Jul 26

“Stick With It”: Persistence and Perseverance Pay Off

If you’re looking to make big personal changes, one new resource is Sean D. Young‘s Stick With It: A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life–for Good. 

About a decade ago James O. ProchaskaJohn Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente also had strong ideas on this topic when they published a similar-sounding title, Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. 

The Stages of Change Model developed in the 1970’s and 80’s by Prochaska and DiClemente began with studying smokers’ attempts to give up their habit. The end result was the development of a tool to assess one’s readiness to work on change of any kind as well as one’s readiness to stick with it, or to persevere.

It’s one thing, that is, to decide to go for behavior change, another to hang in there—perseverance is key. Some quotes from other noteworthy authors and individuals to help you not only try for change but also stick with it:

Angela Duckworth, Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success (2016):

…(G)rit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity. The maturation story is that we develop the capacity for long-term passion and perseverance as we get older.

Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t.

Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (2015):

The desire to start something at the “right” time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now.

The most important step is the first step. All those old sayings are really true. Well begun is half done. Don’t get it perfect, get it going. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started, and strangely, starting is often far harder than continuing.

Albert EinsteinIt’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

Maya Angelou: You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.

Hillary ClintonYou know, everybody has setbacks in their life, and everybody falls short of whatever goals they might set for themselves. That’s part of living and coming to terms with who you are as a person.

Barack Obama: Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.

Jul 24

“Scared Selfless”: Therapist’s Horrific Childhood Trauma

I was raped and tortured and prostituted to countless men. I was used in child pornography. As a result of this abuse, I grew mentally disturbed and was in danger of a wasted existence. But I made a decision not to give into despair. I vowed that, no matter what, I was going to fight for a good, decent, normal life. The journey to that good life wasn’t easy. It was fraught with pain and self-doubt and self-loathing. But I persevered and eventually found the help and love I needed to be happy. Psychologist Michelle Stevens, from her memoir Scared Selfless (2017)

Michelle Stevens, PhD, founder and director of Post-Traumatic Success, a nonprofit that provides education and support to victims of psychological trauma, is the author of Scared Selfless: My Journey from Abuse and Madness to Surviving and Thriving. Scared Selfless is based on her psychology dissertation, one that merited special distinction from her school, Saybrook University.

Stevens’s memoir presents a unique viewpoint: on the one hand, as a therapy client she’s addressed the severe mental health effects of her own horrific abuse; on the other, she’s now a therapist herself, able to offer her specialized expertise to clients who also have trauma histories.

In the brief video below, Stevens explains further:


Kirkus Reviews summarizes what happened to the author early in life:

Stevens was 8 years old when Gary Lundquist came into her life. A primary schoolteacher and toystore owner, his apparent interest was in the author’s impoverished, poorly educated mother. But shortly after the pair began dating, Lundquist declared his intention to develop a ‘special relationship’ with Stevens and took the child home with her mother’s consent. There, he began to ‘train’ her as a sex slave whom he also prostituted to other equally sadistic pedophiles. The abuse, which Stevens could not articulate to her mother, continued for six years.

The toll the trauma and forced silence took was enormous. As the book blurb states, “Michelle suffered from post‐traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, and made multiple suicide attempts. She also developed multiple personalities.”

“In the end,” adds Kirkus, “it was the empathetic, nonjudgmental kindness of a dedicated therapist—who later became Stevens’ professional role model—that saved her life and gave her the courage to begin the journey toward psychological health.”

Selected Reviews

Sara Corbett, co-author of A House in the Sky“Michelle Stevens has written a fierce, honest account of her life that will stay with any reader long after the last page has turned. This book does more to explain what it feels like to live with the effects of trauma than anything I’ve ever read. It’s the rare book that’s both personal and clinical. It should be a resource and an inspiration not just to survivors but to those who love and seek to understand them.”

Dave Pelzer, author of A Child Called “It”: “a riveting memoir that takes readers on a roller coaster ride from the depths of hell to triumphant success. Michelle’s extraordinary life story and diligent, compassionate work as a therapist teaches us that, with true-grit determination, it’s possible to overcome the worst adversity. Scared Selfless offers courage, strength, and resilience to anyone who desires a better life.”

