There’s no torture in charm school

Back to Dante, via Blake

Back to Dante's hell

Comparing life in Christian Charm School to such high levels of torment may seem histrionic, but recent articles about our government’s role in torture warrant some attention for the Charm Marm.

A recent story in the New York Times discusses the involvement of two psychologists in developing our military’s interrogation tactics. One of the doctors in particular was an admirer of Dr. Martin Seligman’s groundbreaking work on “learned helplessness.” As the Times explains:

“Dr. Seligman had discovered in the 1960s that dogs that learned they could do nothing to avoid small electric shocks would become listless and simply whine and endure the shocks even after being given a chance to escape.”

The article goes on to explain that this idea of learned helplessness later became “an influential concept in the treatment of human depression…”

It’s worth noting that Dr. Seligman was horrified that his work had been used in torture. Nonetheless, the psychologist working for the military “believed that producing learned helplessness in a Qaeda interrogation subject might ensure that he would comply with his captor’s demands.”

My point with all of this unpleasantness is that I read about learned helplessness years ago in a book about the effects of growing up in a fundamentalist culture. The way it’s instilled through church teachings is subtle and rarely involves torture-device-wielding fiends.

Still, it’s what happens. If as a child you deeply internalize certain teachings about your place in the world, you cede all of your power to something outside yourself. You seek only to move toward this amorphous thing known as “God’s will.” You believe you’re only doing something good when you’re focusing on others.

After all, what have we learned so far in Christian Charm School if not that our value rests in looking pretty and pleasing others? (Both goals are rather out of our control, yes?)

Undoing that background noise of passivity can be a long process. Recognizing the tendency for what it is helps, as does taking back your power in all kinds of small ways, even through the kinds of happy delights I write about on the Charm-o-Matic.

Also helpful:

  • Deciding that your own energy and feelings matter. (Sounds obvious, right? Only if you never quite imagined it could be true.)
  • Becoming aware that you can make all kinds of choices that affect your life in quantifiable ways every minute of the day and finding ways to increase your own happiness level. (You know, instead of merely working toward some reward – or avoiding some punishment – after death.)

I realize that I’m simplifying a complicated psychological concept here and that there are plenty of causes for passivity. I’m just saying: Religion and torture – who knew? (Oh, I guess everyone alive in Europe during the Inquisition knew.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: