Being Content When the World is Falling Apart

ISIS is taking over Iraq. North Korea is threatening to send missiles to America. Terrorists are taking down soldiers and police in Canada. Global Warming is at an all-time high. The American economy is wavering prices are soaring. Quality or life is dropping like a elevator with busted cables.

Each bit of bad news pushes our stress level a little higher. Just when we think it's as high as it can get, another bit of news comes in and our stress somersaults into the sky.

Is it possible to find contentment in a world that's falling apart? Maybe not. But below are some suggestions that may help you keep your head when others are losing theirs.

1. Participate instead of agonizing. Don't agonize over ISIS. Don't agonize over global warming. Agonizing will accomplish nothing and will only harm your health. Instead, do something. Join a global warming march. Contact your Senator. Write a blog.


Bullying Starts in Families and Spreads Like Cancer

Often these days the subject of bullying comes up in the context of prejudice. For example, during the last Presidential election former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was accused of bullying a fellow student during his youth, a student who was perceived to be different and possibly homosexual. When bullying is seen in this context, it becomes a simplistic victim syndrome.

In general, we view bullying as something children do to other children (or sometimes adults do to other adults). The bully is seen as a villain, oftentimes with hateful or prejudiced motives, and the person who is bullied is tabbed as an innocent victim. However, bullying is much more pervasive than that, much more complicated, with psychological consequences for both the bully and the person who is bullied.

The bullying that occurs among children is but one of many kinds of bullying. Bullying starts in families. Parents or older siblings are the original bullies. Children are taught to be bullies or to be bullied by the family system in which they grow up.


A Mother’s Prenatal Depression Can Harm Her Baby

When a pregnant mother is depressed, it appears that her growing fetus also becomes depressed, which can then lead to other ailments. But there is hope.

Recent research points out ways that a mother's stress or depression during pregnancy can have a harmful effect on her growing fetus. At the same time, another study shows that a mother's touch after the baby is born can make a big difference.

A study in Psychological Science by Curt A. Sandman, Elysia P. Davis, and Laura M. Glynn of the University of California-Irvine, found a connection between a mother's prenatal depression and later developmental problems in their infants.  The study suggests that the fetus picks up stress chemicals from the mother that can result in later neurological and psychiatric disorders.  In other words, a mother's stress can be "catching," and can cause long term problems such as not being able to cope with stressful situations.

Can a Psychotherapist Brainwash a Client?

Over the years a number of my clients have expressed the fear that I (or any psychotherapist) might take control of their mind and lead them to a place they never intended to go. That is, they were afraid of being brainwashed.

The word "brainwash" was originally coined by the Chinese. After confining those who did not think right into prison, they would xǐ năo, which translates as "wash brain." Throughout history various totalitarian governments used methods such as, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, harassment, intimidation, verbal repetition and peer pressure to induce people to accept their way of thinking. The dictionary defines brainwashing as: a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas; or, persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship.

Since the term was invented, brainwashing has been applied to religions, cults, political movements and sometimes even to advertising (including public service announcements) that attempt to manipulate people and change their way of thinking. More recently the word has been used to warn about a certain pitfall of therapy, suggesting that sometimes psychotherapists, wittingly or unwittingly, brainwash their clients.


Essentials of Constructive Communication

Destructive communication is what many couples—and many people—engage in. They don’t do so purposely; they often intend to work things out, but their emotions get the better of them and it comes out all wrong. Destructive communication often happens when we try to manipulate a partner rather than share and discuss. Quarrels are the byproduct of destructive communication.

Quarreling generally involves a verbal war to demonstrate our goodness and a partner’s badness. It’s a way to get what we want through manipulative behavior such as crying, shouting, acts of violence, accusations, recriminations, ultimatums, interrogations, or a show of calmness to highlight a partner’s irrationality. Quarrels can drone on for days, months, or years as each side repeatedly presents hours and hours of evidence. The goal is to use force to obtain victory, but peace won in this way is seldom lasting.

