All posts by gabbert2013

About gabbert2013

I have been a psychotherapist for 20+ years. I specialize in Marriage & Family Therapy and addictions. My practice name is Interactions Therapy Center. I've learned a few things over the years and hope you'll find these blogs interesting.

Moral Panic Can Cause Immoral Outcomes

Have you heard the term “moral panic?” A moral panic is a widespread fear, most often an irrational one, that someone or something is a threat to the values, safety, and interests of a community or society. Moral panics are often centered on people who are marginalized in society due to their race or ethnicity, class, sexuality, nationality, or religion. It often draws on and reinforces stereotypes. It exacerbates differences and divisions between groups of people. Stanley Cohen developed a theory of moral panic identifies five stages.
1. Something or someone is perceived as a threat to social norms.
2. Society depicts the threat in simplistic ways that quickly become recognizable to the public.
3. Public concern is aroused by the way news media portrays the representation of the threat.
4. New laws or policies are created as a way to respond to the threat.
5. The actions by those in power results in social change within the community.

An example of moral panic is the Salem witch trials that took place throughout Massachusetts in 1692. This moral panic was a threat to the authority of religious leaders and was perceived as a threat to Christian values, laws and orders. It was also called Satanic Panic. The War on Drugs in the 1980’s and 1990’s is another example of moral panic. Media attention linked crack cocaine to urban Black people and associated it with delinquency and crime. Laws and policies left white middle and upper classes untouched. “Welfare queens,” “cocaine babies” and the “gay agenda” are more examples.

According to Goode and Ben-Yehuda, In order to be a moral panic, there must be characteristics of the following:
1. Concern that the group is deemed deviant and is likely to have a negative effect on society.
2. Hostility toward the group increases as do divisions of “us” and “them.”
3. Concern does not need to be nationwide, but there is enough of a consensus to be thought to be a threat to society.
4. Laws and policies are disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the accused group.
5. Moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as a new story catches media attention.

Let’s take a recent example of undocumented immigrants. President Trump casts Mexican immigrants as deviant, causing harm to America. He remarked “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” He fans the flames of hostility and creates divisions between “us” and “them.” “These aren’t people. These are animals. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are.” Many would say that immigration laws, policies and proposals (border walls) are disproportionate to the actual threat.

Goode and Ben-Yehuda say “the fears and concerns underlying moral panics are said to be part and parcel of the human condition as expression of human frailty. All societies have them. We’ve seen them before and we’ll see them again. Let’s learn from history and avoid irrational and unjustified responses. The women of Salem were not witches. Crack cocaine is not better or worse than other substances of abuse, and people who use it should not be punished with longer sentences than other groups of people. We now know that “crack babies” are most often indistinguishable from babies not born to women who used crack during their pregnancies. “Welfare queens” are a myth. And there is no “gay agenda”.

We can be alarmed, be concerned, and be cautious. But let’s not panic. Panic produces outcomes such as separating children from their parents. I’m confident that Americans will deeply regret this policy, and their complicity, one day.

“Moral panic” tends to create immoral outcomes. Don’t get swept up by irrational fear.

We All Want Respect

I recently met a young man who received a legal charge of domestic assault. His girlfriend of one year came to his house and “started an argument” about his unfaithfulness. He admits that he punched her in the eye, causing injury that required medical care. In his opinion, she disrespected him by going to his house to confront him. He also had a couple of previous battery charges, due to arguments with “people who disrespected me.” Yet, he considers himself an easy-going person who ignores people and problems. “I try to walk away as much as I can.” How does he account for his aggressive episodes? “They keep disrespecting me.” This made me wonder about the importance of respect.

Respect can mean life or death in gangs. The issue of respect, or disrespect, can trigger confrontations and violence between gangs. Criminal justice experts say its how gang members prove their loyalty, maintain a sense of belonging, and demonstrate power. If you are challenged, and you don’t step up, you lose status.

Respect is equally important for people who are not gang affiliated. Respect is a positive feeling or action shown toward someone held in high regard. It conveys a sense of admiration for valuable qualities. Respect can be conveyed with a handshake, a slight bow, a smile, direct eye contact, or a fist bump. It is shown differently in different cultures. But we all want it.

