Nov 02

“First Things First” In Three Different Ways

Online dictionary definition of “First things first”: Used to assert that important matters should be dealt with before other things.

First things first. Whether regarding time management, addiction recovery, and/or decision-making about one’s primary romantic relationship versus another, this slogan may seem simplistic—but often comes in handy.

I. Time Management

Stephen R. Covey (1932-2012) wrote First Things First, about time management, in the 1990’s. Joan Price‘s Amazon Review states that Covey’s organizing process is designed to help you prioritize what’s truly important. Four quadrants represent the tasks you find at hand—and your job is to figure out what goes where:

  1. Important and Urgent (crises, deadline-driven projects)
  2. Important, Not Urgent (preparation, prevention, planning, relationships)
  3. Urgent, Not Important (interruptions, many pressing matters)
  4. Not Urgent, Not Important (trivia, time wasters)

Focusing on quadrants one and three, the urgency realm, is what many people do:

We get a temporary high from solving urgent and important crises. Then when the importance isn’t there, the urgency fix is so powerful we are drawn to do anything urgent, just to stay in motion. People expect us to be busy, overworked. It’s become a status symbol in our society—if we’re busy, we’re important; if we’re not busy, we’re almost embarrassed to admit it. Busyness is where we get our security. It’s validating, popular, and pleasing. It’s also a good excuse for not dealing with the first things in our lives. ‘I’d love to spend quality time with you, but I have to work. There’s this deadline. It’s urgent. Of course you understand.’ ‘I just don’t have time to exercise. I know it’s important, but there are so many pressing things right now. Maybe when things slow down a little.’

Focusing on quadrant number two, on the other hand, is more likely to be constructive.

II. Addiction/Sobriety

So, there’s urgency addiction, according to Covey, and of course so many other types of addiction. How exactly can “first things first,” a key 12-step slogan, apply to addiction recovery? For those early in the process, expert Lisa Frederiksen, Breaking the Cycles, offers the following steps, noting in advance that it’s either the addict or the caring loved one who can start the process toward health. (Click on the link for details.)

  • Accept that addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease.
  • Learn as much as you can about what happens in the brain of an addict/alcoholic as a result of the brain disease of addiction and about what happens in the brains of the family member, as well.
  • Let go of the old notion of control.
  • Do what you can to improve your diet, get regular exercise and get enough sleep.

III. Relationship Decision-Making

A common dilemma: Person A is in some level of commitment to one partner (B) but having an affair, emotional or otherwise, with another (C). Often at some point A has to determine, is it B or or is it C? Or maybe neither. “First things first” requires time and space to re-place more focus on both the problems and benefits of being with the one who was a priority first, B. Only then can A become rational and free enough from outside pressures to make appropriate decisions in this regard.

Oct 30

Sociopaths: How to Recognize the One(s) in Your Life

We do not have to be mental health professionals to identify the traits of the possible sociopaths among us. P.A. Speers, author of Type 1 Sociopath: When Difficult People Are More Than Just Difficult People (2015)

Jennifer Delaney, who interacted with a sociopath for decades, published a list of 25 possible traits (HuffPost) she can identify. Click on the article link for more details.

1. Seeks out Rescuers, Vulnerable, Gullible, Overly Loyal, and Dysfunctional People
2. Gets Those Around Them to Keep Secrets
3. The Truth Is Their Kryptonite
4. Like an Evil Energizer Bunny
5. Charms Those in Power and Hurts the “Little People”
6. Charming, But Only for a While
7. Pity, Pity, and More Pity
8. Manipulates You Into Letting Them Back Into Your Life After They Have Done Terrible Things
9. No Respect for Your Boundaries, Only Complies With Law Enforcement (Sometimes)
10. Senses Weakness and Hesitation
11. Mirrors Your Values
12. Drug and Alcohol Abuse
13. Constant Lies and Exaggeration
14. Lots of Promises, but no Positive Action
15. No Give. All Take.
16. Aimless and Looks for the “Easy Way Out”
17. Quick Temper and Violent
18. Blame Game
19. Accuses You of Their Actions
20. Criminal Record
21. Never Matures. Attracted to Superficial Signs of Beauty and Strength.
22. Feigns Empathy for Children, Animals, and the Elderly
23. Weak Intimate Relationships
24. Divide and Conquer
25. Drags Everyone Into the Drama

