Thursday, August 21

Get off my lawn: Old and cranky not a cliché

Remember the greatest moment in cinematic history? Clint Eastwood taking on a pack of thugs who broke his lawn gnome?
video

New research says Clint may have been just acting his age. A New Zealand study of the "Big Five" personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience) found that only Agreeableness decreases over time. Most other traits are unstable in youth, more stable in middle age, and less stable again in old age -- which doesn't bode well, either, for people expecting life to get better with age.

Why is this important information? Because another study finds that being old and cynical (a euphemism for "cranky") makes you three times -- three times! -- more likely to get Alzheimer's.

But it's not all bad news. One trait -- extroversion -- stays relatively stable throughout life. And more research shows that extroverts make up the happiest group of people.

Take-home messages:

1. Outgoing people continue to be outgoing. Make an effort to put yourself out there. It's a good habit, and makes you happy.

2. Feeling cranky and old is normal. But you're not a slave to mere "feelings." When you're old enough to feel cranky, you're old enough to master your behavior. Act cheerful. It's an odd truth that pretending to be happy -- smiling when you don't feel like smiling -- actually makes people happy. 

3. Stay off Clint Eastwood's lawn.

Thursday, August 14

Ferguson, Missouri Rioters: You Missed the Problem

Michael Brown is Black. Which is entirely beside the point.

Your outrage about this week's events in Ferguson, Missouri, should be just as white-hot if Michael Brown were Hispanic. Or Chinese. Or Amish. Or a Golden Retriever.
Spot the thug.
(Photo of Ferguson, Missouri police in full military gear,
by Whitney Curtis / The New York Times)

Because the point ought to be: Thuggery is bad. Shooting people in the back is bad. Living in a police state is bad. Bullying cops are bad. And thuggery, not racism, is what killed Michael White.

You think I'm going to call Michael White a thug. You're wrong. Michael White is a sassy teenager. The cop who shot him is a thug.

I'm a law-abiding woman of Swedish extraction who has never so much as shoplifted a breadcrumb. Yet every time I see a police car, I slow down -- even when I'm below the speed limit. Each time I pass through security at the airport, my heart beats a little faster. If I see a security guard at the mall, I pull my bags, and my children, close.

I know that people with authority have a propensity to abuse it. And that authorities who give into that temptation overwhelmingly use it to abuse people who they believe will cower -- or worse, who they believe should cower. Women. Children. Teenagers. People with darker skin. Jews. Short people. Thin people. Fat people. Homeless people. Geeky people. Anyone -- in short -- who fails to show proper respect for their power.

So yes, they shot Michael White. He's a mouthy, overweight, Black teenager who had the audacity to talk back when informed he wasn't allowed to walk in the street. Four strikes. 

Bullying is a mental illness, and human society has a weird willingness to arm and empower people with this particular disease. Bullies are evil. They're evil when they wear badges. They're evil when they bully their employees, their students, or clerks. They're evil when they swing nunchucks or wave a gun or pull a knife. They're evil when they're pretty girls mocking awkward classmates in the cafeteria. They're evil when they're gay men mocking fatter gay men.

Bullies come in all colors. And the fact that lots of people are bullied more when their skin has more melanin is just a small part of the problem. The larger problem we should be addressing is Thuggery. Thug cops -- like the entire camo-clad Ferguson police force -- need to have their weapons and their power dismantled. Every power-mad thug needs disarming -- and some intensive psychotherapy. At least. Bullying -- because it's a manifestation of distorted pride -- is the root of all evil.

Solve that condition, and you fix most of the problems that bedevil this entire planet.

Monday, August 11

A New Word and a Sad Story

Thursday, the day  her toddler son died,  Kayelisa Martin  committed suicide  in Canton, Ohio
Thursday, the day her toddler
son died, Kayelisa Martin
committed suicide
in Canton, Ohio
A sad week just got more sad.

Much of the past month I've spent training for my new position at the Crisis Clinic in Seattle. Monday we spent a full day training to work with people considering ending their own lives.

Coincidentally, my current MFT coursework is covering some of the same ground. Suicide is tough topic.


And I've learned a new word.

When you live long enough, your life will be touched -- wounded -- by someone's suicide or suicide attempt. It's a tragic, painful event, one that I've had more than a passing acquaintance with. I've managed to stop three suicides by physically delivering three different individuals to hospitals -- one, on a helicopter -- after they'd swallowed pills. Those three, I cried over, but they survived, and have gone on to have more or less happy outcomes. Another two people in my life were saved by other people -- sometimes more than once -- and with a lot of therapy, learned ways to manage their lives post-suicide-attempt that brought at least a measure of joy.
Robin Williams commits suicide, 11 Aug 2014
And now, this.
He won't be the last.

