Mar 24

“Shrinking Violets” Identified By Shy Author Joe Moran

Whether discussing embarrassment, stammering, stage fright, or reticence, Moran considers the impact of shyness on creativity and its myriad contributions to fiction, art, and music. Beautifully written, appealingly candid, and thoroughly engaging…Christopher Lane, author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness, about Joe Moran’s Shrinking Violets

Christopher Lane, PhD, who’s quoted above, is a critic of the acts of pathologizing and medicalizing shyness. It’s no surprise, then, that he appreciates cultural historian Joe Moran supporting this same type of position in his new “field guide” subtitled The Secret Life of Shyness.

Moran, who comes out as a so-called “shrinking violet” himself, also names other shy individuals—including famous ones such as Charles Schulz, Agatha Christie, Morrissey, and Oliver Sacks—and tells their stories. He notes that shyness is actually relatively common and that even those who aren’t regularly shy often admit to having shyness in certain situations.

“If I had to describe being shy,” wrote Moran in his blog, “I’d say it was like coming late to a party when everyone else is about three glasses in. All human interaction, if it is to develop from small talk into meaningful conversation, draws on shared knowledge and tacit understandings. But if you’re shy, it feels like you just nipped out of the room when they handed out this information.”

Although introversion is commonly associated with shyness, they are not one and the same. On the other hand, Moran makes clear, there is often overlap. Unlike Susan Cain‘s approach to introversion in Quiet, though, Moran doesn’t do much to emphasize the benefits of shyness. Sure, it “…might have certain accidental compensations — being less susceptible to groupthink and more able to examine the habits and rituals of social life with a certain wry detachment, perhaps. Mostly it is just a pain and a burden.”

Megan Garber, The Atlantic, on additional pros and cons identified by Moran in Shrinking Violets:

The shy are frequently thoughtful and occasionally brilliant. They are often sensitive to the needs, and the gaze, of others. The problem is that they live in a world that, despite the commonality of shyness, has extremely little patience for it…The far more fashionable thing—particularly in Britain, where Shrinking Violets was initially published, and even more so in the United States—has been to treat shyness as a problem to be treated and then, if at all possible, never mentioned again. Shyness, so emotionally adjacent to shame, is often also regarded as a cause for it. Within a culture that so deeply values self-confidence—and that takes for granted that social skills are external evidence of one’s internal self-regard—shyness is seen with suspicion.

From the conclusion of book reviewer Paul Laity, The Guardian:

Shyness isn’t a pathology, even in the age of the selfie and Facebook’s ‘radical transparency’, nor can it be dismissed as an excuse for the socially lazy. On the other hand, being quiet or tongue-tied shouldn’t be confused with great depth of thought, or a flair for ‘avoiding the platitudinous’. Having set out his array of enjoyable examples from stuttering King George VI to Charlie Brown, Moran [states that]…shyness is…simply ‘part of the ineluctable oddness of being human’.

Mar 22

Missing Adults: Runaways, Pseudocides

Whether adults go missing intentionally or unintentionally, there is almost always vulnerability involved. Sophie Lapham, The Guardian

When things in life get too rough many people throw up their hands and declare, “I just want to run away.” While some do in effect make themselves missing, most reconsider, realizing the dire consequences should they actually ignore those responsibilities they’re currently loathing.

Research conducted by the Universities of Glasgow and Dundee several years ago regarding the phenomenon of missing persons revealed that 36% were adults, 75% with diagnosed mental health problems (Independent). The latter statistic may indicate that many cases involved less than fully intentional or rational motives.

Unlike many runaway teens, adults who flee often try to devise a find-me-proof plan. Interestingly, most interviewed for the UK research didn’t go far from home but hid relatively nearby: “For the majority of adults, their journeys involved staying local and visiting familiar places. The risks for some adults was balanced by the recognition that ‘if I had gone somewhere I didn’t know, it would have been a lot harder to get through the next few days because I wouldn’t know where anything was’.”

From the University of Glasgow site: “The journeys are very stressful and although people may not know they are officially reported as missing, they realise someone may be trying to trace them. Many are unsure what will happen to them if they are located by the police, with some fearing arrest, and often they are surprised to be treated with sympathy and understanding.”

In this country intentional runners are called by the police the maliciously missing, according to Discovery.com. More details:

It’s not uncommon for people to choose to vanish if they are facing a criminal trial or jail time; in fact many have constructed elaborate staged deaths to throw the police off their trails (a person who skips out on bail or a criminal running from the law is considered ‘wanted,’ not ‘missing’).