In her article Delaney refers to Martha Stout‘s 2005 The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us. From the publisher’s description:

We are accustomed to think of sociopaths as violent criminals, but in The Sociopath Next Door, Harvard psychologist Martha Stout reveals that a shocking 4 percent of ordinary people—one in twenty-five—has an often undetected mental disorder, the chief symptom of which is that that person possesses no conscience. He or she has no ability whatsoever to feel shame, guilt, or remorse. One in twenty-five everyday Americans, therefore, is secretly a sociopath…

Publishers Weekly recaps the following info from the book:

Stout argues that the development of sociopathy is due half to genetics and half to nongenetic influences that have not been clearly identified. The author offers three examples of such people, including Skip, the handsome, brilliant, superrich boy who enjoyed stabbing bullfrogs near his family’s summer home, and Doreen, who lied about her credentials to get work at a psychiatric institute, manipulated her colleagues and, most cruelly, a patient…

It’s highly possible that almost everyone knows at least one person who fits the bill. Self-admitted pseudonymous female sociopath M.E. Thomas, author of Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight (2013):

…(W)e are your neighbors, co-workers, and quite possibly the people closest to you: lovers, family, friends. Our risk-seeking behavior and general fearlessness are thrilling, our glibness and charm alluring. Our often quick wit and outside-the-box thinking make us appear intelligent—even brilliant. We climb the corporate ladder faster than the rest, and appear to have limitless self-confidence.

Although praised by some for its authenticity, Thomas’s book is hard to evaluate on such a level—after all, she says she’s a sociopath. As Julia M. Klein, Boston Globe, wrote in her review:

Talk about an unreliable narrator: Just what are we to make of a book by a diagnosed sociopath that functions alternately as a warning against sociopathy, an apologia for it, and an embodiment of its worst manipulative tendencies?

This intermittently fascinating, if rather disjointed, account is part memoir, part psychological treatise, and entirely not to be trusted…

Just like those other sociopaths you know (or see every day on the news, if you know what I mean).

Oct 27

“Thank You for Your Service”: After-War PTSD

True and trite in equal measure, this film understands that war is fought by an army, but the after-war is every man for himself. David Ehrlich, IndieWire, regarding new film Thank You for Your Service

In a matter of several years David Finkel‘s bestselling 2013 nonfiction book Thank You for Your Service has been adapted into a 2015 documentary and now a feature film written and directed by Jason Hall.

Chris Schluep, Amazon critic, described the distinction of Finkel’s book about the Iraq War: “…(T)here are great truths inside, none more powerful than when Finkel writes: ‘while the truth of war is that it’s always about loving the guy next to you, the truth of the after-war is that you’re on your own.”

From the review of documentary Thank You for Your Service by Ken J

‘Thank You for Your Service’ starts with a frantic, tear-filled 911 call reporting a suicide. It’s a gut-wrenching moment in a documentary that’s filled with them, and with scenes that make you want to scream in frustration at the bureaucracy faced by combat veterans seeking mental health services…

…uses its late scenes to explore nongovernment programs that have arisen to help veterans. Those examples are heartfelt and encouraging, and offer some hope after the devastating early sections.

Still, that hope is tempered by cruel reality. This important film ends with a silent onscreen note: ‘While you have watched this documentary, a veteran has committed suicide.’

The new film, as introduced by Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: “Hall brings the war home, tracking three discharged soldiers (played with aching hurt and camaraderie by Miles Teller, Beulah Koale, and Joe Cole) who return to the Midwest and their families to find nothing the same as it was, especially themselves.”

More from Charles Bramesco, The Guardian, who offers a mixed perspective reflective of the overall ratings so far:

With a lack of detail rooting them to their cultural moment, the challenges faced by soldiers Adam, Tausolo and Will (Miles Teller, Beulah Koale and Joe Cole, respectively) end up as interchangeable and disposable as the army considers the men themselves to be. The trio of field brothers get sent back to the States following a bloody shootout with unseen insurgent forces, toting with them souvenirs of PTSD, survivor’s guilt and general mental infirmity. Fate deals them individual turbulences upon what they had assumed would be a triumphant return: Adam’s unprepared for the demands of fatherhood, Solo is so hard up for money that he falls in with a local gang (the least-believably-written bit in a film riddled with vague approximations of real life) and Will’s greeted by an empty home and a traitorous fiancee. The men all face their tribulations the same way, just as countless have before them – with silence and repression.