Two other individuals were not so fortunate. Their "successful" suicides (How is it possible to use the word "successful" and "suicide" in the same phrase?) tore apart the lives of their families, friends, and every person they'd ever known in their too-short lives. Suicide devastates.

Today a story appeared in the news that tears my heart out -- and here's that new word: Psychache. It's pronounced syk-ak, but it means just what it looks like: The psychological ache that hurts so badly, suicide feels like the only way to end it. Psychache.

Thursday morning, Kayelisa Martin had a car accident. Possibly from the effects of that accident, Thursday afternoon, her son died. And Thursday evening, Kayelisa Martin took her own life.

The autopsies aren't back yet, but I'm looking at that photo, and thinking Kayelisa Martin died. Psychache was the cause of death. If only someone could have known her pain and helped her get past that moment. If only she'd turned to someone -- anyone -- for help. 

Now everyone Kayelisa has ever known is suffering. Psychache is a deadly virus.


Update: Minutes after posting this entry, breaking news: Actor-Comedian Robin Williams has taken his own life.  

Saturday, August 9

Psychology Book Club: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
The Seven Principles
For Making Marriage Work

John M. Gottman, Ph.D.

In my current Marriage and Family Therapy coursework we've begun studying Gottman...which has prompted me to pull an old classic off my shelves for review.

John Gottman and his wife Julie are minor celebrities in the marriage and family therapy world, and we're very fortunate they make their home here in the Pacific Northwest. John Gottman's "Love Lab" at the University of Washington has provided the first real research into why marriages succeed -- or fail.

Many years ago, the Hubby and I, and about 100 of our best friends, spent a long weekend with the Gottmans learning how to use their research results in our own marriage. At the time our oldest kids were entering their teens and we'd just made a big, expensive cross-country move. We weren't having an awful marriage, but with a houseful of teenagers and the vicissitudes of life, I wouldn't have called it terrific, either. So the weekend retreat with the Gottmans was a welcome break.

And it was a real eye-opener. I wasn't surprised, as we conducted some self-evaluations, to find that my good husband was already Mary-Poppins-practically-perfect-in-every-way. But I realized that if we were to move our relationship from "okay" to "great," I had some growing to do.

Rereading Gottman's Seven Principles this week has reminded me that truths about human nature are timeless.

One-line take-home message:
In happy marriages, couples turn inward; in bad marriages, it's all contempt.

Metaphors:
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. When these four riders enter a marriage, the end is near:
  • Criticism: Describing complaints as a personality defect in your partner. ("Borderline.")
  • Contempt: Complaints indicating you're superior to your spouse. ("Idiot.")
  • Defensiveness: Playing the victim. ("Jerk.")
  • Stonewalling: Withdrawing emotionally. ("Football!")
Lessons:
  • Drop the pride. Allow your spouse to influence you. Take counsel, listen for wisdom and perspective, let this person you love -- or loved -- offer insights that might help you grow.
  • Fix what can be fixed, but accept that some problems will be problems your entire lives. If you saw everything the same way, you could be your own spouse. Embracing differences gives you wisdom.
  • Turn toward one another to solve problems. Don't bring the world into your marriage by complaining to friends, family, and colleagues. Keep your relationship a safe place protected from the outside world.
  • Nurture one another with admiration and fondness. You did it when you were dating; you can do it now.

Wednesday, August 6

Psychology Book Club: Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

Marshall Rosenberg
Nonviolent Communication:
A Language of Life
Marshall B. Rosenberg

My friend Deb B. called one day, excited to share something she'd learned. We'd both been struggling to find resources for dealing with difficult people in our lives. "I've found it!," she said. "You've got to read this book!"

She was right. Reading Rosenberg is a life-changer. My biggest regret: This information's been around for decades, and it took both of us half a lifetime -- and too much unnecessary heartbreak -- to find it.

The basic message of nonviolent communication is that communicating by coercion -- the "normal" for most people -- is destructive, and does violence to relationships and to the community at large. Coercive tactics run the gamut from simmering resentment to "You should..." to "Do it or I'll kill you." There's a better way. Nonviolent communication seeks to hear needs, find understanding, and generate ready agreement.

One-line take-home message: 
"I see...; I feel...; I need...; Would you..." 
(For example: "I see your dishes on the counter. I feel frustrated because I need a tidy home. Would you be willing to straighten up the kitchen?")

Metaphors:
Jackal language (hearing everything through ears trained to view people as basically evil); giraffe language (hearing through ears trained to hear words filtered through the heart).

Lessons:
  • There are no "have" tos. There are only choices. 
  • Anything done at gunpoint is resented; somebody will pay in the end.
  • Every behavior, no matter how annoying, despicable or even criminal it appears from the outside, is done to fill a need. And that need is real, and human, and deeply felt.