Research suggests that how much we are respected and admired determine our overall happiness in life, more so than how much money we have. Cameron Anderson, Psychological scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, found that higher socioeconomic status, meaning higher income or wealth, or higher education, does not boost subjective happiness much at all. Rather respect and admiration in your friendship network, neighborhood, or social teams improves overall happiness. “Having high standing in your local ladder leads to receiving more respect, having more influence, and being more integrated into the groups social fabric” Anderson said. He went on to say “One of the reasons why money doesn’t buy happiness is that people quickly adapt to the new level of income or wealth. Lottery winners, for example, are initially happy but then return to their original level of happiness quickly.” Other studies have indicated that people who reach an income of about $45,000 are no more happy after winning the lottery. Once one’s basic needs are met, wealth alone does not determine happiness. Being respected, having influence, and being socially connected are the sources of true happiness.

Let’s return to the young man who is quick to demand respect by violent means. In my opinion, he is easily slighted. We all feel slighted from time to time, in big and small ways. Maybe someone didn’t return your call, spoke rudely to you, or didn’t invite you to an event with others. Psychologists call slights “narcissistic injuries” that bruise our egos and make us feel belittled. It hurts to feel devalued or disrespected. It can cause us to feel humiliated, with potentially dangerous consequences. Maybe we want to hurt them back. Slights can trigger a violent reaction.

Psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson estimated that two-thirds of all murders were the result of men feeling that they had been disrespected and acted to “save face.” Our ego, our sense of self, is often fragile and easily damaged.

There’s no getting around it. We will be slighted on occasion. Rather than protect our fragile egos in unproductive ways, find other means to be respected, have influence, and be socially connected.

Chats With Strangers Can Be Good for You

When living in Chicago, I noticed that people don’t make eye contact with strangers on the street. I assumed that in such heavily populated areas, people preferred to keep a bubble of personal space between themselves and others. Upon moving to a small rural community, I noticed that everyone waved hello when driving by. It was almost as if they were pleased to see another human on an otherwise unpopulated road.

My father had a wave protocol when driving. If you passed someone you knew, you gave an open hand wave. If you weren’t sure if you knew them, you held up your fingers while keeping your hand on the steering wheel. If they were a stranger, you still acknowledged them by holding up one finger as you passed by. I don’t know if he created the protocol but it seems like a warm gesture.

Perhaps people who live in large urban areas are more prone to think of “stranger danger.” It is the idea that all strangers can potentially be dangerous. It is most often used as a teaching tool to keep children safe, but don’t most of us feel threatened by the unknown or unfamiliar?

The problem is that we can feel cut off from others, even while surrounded by people. In the US, health experts warn of a “loneliness epidemic.” Loneliness can increase the risk of depression, heart disease, dementia and premature death.

To combat a lack of a social connection, psychotherapist, Traci Ruble started “Sidewalk Talk” which trains volunteers to listen empathetically to strangers. They put up signs on the street that say “Free Listening” next to chairs facing each other. This is a community listening project that has grown to 1000 volunteers in 29 US cities and 10 countries. She believes that we as a society desperately need more face-to-face contact. She wants people to look less at their devices and more at others’ faces.

Another group hosts “Tea with Strangers” in New York, in an effort to help people feel less isolated. It was founded by Ankit Shah who moved from New York to California’s bay area without any social connections. He asked his Facebook friends to ask their bay area friends if they’d like to have tea with him, a stranger. It has turned into an international movement in 15 cities. They invite five strangers to chat for about two hours over tea. Their goal is to make cities feel like neighborhoods. Rather than ask, “what do you do?” the host may ask “What surprises you?”

Interestingly, in spite of social media, young adults in the UK are much more likely to report feeling lonely than those aged 65 and over. Half of the people surveyed claimed to persistently feel lonely or left out.

Hosted groups such as these seem to have a better success rate than simply talking to strangers. Olivia Petter in the UK challenged herself to talk to strangers every day for week while riding the tube in honor of Loneliness Awareness Week. She’d ask someone sitting next to her how their day is going, or what their name is. It didn’t go well. She was unable to sustain a conversation for longer than a minute. But if you can pull it off, research indicates that there is a positive impact for your own and other’s well-being. You might both feel happier than you would think. Other studies have shown that talking with strangers is surprisingly pleasant. No one wants intrusive attention. Don’t be creepy. But a pleasant hello might be better received than you think.

