t believe that social rehab is possible outside a protective community; if not, therapeutic communities do not promote simple principles of social integration. The result can be stagnation and cycles of decline and revolt.
Social Skill #3: Killing the punisher with kindness:
In my recovery there have been times when people have intentionally slapped me in the face to test me out or to make efforts to return me to marginalization. Still people will sometimes wittingly or unwittingly uphold stigmatizing beliefs because they believe they are entitled to do so, or because they have a need to test me out. Just like a therapist is asked to roll with resistance with the drug culture during motivational interviewing, I believe message receivers need to build social relationships by rolling with social sanctions without retaliating. When we retaliate we may get branded as becoming symptomatic and appearing symptomatic can trigger us back into focusing on messages.
One clear reason for this is that for many message receivers there are a lot of angles where we may see punishment and oppression. Most of us in the local where I work are more than just message receivers. We may be racial or ethnic minorities, immigrants, afflicted by sex and sexual orientation discrimination, have criminal records, or come from disadvantaged educational circumstances. There are so many ways we can be stigmatized, if we want to overcome we have got to roll with resistance and kill all stigma with kindness taking the moral high ground. This can best be done with a polite smile and a process of keeping on, keeping on.
And regardless of the intention, the solution for all is to ignore all as if they are just names, rather than sticks and stones. This involves us smiling back and regulating the mood and paying the punisher a compliment. It is about having the peace of mind to give them a piece of chocolate to sweeten them up a bit even if they are the reason you were homeless for two years. It is a unique skill. It’s like being able to look the devil in the eye without being scared or damaged.
My experience is that when this is done the racket and tests can escalate, so I’d argue that part of kind killing might need to come from a place of knowing that you are right about yourself in spite of all the stigma. Indeed, when I am hit really hard multiple times, I still slip into negative thinking at times. But still I’d argue that the best execution of this skill is to pursue a relationship with the very person who thinks you are dirt and treats you like an object.
I learned this through working customer service while in a state of poverty and hardship. This skill comes from humbling myself enough to above all else be honorable. It’s about providing good customer service serving food even though you can’t afford to eat. It may be about remembering that there are oh so many people who learn to do this on a daily basis.
Killing people with kindness does not mean that we forget. But as is suggested by the research of Patrick Corrigan contact needs to be established first. The message receiver needs to prove their value and social worth before they come out and identify as a message receiver. This is the suggested route to changing individuals’ minds about stigma. Corrigan’s work may help reinforce the need to meet each normal culture where it is at, rather than trying to educate it about the covert private hell that has dominated the message receiving life. For me, I strive to kill the punisher with kindness. In many ways, it is my only choice.
Social Skill #4: Hanging in there with some troubled relationships through shared activities:
I personally have a very hard time holding onto old relationships and need to remind myself not to give up. Back when I trusted no one, the only relationships that I kept were ones that were required for my financial and material survival. And it was a struggle to hold and honor those relationships. This taught me the ethic to hang in there with some troubled relationships.
Perhaps message receivers may need to be as resilient as water in a canyon to gain the clout necessary to overcome the stigma associated with the illness. And when they don’t prevail, keeping on via pursuing other social relationships will impact help them and help make the world better.
For a message receiver like me, who experiences paranoia, making friends with the people who were following me around, particularly hecklers in the Italian mafia, was crucial to my recovery. A message receiver may need to learn more about who they are and the reality of their world in order to heal.
Thus, I am suggesting that any Darth Vader leader needs to encourage group members to pursue all sorts of relationships with all sorts of peoples by finding shared activities that can be engaged in. Message receivers might benefit by reaching out to all kinds of peoples including their worst oppressors. While this is an ethic, I have not always maintained, it can be a very important part of social rehab.
An example would be a time I watched a friend on BART connecting with a heckler who was calling us crazy. The friend who I met at a social club, was exhibiting retaliation reactions and the heckler was a proud Republican. Instead of being insulted, my friend who had studied economics in college, start genuinely talking about his field of interest on his terms not only to kill him with kindness but also perhaps with the intention of building a support. Exhibiting this kind of social skill proudly helped enormously and we had a much better outing as a result.
This is particularly useful for message receivers when they are working with other message receivers who may fall on hard times. In my experience, burning bridges or kicking someone who has hurt me to the curb is something I have had to learn not to do in order to have any relationships. Sometimes I have had to make people who frustrate me little projects. As a person who is sensitive to being bullied I have to remind myself not to give up all the time.
