Sep 22

“Stronger”: Post-Traumatic Injury and Recovery

“Stronger” transcends your standard inspirational drama mostly through two fantastic performances, but also in the way it understands that trauma isn’t inspirational to the people who suffer it. Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com

Stronger is guaranteed to trigger our feelings about the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013. However, the film focuses not on the events themselves but on the aftermath, particularly in the life of Jeff Bauman, who co-wrote a (same-titled) 2014 memoir with Brett Witter.

Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter, introduces the movie:

As Bauman, [Jake] Gyllenhaal is a likable clown: A wide-eyed, working class Bostonian, he’s an ordinary guy who screws up at work and then begs to be forgiven so he can catch the Red Sox game with his buddies. He lives with his demanding, alcoholic mother (Miranda Richardson), whom he finds in the bar watching the game with her equally drunk girlfriends. Jeff banters a bit with her as she falls off her stool. But his attention is fastened on his ex, Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany), whom he recently broke up with for the third time.

Erin is a runner prepping for the marathon and to win back her affection, he promises he will be waiting for her to cross the finish line. As she later points out to him, he never shows up when he’s supposed to — except this time, he does…

The trailer conveys a lot more:

Erin and Jeff

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “It’s through Erin that we watch Bauman’s medical and psychological battles in the first weeks after the bombing, and Maslany has a still, empathetic presence that can bring tears to your eyes — she’s the movie’s soul.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “He drinks, he yells, he cries, he misses therapy sessions, he reluctantly attends public events to be a mascot of hope for ‘Boston Strong,’ he hits his head a lot and he and Hurley’s relationship vacillates violently throughout — she moves in, they get back together, he disappoints again — culminating in a distressing shouting match in a car.”

Themes

Kate Erbland, IndieWire: “‘Stronger’ is not a film about Jeff coming to terms with his new body or learning how to walk again, but instead dealing with great personal pain while also struggling with the demands of a notoriety he never asked for. It’s a film about heroes and what we require from them, and why that often leads to wounds that may never heal.”

Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist: “The most complex and convincing element of ‘Stronger’ is its consideration of what it means to be a hero. Further absorbing is Jeff’s struggle to reconcile the nation’s admiration for his resolve with his frustrations, guilt and his acute understanding that surviving a bombing isn’t what heroism is made of.”

Selected Reviews

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: “We’ve all seen plenty of inspirational recovery-from-injury dramas, but ‘Stronger’ is better than most — it mostly, if not entirely, avoids sentimental cliché — and provides an eloquent backstory to a moment many of us will recognize.”

Scott Tobias, NPR: “Stronger is an answer to inspirational dramas that treat the afflicted like the city of Boston treated Bauman after the bombing, as a victory lap instead of a human being. We may come away appreciating his effort, but with a much more clear-eyed view of what that effort entailed. It’s all the more inspirational for being accessible.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “It is, in many ways, an anti-Hollywood movie with a fittingly complicated ending. The movie cuts off on a positive note in their relationship, with them together and expecting a child. In real life, Bauman and Hurley divorced earlier this year. But this movie is not a love story. It’s about the sometimes ugly truth behind a symbol. And the most powerful moment comes late in the film with the man in the cowboy hat.”

Sep 20

Dealing with Fear: Three Books

In chronological order of publication, the following are three popular books about dealing with fear:

I. The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence (1997) by Gavin de Becker.

An expert on both fear and the psychology of danger, de Becker teaches awareness of “pre-incident indicators (PINS) of violence.”

Practice respecting one’s intuition, he says, not denial, which he describes as “a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level, and it causes a constant low-grade anxiety. Millions of people suffer that anxiety, and denial keeps them from taking action that could reduce the risks (and the worry).”

Selected Quotes

Every day, people engaged in the clever defiance of their own intuition become, in mid-thought, victims of violence and accidents. So when we wonder why we are victims so often, the answer is clear: It is because we are so good at it.

Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.

Worry is the fear we manufacture—it is not authentic. If you choose to worry about something, have at it, but do so knowing it’s a choice. Most often, we worry because it provides some secondary reward.

II. Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm (2012) by Thich Nhat Hanh 

A top-ranking Amazon book on this topic, Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh offers the perspective of a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master.

Selected Quotes

The only way to ease our fear and be truly happy is to acknowledge our fear and look deeply at its source. Instead of trying to escape from our fear, we can invite it up to our awareness and look at it clearly and deeply.

