Sunday, January 26, 2014

Consistency = Trust

"I think that sociopaths (particularly young ones) actually feel happier and thrive better in a world of clearly defined boundaries; when rules are consistently enforced, the child will just start to take them as a given.  I certainly did. I think simple cause-and-effect rules with clear, predictable outcomes for compliance or violation encourage the young sociopath to think of life as an interesting puzzle that can be gamed.  As long as the young sociopath believes that she can acquire some advantage through skillful planning and execution (and finds some level of success, which I feel is almost a given), she will stay committed to the structure of the game you have set up...

The worst thing that parents can do is to be inconsistent.  It makes the child sociopath think that the game is rigged; in that case, it doesn't matter what he does, except to the extent that he can out-cheat the cheater (typically the parent).  Providing me a system defined by clear incentives, my parents laid out a way for me to gain positive benefits while exercising my sociopathic traits.  I didn't have to rely on the soft intangibles of empathy or emotion to get what I needed."
from Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas

Monday, January 20, 2014


"What makes Iago evil? some people ask.  I never ask."
That's the first line of Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays.

Why doesn't Didion's Maria ask??  Maybe she already knows (her dark side).  Maybe she doesn't care (depression, nihilism, ennui?).

Well, I wanna know!  Don't you?

First, let me introduce you to Iago, the puppet master in Shakespeare's Othello.

Othello includes themes of racism, love, jealousy and betrayal with the following central characters:
  • Othello (a Moorish General)
  • Desdemona (his new wife)
  • Cassio (his lieutenant)
  • Iago (his trusted junior officer)
  • Rodrigo (pines for Desdemona)
  • Emilia (Iago's wife and Desdemona's maidservant)
  • Bianca (Cassio's lover)
Iago hates Othello for promoting a younger man, Cassio, above Iago (ENVY).

Iago tells Roderigo that he plans to use Othello for his own advantage (MANIPULATION).

Iago persuades lovesick Roderigo to tell Desdemona's father about Othello & Desdemona's elopement and get Othello accused of seducing her with witchcraft (RACISM).

Iago persuades Roderigo to get into a fight with Cassio.  Othello blames Cassio for the fight and strips him of his new rank (MANIPULATION).

Now Iago persuades Cassio to persuade Desdemona to appeal to Othello on Cassio's behalf (MANIPULATION).

Then Iago persuades Othello to be suspicious of Desdemona's relationship with Cassio (MANIPULATION).

Iago convinces Othello that a planted handkerchief was received by Cassio from Desdemona (GOSSIP & MANIPULATION).

Enraged and hurt, Othello resolves to kill his wife and asks Iago to kill Cassio. Othello proceeds to make Desdemona's life miserable, hitting her in front of visiting nobles (EGO, INSECURITY, ENVY & JEALOUSY).

Roderigo complains that he has received nothing from Iago in return for his money and efforts to win Desdemona, but Iago convinces him to kill Cassio. They fight, and Cassio mortally wounds Roderigo (MANIPULATION).

During the scuffle, Iago comes from behind Cassio and badly cuts his leg. In the darkness, Iago manages to hide his identity, and when passers-by hear Cassio's cries for help, Iago joins them, pretending to help Cassio (LIES, DECEPTION & MANIPULATION).

When Cassio identifies Roderigo as one of his attackers, Iago quietly stabs Roderigo to stop him from revealing the plot (MURDER, SAVING FACE/IMAGE).

Iago then accuses Bianca of the failed conspiracy to kill Cassio (GOSSIP & LIES).

In the night, Othello confronts Desdemona, and then smothers her to death in their bed (JEALOUSY, SAVING FACE, MURDER).

When Emilia arrives, Othello tries to justify his actions by accusing Desdemona of adultery (JUSTIFICATION FOR VIOLENCE). Emilia calls for help (SUPPORT SYSTEM). The Governor arrives, with Iago, Cassio, and others, and Emilia begins to explain the situation (TRUTH). When Othello mentions the handkerchief as proof, Emilia realizes what Iago has done, and she exposes him, whereupon Iago kills her (SAVING FACE/IMAGE, MURDER & REVENGE).

Othello, belatedly realizing Desdemona's innocence, stabs Iago but not fatally, saying that he would rather have Iago live the rest of his life in pain (BETRAYAL & REVENGE).

Iago refuses to explain his motives, vowing to remain silent from that moment on (THE PLAYER RAN OUT OF GAME, THE JIG IS UP, CLAIMING THE 5TH).

Both Iago and Othello are apprehended for the murders, but Othello commits suicide with a dagger. Othello's successor exhorts Cassio to have Iago justly punished (JUSTICE).

In Confessions of a Sociopath, M.E. Thomas (pseudonym) writes:
"I don't feel that anything is inherently wrongful.  But more important, I am never compelled to refrain from doing something merely because it is wrong - only because doing so would result in undesirable consequences.  Thus, evil has no special meaning for me.  There is no mystery in it.  It is a word to describe a sense of wrongness that I do not feel."
Notice how Iago persuades (clever-smooth-talking-con-artist) everyone else to do his bidding - not because he feels it is wrong but because he doesn't want the "undesirable consequences" for himself.  However, when he can secretly kill, he does.

There is no mystery in evil for M.E. Thomas (and possibly for Didion's Maria) because "it is a word to describe a sense of wrongness" that they don't feel.

For empaths, there is guilt and pain associated with doing wrong.  For sociopaths, there are no such pesky feelings to get in the way or stop them.  So actions are taken that are perceived as advantageous, albeit risky, because they can.  (Remember: "I did it . . . because I could!" -- Bill Clinton).  I mean, they've got nothing to lose.

Or do they?

M.E. Thomas offers:
"Sometimes in choosing to manipulate or exploit weaknesses in others, you create vulnerabilities in yourself, for example by harming your reputation or feeding an addiction to increasingly outrageous antisocial behavior.  Controlling your impulses also allows sociopaths to overcome our isolation by forming long-term, meaningful relationships.  Sociopaths who truly seek to cultivate power realize that the greatest power they can acquire is power over themselves."
Further, Thomas notes that, "Psychologists look at the list of sociopathic traits (i.e., charm, manipulation, lying, promiscuity, chameleonism, mask wearing, and lack of empathy) and think they understand the 'what,' but they don't understand the 'how.'  I believe the 'how,' the origin of many of our observed behaviors, is that we don't have a rigid sense of self.  I believe that this is the predominant defining characteristic of a sociopath."

No true sense of self, that may be the core issue.

Kevin Cameron, an international expert on violence, calls this being an "empty vessel." Cameron noticed the dramatic lack of connection between young people and healthy mature adults, particularly among many young people making threats of violence and almost all of school shooters. These youth shared a lack of clear identity, place, and purpose. Their parental and other adult relationships were often marked by extremes on a continuum from neglect to over-involvement. Some experiencing both extremes at different times and others experiencing predominately one or the other.

Giving young people (and ourselves) a clear identity, place and purpose may help to save us from ourselves and our darkest impulses.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What We Love about Therapy

"Once in therapy, clients reported the sessions to be a safe haven of comfort and hope where they could experience a respectful and relaxed atmosphere in which to converse. 

Those clients expressing a positive experience with therapy had a tendency to use words such as:
  • supportive
  • unbiased
  • nonjudgmental
  • warmth
  • feeling accepted
  • engaged
  • context for change
  • collaborative
  • comfortable
  • caring 
  • involvement
  • trust
  • understanding
Of critical importance to some clients was having a regularly scheduled session where they could:

(a) interact with each other differently,
(b) limit the influence of their everyday problems, and
(c) focus on relationships."

