The Case Files: Silver Linings Playbook

I don’t really go out to see movies. My philosophy is generally TV > Movies (sorry, movie buffs) and any movie I want to see will be on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video (oh man, I love Jesse’s job). Plus, it’s become increasingly clear over the last few months that I’ve missed out on seeing like 95 percent of all the “greatest” films. I have a backlog.

But, I was going to see Silver Linings Playbook. I sort of knew what it was about, I love Jennifer Lawrence (duh, Hunger Games Case File), and it looked kind of quirky, dark, and romantic, which are probably the top three qualities that I look for in any movie to deem it a favorite. Once it was nominated for an Academy Award, Jesse said he’d go see it. Winner.

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HOLY MOLY YOU GUYS. Such (such!) a good movie. I may have some spoiler alerts in here, so don’t read ahead if you’re trying to see it.

So, it won’t be a traditional Case Files because these people aren’t real. What it will be, is a celebration that even if you feel a little off, a little weird, or a little crazy (I have felt all separately or in unison at one point or another in my life) then this movie will give you hope.

The plot follows Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat, after being released from a in-patient hospital after assaulting his wife’s lover, which he discovered after walking in on the two of them mid-coitus, while their wedding song was playing.

Ouch.

So, Pat nearly beats this guy to death and basically has what he later learns is a break with reality as a result of undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Upon leaving the facility, the movie chronicles his experiences in therapy (P.S. I don’t think this is a good representation of a therapist), his battle avoiding meds, his desperation to get his wife back, and his slowly growing relationship with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whom he befriends because 1) he doesn’t get much choice in the matter, 2) Tiffany can get in contact with his estranged wife (who has a restraining order against him).

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Tiffany, is also quite challenged. A widow who lost her husband in an ironic dose of tragedy, she copes by sleeping with anyone she can. Once Pat turns her down for casual sex, she ardently pursues a friendship with him, bartering Pat’s role as her dance partner in an upcoming competition, as a way to justify her assistance in helping Pat win back his wife.

That’s your short summary and I’ll avoid going into any of the more intricate details because I don’t want to completely spoil the movie or detract from how subtle somethings were that I feel really made the movie for me. There’s one scene that I just loved and it made me chuckle and smile from ear to ear.

Pat is visiting his friend’s house for dinner, who happens to be Tiffany’s sister. This is where the two meet. Tiffany knows Pat’s story, but the chemistry between the two is undeniable. Tiffany kind of owns her crazy and immediately begins probing Pat about his past. Pat displays some typical behaviors of someone who is unmedicated bipolar, in that he’s super impulsive, he barely has a filter from thought to words, and he’s just really erratic. The two begin bonding at dinner over which meds they’ve taken, discussing the finer points of Seroquel and Trazadone.

When you’ve worked in an inpatient facility (which I have), you become familiar with these meds. I’ve had countless clients explain the nitty gritty details of taking meds for a variety of reasons, but most of them rejoiced in the way they felt on their meds. Sleeping is easier and being awake is more difficult, but when you’re depressed or going through a tough life transition (death of a husband or new bipolar diagnosis), sleeping a lot has its perks.  It reminded me of my old clients and it gave me a nice warm feeling inside.

The Case File

Straight up, this movie (for me) was a commentary on mental health. Sure, I was looking at it through that lens, but I don’t think the message was lost on others who weren’t. When you realize your mind is different, whether you’re in a tough life transition, you have a mental health diagnosis, or you just feel a little… out of sorts, you immediately begin to worry about the likelihood you’ll lead a normal life and most importantly, find someone who will not only tolerate your quirks, but love you because of them. This movie proves something I’ve known for a long time; we don’t have to have it all figured out to find and feel love. Also, the more we find someone who can understand us, the more likely we are to be happy. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being perfect for each other.

Find someone who can call you out on your stuff and then help you get through it. That’s a partner worth sticking around for.

Feeling about Feeling.

I’m completing my Gottman Level 2 training right now. Every time I have this opportunity to sit down and get my geek/nerd learn-on, I feel so lucky. Especially because I am such a fan of the Gottman’s work and how it works in a couple’s counseling session. Something that John talks about in the L2 training, which he also talks about in the L1 training, is this idea of meta-emotion. As he describes it, which I think is a great definition, is “how we feel about feelings”.

The first time I ever heard of this concept, it seemed really abstract. How I feel about feelings? What does that even mean?

There are three types of ways one can understand how people feel about feelings:

  • Emotion Coaching
  • Emotion Dismissing
  • Emotion Disapproving

The first, emotion coaching, is the ideal emotional viewpoint. Those who are emotion coaching types, view emotions as learning opportunities. There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ emotion. When there is a negative emotion (sadness, anger) it is seen as an opportunity to build intimacy.

With emotion dismissing, the thought is “get over it”. Unpleasant emotions are looked at as choices, so those who see negative emotions from this point, dismiss their partner (or child’s) negative emotions as a choice and something that can easily be overcome. If you can choose the negative emotion, you can also choose to get rid of it.

For those who are emotion disapproving, emotions are seen as extremely negative and damaging. More than just viewing emotions as a choice, they resent the person experiencing the negative emotion, viewing them as weak or needy. When there is a bid for emotional connection and understanding from a partner and the emotion is one that is not accepted or understood, the partner will leave the person to solve it on their own.

Most of the research Dr. John Gottman has done on meta-emotion has been done in regards to how we raise children and teach them about emotions. Obviously though, these behaviors bleed into our romantic relationships. If we are raised to think sadness and anger are not valid emotions, then when our partner is sad about something and they come to us looking for empathy or comfort, and we shame them for not helping themselves – we create attachment injuries and we ultimately teach our partners that we are not in their lives to help them. It’s a negative and toxic pattern. It’s one of the first things couples counselors are taught to look for in ailing relationships.

