Category Archives: Uncategorized

Suicides Are Increasing

Unfortunately, death by suicide is making headlines this week. Celebrities, Kate Spade, fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, CNN host and chef, were both found dead. It was reported that Kate Spade suffered from manic-depression and was upset regarding a pending divorce. Anthony Bourdain had been open about his drug addiction and depression.

Suicides are increasing according to the CDC. Since 1999, suicide rates in the US have risen nearly 30%. In 2016 there were more than twice as many suicides than homicides. Both Spade and Bourdain were known to have mental health disorders, but not everyone who kills themselves has had a mental illness. As these two successful persons have demonstrated, it can happen to anyone, no matter how comfortable their life. Mental illness and suicide do not discriminate.

How can you help? Sometimes, in spite of your best intentions, you can’t always help. However, you should make an effort to be aware. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides a list of warning signs.
1. Pay attention to how they speak. Someone who is contemplating suicide might express a desire to kill themselves. Or, they have no reason to live, experience unbearable pain and feel trapped. They may say they feel they are a burden to others.
2.What is their behavior? They may sleep too little or too much, withdraw from activities and isolate from friends and family. They may increase their use of alcohol or drugs, act recklessly or be more aggressive. They may look for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means. They may give away prized possessions, visit or contact people to say goodbye.
3. What is their mood? They may have depression, anxiety, rage, loss of interest, irritability, or feel humiliation.

A friend of mine said “We should brush away the stigma of mental illness. We should check on each other. We should be kind.” A wise quote I saw is “Many people are hanging by the thinnest of threads. If you treat them well, without knowing, you may very well be that thread.” (Author unknown).

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK(8255). It is a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call is routed to the nearest crisis center in the national network of more than 150 crisis centers.


That Which We Resist, Persists

I had the privilege of hearing Elizabeth Smart as the keynote speaker at the Riverview Center fund-raising event last week. Riverview Center provides help to victims of sexual and domestic violence. Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom at the age of 14 in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002. She was kidnaped at knife point and held by a couple for nine months. She was tied up, raped daily and threatened with death if she didn’t comply.

In recounting her story, she spoke of feeling that she was damaged and no longer of value. She initially chose not to speak about her trauma. She could have retained this view of herself as forever flawed. However, her father became an advocate for victims and encouraged her to join him. It was there that she learned the power of sharing her story. As she listened to other victim’s share their experience, she realized that although the details were different, they all shared a similar pain. This helped her heal. As she opened up, she found her voice and became a victim advocate. She has been instrumental in passing legislation, received numerous awards, and founded a task force to educate children about violent and sexual crime.

Carl Jung contended that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” Today this viewpoint is generally abbreviated to “What you resist persists.” Many trauma victims have never spoken their story out loud. To recall the event is to relive it and to re-live the horror. It is an understandable choice to keep it private but it comes at a cost. Your negative beliefs are frozen in time. You likely have out-of-date thoughts and feelings about yourself, which are usually exaggerated and negatively distorted. When these thoughts are shared, they become malleable rather than fixed. A supportive person or group can help you feel less lonely, isolated or judged. You may gain a sense of empowerment. You may learn new coping skills to reduce depression, distress and anxiety. You may get practical advice or information about treatment options. You may learn to love yourself and trust others again.

I agree with Ms. Smart who said that pain is pain. Whether you suffered kidnaping and rape by a stranger, or sexual abuse from a family member, or some other offense, they are all painful events. Even Ms. Smart minimized her suffering by hearing of others who had, by her judgment, more severe forms of abuse. She felt the strength to survive because she knew her family loved her, would welcome her return, and would keep her safe. She has sympathy for victims of abuse by a family member and the resultant shattered trust. However, there is no need to judge whether your situation is better or worse than another’s. It is painful to you.

Issues that have not been emotionally resolved don’t just disappear. They may lie dormant for a while, but they may show up as low self-esteem, ill health or impaired relationships. Ms. Smart was helped by sharing her story and by becoming an advocate for all child victims. She turned an unforgivable horror into prevention and support for others.

If you have an unspeakable source of emotional pain, I encourage you to tell your story to a trusted person. Find someone who is kind, compassionate or wise to talk to. You might feel a new sense of lightness.


Failure to Launch Syndrome

Have you heard about the case in New York of a 30-year-old son who won’t leave home? His parents are suing him to vacate the premises. They say he does not pay rent or help with chores. They gave him five eviction notices and offered $1,100 to get started elsewhere. And yet, he refuses to leave. The local court informed the parents that because Michael is family, they would need a Supreme Court justice to officially evict him. Michel called his parents’ lawsuit retaliatory and has asked the court to toss out the request.

Although this seems ridiculous, I’ve seen other cases in which a court refused to make someone homeless. The consequence of imposed homelessness is to burden social services. A judge might prefer the family remain responsible for their own relations.

Americans value independence. We expect to raise our children to fly the nest. Other cultures prefer to live in family units as long as possible. People live longer with strong family support and have higher levels of satisfaction. But the assumption here is that the children add value rather than become a burden.

Imagine you have an adult child living at home who doesn’t work, won’t respect house rules, or clean up after themselves, refuse to do chores and is rude toward you. Some parents have adult children at home who are abusing them verbally, financially, or even physically. There are laws against this behavior. And yet you provide food, a bed, and perhaps let them drive your car. You are angry and resentful toward them, then blame yourself wondering if you are responsible for this.

The economy, high unemployment rates, and a tough job market are reasons an adult child might need a helping hand. Many of the academic degrees that they were encouraged to pursue are not the types of degrees that are needed. These are outside factors that play a role here. But the length of time that an adult child needs help determines whether they have a bigger problem. A brief stint at home can be normal, but a longer dependent with no signs of progress is problematic.

Failure to Launch Syndrome is not a medical condition and is not an official diagnosis, but it is a phrase that describes a young person who is having a difficult time maturing and transitioning into the next stage of development; adulthood. It is a strategy of avoidance. Common signs of FTL syndrome are:

  • Low tolerance for distress
  • Low levels of motivation
  • Low levels of persistence
  • Failure to take responsibility when appropriate
  • Low work ethic
  • Narcissism
  • High expectations of others without reciprocating
  • Lack of vision for the future or long-term goals
  • Lack of skills needed for adulthood

If they are not at work or school, guess what they are doing with their time? Two common variables of FTL are excessive gaming and marijuana use. These are both a form of escapism and distraction. Look for signs of psychological problems that may inhibit their development. This might include anxiety, depression, procrastination, substance abuse.

I was surprised to learn that there are numerous residential treatment programs designed specifically for Failure to Launch. These programs offer intense treatment outside the home when a young adult has had these symptoms over a long period of time. They offer psychological assistance, education, and coaching.

If you are a young adult who is socially, physically, financially or psychologically stranded in life, there is help for you. If you are a parent, there is help to maintain a warm and satisfying relationship with your child while they launch. Call a counselor to get started.

Do You Cringe When You See a Photo of Yourself?

If you cringe at your own photos, you’re not alone. I have an immediate physical reaction of repulsion when looking at myself. I recently had professional videos created of myself for advertising purposes. It took me two weeks to even glance at the videos, then I couldn’t sit through the entire presentation. What’s going on here?

Some people have body dysmorphic disorder. It is an obsession with a part of your appearance that you think is flawed. People with this disorder can dislike any part of their body and will distort the importance of that flaw. The most common features people obsess about include face (nose, complexion, wrinkles, acne and other blemishes), hair (appearance, thinning and baldness), skin, breast size, muscle size, and genitalia. The flaw is more in their mind than in their body. While others may not notice it, the person with body dysmorphic disorder will obsess over it to the point of severe emotional pain and interference in their lives. Imagine how painful photos are for these people.

There are numerous other reasons that people may dislike their own photos. It could be the photographer’s fault in that the angle or lighting is bad, or you are caught with an unflattering facial expression. However, it can also be explained by the mirror. What we see in the mirror is different from what the photo captures. Most faces are asymmetrical and what we see in the mirror is reversed in a photo. We know that something is off. It doesn’t quite look like us. Robert Zajonc, psychologist, says that people react more favorably to things they see more often. Since we see ourselves most frequently in the mirror, this is our preferred self image. When we see a photo, we see an alien version of ourselves.

Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort we experience when we hold contradictory beliefs or ideas. For example, I know that I am in my 60’s but internally I feel like I’m in my 40’s. Photos are a harsh reality check that my body has aged. “I look like that?” We consciously or unconsciously hide what we don’t want to see. For example, we may not look in a full length mirror if we are uncomfortable with our bodies. And we certainly won’t look at our bodies in a full length mirror while naked!

Photos are still and don’t capture personality. When we speak to a person, our focus is on the eyes and mouth, not their moles, wrinkles or freckles. But we’re much more likely to see these aspects in a photo. The good news is that you probably look much better in real life when you are your normal animated self.

