Airing dirty laundry

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Families have baskets of dirty laundry — some have more and some have less. “Dirty laundry” is an idiom pertaining to skeletons in the closet, family secrets and problems. “Don’t air your dirty laundry in public” is an expression for keeping problems private.

In times gone by, Appalachian families were recognized for asserting “Families keep problems within the family” and “Families don’t air or share their dirty laundry in public.” However, this perspective allowed domestic violence within the home to continue because country folk declared, “What happens inside the family’s home is nobody else’s business.” Neighbors, church members and police officers looked the other way. Incest ensued because it was not addressed. Or the sexual perpetrators were confronted, but received no criminal consequences without police and court involvement. And the victims did not dare reveal the truth by attending counseling and letting the dirty laundry out of the bag. So, the cycle of abuse continued and was passed down through generations.

Marcia Sirota asserted, “On top of the abuse and neglect, denial heaps more hurt upon the child by requiring the child to alienate herself from reality and her own experience. In troubled families, abuse and neglect are permitted; it’s the talking about them that is forbidden.”

However, the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Reality TV depicts real people at their worst as they pull out their dirty laundry on national television. The producers and hosts hype up the drama for ratings — not caring about the fallout when families return to their homes and towns. Entertainment is their game.

Guests of The Jerry Springer Show revealed intimate relational issues on national television — a forever permanent record. Dirty laundry was strung everywhere. He allowed guests to brawl, bully, blame, shame and accuse family members, relatives and in-laws. And the audience verbally abused the guests. In my opinion, Jerry is the king of tastelessness.

America TV hosts Ricki Lake, Sally Jessy Raphael, Geraldo Rivera, Jenny Jones, Montel Williams and others sensationalized dirty laundry and used tabloid voyeurism tactics. The Maury Show and Steve Wilkos Show carry on the trashy tradition of trying to shock audiences with outrageous narratives as relationship problems, abuse and trauma are revealed.

But, do unsupervised children and adolescents who watch humans mistreating each other on insensitive TV talk shows know that some of it is fake and phony? Do they know this is not how rational and reasonable people communicate and resolve relationship problems, abuse issues or traumatic events?

The pendulum did swing more toward the middle with the disclosure of family problems on these TV talk shows.

Positive outcomes came from the Oprah Winfrey Show. She listened to gut-wrenching stories with respect. She educated the audience as her guests. In 1987, her show featured both victims of sexual abuse and their predators, and Oprah confessed that she was molested as a child. Winfrey made the private public and provided understanding, encouragement and support. She used her celebrity status and power to influence beneficial change for emotional and mental health.

I don’t agree with Dr. Phil’s “kick-butt” confrontational counseling philosophy, but he brought light to some dark issues, and he arranged for therapy in guests’ hometowns after the show. But, is Dr. Phil the real deal?

I liked Dr. Drew Pinsky’s talk show before it was pulled — after he mentioned Hillary Clinton’s cough before the election. Compassionate communication seeks answers to problems while demonstrating empathy. Dr. Drew did bring addiction and relationships into the forefront. However, Loveline, Celebrity Rehab and Teen Mom’s dirty laundry smelled pungent with hyped content.

The Phil Donahue Show explored controversial issues without slimy tabloid talk tricks and tactics. He examined hot-button social issues with a calm and respectful demeanor.

Books, magazines, television, social media, Internet websites and even billboards have educated Americans on interpersonal relationships, abuse and domestic violence. There is usually a mental health center in every county along with private practices.

Getting back to dirty laundry in Appalachia. The younger generation is more prone to seeking out counseling. Legislation and laws have progressed in reference to domestic violence in the home, physical child abuse, incest and other issues.

However, I would not advise individuals to air their dirty laundry as a gripe-fest on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Knowing when to share and when not to share family secrets and personal problems is a knack worth knowing.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio.