psychology

Psychology Corner

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I got to show this video in class today.

This needs to be seen if you’ve been in a relationship with an abuser.

I spoke to a therapist I was dating in Albuquerque about harassment.  She had been stalked by someone who almost killed her.  So, she had no sympathy for people whose harassment didn’t include physical violence.  I think she missed something.

 

Writing Reflexively

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In extreme situations, the entire universe becomes our foe; at such critical times, unity of mind and technique is essential – do not let your heart waver! — Morihei Ueshiba

“We come into the world whole and perfect although with our potential completely unrealized.  And to the extent that the world does not see us for that whole and perfect being that we are, we cover up, and we lose our connection to ourselves. ” – Gabor Maté

“’Why don’t you write like you talk?’ they would say.  At first blush the idea struck me as absurd.  In the first place, I never considered myself a remarkable talker, though they insisted I was.  In the second place, the written word seemed so much more eloquent to me than the spoken one.  When you talk you can’t stop to polish a phrase, to search for precisely the right word, nor can you go back and expunge a word, a phrase, a whole paragraph.  It seemed like an insult to have them tell me, who was struggling for mastery of the word, that I succeeded better without thought than with thought  Poisonous as the idea was, though, it bore fruit.” — Henry Miller

“First thought, best thought.” – Jack Kerouac

“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.” — Ray Bradbury

“You only lose what you cling to.” – Buddhism

 

 There’s a war in a person

driven by the survival instinct

that puts you at odds

with everything at times,

including yourself.

This record of disappointment,

where the world, others, and ourselves

failed us, establishes by tradition,

as it were, an unhealthy pattern

of relating to all things.

But it’s not to late to stop

dredging up lists of offenses,

setting the heart to boil,

and imagining retaliations.

Our imaginations are powerful

things, and the mythic energies

therein create attachment to the legends

of woe in our minds.  If we ask if we

may forgive ourselves, relax, understand

our wholeness has not left us, stop

imagining recrimination, and move on

to what is useful and healing,

we free ourselves from the cycle.

And then, there is sex.

And violence.

The United States of PTSD

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But there was another kind of shock therapy, which was a dramatic change in society… into a market economy by overnight privatizing, liberalizing, changing the rules of the game… – Joseph Stiglitz

 

We are all just a taser away from tame.

The persistence of trauma is a startling feature of consciousness.  An individual, made to feel helpless by shock, often can not shake off this feeling on a deep level for months, years, or even the remainder of his life.  Whereas most trauma is the result of being overwhelmed and made to feel powerlessness by circumstances, a group, or person, it is often enough just to bear witness to another being victimized for one to experience trauma.

People respond to this in various ways.  School bullies are often the victims of abuse at home and are trying to regain their sense of control by victimizing others.  Abused child are often abusive parents, and soldiers returning from wars may wreak havoc in their homes and communities (or simply be dysfunctional).  Smaller scale examples might include fantasies about revenging yourself on your boss, a desire to install a cannon on the front of your automobile,  the impetus to move all your money out of the Bank of America, or the sudden impulse to camp out in a public space and test the bounds of your liberty.

Shock produces trauma, but what produces shock?  Generally, it is understood to be a sudden unexpected change.   However, some gradual changes can be experienced as shock if we one day recognize how much change has occurred while we were not granting enough attention.  As I slink into middle age, I am sometimes shocked at how age has swept across my features, making them momentarily unrecognizable.  There is the shock of realizing you’ve been doing something unhealthy for years that you’ve been promising you’d quit.  Politicians may shock voters when they turn out to be representative of what they were voting against, banks may shock homeowners by revealing that they’ve been sold an overcomplicated bill of goods they could never have paid off, outlets may shock children who stick forks into them, and series that end in a non sequitur may shock a reader.

But there is another side to shock.  One that often emerges after the shock is thoroughly applied.

Shock may serve its purposes, especially for others who might wish to manipulate the shocked.  The shocked go into regression, seeking out guidance from others.  A drug user who has “hit bottom,” after a long drawn out bout with addiction, might find themselves so suggestible to “help” that they end up trapped in a 12 step cult for life.  Ironically, addicts are far more likely to have come from religious households where religion helped serve up the early shocks that transfigured their minds into that of addicts in the first place.   So what are they offered in 12 step programs:  more religion.  Citizens who have encountered the shock of recognizing that capitalism is no longer working for them might get sucked into the Tea Party, where they insist on more drastic free market principles and defend the rights of their oppressors.  Peoples dragged into war, deprivation and tyranny may deify their leader, become irrationally patriotic, and cry hysterically at the despot’s funeral.

Sadly, the victim returns to the scene of the crime and thanks the criminal for relieving him of his sense of identity and self-respect.

At least, we have our trauma.

Why You are Obliged to Read my Blog

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Knee High to a Mustard Seed

By Clarence Newborn

When I was in kindergarten, I remember being enthralled with coloring a castle in order to tune out of the shock of a new environment.  I was adding a large-eyed alligator to the moat when John Doe (that was his actual name, don’t question me!) grabbed a fistful of crayons and wickedly and gleefully annihilated my composition.

Well, I wanted revenge.  So, being a blossoming angry young man, I went home and searched for a sharp weapon.  I found a bright orange box cutter and slept with it snug underneath my pillow. In the morning, I was gleeful. When I got to class, I sat near John Doe.  I engaged him in conversation and, when I had prompted him to say something disrespectful, I took out the box cutter and threatened to take out his eye.

The teacher luckily descended on me and seized the box cutter.

“Where did you get this?” she asked.

“From al-Qaeda, ha.”

And so, I became a terrorist and class clown in one day. I had evolved. I tried to explain myself to the principal.

“What’s your excuse, young man?” asked Mrs. Fanning.

“I’m a Muslim?”

“You’re Catholic,” she retorted, “I go to church with your parents.”

“Ok, I’m a pathological liar? Maybe a sociopath? Perhaps I need evaluation. And drugs. Umm. Yes, definitely drugs.”

“You’re a weird one, Mr. Smothers.”

“That’s not my name,” I complained.

“For the purposes of this story, it is.”

“You’ve got me there.”

Later, in high school, I was transferred from a private to a public school when my parents divorced.

On the first day of school, I fearfully entered the theater where we were corralled before classes began.

The alpha male took notice of me. He backhanded one of his cronies in the chest, smiled menacingly, and strutted to me.

“Hey, fagboy, I got a present for you,” he said.

“I’m Mr. Smothers,” I corrected.

“Yea, ok queerbait,” he said, taking off one of his glove and striking me in the face. “You like that, huh?”

I grabbed his hand and stared intensely into his eyes.

“Look, I’m psychotic,” I informed him. “If you do that again, I will find you. I will carve you. I will strangle you with your own intestines. Do you understand?”

After that, no one bothered me for a bit. However, in a couple of weeks he and his cohorts regained some courage. They started making loud jokes about how, if I had a knife, they would shove it up my buttocks.

So, the next day, I brought a large steak knife into school and showed it to them. Soon enough, the dean confiscated it.

Repetition.

So, now I’m 38. In the lead-up to the Great Recession, I realize that the banks have basically robbed the entire planet. Now, I’m planning on blowing up banks and laughing.

Luckily, I realize that blowing up a building will accomplish nothing, because money is imaginary anyway. Still, the symbolism appeals to me, because the belief in money gives it its power. Also, I didn’t mind robbing the banks via credit cards I never intended to repay and other loans. So, why should I begrudge them destroying the world? Yes, I found acceptance and love in my heart.

Soon, enough I was sharing this acceptance and love online. Somebody would post something like “Today God wants you to know that foreclosure is the road to freedom,” and I would get so insane I’d rush outside looking in vain for a thorn bush to throw myself into. Then, I would list a minimum of 10 reasons why this person needed to seriously consider the benefits of suicide to themselves and the greater good, making sure that it sunk home in the shallow waters of their mind that I meant their suicide. Usually once they got that, however, they insisted I needed to pray in all sincerity for Jesus to reveal himself to me.

And there was wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I told him if I was asking in sincerity that would mean I believed already so it would be impossible to come to believe by believing already. However, the online anonymous Christian did not accept my logic. Then, he reminded me about the eternal torture that awaited me and said he would pray for me since I was obviously spiritually handicapped.

Nice guy. Snake oil manners.

Unfortunately, I had outgrown the habit of arming myself and threatening people. So, I started a blog. Much more responsible on my part, I figure.

But if you don’t keep reading it, I may regress. And we don’t want that.

So, I started “Mr. Smothers’ Blog of the Diabolically Disheveled Disease.”

Thank you for your patronage. Stage 2 is coming soon. And you’re all invited.

Bring a weapon.

An Interview with Sam Vaknin, Author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited

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I recently became entranced with the subject of narcissism and what role it plays in how we relate to ourselves, others, and society at large.  And vice versa…To my delight, author Sam Vaknin agreed to answer some questions on this fascinating subject which I am just beginning to familiarize myself with.Vaknin is also the editor-in-chief of Global Politician, is often called upon as an expert in narcissism by the media, and runs a website about narcissism.sv (Sam Vaknin)