The trailer:

Main themes and a summary, per Scherstuhl:

Thank You for Your Service covers the epidemic of suicides among veterans, the overcrowding of the VA system, the crushing months that it takes to get help and the occasional hostility, among some military types, toward the very idea of mental health care. Hall sugars up all this hard truth with climactic scenes of forgiveness and self-sacrifice, emotional breakthroughs and sudden new beginnings, but he eschews empty promises about life ever being easy for these soldiers. Instead, his film argues that heroism at home starts with opening up and seeking help. In that, his imperfect film is a public service worth being thankful for itself. It’s not always effective drama, but as an example for thousands of struggling American families, it’s a serious breakthrough.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: “The most powerful aspect of the movie is that, in its plainspoken and affecting way, it demystifies the agonies of post-traumatic stress disorder. It understands PTSD not as some sort of blankly ravaged emotional shutdown but as the most healthy response possible to the violence that war commits.” Furthermore, feeling one hasn’t done enough while serving in the war is shown to be common to these surviving soldiers.

Oct 25

Latest News in MH: Anxiety, Bullying, and More

Latest news in mental health (October 2017):

I. Anxiety Makes It Harder to Listen to Your Intuition. Katie Heaney, The Cut 

Heaney starts out: “As an anxious person, I find the mantra ‘go with your gut’ endlessly frustrating. What’s so trustworthy about my gut instinct, which has, at various times, convinced me I’m dying of brain cancer, or about to get on an airplane doomed to crash, or destined to be alone forever?”

An excerpt about recent research on this topic:

The researchers hypothesized that anxiety’s effects on our decision-making is damaging for several reasons: Anxiety makes us risk-averse, pessimistic, and less confident — all qualities which make us likelier to choose what we perceive as the most safe, routine, and unchallenging decision.
In some cases, anxiety can also effectively paralyze us, resulting in no decision made at all. Using one’s intuition, the researchers argue, requires confidence and trust in oneself. If anxious people don’t have that confidence and trust, they may be more likely to ignore subtle emotional or bodily cues which indicate a ‘hunch.’ But any anxious person knows it goes beyond that — many of us deal with what could be considered ‘cues’ and ‘hunches’ all the time: a racing heart, elevated heartbeat, sweating, weird twinges and tingles. For many anxious people, the psychosomatic symptom possibilities are endless, and only infrequently indicate that something is actually wrong. In many cases, it’s wiser for us to ignore these ‘signs’ and symptoms than to take them seriously…

II. How Fiction Becomes Fact on Social Media. Benedict Carey, New York Times  

“Skepticism of online ‘news’ serves as a decent filter much of the time, but our innate biases allow it to be bypassed, researchers have found — especially when presented with the right kind of algorithmically selected ‘meme’.”

Those pesky cognitive biases at work again.

III. Feel deal: which emotions really make us happy? Quiz. Ben Ambridge, The Guardian     

Intro by Ambridge: “What is the secret to happiness? Is it simply experiencing pleasant emotions most of the time? Actually, according to Aristotle, the best way to be happy is to experience the emotions that you want to experience, whether positive or negative. So, do you?”

And now, the quiz:

On a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (most of the time), how often do you experience emotions in each of the following four groups?

(a) Love, affection, trust, empathy and compassion
(b) Anger, contempt, hostility and hatred
(c) Interest, curiosity, excitement and enthusiasm
(d) Passion, calmness, relaxation, relief and contentment

Now – on the same 1-5 scale – how often do you want to experience each of these four types of emotions? The greater the similarity between your two sets of scores, the happier you are likely to be, and the less likely you are to show symptoms of depression.

IV. Walking Study Corroborates Hippocrates’s Prescriptive Wisdom. Christopher Bergland, Psychology Today

Subtitle: “A new study backs up his favorite prescription for health and longevity.” Guess what it is?

