|June 21, 2006|
Bill O'Reilly's Fractious Factor
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Tom, my client, flew into a rage and verbally assaulted his wife, Janice, while watching an episode of "The O'Reilly Factor."
I'm a psychotherapist, so I know not to blame Mr. O'Reilly for behavior that Tom himself is responsible for. But I do suspect that the TV personality's confrontational and condemning style is toxic and that his program's negativity oozes into America's living-rooms and diminishes, with its sickening defiance of civil discourse, the lives of those who watch the show.
The fight started after Tom and Janice (who is also my client) had sat down on their sofa to watch a recent episode of the TV show. After several minutes Tom got up to attend to his computer elsewhere in the room. Janice, feeling bored, retrieved the remote and began to surf.
"I want to keep watching that," Tom said from across the room. Janice, however, kept surfing. Tom returned to the sofa and sat there fuming, waiting in silence for about thirty seconds before saying again, more emphatically, "I want to watch that show!"
This time she heard the menace in his voice and quickly switched back to the show. Tom watched it for a few moments with increasing anger, believing that the interruption had caused him to lose the gist of the program's discussion. He then erupted with harsh and violent accusations that Janice was ignoring his needs and disrespecting him. The verbal assault left her shaken and distrustful of him for days afterward.
I heard the story first from Janice. Pained and emotionally bruised, she told me in a session that she had had no intention of being disrespectful to Tom. She believed that he wasn't particularly interested in the program after he got up from the sofa. Janice had received verbal abuse from her mother and, as part of rebuilding her self-respect, she was recognizing her role in placing herself in situations in which an old unresolved hurt is repeated or re-experienced. We spent the hour discussing that.
When I saw Tom I told him, "Your interest in that show corresponds with your own critical and negative side. You feel a perverse pleasure in seeing individuals or groups being tongue-lashed by O'Reilly. You also feel license to continue to exercise your critical and condemning side. Your acceptance of his abusive posturing gives you a sense of power and superiority that compensates for your weak sense of self."
Later I added, "You say you felt disrespected by Janice, but you treated her with the utmost disrespect. The deeper problem is your own disrespect for yourself."
Somewhat reluctantly at first, Tom agreed, recognizing in himself the negative attitudes and judgmental feelings that clouded much of his perceptions and impressions of self, other people, and their ideas and beliefs. His willingness to consider these aspects of himself meant he sincerely wanted to be a better person.
My job as a psychotherapist is to help people drop their negativity, which includes unresolved feelings of being deprived, helpless, rejected, abandoned, and unappreciated. These lingering emotional attachments produce many of our emotional and behavioral problems.
Our job as Americans is to become stronger and more powerful in our own selves, the results of which will be a secure democracy and more peace in the world. We get no help from programs such as "The O'Reilly Factor," which serves the selfish interests of the power elite in two ways: Money is made from the commercialization of negativity and those of us unaware enough to watch the show will remain resentful, petty, passive, and divided.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Peter Michaelson is a psychotherapist and author in Santa Fe. Excerpts from his latest book, Democracy's Little Self-Help Book, can be read at www.petermichaelson.com.
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