Q. Why would the average person need to know about narcissism?
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SV: The concept of narcissism has a great explanatory value. It is a potent organizing principle. It helps to explain the behavior patterns of both individuals and collectives. Healthy narcissism is at the core of the Self and malignant, pathological narcissism manifests itself in literally all known abusive, dangerous, and reckless behaviors: family violence, murder, genocide, addictions, corporate malfeasance, sexual abuse and paraphilias, incest, and more.
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Q. How likely is it the average person has a  narcissist in their life?
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SV: Strictly defined, a “narcissist” is someone who has been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Less than 1% of the general population are diagnosed narcissists, so your chances to come across one are 1:100. But, as Theodore Millon observed correctly, there are many more people with narcissistic traits, a narcissistic style, or a narcissistic personality who would not be diagnosed with NPD, but are still as deleterious and detrimental to their human environment as the “full-fledged” variety.
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Q. How can one manage and improve their own narcissistic tendencies?
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SV: All of us have narcissistic traits, behaviors, and thoughts (cognitions). But these are tempered by empathy, fear of punishment, our conscience (known in psychoanalysis as “superego”), and social mores and conventions. One cannot manage or improve one’s healthy narcissism – nor is it desirable. One only needs to listen to one’s inner voice, be self-aware, self-critical, listen to input and feedback, and be guided by one’s empathy to be a productive and accepted member of the community. Pronounced antisocial conduct, however. requires professional help and a regime of therapy, sometimes with medication to enhance impulse control.
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Q. What is the prognosis for a narcissist who undergoes treatment?
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SV: The prognosis is hopeless for someone diagnosed with NPD. Narcissistic Personality Disorder cannot be cured, but certain antisocial and self-destructive or self-defeating behaviors can be modified using cognitive-behavioral therapies. Narcissists attend therapy only as a last resort and only in order to restore their access to narcissistic supply. Narcissists hold the therapist in contempt and seek to establish their grandiose superiority and entitlement by playing mind games and by undermining the therapeutic alliance.
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Q. In 1984, the State, in the guise of Big Brother, appears to me to be a sort of collective narcissist.  Do you think that a society can have narcissistic traits and do you see any evidence of this in the United States and elsewhere?
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SV: In their book “Personality Disorders in Modern Life”, Theodore Millon and Roger Davis state, as a matter of fact, that pathological narcissism was the preserve of “the royal and the wealthy” and that it “seems to have gained prominence only in the late twentieth century”. Narcissism, according to them, may be associated with “higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs … Individuals in less advantaged nations .. are too busy trying (to survive) … to be arrogant and grandiose”.

They – like Lasch before them – attribute pathological narcissism to “a society that stresses individualism and self-gratification at the expense of community, namely the United States.” They assert that the disorder is more prevalent among certain professions with “star power” or respect. “In an individualistic culture, the narcissist is ‘God’s gift to the world’. In a collectivist society, the narcissist is ‘God’s gift to the collective’”.

Millon quotes Warren and Caponi’s “The Role of Culture in the Development of Narcissistic Personality Disorders in America, Japan and Denmark“:

“Individualistic narcissistic structures of self-regard (in individualistic societies) … are rather self-contained and independent … (In collectivist cultures) narcissistic configurations of the we-self … denote self-esteem derived from strong identification with the reputation and honor of the family, groups, and others in hierarchical relationships.”

Having lived in the last 20 years 12 countries in 4 continents – from the impoverished to the affluent, with individualistic and collectivist societies – I know that Millon and Davis are wrong. Theirs is, indeed, the quintessential American point of view which lacks an intimate knowledge of other parts of the world. Millon even wrongly claims that the DSM’s international equivalent, the ICD, does not include the narcissistic personality disorder (it does).

Pathological narcissism is a ubiquitous phenomenon because every human being – regardless of the nature of his society and culture – develops healthy narcissism early in life. Healthy narcissism is rendered pathological by abuse – and abuse, alas, is a universal human behavior. By “abuse” we mean any refusal to acknowledge the emerging boundaries of the individual: smothering, doting, and excessive expectations are as abusive as beating and incest.

With 7 billion humans on the planet, the need to assert oneself, to be noticed, to be recognized as unique is ever more pressing. No one likes to feel a cog in a machine, an atom in an organism, or a speck among billions. Consumerism and mass communication that lead to global cultural and societal homogeneity foster the same narcissistic reactions and provoke the same narcissistic defenses in whole collectives as they do in individuals.

There are malignant narcissists among subsistence farmers in Africa, nomads in the Sinai desert, day laborers in east Europe, and intellectuals and socialites in Manhattan. Malignant narcissism is all-pervasive and independent of culture and society.

It is true, though, that the WAY pathological narcissism manifests and is experienced is dependent on the particulars of societies and cultures. In some cultures, it is encouraged, in others suppressed. In some societies it is channeled against minorities – in others it is tainted with paranoia. In collectivist societies, it may be projected onto the collective, in individualistic societies, it is an individual’s trait.

Yet, can families, organizations, ethnic groups, churches, and even whole nations be safely described as “narcissistic” or “pathologically self-absorbed”? Wouldn’t such generalizations be a trifle racist and more than a trifle wrong? The answer is: it depends.

Human collectives – states, firms, households, institutions, political parties, cliques, bands – acquire a life and a character all their own. The longer the association or affiliation of the members, the more cohesive and conformist the inner dynamics of the group, the more persecutory or numerous its enemies, the more intensive the physical and emotional experiences of the individuals it is comprised of, the stronger the bonds of locale, language, and history – the more rigorous might an assertion of a common pathology be.

Such an all-pervasive and extensive pathology manifests itself in the behavior of each and every member. It is a defining – though often implicit or underlying – mental structure. It has explanatory and predictive powers. It is recurrent and invariable – a pattern of conduct melded with distorted cognition and stunted emotions. And it is often vehemently denied.