February 1 – 3, 2019
The feeling that one is different and that one is marginalized or excluded as a result of this difference is both common and painful. Children, adolescents, young adults and older adults, all at times experience the hurtful sense of their own outsiderness and they suffer the social rejection that accompanies this state. Religion, skin color, sexual orientation, gender, age, appearance, disability, all can separate one from others. Invisible attributes too –the way one thinks, the way one sees, the memories one stores –can fill individuals with the sense of their outsiderness. In this such a state one feels oneself at a far remove from the majority of ordinary people whose lives are inevitably experienced as more whole, more happy, more safe and more normal. Confronted with the discordance between one’s sense of oneself and one’s perception of the way the world sees us –not white, not heterosexual, not young, not “normal” – individuals may feel doubly damaged –socially alien and alien to themselves. Outsiderness, difference, is seen as wrongness.
Patients struggle with these issues, describing again and again social rejection and a feeling of being oppressed by individuals and institutions –family, friends, employers, co-workers, romantic partners, teammates, parishioners, governmental authorities and on and on. As therapists we try to help our patients discover their own agency and define themselves. Often, however, they cannot move. Their sense of outsiderness overwhelms and defines their sense of self.
In treatment when patients resolutely hold to a binary point of view—insider versus outsider—they limit our ability as therapists to help them and they limit their own ability help themselves. So long as their sense of otherness remains frozen they cannot act. Locked into such a place, they may unconsciously accept the pressure to act according to socially perceived definitions of who they are and who they are supposed to be.
It doesn’t need to be that way. Outsiderness need not be a fixed or static position paralyzing the self. It can be a shifting position in which one may be an insider one moment and an outsider the next. This shifting point of view, enabling one to see the world from more than one perspectives, is, of course, the stance of some of the most thoughtful individuals – artists, intellectuals, and, often, at our best, psychotherapists. Thus as thinkers and feeling individuals we may fiercely embrace the outsider position, taking pride in the status of other that allows us witness and speak of things others may not see.
Depending on how we know ourselves and others, outsiderness can be either a disabling or an enabling stance. How do we use our sense of outsiderness to empower ourselves and add depth and meaning to our experience of the world? During this weekend writers and analysts—a novelist, a poet, two analysts and others—will help us think through these issues.
Weekend Coordinator; Kerry Malawista, Ph.D.
Ethelbert Miller is the author of nine books of poetry, two memoirs and is the editor of three poetry anthologies. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Poet Lore, and Sojourners. Mr. Miller was the founder and director of the Ascension Poetry Reading Series, one of the oldest literary series in the Washington area. Since 1974 he has been director of Howard University’s African-American Resource Center. Miller has taught at various schools, including American University, Emory & Henry College, George Mason University, Harpeth Hall School and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was a core faculty member of the writing seminars at Bennington College and worked with Operation Homecoming for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). He currently serves as board chairperson of the Institute for Policy Studies. He is on the boards of Split This Rock and the Writer’s Center, and is co-editor of Poet Lore magazine. He is former chair of the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C., and has served on the boards of the AWP, the Edmund Burke School, PEN American Center, PEN/Faulkner Foundation, and the Washington Area Lawyer for the Arts (WALA).
GURMEET S. KANWAL, MD is originally from New Delhi, India. He is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. He is Supervising Psychoanalyst and Teaching Faculty at the William Alanson White Institute, and Past President of the William Alanson White Psychoanalytic Society. He is a member of the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and Journal of Psychoanalytic Discourse. Dr. Kanwal is co-editor, with Dr. Salman Akhtar, of a just published book titled, “Bereavement- Personal Experiences and Clinical Reflections”, (Karnac). Dr. Kanwal is in full-time Private Practice in NYC.
ARIA BETH SLOSS is a graduate of Yale University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Iowa Arts Foundation, the Yaddo Corporation, and the Vermont Studio Center, and her writing has appeared in “Glimmer Train”, the “Harvard Review”, and online at “The Paris Review” and “Five Chapters”. She is the author of “Autobiography of Us”. She lives in New York City.