Constructive communication is less common. It seems that many people would rather jump in front of a freight train than communicate in an honest and straightforward way. Almost everybody pays lip service to honest communication, but when it comes down to it, people avoid it as if it were a bear trap. Constructive communication asks couples to drop their need to be innocent and make their partner guilty. And that is not easy.


When Our Leader Goes to War

Children lurk in their rooms and lie low when their parents are fighting. They know they can't do anything to stop the fighting. They have tried talking to one parent or the other, begging them not to fight, and the parents have promised not to fight. But as soon as the night slithers in and drags down the sun, as soon as their parents grouch home, one or the other starts in. "Well, I see you finally got around to coming home!"

They hear the shouts, the cries and the slaps in their dark corners, feeling more and more tense, paralyzed with helplessness. The night goes on, and their hearts are hammering against their chests as the noises from the other room turn this way and that. They want to scream, "Mom! Dad! Stop! Please, please, please stop! Oh, my God, please stop!"  They're afraid their world is falling apart. But the parents aren't going to listen to anybody. They will keep going until one parent or the other ends up with a bloody nose or a dish crashing on a forehead.

The next morning one parent or another explains, "I had to say something. I had to defend my family!" The fights never solve anything. They just keep happening. They don't succeed in defending the family, only in causing more discord in the family.

Now President Obama is once again going to war.


Are Teens Texting Away their Lives?

A study by the Pew Research Center and the University of Michigan found that nearly one out of three kids between 12 and 17 years old sent 100 or more texts a day. Seventy-five percent of the teens in the study owned cell phones and that figure is rising fast.

Indeed, for teenagers, texting is the form of communication that is preferred above all others. They text during meals, while they are brushing their teeth, while they are going to school, during classes (when teachers have not banned cell phones), in the cafeteria, while doing homework, and before going to bed. Most sleep with their cell phones or keep them near the bed. Sometimes they text and drive, which leads to accidents.

One of my teen-aged therapy patients reported that she and her friends were even texting each other while they were watching a movie together. I asked her why they couldn't just whisper to each other. Her answer: "I don't know. It just seems more interesting if you text it."


How Long Should Psychotherapy Last

"How long will it last?" is one of the questions people most often ask when they are about to begin psychotherapy--especially if it's their first time.

The answer I usually give isn't the one people want to hear, because I answer with a question: "How long should yoga last?" "How long should you study piano?" "How long should you learn chess?"

Of course, the answer to that question will depend on the psychotherapist and the modality she or he uses. A behavioral psychotherapist who emphasizes eliminating symptoms may answer that the therapy will be completed when the symptom is gone, which may be a matter of weeks or at most a year. A cognitive psychotherapist may reply, "The treatment will last long enough to replace your negative thinking with positive thinking." Someone who specializes in short-term therapy may say, "We will set goals and the therapy will be over when we reach those goals, which will be no more than a month or two."


Are We a Childist Society?

What we need, according to two recent books, is an entirely new attitude toward children. Both books point to engrained notions about children that view them as a subservient class in the same way as we Americans once viewed slaves, and both show how these attitudes cause harm to children and to our society.

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's book, Childism: Confronting Prejudice against Children, notes that only two countries--America and Somalia--refused to sign the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which among other things forbade the imprisonment of children. Bruehl contends that imprisoning children, rather than looking at the societal and parental attitudes (prejudice) that are at the root of juvenile delinquency, is one of the many manifestations of childism.

Eileen Johnson takes a different approach in The Children's Bill of Emotional Rights, but she comes to a similar conclusion. Johnson calls children "The last unheard minority," and proposes a bill of rights for children that would treat them not as a subservient class but as equals. That is, she proposes that their rights are just as legitimate as those of adults and should be legitimized, perhaps by laws.

Welcome to Psychoanalysis Now

There aren't enough voices online that share the benefits and rich insights that modern psychoanalysis has to offer people. That's why I'm pleased to introduce this blog, Psychoanalysis Now with Gerald Schoenewolf, , a New York licensed psychoanalyst.

Here is his introduction to the blog: