Self Esteem, Selfishness and Selflessness

Okay, here’s a question: Do you put yourself first or others first? Here’s another question: What is the right thing to do regarding the first question? Third question: Who told you that? Where did that message come from? And the final question: Where does self-esteem come in? Does putting yourself first demonstrate self-esteem? How about if you put others first? Is This Selfish? David walked into the house hungry. He’d had an incredibly difficult day. Things did not go well with the partners in his new business. They didn’t believe his year-end predictions and they wanted more data than he could give them. He was really annoyed about that, angry actually. He was in a huff as he walked in. “Hi,” Doris said as he came in. No matter how challenging it was, she always tried to be pleasant. But she didn’t get a reciprocal greeting. “Where’s dinner?” was all David said. We don’t need more information than this to say that it appears that David is selfish or self-centered. He seems to put himself first, but more than that, his wife wasn’t on the list at all. Well, I shouldn’t say that. David has learned that in order to get some of the things he wants he must attend to others – to a point. So there might be a time when he gives a gift or a “Hello.” That logic still filters events through “Me” as the operator: If it’s in my interest, then I will cater to others. This approach keeps the behavior in the category of “selfish.” Is there a time when this is right?...

How to Get A Good Night Sleep

This was not new for him. It was 3 AM and Herb was wide awake. Forget the fact that he’d just gone to bed at midnight and that he was bone tired. His brain went into action: But what did Gloria mean? What if she really wants out of the relationship? But no, that can’t be because of what Brian said she said…… And on and on. His anxiety was in full control. A worrying mind flits from one branch of a decision tree down another. Every branch is visited and new ones sprout as the worrier looks. Each branch must be examined and re-examined. Yes, that’s part of it: revisit each worry again and yet again because there could be a new slant on an old situation that went unnoticed before. The new slants produce more doubts, more worries, more questions, more obsessive negative thoughts, and the entire tree must be explored again with the new slant in mind. The hours tick by and sleep is a gift of the past, the one thing that eludes the watchful eye of the worrier. Insomnia. This is not just a nocturnal thing; it goes on all day, getting in the way of relationships, work, driving, studying, and living. Our brains were not meant to function this way; it’s just not efficient. And it inhibits doing the very thing that seems to be hogging the controls: thinking. Paradoxically, when we stop worrying, we can easily get the answers we want. Here’s why: We are consciously aware of only a small fraction of what we experience. The rest gets filed somewhere in...

Deconstructing Mental Illness

According to Jerome Elan of the Washington Times, schizophrenics who abuse drugs are more likely to commit violent crimes than other people. This doesn’t answer the question: Where did the schizophrenia originate from? At one time, there were people who blamed this problem on poor parenting and the term “schizophrenogenic mother” came into being. Then that was not deemed politically correct so it was dropped. Besides, it is more comforting to blame an unknown “disease” process than to reflect hard on one’s own behavior to rule out responsibility for hurting one’s children. Elan goes on to say, “Elements of psychopathy may be genetic, and overwhelming stress can combine with a psychopathic nature, to cause a reaction that is emotional or just the opposite, coldhearted.” That sounds like a nice explanation, but what research is it based on? The Myth of Disease In Mental Illness Back in 1960, Thomas Szasz wrote a book called The Myth of Mental Illness. I used it as a resource for my 1968 college honors research paper that is reprinted on this site. In researching this article, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Szasz, in 2011, was still alive, well, and kicking. In 2011, he apparently re-printed his book with a new introduction. Here’s what it says: “The claim that ‘mental illnesses are diagnosable disorders of the brain’ is not based on scientific research; it is a lie, an error.” Szasz’s contention is that if a particular disease in or of the brain is found in a person with abnormal behavior, then the initial diagnosis of “mental” disorder must be corrected to reflect a...

What Motivates Mass Murderers?

Wait! Don’t rush to say, “Silly question, Dr. Deb. Mass murderers are crazy. That’s all.” Let me explain why I pose the question “What Motivates a Mass Murderer” by asking you another question: Would you rather be able to take control of your life or would you rather think that your own life is in the hands of whim and chance? The more you understand human nature, the more control you have over things that come your way. Here’s a list of things that you can get control of that you never thought possible just by learning what motivates a mass murderer: 1. why you, your spouse, or your kids lack self esteem 2. why you, your spouse, or your kids are angry more often than you wish 3. why you, your spouse, or your kids feel lonely, isolated from humanity 4. why you, your spouse, or your kids never seem to get things right 5. why you, your spouse, or your kids seem to have things going well yet are unhappy 6. why you, your spouse, or your kids seem to be distant and unreachable, hiding behind a wall 7. why you, your spouse, or your kids just can’t seem to agree on anything Put these questions aside for a moment. We’ll get back to them all. If you study the lives of mass murderers (I discuss the Columbine murderers in my book) here’s what they have in common: They are lonely and isolated. Their only “friends” are people who feel the way they do. As children, they were never validated. They were not told, “We love you...

How to Love a Narcissist

How to love a narcissist: Sounds like a contradiction, right? A narcissist, by definition, is so absorbed in himself that he is unable to love someone else. Therefore, all the love you give him just gets sucked up into that vast pit that is him – and you never get anything back. That’s what I always thought. And the most obvious thing here is that nearly every therapist would agree with me. Short of the Anti-Social Personality Disorder, they’d all agree that a narcissist is just about incurable. Sites devoted to healing – where the site owner believes in healing – say nothing about how to cure a narcissist. I hadn’t given this particular malady special attention. I believe that it is possible for most people to heal from whatever ails them, so why leave narcissism out? But then I had an enlightening conversation. A friend of mine was mentioning her narcissistic mother. This mother had emotionally tortured my friend growing up and now she keeps a psychological distance although they are in touch sometimes during the week – by text. My friend’s son was at his grandmother’s and my friend’s mother commented on how happy her grandson seemed since he got into the college of his choice. “But,” her mother started to say, “it’s so expensive. And it’s so far away,” and continued a litany of objections. “I don’t know what to do with my mother,” my friend concluded. “Tell her to be happy for her grandson,” I said. What, Exactly Is Narcissism? (And It’s Not What You Think) My friend didn’t see what value that statement had,...