Social Skill #5: Going towards new relationships:
As I healed, I acclimated to a world where many old contacts presumed I was damaged goods. Therefore, I needed to seek out new streams of friends by going out to social groups and engaging in shared social activities. Reaching out to new streams of people can be of vital importance.
For some message receivers, traveling from the bondage of a board and care into the free world of the local community requires companionship mixed with creative resources: the poetry slam, the meet-up-group of alien-enthusiasts, the Disco floor. Meeting other message receivers from a cultural group such as special messages and going out together into the community is a good strategy for picking up more social resources.
This skill involves remembering that the fisherman who has many hooks out there is more likely to hook a fish.
Social Skill #6: Skillfully knowing when it’s time to reveal trauma to build support:
There have been times once I’ve built relationships that I’ve needed to assertively appeal to people by making contained disclosures regarding trauma they may see in me. This has involved significant judgment as in general it is not appropriate to reveal what I‘ve been through. I have had to learn to sense when people are seeing me as a human being enough so that I can assert myself and explain my behavior via relating some trauma. After all there are times when not doing so makes things awkward.
At the same time I have decidedly chosen not to confront public ridicule systemically because I run the risk of being told I am paranoid. Confronting it personally involves picking up on social cues that I am so gifted as to be able to do and that I would have to be prepared to address the issue systemically. This involves assuming that I can appeal to position power that is not biased against the mad. In spite of the ADA, harassment of the mad is not in the public awareness and is rampant in the media. Thus, I personally feign from asserting my rights and perhaps that is how I have survived professionally.
Asserting rights clearly may be different for others. It is best done with a thick skin and sharp attention to social cues, qualities that some message receivers may have.
Still by being out as mad and letting “normals” see a part of yourself that is suggestive of your struggles, you may not only change their attitude, but deepen the way they see you. This alone can be a way of asserting your needs. I personally see it as the way you hold your trauma cards: when to play them, when to hold them and when to fold them.
When we play our cards with normal culture we need to do it strategically, rather than out of need. We have message group and other message receivers to get our needs met. Knowing when to lightly let the cat out of the bag when our relationship is strong enough. This involves assessing the supporter’s level of attachment to “normal” culture and accepting their boundaries with regard to their personal biases and stigmas.
I am suggesting that it depends on the level of transparency we have about the skeletons in our closet, and our ability to read social cues, how soon we ask for respect. But there are times when we need to make assertive calls for respect. Knowing the difference depends on knowledge of your: self, culture, and your need for power. It is a skill.
For me revealing trauma cards to therapists or medical professional is no different. In other words, the message receiver might wait until the therapist, case manager, or outreach worker trusts them as a regular person and ready to undress the public-self. The clear suggestion would be to wait to bring up messages, then right as the therapist is genuinely touched and demonstrating respect, the message receiver might throw their false limb off and ask for a hug. Then the message receiver might assess based on the therapists response whether it is safe to really talk about messages.
I would suggest that message receivers not act entitled to tell their story even if they are paying for therapy. I am constantly prepared to back up and de-stigmatize the therapist about the absent limb. This can take a lot of patience, risk and work, especially when the therapist is the one who is getting paid and screwing up. I say this because with the amount of institutional stigma in the literature, therapists often require special treatment and perhaps need to be babied a bit. They may be particularly hard work but the good news is they aren’t going anywhere as long as the money flows.
It is wise for anyone working with a message receiver to recognize and support this process, they might reflect that they understand by collaboratively morphing along with the process and complimenting the message receiver for skillful behavior.
Social Skill #7: Using humor:
One of the skills I have tried to exemplify at times in this chapter and throughout is the social skill of humor, or effective retaliation reactions. (You didn’t know I was trying to be funny, did you?) This can definitely be used to get through this terribly difficult task of building social relationships because making people laugh is genuinely a great way to get appreciated and build relationship.
Consider our friend at the USA day parade who was really quite zany and funny with his behavior too but because it lacked conformity it got punished rather than acknowledged for humor. Perhaps dressing and behaving normal and couching his commentary in a little story that expressed the same kind of edgy message might have worked, while it satisfied his creativity. Additionally, I am sure it would have been healing to get real recognition for the personal dilemma the message receiver was experiencing by creating genuine laughter; it would have made it easier for the message receiver to “make friends with the people who were following them around.”
Not only does mad humor demand that a message receiver accept social sanctions but it may help build upon scarred relationships and tragedy in socially “appropriate” manners. Imagine, the people you are mad at turning around and supporting you with laughter. It is a great way to make your point and ease your ire.
