Feb 22

“Everything Happens for a Reason”: Or NOT

It’s a book title that says it all: Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. Professor Kate Bowler of Duke Divinity School, age 35 and known for her previous writing on the “prosperity gospel” (Blessed), has now had some life- and mind-changing circumstances via Stage Four cancer.

What is the prosperity gospel? Per Bowler (The New York Times): “…the belief that God grants health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith.” Have the wrong kind, then, and you could be screwed. Have the right kind and…hey, so, what happened to Bowler’s just rewards for living the Christian way?

“Bowler points out the ironies of fighting a deadly battle against her own body,” states Kirkus Reviews, “while relating to a strand of Christianity that teaches that faith, holiness, and confidence will provide any sort of blessing or healing the believer needs.”

Author Glennon Doyle reviewing Everything Happens for a Reason: “Her writing is naked, elegant, and gripping—she’s like a Christian Joan Didion. I left Kate’s story feeling more present, more grateful, and a hell of a lot less alone.”

And Amy K. Butler, minister: “The Kate Bowler you will come to know in this book is 100 percent real: honest, brave, holy, ridiculous, profane, hilarious, human—her fierce and beautiful words will make you ugly-cry and laugh out loud inappropriately in public places, and they will make you long for the courage to tell the truth about your life.”

In addition to chronicling her struggles, medical as well as theological, Bowler offers tips in Everything Happens for a Reason about how to be there for someone in your life who’s in difficult straits. One example per NPR, “She writes that sometimes silence is the best response: ‘The truth is that no one knows what to say. It’s awkward. Pain is awkward. Tragedy is awkward. People’s weird, suffering bodies are awkward. But take the advice of one man, who wrote to me with his policy: Show up and shut up’.”

And she strongly advises against this question: “How are the treatments going and how are you really?” Actually, says Bowler, This is the toughest one of all. I can hear you trying to be in my world and be on my side. But picture the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. Got it? Now try to put it in a sentence. Now say it aloud 50 times a day. Does your head hurt? Do you feel sad? Me too. So let’s just see if I want to talk about it today, because sometimes I do and sometimes I want a hug and a recap of American Ninja Warrior.”

In list form, 10 things Bowler says you can do and say for the struggling women in your life (Female First), some with brief excerpts from her explanations. (Click on the link for further details.)

  1. Tell her she’s lovely and wonderful and probably perfect
  2. Ask if you can hug her…
  3. Offers for help are best when they are: short, specific, immediate…
  4. Do NOT get her a “topical” gift. Seriously, what can a person do with 12 “Beat Cancer” teddy bears or Livestrong bracelets?…
  5. She probably doesn’t care about your “expert research.” Unless you are her oncologist, therapist, or pastor, someone she professionally hires already has that covered…
  6. Respect her desire to share or withhold…
  7. Try not to make comparisons between what she is going through to something your cousin, your dog, or your favorite TV character experienced…
  8. She wants your presence more than an uplifting card…
  9. Avoid platitudes: …the worst things you can say to someone going through a tough time are phrases that minimize their suffering or tell them to grin and bear it…
  10. Words of comfort don’t have to be perfect!…
Feb 20

“Lost Connections”: Johann Hari on Depression & Anxiety

Through a breath-taking journey across the world, Johann Hari exposes us to extraordinary people and concepts that will change the way we see depression forever. It is a brave, moving, brilliant, simple and earth-shattering book that must be read by everyone and anyone who is longing for a life of meaning and connection. Eve Ensler, on Lost Connections by Johann Hari

In journalist Johann Hari’s Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, he tells readers his own long-term depression has been blamed on a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, at some point in his therapeutic process “…he began to investigate whether this was true – and he learned that almost everything we have been told about depression and anxiety is wrong.”

Hari’s research led him to this basic conclusion (HuffPost): “I learned that there are in fact nine major causes of depression and anxiety that are unfolding all around us. Two are biological, and seven are out in here in the world, rather than sealed away inside our skulls in the way my doctor told me…I was even more startled to discover this isn’t some fringe position – the World Health Organization has been warning for years that we need to start dealing with the deeper causes of depression in this way.”

According to Fiona Sturges, The Guardian, the factors cited by Hari that contribute to reactive depression “include hardship, trauma, loneliness, lack of fulfilment, absence of status and disconnection from nature.”

Particularly salient is what Hari gleaned about one of these from physician and researcher Vincent Felitti‘s work (HuffPost): “Childhood trauma caused the risk of adult depression to explode. If you had seven categories of traumatic event as a child, you were 3,100 percent more likely to attempt to commit suicide as an adult, and more than 4,000 percent more likely to be an injecting drug user.”

Felitti, in fact, is “co-principal investigator of the internationally recognized Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, a long-term, in-depth, analysis of over 17,000 adults…(T)he ACE study shows that humans convert childhood traumatic emotional experiences into organic disease later in life” (Big Think).