Control Your Emotions In One Simple Step

One time a couple came to see me, confused and upset by an encounter they had with their clergy-person. They went to him explaining that they were having marital problems and they wanted help. He was a lovely and loving man. He listened carefully and told them they had to start acting nicer to each other. They looked at each other and then at him. “But” the wife said, “we know that! We just don’t know how.” Now it was the clergyman’s turn to be puzzled. “You’re such lovely people!” He exclaimed. “Of course you know how!” There was an unfortunate chasm between this couple and their clergyman. He couldn’t understand their problem because he didn’t understand how emotions get in the way of rational conversation. But it’s the emotions that keep therapists in business. If all you needed to be told was, “Act nice!” and all you had to do was think, “Oh, okay,” wouldn’t that be Paradise! When your emotions take over your brain and you do and say things that later on you will deeply regret, obstacles are introduced into the relationship that change a logical, simple process into one that sometimes seems insurmountable. Kinds of Emotional Obstacles In my last two posts, Small LIes Are Emotional Abuse and What to Do If You Are Being Gaslighted, I described one emotional obstacle: seeing reality through a warped lens. The person doing this is terribly insecure and holds on to this warped view of reality because he or she desperately needs to. It’s his way of calming anxieties about things he really doesn’t get. If it fits...

What To Do If You Are Being Gaslighted

In the previous post, Small Lies Are Emotional Abuse, I described the devastation to the psyche when someone twists around who you think you are. It is emotional abuse; it is mental abuse, and the fact that the process is subtle makes it more, not less, devastating. Why would someone need to do this? Why would someone be so attached to a distortion like this? I can think of two similar possibilities: Strong Belief In a False “Reality” Creates [False] Security 1. This individual grew up in a home where reality was distorted. He or she didn’t have outside sources of information to figure out how the world sees things. When I was researching my dissertation, someone said that he grew up in a home without a dining room table. The family watched TV at dinnertime, sitting on chairs facing the set. He thought that was how everyone did it. 2. This individual grew up in a home where there was very little conversation about feelings or perspectives of others so there was no way to get outside opinions on whether his perspectives were on target. In either case, the person must figure out how the world works without much help from those who’ve been there. That’s a scary place. Tiptoeing on a tightrope, the person feels very insecure. What can give him or her some sense of security? – clinging tenaciously to his ideas! The very act of shedding doubt creates the desired security. This, by the way, explains why people with paranoia cling to their mistaken realities; it also explains suicide bombers and other people on the...

Small Lies Are Emotional Abuse

There’s a subtle type of emotional abuse that it could take you years to uncover: Taking the truth and twisting it around. It’s not a bold-faced lie. It’s a little lie, a subtle and surprising twist — and that’s why it shakes the ground under your feet. It’s a small lie. Supposing in your lifetime that literally 456 people have told you that you are pretty. Yes, the first two were your parents. But there were 454 others that were less biased in your favor. In fact, to help defray the costs of college while you went for a degree in biochemistry, you did a little modeling. It was fun and you made a few dollars. Now, just supposing you happen to be married to someone who, in a moment of anger because of something you didn’t even do, decides to say to you: “And you’re not so good looking, either.” Small Lies Are Worse Than Out-and-Out Lying You’re devastated. Not because you care so much about looks but because the attack is so gratuitous—and so off the mark. It’s this last piece, the part about being off the mark that I’m classifying as the worst of the emotional abuse. You see, we know that the ground is under our feet and the sky is up because over years and years we have taken these two things as given. There are lots of givens in our lives, things we wouldn’t dream of questioning. After all, “everyone says so” and “that’s the way it is.” Things like mom is sweet and dad is distant or uncle Ned is outrageous and...

Meaning of “The Scream”: A Therapist’s Perspective

You’ve seen the art piece called, The Scream somewhere, I’m sure. Perhaps you saw Homer Simpson doing his imitation, or perhaps you read about or even saw the scream movies. The director, Wes Craven, said the original scream artwork inspired the mask for the movies. He claimed that Edvard Munch’s The Scream is a favorite of his. So, therapist that I am, I wonder what it is about that picture that resonates so much with so many people. Craven says, “It’s a classic reference to just the pure horror of parts of the 20th Century, or perhaps just human existence” (from the Wall St. Journal, 4-27-12). Sometimes understanding art can be therapeutic. The Wall Street Journal article quotes a top art collector as saying, “I could sell all my pictures, put this on my wall, put my chair here with a cup of coffee and stare at it for the rest of my life and be happy.” Huh? How could a painting depicting a scream make someone happy? But this guy must be legitimate because on May 2, the painting sold for $119.9 million. Quite a number of bidders drove the price up from the measly $80,000,000 that was the expected sale price. You can argue that art, like any commodity such as a car or a piece of jewelry, will bring whatever the market will bear. But the bottom line is that enough people have to like it for that to happen. This painting must speak to people. My question is: What does it say? The setting for the painting, a bridge in Oslo, was located near what...
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