Monday, May 20, 2013

"The Science of Loneliness: How Isolation Can Be Lethal" by Judith Schulevitz

We now know how it can ravage the body and brain. Judith Shulevitz is the science editor of The New Republic.

Here are excerpts from her astounding and revealing article:

Sometime in the late ’50s, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann sat down to write an essay about a subject that had been mostly overlooked by other psychoanalysts up to that point. Even Freud had only touched on it in passing. She was not sure, she wrote, “what inner forces” made her struggle with the problem of loneliness, though she had a notion. It might have been the young female catatonic patient who began to communicate only when Fromm-Reichmann asked her how lonely she was. “She raised her hand with her thumb lifted, the other four fingers bent toward her palm,” Fromm-Reichmann wrote. The thumb stood alone, “isolated from the four hidden fingers.” Fromm-Reichmann responded gently, “That lonely?” And at that, the woman’s “facial expression loosened up as though in great relief and gratitude, and her fingers opened.”

Fromm-Reichmann would later become world-famous as the dumpy little therapist mistaken for a housekeeper by a new patient, a severely disturbed schizophrenic girl named Joanne Greenberg. Fromm-Reichmann cured Greenberg, who had been deemed incurable. Greenberg left the hospital, went to college, became a writer, and immortalized her beloved analyst as “Dr. Fried” in the best-selling autobiographical novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (later also a movie and a pop song). Among analysts, Fromm-Reichmann, who had come to the United States from Germany to escape Hitler, was known for insisting that no patient was too sick to be healed through trust and intimacy. She figured that loneliness lay at the heart of nearly all mental illness and that the lonely person was just about the most terrifying spectacle in the world. She once chastised her fellow therapists for withdrawing from emotionally unreachable patients rather than risk being contaminated by them. The uncanny specter of loneliness “touches on our own possibility of loneliness,” she said. “We evade it and feel guilty.”

Her 1959 essay, “On Loneliness,” is considered a founding document in a fast-growing area of scientific research you might call loneliness studies. Over the past half-century, academic psychologists have largely abandoned psychoanalysis and made themselves over as biologists. And as they delve deeper into the workings of cells and nerves, they are confirming that loneliness is as monstrous as Fromm-Reichmann said it was. It has now been linked with a wide array of bodily ailments as well as the old mental ones.

In a way, these discoveries are as consequential as the germ theory of disease. Just as we once knew that infectious diseases killed, but didn’t know that germs spread them, we’ve known intuitively that loneliness hastens death, but haven’t been able to explain how. Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.

The psychological definition of loneliness hasn’t changed much since Fromm-Reichmann laid it out. “Real loneliness,” as she called it, is not what the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard characterized as the “shut-upness” and solitariness of the civilized. Nor is “real loneliness” the happy solitude of the productive artist or the passing irritation of being cooped up with the flu while all your friends go off on some adventure. It’s not being dissatisfied with your companion of the moment—your friend or lover or even spouse— unless you chronically find yourself in that situation, in which case you may in fact be a lonely person. Fromm-Reichmann even distinguished “real loneliness” from mourning, since the well-adjusted eventually get over that, and from depression, which may be a symptom of loneliness but is rarely the cause. Loneliness, she said—and this will surprise no one—is the want of intimacy.

Today’s psychologists accept Fromm-Reichmann’s inventory of all the things that loneliness isn’t and add a wrinkle she would surely have approved of. They insist that loneliness must be seen as an interior, subjective experience, not an external, objective condition. Loneliness “is not synonymous with being alone, nor does being with others guarantee protection from feelings of loneliness,” writes John Cacioppo, the leading psychologist on the subject. Cacioppo privileges the emotion over the social fact because—remarkably—he’s sure that it’s the feeling that wreaks havoc on the body and brain. Not everyone agrees with him, of course. Another school of thought insists that loneliness is a failure of social networks. The lonely get sicker than the non-lonely, because they don’t have people to take care of them; they don’t have social support.

To read the rest of this fascinating and revolutionary article, please go here. What you learn ought to make you think twice about that cheerful person who seems to have it all together but really doesn't. That cheerfulness hides a deeper grief, a loneliness so profound as to create in them ravaging physical and emotional pain.

"Priesthood: Religious Leadership and Clericalism" by Lauren Gough+

The following is a revelation, an expository delineation of what the priesthood really is, and what it should be; what it was intended to be. It is also, in my view, how it is kept from those truly deserving of it, and given to those who perhaps ought not to have it. Power is the key for those who seek it, and means little to those who pursue the priesthood for the sake of others and not of self. How easily things get derailed when on the right track...

Lauren Gough is an Episcopal priest in Texas and author of the blog "Stone of Witness". The following is an excerpt from her latest post.

In the 1970’s, following Vatican II, there was a study done among religious orders, especially men’s orders that did not ordain their members, on the importance of the priesthood. I was teaching in a combined Ursuline and Christian Brothers school in Galveston. I remember reading the document and it raised many questions about the efficacy of priestly orders and was interested that priestly orders were considered really non-essential to the communities of men who embraced celibacy. Except for liturgical duties, priests among the community were seen as a detriment to the community life of the brothers. The status of ‘priest’ was considered an impediment to the common life.

When I attended the Kellogg lectures at EDS last week, this conversation was being reprised. The issue of clericalism is a big one in the Church these days. It is my contention that the schism that we have been experiencing over the past 15 years is a clerical one. It concerns not the people in the pew, but it concerns the clergy and bishops of a minority in the Anglican Communion. It has much to do with control and order, not theology or even basic faith. And after what I have seen here in Fort Worth following the split of the diocese, clericalism is alive and flourishing in this part of the Church militant.
The discussion at EDS was clearly on the side of abolishing the priesthood. But the

panelists were all NOT ordained. They were professors or academics who do not celebrate the Eucharist or absolve sins. Now, I know some of the members of that panel and some of them have their own ax to grind, BUT I do know what they are trying to get at. They are trying to address the excruciatingly difficult problem of clericalism that faces, I believe, all churches with the exception of the Quakers. And while I know that the Methodists, Presbyterians and the Reformed churches do not have priests, they still have clerical leadership that have power that can subject others to their will.

Here in Texas we have a preponderance of independent non-denominational churches since the break-up of the Southern Baptist Convention. Many of those Baptist churches claim themselves as non-denominational these days but they still carry on Baptist theology and ethos. Some of the churches try to hide their Baptist affiliation by renaming themselves Gateway, or Heartland, or Harvest rather than being ____Ave. Baptist. But when you attend them even though they have screens and guitars, they are still Baptist. And the pastor still ‘knows best’.

Religious leadership is difficult at best. When your primary role model is Jesus who spoke of the Good Shepherd, it is so easy to fall into the habit of thinking that the people you are called to serve are sheep to be pushed around. The bishop carries a big stick to drag the sheep back into the fold. And yet the reality is much different. As a priest one is called upon to represent Christ (as any baptized person should) but also act as an agent of the institution of church. I have always understood that priestly orders give me the Good Housekeeping seal of approval of the Church to speak of God AND the organization. It is why we make vows to obey our bishops in matters of faith and morals. But it IS a crazy-making position. Those who lead are mortal and fallible. We have feet of clay and make huge blunders in our efforts to lead the people of God in the way of faith. And those of us who are priests--the ‘middle management’ often do not get to advocate for our flocks as we would like because the ‘shepherds’ who are in charge think of us as sheep as well.

To read the rest of her wonderful and revealing post, please go to her blog here.

Sometimes it is best to hold onto the thread of a calling, than to let go of it entirely.