Hari, furthermore, makes this helpful point:

One day, one of Dr. Vincent Felitti’s colleagues, Dr. Robert Anda, told me something I have been thinking about ever since.
When people are behaving in apparently self-destructive ways, ‘it’s time to stop asking what’s wrong with them,’ he said, ‘and time to start asking what happened to them.’

In the case of more endogenous depression, or the biologically based type, Hari now believes Big Pharma and prescribers take advantage of the popularized but not necessarily accurate notion of the brain having a chemical imbalance. There is a significant body of research that disputes both this theory and the efficacy of the prevailing remedy, antidepressant medications.

Take the brief depression quiz on his website and be prepared to learn some other things that may be surprising.

If meds aren’t always effective, what other kinds of solutions to depression/anxiety did Hari find and thus present in Lost Connections? Kirkus Reviews reports the author’s view that there are “immense (natural) antidepressive benefits of meaningful work, social interaction, and selflessness.”

For further details we have to read the book.

Feb 16

“The Rough Patch”: Mid-Life Marriage Glitches

Couples turn away from each other for any number of apparent reasons, but underneath it all, it’s usually because they feel misunderstood, unheard, or unable to agree. Daphne de Marneffe, The Rough Patch

The Rough Patch: Marriage and the Art of Living Together is a recent release written by clinical psychologist Daphne de Marneffe. According to the book blurb, main topics included are “money, alcohol and drugs, the stresses of parenthood, sex, extramarital affairs, lovesickness, health, aging, children leaving home, and dealing with elderly parents.”

Meg Jay, PhD: “Through its title alone, The Rough Patch puts into words what most of us experience every day: that long-term relationships are uneven, bumpy and difficult…There isn’t a couple in America who would not benefit from a copy–or two copies–of this book.”

Ada Calhoun, The Cut, calls The Rough Patch aninsightful, provocative new book about marriage and midlife.”

And praise for The Rough Patch also comes from noted author Andrew Solomon“In this beautifully reasoned, highly personal, and very generous book of advice and analysis, Daphne de Marneffe proposes that the rough patch that occurs in most midlife relationships should be cherished.” 

One of De Marneffe’s conclusions is that longer-term couples need a “we story,” which is “a collaboration between partners about values and goals. But if couples are going to collaborate, they have to figure out how to have a productive conversation. A conversation — as opposed to parallel monologues — involves two people who are making an effort to understand each other. In the grip of strong emotion, productive conversation can be surprisingly hard” (New York Times).

Moreover, the author believes that the “work” of challenged couples involves recognizing that their commitment for the long haul involves some trade-offs. You can’t have everything in a marriage, just as you can’t have everything in life. The work is also about staying vulnerable with each other.

“What feels perhaps most radical,” per Calhoun, “is de Marneffe’s reclamation of the work involved in marriage as creative and worthy. With the stigma gone from sex, cohabiting, and child-rearing outside marriage, plenty of people wonder why they should even bother making a lifetime commitment. De Marneffe has an answer: ‘Marriage,’ she writes in The Rough Patch, ‘is the crucible for becoming a more mature, compassionate person’.”

Marriage helps you grow, in other words. Belinda Luscombe, Time:

If the only advantage of growing older is greater self-knowledge, then it follows that growing older with another offers a still richer source of feedback and material. (Presented, one hopes, with compassion.) And yet, even self-knowledge is not the point of spending life as a twosome. Marriage’s chief promise is another-knowledge, a decades-long exploration, as de Marneffe says, of ‘a distinct being whose contour and interior you have yet to truly know.’

Therapist Ian Kerner lists (CNN) the main things de Marneffe prescribes for couples, rough patch or not—among them are good communication and listening skills, self-knowledge, and willingness early on to talk about such sensitive issues as money.

He concludes, “‘The Rough Patch’ can be beneficial for both single people and couples. One great way to introduce the topic into your relationship: follow de Marneffe’s suggestion and read the first chapter together with your partner.”

Feb 14

Female Friendships: Five Helpful Books

Although a day late for Galentine’s Day, below are five books that address the bonds of female friendships, both intact and broken.

I. The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship (2015) by Marilyn Yalom and Theresa Donovan Brown.

A book about the long view. “…(O)nly a few centuries ago, the idea of female friendship was completely unacknowledged, even pooh-poohed. Only men, the reasoning went, had the emotional and intellectual depth to develop and sustain these meaningful relationships,” states the publisher’s blurb.

A few sample quotes:

Social media provides critical tools for women who manage the domestic front and the job front but who still wish to maintain important friendships. As Facebook honcho Sheryl Sandberg notes, women do the majority of the sharing on Facebook. Whereas men generally use social media for research and status boosting, “the social world is led by women,” according to Sandberg.

Friendship matters, especially in old age, when death reduces the number of one’s friends.

Our history suggests that women will continue to show the world how to be friends.

II. Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship (2018) by Kayleen Schaefer. 

Just out, with a title ripped from current culture. From the book blurb: “‘Text me when you get home.’ After joyful nights out together, female friends say this to one another as a way of cementing their love. It’s about safety; but more than that, it’s about solidarity.”

