Status anxiety, fixed mindsets, fragmented connections and shame: Features of a culture that encourages schizophrenia. These four characteristics are all related, and are motivated by fear of what people may (or may not) be thinking about us.
Movement for Justice and Reconciliation
It is increasingly evident that ‘status anxiety’ and self-perception as an ashamed ‘loser’ are very much a part of this.
When ‘brains make up their minds’ they then attach extremely negative meanings to life experience, and these meanings are highly damaging to health.
They need to be repealed. These meanings are culturally-derived. The ‘morality gap’ (in which people see their offences as less than those of their opponents) is part of this.
By labelling the imprisoned Africans as ‘naturally inferior’, and thereby ‘by nature’ losers, there was quite literally nothing such incarcerated people could do. They were nature’s pre-programmed non-achievers. But is human potential really so ‘fixed’?
Psychologists and neurologists now know that such ‘loser’ labelling is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The smallest of things can promote it, such as a tick on a form, indicating whether a person is Black, female, or old, leading to immediate drops in performance.
Similar experiments have been set up between children in India in relation to caste (merely telling children they belong to a superior caste leads to increased performance, vis-à-vis a ‘lower’ caste, who experience decreased performance), and with brown and blue-eyed children (telling them that eye colour means higher mental skills leads to the superior group performing well in relation to the supposedly inferior group―with the results being immediately reversed when the children are told the teacher got it the wrong way around).
This destructive cycle is (or can become) a ‘fixed mindset’, and people with such an attitude tend to be insecure, defensive, aggressive, hypersensitive to criticism, and afraid of risks.
All of this is represented at a neurological level. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue that there is a mutually reinforcing circle between anxiety, depression, mindset and equality (or lack of it).
‘Shame’ is defined as a ‘painful emotion resulting from an awareness of having done something wrong or foolish’. Caribbean people believe that their ancestors did precisely this, resulting in a ‘fixed’ negative self-perception.
Negative responses to shame include: denial, avoidance, aggression, defensiveness, scapegoating, feelings of rejection and inferiority, cover-ups, retaliation, helplessness and powerlessness, degradation, humiliation, and a sense of irredeemable badness¾a ‘fixed identity’.
This leads to a ‘fixed mindset’, in which people become obsessed with their public image, their status. Thus, status anxiety, fixed mindsets, and shame, are deeply intertwined.
Broken family attachments
Connected to this is a principle characteristic of Caribbean slavery―the fragility of the family. Mothers could be separated from their children at any time, either by death, or being sold off. Attachment theory in psychology has shown that this break in the mother-child bond causes profound trauma for both mother and child, deeply affecting the child’s ongoing brain development.
The more the child then has instability and multiple carers (so typical of Caribbean slavery), the deeper the trauma. After a period of intense grief (marked by screaming and crying, looking for the absent mother, which may last for many weeks), the child enters quiet grief, which is misinterpreted as recovery.
The child then grows up incapable of stable familial relationships. The sooner the father leaves home, the sooner the daughter will start sexual adventures, thus perpetuating the unstable family.
Attachment trauma becomes not just a feature of a damaged brain, but is perpetuated by a social structure that greatly increases these traumatic brain changes.
This generates a loneliness and social isolation which establishes whether or not this will become a life-long trait. As John Cacioppo has shown in his excellent book, to deny or prevent the basic human need for companionship, is an absolute mental (and physical) health disaster. Such a social environment will exacerbate any fragility that is already there, triggering schizophrenic episodes.
Only about 25% of Jamaican children have a relatively stable home with married parents. But over 60% of 16 year olds have no parents with them. This is a key factor in mental health pathologies.
Students high on loneliness reported lower levels of social support, higher levels of shyness, poorer social skills, higher anger, higher anxiety, lower self-esteem, higher fear of negative evaluation, lower optimism, lower positive mood, and higher negative mood. This matches both fixed mindset and status anxiety.
Loneliness and alienation lead to destructive physical and mental illnesses, growing out of the cumulative effects of the eleven criteria and their resultant poor self-care and coping skills. (Next week: to be continued)