Joe Navarro, Special Agent (Ret.) and author of Dangerous Personalities“…This is a story about the psychological legacy of abuse, the struggle to survive a troubled mind, the challenges of finding elusive help and about finally and triumphantly finding redemption through the most unapologetic example of personal grit I’ve ever read…”

Jul 21

“Popular”: Likable and/or Status-Oriented

Research findings suggest that even forty years later, we can predict who will graduate from high school or college, who will succeed at work, who will apply for welfare/social services, and who may suffer from debilitating mental health difficulties or addictions all by knowing how popular folks were in high school. Our popularity even predicts our physical health – those who were least popular in childhood are more likely to have cardiovascular and metabolic illnesses decades later than those who were well-liked. One analysis suggested that the risk of unpopularity on our mortality is as strong as the risks that come from smoking! Mitch Prinstein, author of Popular (Scientific American)

Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World by psychology professor Mitch Prinstein is the product of decades of research regarding two different kinds of popularity: the first starts in childhood and and is about being well-liked, the second develops in adolescence and is about status, “reflecting changes in our neural circuitry that are triggered by pubertal hormones.”

From an author interview with Gareth Cook, Scientific American:

[Adolescence] is the period when popularity begins to reflect our ‘status’ more than our ‘likability.’ The markers of status – visibility, influence, dominance, and power – all activate the social reward centers in our brain and change our relationship with popularity forever. Throughout adulthood, we have a choice to pursue greater likability or greater status – a decision made so much more difficult by the growing number of platforms (reality TV, social media, etc.) designed to help us gain status. In fact, our focus on easily-obtained status now is perhaps stronger than at any other point in human history. That’s a problem, however. Because unlike the positive outcomes associated with high likability, research findings indicate that having high status leads to later aggression, addiction, hatred, and despair.

Although the book was finished before the presidential election last year, Prinstein now can’t help but use Trump as an example of the unhealthiness of status popularity. From an interview with Elizabeth Kiefer, Refinery 29:

I think one of the things that’s really interesting is that we now have a president who has such an insatiable, explicit desire to be popular that it’s off-putting…
Pursuing status will never be fulfilling, because no matter what office you’re elected to, or number of Twitter followers you have, it will never be enough. You will always be looking for more and more status. It is perpetually unfulfilling, ultimately quite desperate, and kind of pathetic.

Apparently there can be about 30% overlap between likability and status popularity; in other words, some people have both. Unfortunately, and this is another thing that can be applied to election issues, this kind of combo in women is perceived more negatively than in men. “It is very hard for females to have both likability and high status.” Enough said?

Want to gauge your own popularity? Take Prinstein’s popularity quiz.

As Prinstein told Kiefer, overall popularity can partly be attributed to genes—“things like our interest in interacting with others socially, our physical attractiveness”—and partly to parental modeling. Bottom line, though, whatever level of popular you’ve been, you don’t have to stay there:

…This is all something that we can change: 95% of people were not very popular in high school. And everyone is probably walking around with some kind of feeling of desire or longing or wishing that they were more popular, and that they could be more popular now. I just hope that people know that, just by taking some time to recognize how our automatic behaviors and our perceptual biases — how the ways that we see the world are still being unnecessarily colored by those high school experiences — that just observing that and challenging that, we actually have an incredibly fruitful opportunity to become more likable. And to become happier, too.

Jul 19

“Socially Awkward” Is Ty Tashiro, Who Explains

Always socially awkward himself, Tashiro has become an evangelist for his kind, penning a book of research positing that there’s an upside to all this nerding out, to the unemotional, hyper-focused qualities of people lacking in the social graces. Lavanya Ramanathan, Washington Post, about Ty Tashiro’s Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome

Psychologist Ty Tashiro is all too familiar with the personality trait of feeling and/or being awkward. Not only has he been there personally, but Tashiro’s investigation reveals that 15% of the rest of us also qualify.

Furthermore, even more of us have experienced awkwardness at least some of the time, and “the average person exhibits 32 percent of the characteristics associated with being socially awkward,” reports Amy Morin (Inc.).

Another thing: “Tashiro explains that being awkward may be in your genes. It’s estimated that it’s 50 percent inheritable in boys and 38 percent inheritable in girls. So it isn’t something you’re likely to outgrow or change overnight.” That is, if you even want to.