Kirkus Reviews:Society traditionally views female friendships as competitive and transitory. Schaefer argues that more women than ever are actively working to reclaim their relationships with each other from negative stereotyping.”

III. You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships (2017) by Deborah Tannen.

“Tannen’s book comes at a time when our friendships are challenged daily in new and ghastly ways, thanks in large part to the use of various social media and texting,” Julie Klam (Washington Post) points out. “At a time when the messages we give and get have so many more ways to be misconstrued and potentially damaging, a book that takes apart our language becomes almost vital to our survival as friends.”

IV. My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends (2014) by Stephanie Sprenger and Jessica A. Smock.

From Nicole Knepper‘s Foreword: “…(W)hether the loss is a slow burnout or a blowout that shatters the seemingly unbreakable bond so completely it can never be repaired, it’s a sort of death, and it’s just the worst, because it’s so damn confusing and incomplete.”

A sample quote:

During the first days and weeks following the loss of a friendship, when the fact of it is so raw and sharp, we’ve learned from women that it’s typical to feel most alone, to feel embarrassed, depressed, shocked, and obsessed with why and how it happened. You often feel heartbroken, as if you’ve lost a great love. And you have. Not a romantic partner but a trusted holder of your secrets and truths.

V. Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend (2009) by Irene S. Levine.

Psychologist Diana Zuckerman aptly notes in her review: “We don’t expect to marry our elementary school sweethearts, and it is equally rare for our best friends from childhood to be there for us forever.”

Other sample quotes:

Your best friend is the person who not only knows all the important stories and events in your life, but has lived through them with you. Your best friend isn’t the person you call when you are in jail; mostly likely, she is sitting in the cell beside you.

Feminist psychologists have suggested that a toxic friendship is often one in which a women’s own personal growth and individuation is sacrificed at the expense of the demands of the other person. Sometimes choosing oneself rather than the friendship is important for future personal growth and individuation. But women have a difficult time separating from each other because emotional connection is so highly valued and broken friendships are seen as failures.

Feb 12

Hidden Abuse: Recognizing Psychological Trauma

Most people have no clue hidden abuse is taking place right under their noses. It is being perpetrated by individuals who would never be suspected of being abusers. The concealed nature of this harm is what leaves its targets devastated. Shannon Thomas, LCSW, Healing from Hidden Abuse

Herself a survivor of psychological abuse, therapist Shannon Thomas, LCSW, offers help for other victims in Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse (2016).

The following is a sampling of quotes from Healing from Hidden Abuse. Included are explanations of psychologically abusive dynamics as well as what lies beyond for those seeking healing:

The stereotype is that only men are narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths. That is completely incorrect. There are many women who are the cause of intense relational harm.

Abusers like to target people who have something they do not or cannot possess themselves. Narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths are notorious for picking targets that initially boost their egos. It could be the target’s appearance, age, intellect, reputation, religious convictions, career success, family, friends, or something else.

Facing the truth about those we have loved (e.g., our parents, siblings, a treasured friend, or a spiritual leader) is unbelievably hard, but there is no glory in clinging to a lie because the truth is too painful to accept.

Frequently, the emotional homicide is happening while other people go on clamoring about what a great guy or gal the abuser is and how lucky the survivor is to be connected to the abuser.

Psychologically abusive people can only maintain normalcy for short spurts of time. Being an authentically caring, decent person isn’t baseline for them. They must fake the behaviors that would show these positive character qualities. These fraudulent acts of kindness have brief shelf lives before they expire and the abusers return to their normal state of affairs.

I saw a post online where someone said, “An abuser doesn’t abuse every day.” That, my friend, is intermittent reinforcement in a nutshell.

Survivors are wise to not fall into the trap of second guessing all of their actions because it is likely they could never show enough agreement to please a truly toxic person.

A Narcissist will run you over and scold you for being in their way. They will endlessly complain about how you damaged their car. A Sociopath will run you over, scold you for being in their way, and have a smirk because secretly they get entertainment out of the chaos they’ve created. A Psychopath will go to great lengths and take calculated steps to ensure they run you over, laugh while doing it, and back up to make sure the most damage is done.

In therapy, we start to literally deprogram the conscious and subconscious lies the abusers have planted in the survivors.

Rarely does a toxic person give an authentic apology. To do so would be too much evidence that they are just like everyone else and flawed.

Realizing toxic people are not actually insecure is one of the hardest concepts for survivors because thinking toxic people struggle with insecurities is a form of justification for their bad behaviors.

Research shows it takes people many attempts to leave unhealthy relationships.

After a survivor of psychological abuse has identified their Despair (Stage One), Educated themselves on the specifics of psychological abuse (Stage Two), and had an Awakening that recovery is possible (Stage Three), the next stage is implementing Boundaries.

Unraveling the lies and replacing them with truth is at the heart of the recovery journey for survivors of psychological abuse.