We are very afraid of being powerless. But we have the power to look deeply at our fears, and then fear cannot control us.

Living mindfully in the present does not preclude making plans. It only means that you know there’s no use losing yourself in worries and fear concerning the future.

III. The Fear Cure: Cultivating Courage as Medicine for the Body, Mind, and Soul (2015) by Lissa Rankin, MD   

From the publisher’s blurb:

At the intersection of science and spirituality, The Fear Cure identifies the Four Fearful Assumptions that lie at the root of all fears—from the sense that we’re alone in the universe to the belief that we can’t handle losing what we love—and shifts them into Four Courage-Cultivating Truths that pave our way to not only physical well-being, but profound awakening.

Selected Quotes

Courage is not about being fearless; it’s about letting fear transform you so you come into right relationship with uncertainty, make peace with impermanence, and wake up to who you really are.

Studies show that most emotions last no longer than 90 seconds unless we attach stories to them. You have a feeling of being lonely—and this will pass through you quickly unless you make up a story about how you’re lonely because you’re unlovable and worthless and nobody will ever love you and you’re going to be alone forever…

In order to optimize health, the body needs to be in relaxation response the majority of the time so the body’s natural disease-fighting mechanisms can operate properly.

Sep 15

Emotional Affairs: How to Detect, Deal As a Couple

By getting tips from various therapists about emotional affairsBrittany Wong, HuffPost, compiled “seven signs your partner may be on the verge of emotional infidelity”:

  1. There’s something off in their physical and online encounters with the other person…
  2. They seem physically distant from you…
  3. They become obsessive with their phone…
  4. They say they’re “just friends…”
  5. They start to talk about your relationship in less certain terms…

  6. They don’t want to talk about the other person…
  7. You find out that they’ve told the other person a lot about your relationship…

Special note about number four. The point is, people in general don’t refer to their actual “just friends” as “just friends”—they’re your “friends.”

Dr. Shirley P. Glass (1936-2003) emphasized this in her book NOT “Just Friends” about the gamut of unfaithful behaviors. Her website provides an 8-question quiz, Just Friends or Emotional Affair?, to determine if your or your partner’s friendship may have passed into the emotional affair zone.

Regarding an emotional affair’s fallout, social work professor Wendy Lustbader‘s post “Emotional Affairs: Why They Hurt So Much” (Psychology Today) has a pertinent subheading, One partner feels wounded; the other feels falsely accused. 

In the stories I have heard from those who feel thus betrayed, the worst aspect of making this kind of discovery is trying to talk about it with the partner. Any expression of hurt or jealousy is taken as a challenge to the partner’s right to have friends outside the marriage, to have personal freedom. It’s just a friendship. To complain about such a valuable addition to the partner’s life is to be accused of being controlling, petty, and insecure. Questions about the nature of this relationship are met with defensive justifications that leave the other feeling worse. Instead of hoped-for reassurance, there is deep hurt.

If you need to confront your partner about the possibility of him or her having an emotional affair, Wong provides some things to consider.

  • Try to use a a calm, neutral voice…
  • Express concern over how things have changed.
  • Be prepared to tell your partner what you’d like to them to do.
  • Come in strong with emotional support and emotional intimacy.

If you’re the partner engaging in the emotional affair, Lustbader advises the following:

(1)    The ‘friendship’ you have been claiming as a right is making your partner suffer. Decide whether you want to preserve your marriage. If so, it is crucial to stop asserting that this outside relationship is harmless.

(2)    Tell your partner that their insecurity is not a personal defect but rather a natural response to feeling shut out of this ‘friendship’ and feeling threatened by it.

(3)    Acknowledge to your partner that emotional straying can be just as painful as sexual betrayal, because the barriers that now separate you as a couple are the same – secrets are being kept and certain things can’t be talked about freely any more.

(4)    If you are finding something in this ‘friendship’ you are not finding with your partner, talk about it openly. Give your partner a chance to address these missing pieces so that your emotional depth and intimacy as a couple can be rejuvenated. Couples counseling may be necessary for you to express what has been lacking in the marriage and for you both to move into a phase of mutual and respectful growth.

(5)    Explain to your ‘friend’ that you need some distance so as to give your marriage a chance to resume its primacy in your emotional life, e.g. that it endangers your marriage to continue building such a compelling closeness with someone else.