First, though, where do You fit in? Try taking his quick quiz and then read on. One of the things I learned about myself, for example:

You might not always be sure how to act in social situations, but that’s partly because you go to the beat of your own drummer. This random quality about you can be a real asset when it comes to finding a new way of doing things.

I then, of course, was encouraged to see the positive side and advised to take a look at the book Awkward for further explanation and understanding.

How can awkwardness manifest toward one’s benefit? Talent and ambition, even giftedness, as well as a penchant for systematic thought are a couple ways. Tashiro says, in fact, that being awkward is “awesome” in the following three ways, per Morin (see the Inc. link for further details):

  1. Awkward people see things a little different.
  2. Awkward people are passionate about specific subjects.
  3. Awkward people are geared for striking talent.

Want to put your awkwardness to the best uses? According to Kirkus Reviews Tashiro notes “that any diagnosis short of autism might be handled in-house or with the help of a good therapist.”

Seems Tashiro himself was tested but not deemed to be on the spectrum. “But he was decidedly different,” The Washington Post reports, adding, “He believes that autistic characteristics, which include poor social skills, turn up in the general population all the time and that the awkward simply have more of them.”

Tashiro affirms to Olga Khazan, The Atlantic, that awkwardness could actually be considered “sub-subclinical autism.” Missing emotion cues and social subtleties, for example, are not only common among those with Asperger’s and autism but also among the awkward.

If you are significantly enough awkward that the above info resonates, Tashiro has some advice if you’re interested. From his chat with Olivia Blair, Independent:

‘Every awkward person I’ve known who has figured out how to become socially proficient or even socially fluent, has been a great observer of the likeable people around them. They will watch how they greet people, the ways they respond to others that show a sincere interest, and even how to wrap up a conversation well,’ he says.

Tashiro also suggests being aware of your manners as most rules of etiquette exist to smooth social interactions.

Jul 17

Impaired Therapists: How to Intervene

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Gypsy are a couple of the latest TV series, both streaming on Netflix, to feature impaired therapists. Kimmy Schmidt‘s Tina Fey has a minor role as Andrea, an alcoholic therapist who somehow still manages to offer the lead character (Ellie Kemper) tidbits of useful advice. Her impairment, however, has ultimately led to losing her license, one possible outcome in the real world as well.

Gypsy‘s Naomi Watts portrays a therapist who’s been described as unethical and a sociopath.

In real life a relatively small percentage of clinicians in any of the mental health disciplines—which include such areas as social work, psychology, and psychiatry—are likely to be impaired therapists. However, in order to protect the clients who may potentially be affected, rules have to be in place.

Therefore, the various professional organizations whose members are providers of mental health services have pertinent codes of ethics. According to a leading ethical expert in my own field, Fredric Reamer, impairment can not only involve failure to comply with those ethical standards but also incompetence (Social Work Today).

The social work code of ethics specifically states the following regarding steps to take when a colleague is deemed impaired:

(a) Social workers who have direct knowledge of a social work colleague’s impairment that is due to personal problems, psychosocial distress, substance abuse, or mental health difficulties and that interferes with practice effectiveness should consult with that colleague when feasible and assist the colleague in taking remedial action.

(b) Social workers who believe that a social work colleague’s impairment interferes with practice effectiveness and that the colleague has not taken adequate steps to address the impairment should take action through appropriate channels established by employers, agencies, NASW, licensing and regulatory bodies, and other professional organizations.

All of the above takes into account the unfortunate fact that sometimes the nature of certain personal issues—such as addictions, burnout, health issues, and mental illness—can mean they will go undetected by the practitioners themselves.

Pertinent to this is a quote from the NASW Impaired Social Worker Program Resource Book that Reamer cites:

The problem of impairment is compounded by the fact that the professionals who suffer from the effect of mental illness, stress, or substance abuse are like anyone else; they are often the worst judges of their behavior, the last to recognize their problems and the least motivated to seek help. Not only are they able to hide or avoid confronting their behavior, they are often abetted by colleagues who find it difficult to accept that a professional could let his or her problem get out of hand (p. 6).

It’s not only colleagues who have recourse; clients do as well and need to trust their own instincts in this regard. If you notice something is wrong and talking it out with the therapist either doesn’t seem like an option or fails, you can report the impaired therapist to his/her employer and/or professional association and/or licensing board, and/or, if involved in payment for services you’re receiving, your health insurance company.