Are You Deceiving Yourself?

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was recently accused of physical violence and sexual abuse by four women. He will step down from his job but denies the charges on the grounds that everything he did to these women was consensual. He said “While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office, they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.” With this statement he is drawing a line of separation between his public life and private life. In spite of what other’s perceive as abusive behavior he believes himself to be a champion of women.

It is not an unusual human trait to consider ourselves good when we are not. Self-deception is a process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. One theory is that humans are susceptible to self-deception because we have emotional attachments to beliefs, which in some cases may be irrational.

Schneiderman would like to believe that what happens privately has no bearing on his professional life. Except that he was an advocate of the #Me Too movement and women’s rights. He was involved in a civil rights lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein. He praised the “women and men who spoke up about the sexual harassment they had endured at the hands of powerful men.” And he wrote many laws, including one for making life-threatening strangulation a grave crime for domestic violence perpetrators.

The allegations come from four women that he was in romantic relationships with. They all accuse Schneiderman of nonconsenual physical violence. It is alleged that he repeatedly hit, often after drinking, frequently in bed and without consent. It is also alleged that he abused alcohol and sedatives. Two of them sought medical attention after having been slapped hard across the ear and face, and choked. He threatened to kill them if they broke up with him. You cannot be a public champion of women when you are hitting them and choking them in bed privately unless you have deceived yourself into believing your behavior is normal and healthy.

Schneiderman’s self-deception is rooted in rationalization. He told one woman “A lot of women like it. They don’t always think they like it, but then they do, and they ask for more.” One of the accusers, Tanya Selvaratnam, disagrees. “It wasn’t consensual. This wasn’t sexual playacting. This was abusive, demeaning, threatening behavior.” Schneiderman refused to be influenced by the women’s tears, pleas and protests. He maintained his perception that they enjoyed it. He preferred to believe they wanted it, rather than believe that he was a perpetrator of lethal domestic violence.

Vecina, Chacon and Perez-Viejo conducted a study called “Moral Absolutism, Self-Deception, and Moral Self-Concept in Men Who Commit Intimate Partner Violence.” In it, they found that perpetrators of domestic violence are uninhibited by concerns over the moral consequences of their actions. They consider their own point of view as more correct and are more affected by self-deception than others. They feel they are moral enough and they strongly deceive themselves.

In Schneiderman’s case, it is no surprise that he blurs the line between his public and private life. He truly perceives himself to be a good and moral person in spite of the evidence. If this is a human trait, we could all benefit from shining a light on our own self-deception. Ask for feedback from others. In what ways are you deceiving yourself?

Who’s More Generous, the Haves or the Have Nots?

I attended a Rotary Auction last week which raised money for scholarships and support to the ARC; Galena Arts and Recreation Center. It was a great success.

I have never seen so much generosity as after relocating to Jo Daviess County, Illinois. I’m a city girl from Chicago and was unaccustomed to such displays of generosity within a community. For example, I received a call from a local pastor and parishioner who asked how they could be of service to our clinic’s substance abuse population. They donated more than $9,000 for Narcan kits to keep them alive in the case of an opioid overdose. As another example, our county public transit system agreed to help our clients access treatment by crossing county lines which is something they had not done before. And a third example, when someone in this town suffers an injury and are uninsured, or under-insured and lacks financial resources, someone from the community organizes a fund-raiser to help cover medical costs and living expenses. It’s really quite moving and makes me proud to live here.

So it made me wonder, who’s more generous, the haves or the have nots?

In 2010, 40 billionaires announced that they’ll give at least half of their fortunes to charity. It collectively totaled $125 billion. That will make a huge difference to people in need. The rest of us non-billionaires can’t compete with that kind of money, but it turns out that we are more generous. Poor people are actually more charitable than the rich. Lower income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans.

The main variable that explains the differential pattern of giving and helping between the upper and lower class is compassion. Compassionate feelings among the lower class is seen to provoke higher levels of altruism and generosity toward others. Perhaps people in the middle and lower class spectrum have experienced hardship and are quick to help. People who have not suffered hardship may be less compassionate.

It’s not that the rich are selfish or focused on their own advancement. Members of each group will identify with other members of the group to which they belong. The rich will find it easier to give to the cultural institutions they frequent such as their preferred hospital or university. The poor will give to the people and activities they rub elbows with. For either income group, someone who has been affected by cancer will be more likely to give to cancer research.