Others who vanish voluntarily are fleeing intolerable conditions such as domestic abuse. Some have mental problems, while others just want to start fresh somewhere else; others fake their own abductions, often in a bid for sympathy and attention…

Then there’s the issue of  pseudocide, about which Elizabeth Greenwood has a relatively new book. From the publisher’s blurb about Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud (2016): “…[The author] learns that love is a much less common motive than money, and that making your death look like a drowning virtually guarantees you’ll be caught. (Disappearing while hiking, however, is a great way to go.)”

RandomHistory.com notes some other interesting points about missing adults in the U.S. Among them:

  • Minorities, those who suffer from mental disorders, and substance abusers who go missing often receive little attention from authorities and little sympathy from the press or public.
  • In most jurisdictions, missing persons cases receive low priority. Authorities are already working homicides, robberies, rapes, assaults, traffic issues, and crime prevention.
  • According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), 355,243 women were reported missing in 2010 compared to 337,660 men.
  • Scholars note that the media focuses more on women, especially white women, who go missing because of society’s apparent obsession with “damsels in distress.” In other words, people are interested in cases in which young, beautiful, often blond, girls have been abducted and are in need of rescue. This is called “the missing white woman syndrome.”
  • Frank Ahearn, a skiptracer (a term for people who find others), says that people intentionally go missing for usually two reasons: money or danger. Men usually leave because of money, and women because of danger. While the bulk of intentional disappearances were once men, more and more women now choose to bail out.
Mar 20

Three Memoirs About Surviving Gay Conversion Therapy

As if the practice of conversion therapy isn’t bad enough for any age client, just imagine being one of its most likely victims: a teenager who’s trying to come to terms for the first time with all sorts of identity issues, not just sexual orientation. Imagine being torn from your family, probably a religious one, and sent far away to places where strangers try to make you something you’re absolutely not.

Three adults who’ve survived such teenage experiences have penned recent and highly praised gay conversion therapy memoirs.

I. Steven Gaines, One of These Things First: A Memoir (2016)

Meghan Daum, New York Times, summarizes:

For Steven Gaines, growing up as a ‘homo’ in Brooklyn in the 1950s and ’60s meant being ‘a freak, nature’s mistake,’ so at 15 he tries to kill himself by punching through the windowpane of his grandparents’ bra and girdle store. Threatened with hospitalization in a dumpy state mental facility in Queens, he talks his way into a six-month stay at the famed Payne Whitney clinic, in the ‘Ivy League of psychiatric hospitals,’ where former patients have included Marilyn Monroe, Carson McCullers, Jean Stafford and William Burroughs.

Kirkus Reviews adds further details:

Gaines was put under the care of a psychiatrist to whom he finally confided the cause of his distress: ‘I THINK I AM A HOMOSEXUAL,’ he wrote in a sealed note. ‘Homosexuality can be cured, like many other disorders,’ his doctor told him, news that buoyed Gaines’ spirits. ‘I would jump through hoops of fire,’ he thought, ‘if I could be normal.’

Primitive techniques designed to make him straight did not work, of course. Unfortunately for him, Gaines proceeded into “another decade spent trying to ‘cure’ his homosexuality with the same analyst,” Daum reports, “a process that involved sleeping ‘with women regularly, as prescribed’ and becoming ‘a connoisseur of the female body the way a Jew appreciates the Vatican’.”

Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe: “A longtime journalist and artful chronicler of New York lives, Gaines’s look back at his own is shocking, funny, and sometimes shockingly funny. A real treasure.”

II. Alex Cooper, Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began (2016)

Another 15-year-old, this time female, another misguided “therapy” attempt. When Cooper came out to her Mormon parents, she was taken to church authorities who placed her, says the author, in “an unlicensed ‘conversion therapy’ center in the Utah desert” that was mentally and physically abusive.

For eight whole months Cooper was stuck there. School Library Journal: “With the assistance of caring teachers and friends, Cooper legally escaped the respected Mormon family who were trying to ‘cure’ her, and a Salt Lake City pro bono lawyer helped her win the right to live with her parents as an openly gay teenager.”

Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights: “Alex’s engrossing and shocking story is the triumph of courage, authenticity and hope over shame, bigotry and ignorance. The nightmare of Alex’s story is a key reason we will soon succeed in ending the cruel and dangerous practice of conversion therapy.”

III. Garrard Conley, Boy Erased: A Memoir (2016)

Conley was a 19-year-old Arkansan in college when forced to undergo conversion therapy away from home. The program in Memphis was “an institutionalized Twelve-Step Program heavy on Bible study” (publisher’s blurb), in which he endured “a hellish tutelage under John Smid,” the leader of this so-called Love in Action group (Meghan Daum, New York Times).

Eventually Conley did manage to escape this cult-like environment, and since then has accepted his gayness. Who else got away from Love in Action? Smid himself. He’s actually no longer affiliated with the ex-gay movement at all, having become an “ex-ex-gay counselor”—who’s now in fact openly gay, according to Daum.

