Mar 27

Paranoia at the Top: Never Their Fault

As philosopher Robert M. Hutchins puts it, “This is a do-it-yourself test for paranoia: You know you’ve got it when you can’t think of anything that’s your fault.” Molly S. Castelloe, Psychology Today

Recent headlines such as “Trump Sets a New Bar for Presidential Paranoia” (Columbia Journalism Review), “Paranoia and Cronyism: What Makes the White House Dysfunctional? (Salon), and “Donald Trump Is Normalizing Paranoia and Conspiracy Thinking in U.S. Politics” (Washington Post) raise very pertinent questions and concerns about a particularly troubling state of mind.

Paranoia can be an ongoing trait or it can be a process brought out by such things as fear and stress. Mental Health America defines it as follows:

Paranoia involves intense anxious or fearful feelings and thoughts often related to persecution, threat, or conspiracy. Paranoia occurs in many mental disorders, but is most often present in psychotic disorders. Paranoia can become delusions, when irrational thoughts and beliefs become so fixed that nothing (including contrary evidence) can convince a person that what they think or feel is not true. When a person has paranoia or delusions, but no other symptoms (like hearing or seeing things that aren’t there), they might have what is called a delusional disorder. Because only thoughts are impacted, a person with delusional disorder can usually work and function in everyday life, however, their lives may be limited and isolated.

Shahram Heshmat, PhD, Psychology Today, identifies eight types of biases that prevent rationality in those afflicted with paranoia. Click on the link for more details.

  1. Confirmation bias. Perceptions are bolstered by anything that can be found to confirm them.
  2. Attention bias. “…intense and exceedingly narrow in focus.”
  3. Disorders of reasoning. The mind doesn’t allow for revisions of already rigidified thoughts.
  4. Distorted reality. “Their thought processes go from belief to evidence.”
  5. Persecutory delusion. “They…explain life events by blaming others.”
  6. Paranoid projection. “Projection is the substitution of an external threat or tension for an internal one that one’s self denies. For example, ‘I hate him’ becomes ‘He hates me’.”
  7. Overvalued ideas. “An overvalued idea is a simple idea that resembles a delusion, and often guides specific behavior. An example is knocking on wood to protect yourself against misfortune…”
  8. Erroneous sense-making. “The suspicious person can be absolutely right in his perception and at the same time absolutely wrong in his judgment…As Mark Twain remarked, ‘What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so’.”

In her recent Psychology Today post Molly S. Castelloe, PhD, further explains one of these, paranoid projection, something we’ve consistently witnessed coming from the current presidential administration:

Projection becomes problematic and veers into pathology when one’s identity can only be defined by what one is not. Identity for such an individual relies on contrast, and a person becomes fixated with a prolonged and intense need for ‘othering,’ for finding other people onto which to hang the unwanted and painful parts of his or herself (e.g., anger, inadequacy, shame). There is ongoing confusion regarding boundaries between self and other, between what is inside and belongs to self and what is outside belonging to another. This becomes the only way of maintaining psychic equilibrium…

Directly from the top: Obama is a bad (sick) guy? Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the temperament to be president? Meryl Streep is overrated? The list goes on and on.

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 10

James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison: Powerful Quotes

What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it. From I Am Not Your Negro

James Baldwin (1924-1987) and Ralph Ellison (1914-1994), both African American, are two of the most respected writers of their times. Whereas Baldwin was prolific in print, Ellison completed only one novel, Invisible Man (1952).

With the release of Raoul Peck‘s acclaimed I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary about Baldwin’s unfinished novel, Remember This House, it feels fitting to present some of his and Ellison’s best and still-relevant quotes.

JAMES BALDWIN:

I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.

Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity.

I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.

If I am not what you say I am, then you are not who you think you are.

The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.

Everybody’s journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality.

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

RALPH ELLISON:

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.

I remember that I’m invisible and walk softly so as not awake the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers.

When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.

What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?

I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself.

Power doesn’t have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it.

They can laugh, but they can’t deny us. They can curse and kill us, but they can’t destroy us. This land is ours because we come out of it, we bled in it, our tears watered it, we fertilized it with our dead. So the more of us they destroy, the more it becomes filled with the spirit of our redemption.

Mar 08

Homophobic Therapist Dads, Gay Activist Sons in “When We Rise”

Last week’s miniseries When We Rise revealed, among many other things, two different unflattering portraits of real-life homophobic therapist dads reacting to their gay sons.

The first such pair we meet is Cleve Jones, the author of last year’s memoir When We Rise: My Life in the Movement, and his father (played by David Hyde Pierce), a psychologist who believes being gay is a sickness to be treated with electroshock or other brain-changing practices.

In the first episode Jones is an adolescent struggling with his budding identity. Now 62, he recently told Terry Gross, NPR, about his despair: “I was planning to kill myself when I was 15 because I thought I was the only queer in the world, and I didn’t want to live that way. And I didn’t want to be ashamed and beaten up, and then I read about gay liberation in Life magazine. And I decided not to kill myself, and I flushed the pills down the toilet.”

As Cleve had feared, his coming out to his parents several years later didn’t go so well. Having purposely waited until he was old enough, he then went off to San Francisco, where he eventually became a well-known activist.

Cleve says he had little contact with his father for at least a couple years after that. Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: “His mother, a former dancer who taught dance well into her 70s, and he had a much closer relationship. His relationship with his father got close again after Jones was diagnosed HIV-positive and became sick. ‘Both of them were quite perfect in every way. They went to quilt displays and marches and became activists. There was a rapprochement’.”

Jones actually wants to write his next book about his father.

Another key but lesser figure in the mini-series is Richard Socarides, who was an adviser to President Bill Clinton. His father was psychiatrist Charles Socarides (1922-2005), founder of NARTH, the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality.

In When We Rise Richard (played by his actual younger brother Charles Socarides) is being tapped to aid Clinton on gay and lesbian issues when he has a significant exchange with Cleve Jones. “…Jones (played by Guy Pearce) confronts Richard and asks if he’s related to ‘that homophobe shrink who damned my entire generation.’ Richard turns around and politely says, ‘He’s my father; have a good day'” (Theater Mania).

Father Socarides, in fact, had pioneered conversion therapy, and Richard had yet to reveal to him his own sexual orientation. Influenced eventually by Cleve’s strong opinions, however, Richard decides to come out with it. Adam Nagourney, New York Times, recently got the real scoop from Richard about this scene shown in When We Rise:

‘In that interaction with my father, my father takes out a gun and puts it to his head and threatens to shoot himself,’ Mr. Socarides said. ‘Which actually happened. No one ever knew about it. It was really intense. I hadn’t told anybody that ever, because I was trying to protect him, or I guess in some way I was embarrassed or ashamed of myself. I felt enough time had passed.’

ABC News quotes additional info from Richard about this: “I knew that the gun probably was not loaded, I knew he wasn’t going to fire it. But it was very emotional and I probably did not react in real life as calmly as Charlie does in the film.”

But Charlie told Theater Mania: “Richard’s strength is his ability to remain composed and productive under pressure and not let these personal demons eat at him too much.”

Richard himself to The New Yorker in 2013: I don’t think my coming out to my dad was harder or easier than anyone else’s. I didn’t come out to the founder of conversion therapy. I came out to my father.”