Chenail, R.J., St. George, S., Wulf, D., Duffy, M., Scott, K.W., & Tomm, K. (2012).  Clients' relational conceptions of conjoint, couple and family therapy quality: a grounded formal theory. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38(1), 241-264.

Fears about Therapy

"Along with feelings of hopefulness, clients may be concerned about
(a) how they will be treated,
(b) whether or not they will be treated sensitively
(c) whether or not therapists would be trained sufficiently to be trusted with sensitive issues, and
(d) what pain they may suffer in therapy."

(Chenail et al., 2012)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Notes on Detachment

Lessons on detachment benefit all of our relationships, but they are particularly helpful for health and human service workers where there is a fine line between what we are responsible for and what our clients, patients, or consumers are responsible for.

"Detachment is the ability to care deeply about a situation or another person from an objective point of view.  We are able to care but not be controlled by or invested in how another person responds to us."

"Healthy detachment wears many identities.  Letting others take care of their own affairs and not doing for others what they need to do for themselves is detachment.  Not creating or preventing a crisis when it's clearly not our business to be involved is detachment.  Not manipulating others to carry out some aspect of their lives according to our wishes rather than according to their own plan is detachment.  It is neither kind nor unkind to be detached.  It is simply being in charge of the only things we need to be in charge of."

"...the ability to be independent and compassionate, yet no longer clingy and obsessed with getting constant approval from others."

" is about developing a healthy interdependence -- that is, independence that frees all of us to be all we can be, but still allows us to get an appropriate amount of support and encouragement from other travelers."

"Coming to understand and eventually celebrate our powerlessness over people, places, and things is the key to our freedom -- freedom from enmeshment, freedom from the fear of rejection, freedom from the fear of failure, freedom from the fear of success."

"...I could or should be the one to decide exactly who I would bring to the party every day of my life."

"...respecting others' opinions while maintaining our own perspective and integrity."

--Karen Casey

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Health Disparities Among People with Mental Illness

Mentally ill adults with serious mental illness die about 25 years earlier, on average at age 51 versus 76 for Americans generally, primarily due to cardiovascular disease.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Fiction & Empathy

I need to read more fiction!  I have been thinking that for some time now.

When people behave in a way that makes absolutely no sense to me, I think:  I gotta read more fiction

Real life behavior seems strange sometimes.  While others interpret a man's jealous and threatening behavior as "that's just a man in love," I'm more apt to perceive the behavior as "psychotic" or even "demon-possessed" because my conceptualization of love is that it is not controlling, demeaning, deceitful or cruel.  But when you have looked into the eyes of Othello, Desdemona, Iago and Rodrigo, then you are just grateful to be alive and living well.

Well, it turns out that 'theory of mind' researchers find that reading serious fiction boosts one's ability to understand others, a precursor of empathy (check out LA Times article for more on this).

I read somewhere that writers are the best observers of human behavior.  So reading literary fiction isn't just about plot twists and turns, but the underlying motivations of human behavior.

Developing coherent narratives integrate both event details and associated feelings, in a structure with a beginning, middle and end, and lots of detail.  Even the most bizarre zig zags in a story make sense when you understand the context and human motivation.

I may need a tutor too.  In fact, when English teachers explained the meaning of a line in a poem - I understood the explanation but wondered, "how the hell did you get that from this??"  The leap seemed wholly mysterious to me, making a literary poem harder to figure out than an algebra problem (at least math is logical!).

I'm gonna read more fiction in 2014.  That oughta round out my education and help me understand myself and others better.  Unfortunately, the pile of Hollywood gossip magazines in which I indulge while sitting at a bookstore don't count (although that was their draw for me - to better understand the machinations and drama of human relationships). 

The study about fiction and empathy clearly differentiates between the benefits of popular fiction and literary fiction (the latter wins).  I am open to reading suggestions if you've got some...


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Truth Opened

Freud presented a paper in April, 1896 to the Society for Psychiatry and Neurology in Vienna on the sexual abuse of his female patients by t...