Mar 15

“Irresistible”: Adam Alter Says We’re Hooked On the Tech Stuff

The environment and circumstance of the digital age are far more conducive to addiction than anything humans have experienced in our history. Adam Alter, Irresistible

Although I usually save the book reviews for last, in this case I believe they can serve as apt descriptions of what psychology and marketing expert Adam Alter is trying to convey in Irresistible:The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (2017).

In reviewing Irresistible author Daniel H. Pink notes that Alter is focusing here on behavioral addiction, “a hidden danger in our lives.” Examples of tech-related addictions include “tracking social media ‘likes’ to counting our steps,” he reports. Alter concludes “our actions are being guided less by our own volition than by the architecture of the technologies we use.”

David Epstein: “In Irresistible, Adam Alter illuminates the surprising, fascinating, and frightening biological and psychological connections between a toddler hitting every button in an elevator, a surgical patient asking for painkillers, and the millions of people hooked on Facebook. No one who has ever seen an advertisement, checked their email on a smartphone, or used the Internet will come away quite the same.”

What are the actual numbers? According to Alter’s research, use of cellphones is up to three hours a day for many, video games can be weeks on end for some adolescent boys, and Snapchat users often open up their apps over 18 times a day.

Furthermore, “In one survey, 60 percent of the adults said they keep their cellphones next to them when they sleep. In another survey, half the respondents claimed they check their emails during the night.”

And that’s not all. Regarding the general incidence of behavioral addictions? “A 2011 study suggested that 41 percent of us have at least one. That number is sure to have risen with the adoption of newer more addictive social networking platforms, tablets and smartphones.”

(Stats from the last three paragraphs are from Alter’s interview with Claudia Dreifus, New York Times).

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: “[Alter] also illustrates the stakes: that these technologies are preventing us from forming meaningful relationships, raising empathetic children, and separating work from sleep and play.”

An appropriate conclusion from another cultural authority, Malcolm Gladwell: “As if to prove his point, Adam Alter has written a truly addictive book about the rise of addiction. Irresistible is a fascinating and much needed exploration of one of the most troubling phenomena of modern times.”

How can these types of addiction be managed by overusers? Dreifus asked Alter to comment:

I’d suggest that they be more mindful about how they are allowing tech to invade their life. Next, they should cordon it off. I like the idea, for instance, of not answering email after six at night.

In general, I’d say find more time to be in natural environments, to sit face to face with someone in a long conversation without any technology in the room. There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in. You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.

Mar 13

All Kinds of Compulsions We “Can’t Just Stop”

Suffused with and overwhelmed by anxiety, we latch onto any behavior that offers relief by providing even an illusion of control…

While extreme compulsions often appear odd, irrational, pitiable and self-destructive, our emerging understanding of compulsions implies something quite different: Even the craziest-looking compulsions are adaptive, even pragmatic, and all too human. A compulsion is at once psychological balm and curse, surface madness (or at least eccentricity) and profound relief. Sharon Begley, Wall Street Journal

Behaviors such as OCD, hoarding, exercise, shopping, video-gaming, hyper-conscientiousness, and even hyper-do-gooding, all possibly responses to anxiety, are examined by science journalist Sharon Begley in Can’t Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions.

Compulsions, says Begley, “are repetitive behaviors that we engage in repeatedly to alleviate the angst brought on by the possibility of harmful consequences.” Examples of compulsions of varying levels of severity are offered (Wall Street Journal):

There’s the woman who hit the treadmill so compulsively that she could do little else—and all because, every moment that she wasn’t exercising, the thought of fat cells proliferating in her body drove her nearly mad with anxiety. There’s the actor who was so certain he suffered from a dire illness that he compulsively pressed his doctors to give him CT scans, over and over, to assuage his angst. And there are the millions of us who feel compelled to check our phones before we get out of bed in the morning and constantly throughout the day, because FOMO—the fear of missing out—fills us with so much anxiety that it feels like fire ants swarming every neuron in our brain.

Publishers Weekly notes that Begley’s research and writing “demystifies compulsive behavior, exploring its history and manifestations and the many difficulties its sufferers face in finding appropriate diagnoses and treatment.”

Selected Reviews

Joel Gold, MD: “At once fascinating and compassionate, funny and informative, this volume should be on the bookshelf of every psychiatrist, and on the nightstand of anyone who enjoys absorbing and incisive writing.”

Gary Greenberg, therapist and author: “Sharon Begley has done us all a service, writing about compulsion without writing about disease and offering a new perspective on a phenomenon that is common if not universal. People troubled by their own compulsive behavior will appreciate her nuanced and balanced approach and perhaps come away with a new understanding of themselves.”

Publishers Weekly: “Begley’s final chapter on brain function in the compulsive mind contains fresh insight that could fundamentally alter how we think of, and treat, mental illness going forward.”