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...

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...

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...

Do We Gossip Because Our Lives are Empty?

I can think of a bunch of magazines that would go out of business if we weren’t real curious about the lives of celebrities. Not to mention the TV and movie industries that thrive on it. The same goes for the ordinary gossip about the woman down the block. Why We’re Curious About Celebrities There is something good about it and something not so good about our gossip. The good reason, I suspect, is that we all want templates, role models, for constructing better lives. In spite of celebrity hardship in the relationship area, celebrities do represent success. And that’s something all of us wish for. Or at least dream about. That’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with looking up to someone you admire for creating a path that you could follow, maybe to a lesser degree. But how many people actually use the lives of celebrities as roadmaps for personal achievement? Not so many. A second question might be: Are we more interested in their success or their failure? A recent report indicated that what grabs most of our curiosity is the latter. That makes my whole premise wrong. Which leads me to the bad part. People’s lives may be missing something. People feel an emptiness that they can fill with addictions, obsessive thoughts, or gossip—about celebrities or friends. These are really bad choices because they don’t actually “fill” that empty space. Let’s take addictions which is familiar to most people as an example. How Celebrity Gossip Is Like Other Addictions The addicted person, say, has internet sex, feels great for about 2 or 3 minutes, maybe...

How Your Anxiety Hurts Your Spouse and Children

The snow was piling up and Maggie paced the floor. She was so anxious, she started to feel as though she were getting a heart attack. One time, she went to the E.R. thinking that she really was having some kind of cardiac episode but after a night full of tests, they told her she was “just” having a panic attack. Just. Harrumph. They should only have one and then see if they still have the nerve to say it’s “just” a panic attack, she thought. These things are not small potatoes. And now it was happening again. She kept looking out the window. “Where is he?” She repeated to herself almost like a mantra. “Where is he?” It started to look almost like a choreographed sequence: First, she’d look out the window; then she’d pace a little; then she’d repeat her question to no one there, and then back to the window. When Ethan walked in the door, she shrieked. Then Maggie threw her hands over her face and burst into tears. Ethan was 1 hr. 15 min late. Given the weather conditions, that wasn’t bad. But for Maggie, the first minute he was not home on time, the worrying began. Ethan cradled her in his arms. They’d been through this before. “It’s a good thing you married me,” he crooned, “because I understand you.” “Yes, you do,” Maggie sobbed, “so you know why I got frantic when you weren’t home on time.” Your Anxiety Hurts Others Ethan smiled benignly. He could afford to be relaxed. After all, he knew where he’d been. He only got equally upset...

The Biological Reason For Low Self Esteem

“I know I’m a good person,” Phyllis said earnestly. “I do a lot for my friends. They can count on me and they know it. I would never hurt anyone. I’m kind. The only thing is,” here, she hesitated, “I don’t treat myself nearly as well as I treat everyone else. Although I know this is ridiculous and objectively, I disagree with it, but deep inside, I don’t believe I deserve it.” A case of low self esteem that doesn’t have to be. It’s as if Phyllis is split between her logical self which knows she is a good person in the same way that you and I “know” E=mc2, a knowing at a distance, and her inner self which thoroughly believes she doesn’t deserve to be treated well. It is the illogical, inner self that seems real and the logical self that seems fake. How did this happen and how can Phyllis get past it? Toxic Messages Are Just Stronger Neural Pathways To answer this question requires a short side-step into the world of neuroscience. There is a lot of fascinating research going on all over the country on how the brain works and how it connects to our thoughts and feelings. Apparently, the more we hear a message, the stronger the neural pathways in our brain become. That is, if certain of our actions were followed by particular messages by our parents as we grew up, then a pathway was constructed in our brains so that the instant we would behave in a certain way or something would happen, it would trigger the neurons firing. The more...

What Is Normal Behavior? [video]

Normal behavior depends on your background and history. Normal really means the behavior we expect. But don’t judge your partner because you wouldn’t do something that he did; what’s normal for you may not be normal for someone else because your background affected you one way and your partner another...
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