Sep 13

When Narcissism a Trait, Not Necessarily Disorder

Narcissism is an inflated sense of self. It is thinking that you are better than you actually are. It is a complicated trait with lots of different correlates to it, but it does include things like seeking fame, attention, vanity, and so on. However, its main characteristic is its self-centeredness. Jean M. Twenge (via Mutual Responsibility)

Several notable books, one brand new, take on the type of narcissism that is not necessarily a personality disorder but actually a relatively common personality trait.

I. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009) by Drs. Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell 

The authors address such questions as, how is narcissism not just high self-esteem? One main difference, they say, is that narcissists lack the ability or interest in nurturing their relationships.

Mutual Responsibility quotes Twenge on other “signs of narcissism”:

  • Overconfidence
  • Being delusional about one’s own greatness
  • Over-optimism
  • Taking too many risks
  • An inflated, unrealistic sense of self
  • Alienation from other people
  • Entitlement, the expectation of having things handed to you without much effort
  • Not caring about others.

II. Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad–and Surprising Good–About Feeling Special (2015) by Craig Malkin

Rethinking Narcissism is about de-pathologizing the term. “The truth is,” states the book blurb, “that narcissists (all of us) fall on a spectrum somewhere between utter selflessness on the one side, and arrogance and grandiosity on the other. A healthy middle exhibits a strong sense of self. On the far end lies sociopathy.”

Find out where you stand by taking a brief test that’s available on psychologist Malkin’s website. Your results will provide an assessment of your degree of echoismhealthy narcissism, and extreme narcissism.

(When people have “echoism,” according to Dr. Malkin, they are “so fearful of attention or acknowledgment that they often seem to have no voice at all.”)

By the way, psychologist Leon F. Seltzer (Psychology Today) says the longer book version of Malkin’s self-test is “alone worth the price of the book.” (He also highly recommends Rethinking Narcissism as a whole.)

III. Everyday Narcissism: Yours, Mine, and Ours by Nancy Van Dyken (September 12, 2017)

In an interview with Psychology Today, author Van Dyken defines “everyday narcissism” as “a low-grade, garden-variety form of narcissism that most of us struggle with, often on a daily basis.” Reports Publishers Weekly, “everyday narcissism” includes “the resulting passivity, inability to discuss emotion, and self-denial” that arises from being taught certain myths from an early age.

These five myths have been typically handed down from one generation to another and are as follows:

  • We are responsible for—and have the power to control—how other people feel and behave.
  • Other people are responsible for—and have the power to control—the way we feel and behave.
  • The needs and wants of other people are more important than our own.
  • Following the rules is also more important than addressing our needs and feelings.
  • We are not lovable as we are; we can only become lovable through what we do and say.

One of Van Dyken’s various recommendations is to learn how to say no, which in her work as a therapist is “one of the hardest pieces of homework I give to people.” Her advice will go something like this: “I’d like you to say ‘no, that won’t work for me’ three times this week.” As she recently related to Mike Zimmerman, tonic.vice.com, “It might take someone 3 months to learn how to do that.”

Sep 11

Top Self Development Books: Recent Poll Results

What is the best self development book you’ve ever read and why is it different from the rest?

This is the question that was posed to me and many others recently by SelfDevelopmentSecrets.com. And now the results are available here—but if you’re not up just yet for perusing the lengthy list, the following may be helpful.

Picked by the 200-plus polled “influencers” in highest numbers are the following:

Not only is there a fuller “bests” list on the selfdevelopmentsecrets.com link, further downward is each contributor’s name and his/her more detailed response.

Here’s the paragraph I submitted:

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott is the only self-help book I’ve read on repeat. Those interested in self-development who have little or no interest in learning about writing needn’t be put off by that part of the title, as Bird by Bird has so much else to say about how to take things a step at a time and how to eschew perfectionism and generally how to be in the world, and author Lamott does this without being preachy or clinical or annoying. Lamott writes in such a clear, humorous, self-effacing style you just feel like she’s your friend who cares about your well-being.

In a previous Minding Therapy post (2012) I excerpted part of the introduction to Bird by Bird, worth repeating here:

E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard…
…(T)hirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

For extra measure, a few favorite quotes from Bird by Bird:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people…I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.

You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.