One Surprising Reason People Don’t Apologize

Kerry got into it with his brother-in-law again. Somehow this happened with some, almost predictable, regularity about twice a year. Each time was painful for them and for the witnesses. Yet, it seemed doomed to repeat itself. And in that horrible cycle, Kerry would not apologize. Why not? It started innocently enough. Chuck was looking at the news headlines when he opened his email. “Boy,” he said, “there go the American apologists again. Why won’t they just be proud of who they are? Why are we always afraid to speak up? Why can’t we take some strong steps with people who put us down?” Kerry, his brother-in-law, happened to be passing through the kitchen at that moment. He and his wife, Penny, were visiting for a few days and Kerry came with suitcases full of opinions. “What gives you the right to spill American blood?” he retorted, his face growing red. “What do you want to do, inflame them more? Why, you’re just a murderer!” How Other People Perceive Our “Passion” About An Idea Chuck was shocked although he shouldn’t have been. This was Kerry’s modus operandi: If he disagreed with an opinion that someone expressed, he felt duty-bound to express his disagreement in the strongest possible terms. He always believed that strong terms got the message across. Chuck was offended. More than offended, he was perplexed. How in the world could his own wishing for fairness and truth in the media and in the eyes of the government rather than placating people ready to throw bombs at a moment’s notice be the equivalent of murder? It made no...

How to Explain Tragedy to Children

On September 11, 2001, I got a call from my daughter, concerned about a plane that seemed to have gone astray into the World Trade Center. Within a short while we all learned that the news was about a planned attack. The inexplicable. How do we explain this to our children? The news was frightening, tragic, disturbing, and traumatizing. Worst of all, I later heard that people, including young children, had witnessed the replay of the video on the news numerous times. That was a mistake. How Trauma Starts Research shows that, of the five senses, people are predominantly visual. For example, babies born visually handicapped, if not given special training, have a lower statistical probability of coping in life than those born deaf. The right hemisphere of the brain is available from birth to receive information and it includes receiving visual images. The left hemisphere kicks in at about 12 months and begins to learn how to explain in words the meanings gleaned from those visual images. Trauma is predominantly a visual problem although as any war veteran will tell you, the other senses most certainly are involved. Even without seeing the image of the planes going into the towers, humans will automatically create mental images to fit the words and those images can be traumatic. That is the essence of childhood nightmares, especially repeating nightmares: The child creates the images and is now afraid of them. The images carry some meaning for the child that he may or may not be able to explain. We are now faced with a new tragedy that took place in Connecticut...

What Is Missing In How We Treat Mental Illness

I’m angry. I am so angry that I need to get it out before I can reach out with love and tears to the families of murdered children. I am angry because I have been saying for years that our country is going about its handling of mental illness in the wrong way. I have just written an article at GoodTherapy.org on that very topic. The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will be coming out in the spring, DSM-5, and, as the reviewers for GoodTherapy said about my article: “They’ve had five versions, and nearly 20 years since the last one, to get Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders right. And they’ve failed miserably.” Why Adam Lanza Killed If you are not up for reading a heavily-researched article on the history of the DSM and why it is junk, here is the synopsis: Labeling people with diagnoses and then pushing pills at them is NOT, I repeat NOT the answer to helping people with emotional difficulties. Adam Lanza did NOT kill people, including his own mother, because he had Asperger’s Syndrome. Like all the other mass murderers, he killed people because a. he was in terrible, unbearable pain b. he wanted the world to “know” the degree of pain he was in by giving us that same degree of pain. Adam Lanza needed something far more potent than pills. The pharmaceutical industry has been pushing pills and I have been patiently trying to explain why that is not the answer. In short, pills are incapable of taking away the degree of pain that some people,...

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...
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