An interesting twist is that a new study that shows that higher-income people are less generous only when they live in a place that has high levels of inequality between rich and poor. When the gap between rich and poor is low, the rich might actually be more generous. Robb Willer of Stanford University theorized that feelings of entitlement might help high-income people justify their extreme good fortune to themselves – and may, in turn, reduce their generosity because people who believe they are more important than others also believe that resources rightfully belong to them. High inequality might lead higher-income people to worry more about losing their elevated status, and therefore hoard their money.

When it comes to giving to charity, women are more generous, especially when it comes to decisions about volunteer time and smaller financial donations. Large financial donations are often made jointly with men.

Generational differences affect the type of giving. Millennials are giving to educational and art/culture causes at higher rates.

For those without the financial means to give, volunteering can be a great way to be generous without writing a check. This may be true of retirees who might be on a fixed income but have free time and valuable skills to share.

So, are you feeling generous? There is plenty of need out there.


Why Do We Not Follow Advice?

Have you ever been given sound advice and disregarded it, only to regret it later? Have you been diagnosed with a disease, been prescribed medication, and fail to take it as prescribed? Have you been given step by step instructions for constructing a piece of furniture or a recipe, only to throw out the directions and wing it? As it turns out, this is a common human phenomenon. What’s up with this noncompliance or refusal to adhere to instructions?

There are few consequences for refusing to follow directions on assembling a piece of furniture or follow a recipe. However, there can be severe consequences for medical noncompliance. A third of people will not fill their prescription, and half of the remaining group will fill it but will not take their medication correctly. They’ll miss doses, stop it prematurely, or not take it at all. Medication noncompliance is responsible for 10% of all hospitalizations in the US and costs the health care system up to $289 billion per year.

Interestingly, a study found that US women are more likely than men to be noncompliant with medications for even serious diseases like heart failure and HIV. This has consequences for women’s health. We tend to be compliant when it comes to others, but not ourselves. If a child or a pet is in your care, you follow directions as prescribed. Twenty percent of women said they were more likely to follow the prescription plan for their pet than for themselves. But when it comes to self care, humans are more likely to fail.

Some medication noncompliance is the fault of the prescriber but the vast majority will fail of their own accord due to their environment or lack of resources. You cannot expect someone to fully comply if they have to choose between food, housing and medication. Or perhaps they distrust doctors. Or simply fail to understand the necessity of the medication.

There are many factors that affect adherence. These include having the intellectual ability to understand what is being advised and it fits your belief system. If you have a belief about the subject that runs counter to the advice given, you will act according to your own beliefs. You need sufficient memory to follow through on the advice. Confusion may follow too much detailed information. If you don’t respect or trust the opinion of the advice giver, you won’t follow their advice. There are certain personality traits that lend themselves to non adherence. Contrary, stubborn, passive-aggressive, and conduct disordered people will not easily accept the advice of others.

Admittedly, not everyone gives good advice. Michael Hyatt says “Never take advice from people who aren’t getting the results you want to experience.”

Jordan Peterson, in his book 12 Rules for Life, says “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.” He also says “Just take the damn medicine.”

Can You Take Criticism?

No one likes being criticized. We cringe when we hear the words “We have to talk.” Sometimes we don’t even get a fair warning of what’s coming. It’s natural to get defensive. It’s even healthy to defend ourselves against an unfair character assassination that could devastate our self esteem. But if we value this friendship and want to maintain a relationship with the critic, we need to engage in non-defensive communication. This requires maturity on our part while we are on our best behavior.

Harriet Lerner, PhD, lists 12 keys to non-defensive listening in her book Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts.

  1. Recognize your defensiveness. This will allow you time to get some perspective rather than lashing out reactively.
  2. Breathe. Calm yourself.
  3. Listen only to understand. Do not interrupt, argue, correct facts or state your own criticisms.
  4. Ask questions about whatever you don’t understand.
  5. Find something you can agree with.
  6. Apologize for your part in the spirit of collaboration.
  7. Let the offended party know they have been heard and that you will continue to think about the conversation.
  8. Thank them for sharing their feelings.
  9. Take the initiative to bring the conversation up again.
  10. Draw the line at insults.
  11. Don’t listen when you can’t listen well.
  12. Define how you see some things differently. A premature apology from an overly accommodating, peace-at-any-price type of person is unsatisfying.