Social Skill #8: Make efforts to respectfully fit in with Romans when in Rome:
Far too often I have observed message receivers do something that is familiar to me: project our public selves to professionals to avoid punishment, and our private message culture to the public. There is something about this that is beautiful and recklessly funny about this behavior, but it doesn’t bode well for social rehabilitation.
I can even recognize that once I left home I had an unconscious proclivity towards acting like my Mom in front of my Dad and acting like my Dad in front of my Mom. Though this clearly didn’t work, it consistently happened. I like to think of this as walking like an Egyptian in Rome and vice-versa. While it was good for a punk-ass existence, eventually this kind of behavior had to stop.
As I have gained experience being the therapist outreaching to message receivers in the community, I certainly get the feeling that I am not alone in these regards. Often, it is as if message receivers flip flop their behavior as an objection to the entire enslavement industry. Once a message receiver can get the validation to know there is beauty in this behavior and hypocrisy and enslavement in normal culture, they might need to realize that the only way to change this reality is to work to change these behavior patterns.
In state hospital I rebelled with this flip flop behavior by using “normal” skills when I could in the institutional setting because I did not want institutional behavior internalized. Then one day it was revealed to me that the staff in meeting constantly criticized me for being entitled. As such, my flip-flop behavior does not bode well for social rehabilitation. When I learned of the staff’s criticism, I internalized it and it only added to my sense of shame.
Likewise picture me in a room full of people who are acting “appropriate” and potentially excluding. Because I feel threatened disgusted I have to run a trust test behaving in a “message” oriented manner, perhaps with provocative behavior. This inappropriate behavior only puts me at risk of real exclusion.
Ultimately, to avoid the fate of institutionalization, I need to learn to accept the culture where I am at and respect its customs as well as I can in order to avoid the trap. I continue to struggle with this in places where I don’t feel I belong.
Again, I believe that having the beauty of the behavior and the hypocrisy of the system validated and understood would help me improve this behavior.
A message receiver using this skill would start by assuming normal culture traits and assessing and testing for safety before opening up with a high level of distinctive cultural behavior. They would start by paying respect to the dominant culture and slowly use good judgment in determining how far to go in terms of revealing their own distinctive mannerisms. They would not necessarily see this as sell-out behavior, they would see this as a necessary step towards teaching others about their culture if others were receptive.
The strength of the group discussing this amid members of varying stages of recovery makes this possible to help message receiver’s work together. Instead of hating it when their friends are successful, message receivers need to know that they will not be left behind. This is why it is so important for the leader demonstrate the ability to morph back to message and demonstrate that they are in the struggle for the long haul. This is why it is extremely disturbing for me to see recovered message receivers behaving in excessively excluding manners. This is exactly why we need to localize and be inclusive.
But this is really about accepting both the “normal” and the message aspects of our experience, making peace within ourselves and promoting peace by taking the higher ground.
Social Skill #9: Playing aloof:
Historically I have been isolated and have often approached social interaction with a high degree of need. As a result of desire to be accepted, I can often sabotage myself by coming across in a needy manner. This is admittedly not very attractive in “normal” culture where everyone is presumed to be loved and supported. Often staying cool and being aloof gives people an advantage in social circumstances especially when they are humiliated or face exclusion. This is a skill that is difficult for me.
This is something that some message receivers may need to be aware of as well, particularly when entering the culture of the oppressor. Playing it cool means we not allow the water to drip on our foreheads, but rather run-off our rubber covered back.
While many of us who have faced significant trauma and exclusion may go from one to one hundred with our emotions, but publically we need to contain that inner pain and pretend like we don’t care. While vulnerability heals, it does not work in normal culture. Fronting like you don’t care what people say might be necessary for other people besides me.
Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.
I very deeply appreciate you sharing these social strategies. You’ve learned the hard way and analyzed your successes and failures in detail, for others to follow. As I think back to my times spent dealing with message crisis, and/or “up to my chest” in psychosis, I recall dealing with many of these social challenges. Having breakthrough insights about oppression and social convention, and then feeling ostracized when bringing it up, and terribly conflicted when holding it in. It is a challenge, and I didn’t know at the time that there were groups to help me through it to gain some understanding. Thank you for all the effort that went into thinking through this, writing it out so clearly, and sharing it with us.
Thank you so much Kyle for your kind words. I really appreciate it that you took the time to review my work. I am glad that you are sharing your experiences. It is very hard to hold it in.