Personally, I like the idea of tea with strangers. Would anyone like to join me for tea?

Addiction Doesn’t Start with a Gateway Drug

The following is a meme going viral on Facebook:
“Unpopular Opinion: Weed isn’t a gateway drug. Alcohol isn’t a gateway drug. Nicotine isn’t a gateway drug. Caffeine isn’t a gateway drug.
Trauma is the gateway. Childhood abuse is the gateway. Molestation is the gateway. Neglect is the gateway. Rape is the gateway.
Drug abuse, violent behavior, hyper sexuality, self-harm (etc) are often the symptoms (not the cause) of bigger issues. And it almost always stems from a childhood filled with trauma, absent parents, and abusive family.
But ya’ll too busy laughing at the homeless, the crackheads, and meth addicts to realize that your own kids could be in their shoes in 15 years.
Communicate, Empathize, Rehabilitate
– Enlightened Consciousness”

If we overlook the angry edge and implication that families cause addiction, this meme has a kernel of truth. Addiction is not caused by the first use of a substance. It’s much more complicated than that. People who become addicted to a substance often have underlying issues such as poor emotion regulation, insecure attachment, and may have a history of trauma. They may have repeated failures, helplessness, hopelessness and feel demoralized. These issues are not going to be addressed in a 10-week class.

And prevention is not as simple as we’d like to think. Drug prevention education is insufficient to stop addiction. You can’t teach a course to young people and expect good results. Prevention has to be experienced throughout one’s lifetime in the form of protective factors.

So, what can you do? Do your part to create a healthy environment for families from birth through adulthood. If you can’t stop trauma, at least be a protective factor in their lives. Communicate, Empathize, Rehabilitate. In short, surround them with love.

Does Power Corrupt, or Reveal, Who You Are?

Lord Acton was an English Catholic historian, politician, and writer in the 1800’s. He said “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Michelle Obama countered this with a statement in her speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in which she said “being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”

Have you been in a position of power? Perhaps you function in some role as a leader. You are the president of a service club, or you manage a group of workers at your job, or you are the church treasurer. Would you say that it changed who you are? Or did it reveal who you are?

Power has the capacity to direct or influence the behavior of others. Psychologists generally define power as control over others, by providing or withholding resources. The experience of power is often associated with promoting self-interest. It makes people more likely to act on their own desires. People who feel powerful are more likely to voice their opinions, talk more often, and interrupt others. They are quicker to make a decision with less information. Power allows us to ignore others’ concerns and pursue our own objectives. Therefore, it can become the basis of unethical behavior.

Melissa Williams, a psychologist at Emory University, has written about what leads power to corrupt or ennoble. Her research identified traits that can guide ethical or unethical leadership. Ethical leaders are found to have traits of agreeableness, honesty, cooperation and humility. They are supportive and served their followers rather than demanding to be served. Ethical leaders feel a need to do the morally right thing. One study showed that leaders with high moral standards became more generous. Unethical leaders tend to feel entitled, want to stand out from the crowd and they exhibit more abusive behaviors. Those with low moral standards become more selfish.

There is nothing wrong with seeking a position of power. The critical issue is how you intend to use that power. We can examine one’s past use of power as an indicator of how they will wield power in the future. If someone has a high moral standard, it is reasonable to assume that power will demonstrate their standards. If someone has a low moral standard, they are more likely to misuse their position of power.

Interestingly, it is demonstrated that power can rewire your brain. Brain stimulation experiments by Sukhvinder Obhi, neuroscientist, and colleagues, found that power impairs a neural process involved in empathy. They found, through transcranial magnetic stimulation, that people in power do worse than others in recognizing social cues and responding in kind. The longer a person exercises power, the less empathy they have.

UC Berkeley psychologist Dr. Dacher Keltner summarized his view of power in saying “Here is what power does to just about every human being. It’s going to make you not pay attention to people as well as you used to pay attention to them. You may find yourself swearing at a colleague or telling them that their work is (expletive). You will be a little less careful in the language you use. You will be a little less thoughtful about how things look from their perspective. So just practice a little gratitude. Listen empathetically. It shouldn’t be that difficult.”