If we are the one doing the criticizing, we need to watch our words and understand the difference between a complaint, criticism and contempt. According to researcher John Gottman, PhD, 96% of the time, the outcome of an argument can be predicted based on the first three minutes of a conversation. Starting a conversation in a soft manner is far more effective than a harsh start-up. A complaint is specific, limited to one situation, and states how you feel. Example: “I’m upset that you didn’t pay the gas bill.” A criticism is global, includes blame, and often has words like always and never. Example: “How can I ever trust you?” Contempt is a verbal attack on your character. Example: “You stupid jerk.”

Before you confront someone on a point of contention, remind yourself of the value of this relationship. If you value them, it is worth taking the time to frame your complaint in a manner that they can hear.

Substance Abuse Prevention

You can’t teach “just say no” and expect good results. Prevention has to be experienced throughout one’s life.

Perhaps you participated in a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program through school. Typically, police officers talk to a class of students for an hour once per week for 10 weeks. DARE has a zero-tolerance agenda and teach that all kinds of drugs, including alcohol and marijuana, are equally bad. They make use of scare techniques such as photos and videos of the negative consequences of addiction.

One would think this education would be a deterrent to addiction. However, it turns out that beginning in the late 1990s studies showed that DARE had no effect on whether or not students would go on to use or misuse drugs and alcohol in the future. After 20 years of implementing this program in schools, long term studies proved its ineffectiveness. Some evidence even suggests lower levels of self-esteem and a higher risk of substance misuse of students who went through DARE.

There are other curriculums with more promising results. The following are evidenced-based programs.

NOPE (Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education) is designed to combat opioid addiction.

PROSPER (Promoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience) is designed for middle school students that is based on resiliency concepts via strong families.

Shatterproof is designed to stop drugs from shattering the lives of families. They focus on inspiration and anti-stigma efforts. They address addiction as a disease.

High school drinking and drug use is the lowest it’s been in 15 years. However, addiction often begins in adult years. Rather than rely on a 10-week school-based program, some programs are designed for families. Parents can be helped to communicate in positive ways, improve relationships with their children, and support academic and extracurricular activities. While Big Brother/Big Sisters doesn’t focus on substance prevention per se, they serve as a protective factor in youths lives.

A comprehensive prevention program will address risk and protective factors for substance use problems. Risk factors include early aggressive behaviors, lack of parental supervision, alcohol and drug use and easy availability, and poverty. Protective factors include good impulse control, parental monitoring, academic competence, anti-drug use policies, and strong neighborhood attachment.

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.

According to SAMHSA, some prevention interventions are designed to help individuals develop the skills to act in a healthy manner. Others focus on creating environments that support healthy behavior. Research indicates that the most effective prevention interventions incorporate both approaches.

So, what can you do? Do your part to create a healthy environment for people from birth through adulthood.

What’s the Deal with Internet Trolls?

An internet troll is a person who deliberately tries to disrupt, attack, offend or cause trouble in an online social community. They may post offensive or hateful comments, display upsetting photos or videos, or subtly attempt to sway opinion with falsehoods. They may start quarrels or upset people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages. The intent is to provoke readers into an emotional response of disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll’s amusement. These are not people who have bad manners. They are purposefully disruptive.

The effects of trolls can be simply annoying or can be fatal. Some victims have killed themselves. It can be damaging to an entire nation as may be the case of Russian interference in swaying US public opinion toward a particular outcome.

Trolls flourish within anonymity. They are not likely to behave this way in face to face encounters due to social barriers. Eye contact is shown to inhibit negative behavior by increasing empathy. Trolls can express themselves online without regard for a moral code where there are no repercussions for bad behavior. They may hide their identity through fake profiles.

Internet trolls are horrible people as found by a Canadian study. They compared people who said that trolling was their favorite internet activity with people who don’t troll. The trolls score high on personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism (sneaky, cunning, and lacking a moral code), psychopathy and sadism. The authors of the study are quoted as saying “Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun . . . and the internet is their playground.” It is your suffering that brings them pleasure. They may also be motivated to troll by boredom, craving attention or revenge.

How do you stop them? They can be banned or blocked from individual user accounts or they can be reported to authorities. The most effective way to discourage a troll is to ignore it. Engaging in the dialog invites further disruptive posts. Their intention is to humiliate anyone who attempts to strike back. Unfortunately, personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism cannot be cured. They can alter their behavior if it serves them in some way, but they cannot be cured. There is insufficient research on the number of trolls, but statistics indicate that only one to 3 percent of the general population has these personality traits.

The lesson for the general population is to be aware of your online behavior and seek to be courteous toward others. I’ll end with a quote attributed to Ian MacLaren “Sir–A thought to help us through these difficult times: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Don’t be a troll.