V. Burger King/”Bullying Jr.”

As described by the company, their interesting new PSA:

Scrawny. Short. Ugly. Fat. Weird. 30% of school kids worldwide are bullied each year and bullying is the #1 act of violence against young people in America today (Source: nobully.org). The BURGER KING® brand is known for putting the crown on everyone’s head and allowing people to have it their way. Bullying is the exact opposite of that. So the BURGER KING® brand is speaking up against bullying during National Bullying Prevention Month.

In the BURGER KING® brand Bullying Jr. experiment, more people stood up for a bullied WHOPPER JR.® than a bullied high school Jr. Visit NoBully.org to learn how you can take a stand against bullying.

Be prepared to maybe shed a few tears:

Oct 23

Abuse of Power by Men: How to End Toxic Culture

Part of what we have to come to grips with is that this is not a story simply of individual misconduct but of systemic inequity, a story of nuts-and-bolts infrastructure of gender injustice that has permitted generations — centuries — of this behavior, and that has worked again and again to beat back any resistance to it. Rebecca Traister, The Cut

Although abuse of power by men is not always sexual in nature and can victimize men as well as women, it’s the sexual harassment and assault of women by men that, for various reasons, is currently being debated in various forums.

The following represents recent postings regarding the abuse of power by men and how to stop our deeply entrenched culture of enabling.

I. Dacher Keltner, PhD, author of The Power Paradox, “What the Science of Power Can Tell Us About Sexual Harassment” (Greater Good Magazine).

In experiments in which one group of people is randomly assigned to a condition of power, people in the ‘powerful’ group are prone to two shortcomings: They develop empathy deficits and are less able to read others’ emotions and take others’ perspectives. And they behave in an impulsive fashion—they violate the ethics of the workplace….

…Powerful men, studies show, overestimate the sexual interest of others and erroneously believe that the women around them are more attracted to them than is actually the case. Powerful men also sexualize their work, looking for opportunities for sexual trysts and affairs, and along the way leer inappropriately, stand too close, and touch for too long on a daily basis, thus crossing the lines of decorum—and worse.

Keltner advocates not only for the continued sharing of stories about the abuse of power by men but also for improving the ability of women to reach their own positions of power and blasting “myths that sustain the abuses of power.”

II. Mark Radcliffe, “Why the #MeToo Movement is a Call to Arms for Men Everywhere” (Good Men Project). 

…We can start by simply being the kind of supportive friend/ boyfriend/ husband/ colleague that a woman feels comfortable sharing her assault with. By being someone who genuinely cares about others, who asks about how others are doing….

Maybe that conversation entails us just being a pair of ears and a source of support. Maybe it involves us getting involved, and being willing to help her confront the person, approach HR, or even go to the police with them. And that might be really hard. But it’s necessary.

But this is just the beginning.

The real challenge is in going to work on our fellow men. Every. Single. Day.

III. Irin Carmon, “Women Shouldn’t Trust the Men Who Call Themselves Allies” (Washington Post). 

…The journalist David Perry wrote that he used to talk about feminism with his students so they might hear it used without the suffix ‘-nazi.’ ‘I still think there’s power in calling oneself a feminist,’ he tweeted, but with a caveat: “but not as a ‘trust me I’m an ally’ to get entry/visibility elsewhere.” Instead, he proposed, call yourself a feminist ‘in male dominated spaces,’ where it takes some courage, where it might make a difference. Our president called bragging about groping women without consent ‘locker room talk,’ as if all men are like him in private. Even if no one is recording (or leaking your email), don’t be another man to prove him right.

IV. Elise C. Lopez and Mary P. Koss, “Why No Men Are Are Saying #ISpokeUp” (Fortune).

…One of public health’s most significant achievements is reduction in smoking, which was accomplished largely by changing social perceptions of smoking and mobilizing demands for smoke-free workplaces. We need a similar shift in the public’s attitude toward sexual assault, particularly from men. Victims have spoken up about the repulsiveness of sexual harassment and assault and have demanded harassment-free workplaces. Men must be willing to examine their own attitudes and behaviors, and to confront peers who harass or abuse women.

Women do not need men for protection. They need men need to patrol each other.

V. Michelle Wolf, The Daily Show.