So, does power corrupt, or reveal, who you are? In general, if you live by a high moral standard these traits will be revealed by the manner in which you wield power. If you live by a low moral standard, that will also be revealed. If you hold a position of power, watch that you don’t become corrupted.

Are You a Clean Freak? When Is It Too Much?

Did you hear about the Massachusetts homeowner who returned to his home and realized that someone had broken in, to find that rather than stealing property they cleaned it? The intruder hadn’t taken anything and instead they’d cleaned up. The family found the home more perfectly made up than when they left. In fact, the invader made all the beds, stacked the stuffed animals, and left an origami rose on the toilet paper. They scrubbed the toilets and shower. The only thing that was not cleaned was the kitchen. Police officers are taking this case very seriously and had no leads or suspects at the time of this writing. Is this a clean freak gone wild? If so, is this the result of someone with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, or is it the result of an addiction?

Many of us feel better when things are in order and in a presentable manner. I tend to be a tidy person and feel most at ease when my home, car and office are in good shape. For example, before I start writing, I need my environment to be free of clutter. Then, my mind can become focused on the task at hand. But when does tidiness become too much? When does cleaning become obsessive, or worse yet, an addiction?

Psychologist Elaine Ryan, at, specializes in anxiety disorders. She provided an example of someone who has an obsessive-compulsive disorder focused on cleaning. She wrote about a woman named Shala and described her everyday cleaning routines and rituals. “Upon awakening, she immediately starts cleaning her room. She takes a lint roller and rolls her entire bedroom floor in case any hair has fallen. She then takes a dirty piece of laundry and gets on her hands and knees and wipes the floors of her home to get up any hair of crumbs that may have fallen. She then goes and wipes down the toilet and polishes every door knob in the home. To brush her teeth, she kneels down at the bathtub to brush them because she doesn’t want to dry out the bathroom sink, which is one of her rituals. She goes to work, comes home, and starts cleaning more. She wipes down blinds with her hands, one by one. She then goes on to clean and dust for a couple of hours. Then, she feels as if she can relax and eat. She’s more than exhausted, yet she will do these things each day and on her days off she will diligently clean even more. Shala is already taxed due to a hectic and stressful work day. She doesn’t necessarily want to clean when she gets home, yet she cannot relax until she does. She also requests that her partner keep things exactly the way she wants and perform certain tasks the partner would not normally do, like drying out the sink each time it is used or cleaning the floors with a piece of dirty laundry instead of a dust mop. Her partner begins to feel controlled and carry some resentment.”

An obsessive-compulsive person and a person with an addiction can look the same but have different roots. An obsessive-compulsive behavior is a repetitive, ritualistic behavior that a person performs without rational motivation. An obsession has roots in fear. If they don’t follow the routine, something bad will happen. Shala may fear some catastrophe if she doesn’t clean, or a fear that if she falls short of perfection, no one will love her.

Compulsions may offer relief but do not include the experience of pleasure. Instead, they ward off fear. Addictions normally begin with the expectation that it will be pleasurable. The outcomes of the pleasure are unhealthy and repeated misuse of certain behaviors. Their addiction has roots in escaping an undesirable place to something more tolerable. Perhaps they drink to relax, use drugs to experience euphoria, gamble to experience an adrenaline rush. But once they start, they cannot stop. Their behavior eventually causes negative consequences.

In the case of someone who illegally entered a home and cleaned it, we don’t have sufficient information to assess whether the perpetrator was operating from obsession-compulsion or from addiction. One hypothesis is that it was neither a compulsion nor an addiction, but rather a cleaning crew that entered the wrong home and realized their error before cleaning the kitchen. But that theory doesn’t account for entering a locked home.

Does cleaning, or some other excessive behavior, cause problems in your life? Reflect on the root causes of your behavior and seek help.

Dating Is Not for the Faint of Heart

Most of us have a natural and healthy human yearning for closeness. Humans are social creatures who thrive in loving relationships whether it is family or friends. But finding the person that you’d want to partner with for a lifetime can be very difficult. In fact, it is like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s also a numbers game. You have to date a large number of people before connecting with Mr. or Ms. Right. That said, you will likely either be rejected, or have to reject others, multiple times over.

Dating is a minefield. I’ve learned a new vocabulary from my clients. You may be “ghosted” by someone who shows an initial interest in you, then disappears. You might find someone “orbits” you by repeated views of your dating profile or social media posts without actual contact. You might find a “submarine dater” who previously ghosted you but resurfaces weeks or months later. And an “ostrich” might block you if you don’t respond to them immediately. And then there is “breadcrumbing.”

Breadcrumbing is defined as “The act of sending out flirtatious, but noncommital text messages to lure a sexual partner without expending much effort.” It is the conscious act of giving someone just enough attention to keep them from leaving, but not enough to feel satisfying or secure in the relationship. It might look like the following:
1. They send sporadic messages, but not consistently, so that you are wondering what’s going on.
2. The messages lack substance, and are timed just when they think you are drifting away.
3. The messages are vague and you never really know what they mean.
4. They just want to hook up without any commitment.
5. They are noncommital and you can’t get them to define how they perceive the relationship.
6. You feel anxiety wondering if they will contact you again.
7. You start to doubt yourself and wonder what you did wrong.
8. Your relationship feels passive-aggressive when you try to have open communication, resulting in argument.

It is hurtful and incredibly anxiety producing to be strung along by someone who is not really into you. If you are not interested in a long term partner, say so. Perhaps someone else is looking for mutual breadcrumbing. But be clear on this from the outset in order to protect someone else from emotional distress. If you are caught in the crumb trap, end the anxiety by not picking up the breadcrumb. Walk away, take a break while you repair your self-esteem, then get back in the ring.

Fight, Flight or Freeze: Can you overcome the tendency to freeze?

Across the country this year, according to media reports, at least eight shootings have taken place on high school or college campuses. They have occurred inside gyms and classrooms, in parking lots and school hallways. Together, four people have been killed and another 17 wounded so far in 2019, according to law enforcement authorities and news media reports.

This week two heroes are celebrated for their bravery, although they died in their attempt to thwart open gunmen. Riley Howell was fatally shot when he hurled himself at a gunman in a classroom at University of North Carolina at Charlotte on April 30. A week later Kendrick Castillo charged a shooter near Denver, Colorado, giving his classmates time to take cover or run.

The new mantra for surviving an active shooter situation is “run, hide, fight.” You’re either going to run, hide and shield, or going to take the fight to the assailant. If you perceive that you have the power to defeat the threat, you go into fight mode. If you perceive the threat as too powerful to overcome, your impulse is to outrun it. But if you’ve concluded, in a matter of milliseconds, that you cannot defeat the threat or safely run from it, freezing may be just as adaptive as fighting or fleeing.

When it comes to fight, flight, or freeze, I freeze. I’ve been in enough threatening incidents to know this about myself. I’m reading that freezing is a primal attempt to stop the predator from spotting you. Ellen Hoggard wrote, in, “People who freeze in trauma do not choose to, and often beat themselves up afterwards for being passive when in reality they have no more control than a deer caught in headlights. It’s the same with our fight-or-flight reactions. People very rarely have control and are therefore not to blame for their instinctive responses.”

Perhaps you are defenseless because you don’t have the strength or speed to avert the threat and there’s no one else to rescue you. Imagine being attacked by an animal who may lose interest in you if you play dead. Or, imagine that you are the abused child of a narcissistic parent. Your only hope of survival might be to become fawning, compliant and helpful.

Learned helplessness is a psychological concept in which people have learned that they have no control over what happens, and they tend to simply give up and accept their fate. Martin Seligman and Steven Maier observed this behavior in dogs that were conditioned to expect an electrical shock after hearing a tone. It was also found that learned helplessness does not always generalize across all settings and situations. You may feel helpless in some situations but not all.

So, can you overcome the tendency to freeze? Most people don’t have a choice about their immediate reaction in a crisis situation. It happens in an instant. But if you are chronically fearful when there is no immediate threat, or if you feel helpless more often than not, the following may help:

• Recognize the difference between real and imagined threats.
• Calm yourself. To help the stress response pass, breathe deeply, meditate, sing, write, or talk.
• Seek help. Therapists can help you deal with past traumas that trigger ongoing fear and learned helplessness.

A Couple Calls It Quits After 115 Years Together

Can you imagine being paired with the same partner for over 100 years? A pair of giant tortoises at an Austrian zoo called it quits after 115 years of living together. Bibi and Poldi were born around 1897, met shortly after, and became a couple. They were presumably happily paired but their relationship soured in 2012. Instead of drifting apart, Bibi became violent, biting a chunk out of Poldi’s shell. Nothing about their routine changed causing this conflict. Zoo officials made a number of unsuccessful attempts to have them resolve their differences through couples counseling, joint games and fed them “romantic good mood food.” It appears they just can’t stand each other any longer. They now live in separate enclosures next to each other and can still see each other from afar. Distance has not made Bibi’s heart grow fonder. Instead she hisses at Poldi. The zoo staff hopes that someday they will find happiness together again.

Bibi and Poldi’s breakup can serve as a lesson not to take your marriage for granted. Staying together is not necessarily an indicator of marital happiness. There are two significant periods when humans divorce. Half of all divorces occur in the first seven years of marriage. Another wave of divorces occurs after 20 years.

What one might find surprising is the number of divorces of people over the age of 50. Gray divorce is a term that refers to the increasing divorce rate for older “gray-haired” couples following long-lasting marriages. You might think that after 20 years, they have settled into mature love and have “worked the bugs out” so to speak. So why is this trend happening?

John Gottman, a marital researcher, sites a lack of marital friendship as cause for most divorces. Eighty percent of people who divorce, say that they have grown apart. How do you grow apart? Falling in love is magical. However, with time the little idiosyncrasies you loved at the start can grate on you. Sometimes the way your partner eats, breathes, and their bad manners can build irritation gradually. Perhaps your partner hasn’t changed at all, but the way you look at them does. If you met at an early age, you may think they are not the same person anymore. In fact, they aren’t. You have both changed.

Gottman says “the principles that make a marriage work are surprisingly simple. Happily married couples aren’t smarter or more beautiful than others, and they don’t live in castles in the clouds where there’s no conflict or negative feelings. They’ve simply learned to let their positive feelings about each other override their negative ones. They understand, honor, and respect each other. They know each other deeply and enjoy being together. They do little things every day to stay connected and to show each other they care. In short, they are friends.”

As a marriage counselor, I help couples navigate turbulent times. Sometimes they make the difficult decision to divorce. Divorce can be a devastating experience and should not be done impulsively. But there are times when divorce is warranted. There are cases in which a marriage is non-viable and should be terminated such as domestic abuse – emotional, physical or sexual. Abuse warrants divorce. Safety comes first.

I would love to see Bibi and Poldi reunite, but only if their safety is ensured.

Managing Disappointments

Everyone gets disappointed from time to time. We all have ideas of what will make us truly happy. We nurture a wistful longing for a particular skill, experience or acquisition. And as we age, we may suffer the loss of what was never achieved. Maybe you never married, or never had children as you hoped. Or, you had a failed marriage, or lost your dream job. Perhaps you never attained the goals that you worked so hard for. Every child is asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They are programmed to aspire to greatness. We can develop fixed ideas of what will make us happy, and only that will make us happy. We want to believe that if we find “the one,” or have a certain income, or live in a certain location, we’ll live happily ever after. And if our dreams don’t materialize, disappointment sets in.

Disappointment is a form of sadness. It is a loss and a painful gap between expectations and reality. The greater the disparity, the greater the disappointment. And it has physiological consequences. Dopamine, the pleasure chemical, decreases. The stress hormone cortisol seeps into your bloodstream. Your heart rate quickens, muscles tense, and the feeling of defeat can become overwhelming. Depression could set in.

Some people cope with disappointment better than others. Some may withdraw, blame themselves, blame others or turn to substances to numb the pain. Others may accept that life can be deeply satisfying even though they found themselves on a different path than they had intended.

My brother Steve, now deceased, was the apple of my parent’s eyes. He had all the markings of success. He was attractive, athletic, academically gifted, co-owned a business with his talented wife and had achieved financial security. Although children loved him, he and his wife never had their own. I asked Steve if he regretted never having kids. No, he was content with his life experiences. He taught me a lesson when he said “It would have been a different life. Not better or worse, just different.”

Emily Kingsley, a parent of a special needs child, best illustrates this in her 1987 essay “Welcome to Holland.” The following is a reprint of her poem.

“I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss. But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.”

Don’t let your disappointments turn to resentment or despair. Enjoy the lovely things wherever you find yourself.