So, why am I sharing this with you?

I hope you take the opportunity to think about how you feel about emotions, especially the negative ones. If your partner comes to you feeling sad, do you look at them as weak or whiney? Do you feel their sadness is a burden on your day? Or, do you take ownership of their bid for your help and step into your role as a “we” problem solver or a “you” problem solver. Relationships get distilled down simple tricks and methods for “making love last” but at the end of the day, a lot of it is how you feel about how you feel about each other and your relationship.

The Case Files: Chris Brown & Rihanna

Does anyone like Chris Brown anymore? I wanted to like him, I really did. With his MJ moves and his catchy tunes, I really thought he and Rihanna were the best couple. Then that whole thing happened where he beat her up before the Grammys and I changed my tune. Then he threw a chair out of the window on Good Morning America. Then, I really felt bad for Chris Brown. I won’t excuse him for what he did or has done, but it’s obvious he’s got some emotional stuff going on.

Then there’s Rihanna. I’ve loved Rihanna forever. Funky style, fun music, and awesome tattoos. She’s got a lot of sass and doesn’t seem to really care about anyone’s approval. Whether it’s dying her hair red or smoking a joint on the beach of Barbados, girlfriend does what she wants for the most part.

These two people have compared their love to Romeo & Juliet. Rihanna has been quoted about her relationship saying, “The s–t is magical and it’s real”. Poetic? Maybe. But it’s clear the two are back together, between the tweets and photos on Instagram. On one hand, I want to ball up my tiny hands (it’s true, they’re very small) and shake my fists at the sky,  asking the gods of music, “Why?! Why do this?!” but it must be done. It makes sense, strictly from a clinical perspective.

Background

Both Chris Brown and Rihanna grew up in some version of domestic hell. Rihanna’s father was addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine. Chris Brown’s step-father regularly beat his mother throughout his childhood. For these two people, their family-of-origin has strongly influenced their love lives. It’s no surprise they are so drawn to each other. Let’s review why:

  • Eighty-one percent of men who grew up in homes witnessing domestic violence turn to abusing their partner’s as adults. Violence teaches violence.
  • As violence against the woman becomes more severe and more frequent in a home, the children experience a 300% increase in physical abuse by the adult male abuser. Violence provokes violence.
  • For children of alcoholics, co-dependency is a common issue.
  • Issues of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem also accompany both issues.
  • The most important: Between Chris Brown’s background, Rihanna’s background, their careers, their age similarities, and shared interests, it’s likely Chris Brown and Rihanna feel that they could never be understood by anyone else as much as the other can understand them. These two fought through hell to get where they are today, meeting someone else who filled voids they had from childhood.

Think about it. Chris Brown’s background dictates that he should always protect a woman (his mother). Rihanna’s background dictates that she should find someone to protect her and fill the void left by having no male influence in her life. Both of these people have emotional wounds the other perfectly fills.

Unfortunately like many couples with these issues, their individual problems and past hurts bump up against each other. In traditional couples (or those who have worked on these issues) these problems are solved through counseling, deep discussion, and practice. Because Rihanna and (what seems to be mostly) Chris Brown have seemingly not resolved their childhood traumas, they fight. Rihanna stands up for herself because she’s scared and Chris Brown beats her when he’s too angry (flooded) to react any other way. He learned to beat women long before he knew it was right or wrong. Rihanna loves him outside of the knowledge that he hits her, most likely because the proportion of time he spent hitting her was infinitely smaller than all the other times he spent trying to love her.

“Because as angry as I was, as angry and hurt and betrayed, I just felt like he made that mistake because he needed help, and who’s going to help him? Nobody’s going to say he needs help. Everybody’s going to say he’s a monster without looking at the source, and I was more concerned about him.” — Rihanna, telling Oprah about how she felt in 2009 after the ordeal at the Grammys.

The Case File

So these two have reunited again and there’s even discussion about marriage. Let’s all remind ourselves of a few things:

  • Back in 2009 when the ‘incident’ happened, Chris Brown and Rihanna were 20 and 21 respectively. Think about the relationship you were in when you were that age. Probably not a good one, maybe a dysfunctional one. Depending on your background and your emotional wounds, maybe a really bad one. You were young.
  • Think about the ego that goes into being such influential pop stars. They don’t need no stinkin’ help. Well, at least that’s what I suspect to be the dominant thought process here.
  • Think about Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston. Yes, it’s sad. I think everyone saw the connection those two had, even if it was toxic.
  • Remember: Most of us are Rihanna’s distant fans, not her personal friends. We have no right to tell her what to do.

All in all, the right approach here is to be cautiously optimistic. Berating Rihanna for returning to Chris Brown won’t solve anything. At the end of the day, when she feels alone, scared, and misunderstood, she’ll turn the one person in her life that accepts her choice – Brown. To alienate her, to bully her, because of her choice isn’t just wrong, but it’s counterproductive to her ultimate well-being. With Chris Brown, there’s the possibility of change, but it’s not evident by his public persona and his statements about women. He’s trying to be famous in a music genre that does not champion the well-being of women. That’s going to be a difficult life of competing ideologies to lead.

If you want to read more, I’d recommend this article and all the other ones I referenced in my sources. Domestic violence is a huge issue in our society that is rarely dealt with in the media like this. I encourage you to educate yourself about the issues surrounding this problem. Vilifying either party will not help. This is a time for empathy.

Sources (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)