Madness 101

Congratulations, you just found my blog, Madness 101.

Book cover 2I just published a book that can help you deal with conflict, Constructive Conflict. It’s available in paperback, Kindle, and Audible from Amazon.

I also have two novels: Fate’s Janitors: Mopping Up Madness at a Mental Health Clinic and Intersections.

Madness 101 is below. I’m currently posting two series: The Shrink’s Links once a week, alternating with a series on forgiveness, The Road to Reconciliation. Click here if you would like to read this series from the beginning.


The Road to Reconciliation: Has the Hurt Ended?

The wind stopped blowing and the sky looks nice, but, if this is a hurricane, you may be passing through the eye of the storm. The earthquake has struck, but watch for aftershocks. You’ve had a minor stroke, but is a major one coming along? If your loved one did something to hurt you and you have assessed the damage, there is another thing to take into account. Is he still doing it?

Many damages go on wreaking havoc long after the precipitating event. They’re like ripples in a pond after a stone strikes. The compulsive gambler who put you both in hock may have created a situation that may take years, or decades, to pay off. The guy who broke your nose might ruin your chance for a modeling career long afterwards. The cruel and hurtful thing your parent said when you were young, tends to be a gift which keeps on giving. Therefore, if you’re assessing the damages, don’t forget to include, not only what you have already suffered, but what you are likely to suffer in the future. If you added up all the years of therapy you’ve needed so far, don’t forget to include all the years you will need before you’re done.

Eventually, most consequences of hurt will come to an end. The debt your gambler accrued may well be eventually paid off. Once you lose one modeling contract, there is seldom another. As a general rule, the first hurts we suffer are the longest lasting. Those cruel and hurtful things your parents said can continue to resonate long after you’ve forgotten what they were. They are built into your foundation and determine who you are.

The next thing to consider is whether the damages will go on because the precipitating events persist. Are stones still falling in your pond? If the compulsive gambler goes on gambling after you’ve restructured your debt, you’ll never get out from behind the eight ball. Don’t believe her when she says her next big win will pay it off. The guy who broke your nose may break it again, or worse. That behavior tends to escalate over time because, once you have broken your girlfriend’s nose, you’ll think you’ve got to do more to get her attention. If your elderly parent has verbally abused you all your life, she’s not likely to stop now, even as you visit her daily at the nursing home.

Therefore, before you finish with your list of damages, while you’re on a roll, make another list of future damages that are likely to occur if the behavior is in check.

Before I go on, I should stop and explain what I mean by in check. Many people believe the behavior is in check if the person goes into therapy. That’s not what I mean by in check. In check is when the behavior is stopped, permanently stopped, not stopped because people are looking, not stopped while he’s sleeping on the couch because he wants you to let him in the bed; not stopped because she went to rehab; I mean stopped for good. Therapy is just maybe the beginning of the checking procedure. Most problematic behavior persists after therapy is begun, and by most, I mean all. It doesn’t mean therapy ain’t working; it just means it takes time, it’s a process, and it hasn’t worked yet.

Some of these future damages may, perhaps, be ameliorated by something you can do. You might be able to insulate yourself from the effects of the persistent problematic behavior. That’s what separate bank accounts are for, that what separate bedrooms, separate houses, and separated spouses are for. That’s why people get divorced. That guy who broke your nose may go on breaking noses, but not yours, if you get an order of protection against him. That old mother who can’t stop talking shit about you may go on doing so, but you don’t have to visit her every day at the nursing home and hear it. That’s what I mean by insulating yourself.

I also mean another thing; there’s another way of insulating yourself from most of the emotional abuse that people can dish out. It’s called not letting them get into your head. It’s easier said than done, but it is possible if you are a mature, self assured adult, especially if you know who you are and don’t let others define you. It’s impossible if you’re a child and don’t possess the resource of a thick, thick skin.

Therefore, when you account for everything that was wrecked by the loved one who hurt and may well go on hurting you, take everything into account, both the injuries of the past and the projected ones of the future.

The Road to Reconciliation: Assessing the Damage

If you were in a car accident and sued the person at fault, you would go to court and describe the accident to establish culpability, of course; but, at some point, the judge would ask you what it cost to fix your car. The judge is asking for a monetary figure so she can fix an amount that would make it better. Any court I ever knew about requires that there be damages if you are trying to sue.

This is not a court and there is no judge, but if you were hurt by someone close to you, and the want to settle the matter, you have to assess the damages. How would you know how to settle it, if you didn’t? Assessing the damages might lead you to conclude that no harm was done. The matter might be easy to conclude, then. If there was some harm, establishing just what it was may help you in deciding how the person can make amends. So, what is the nature of the suffering you have had to endure?

For example, there’s, you partner, the compulsive gambler who ran up thousands of dollars in high interest debt that both you had to pay off. There’s the violent man who broke your nose five times. There’s the father who hocked your Christmas presents to buy dope. There’s the promiscuous girlfriend who brought you an STD.

Maybe you had medical bills, heavy debts, lost time from work, missed payments, or repairs you had to make. In that case, the loss is right there in black and white. Maybe you’ve got bruises, broken bones, a ruptured spleen, or head trauma from too many blows to the brain; the damage is in black and blue. Maybe you can point to the damage in the form of scars, crooked fingers, or an x-ray showing bulging disks. If that’s the case, then the harm done is physical, concrete, and unmistakable.

It may be harder to assess if the damage is less direct, as it is when you suffer emotional harm. Let’s take, for example, the mother who resented you for being born because you always reminded her of her no-good ex. She always said you were an idiot like your father. She never bought you books, never read to you, and never took an interest in your accomplishments, because she didn’t think there was a point. You grew up convinced you would never amount to anything because she said so.

It’s not too hard to imagine that, if this was your mother, you might suffer from low self esteem. You might have never have gotten good grades, can barely read, and have to settle for a minimum wage job. If that’s the case, then it probably is her fault; but, that’s a harder case to prove. We may never know whether you failed academically because of her discouragement, or if she was right about you, all along.

For now, you don’t have to prove anything. For our purposes, just make a claim, as you would in court. Later, we’ll sort it out.

What if you had a mother like that, but, despite her lack of encouragement, you succeeded in school, anyway? You don’t have poor grades you can point to, as evidence of damages. In fact, maybe her abuse even inspired you to prove her wrong. A case might be made that you have her to thank; I won’t make it, but some might. Do you have any damages, then? Well, I don’t know; but, I know a very successful person who, when he leaves his business, where he’s the CEO, he passed by scores of admirers, drives off in his BMW, glances at his Rolex to see if he’s running late, arrives at my office, and, every time, confesses that he has a little voice in his head that warns him that, one of these days, everyone is going to find out what a fraud he is. I ask whose voice this is. It’s his mother’s. This CEOs, you see, had a mother like the one I’ve been describing.

What can this CEO claim as damages? His therapist’s bills, that’s what.

While you’re making your list, don’t forget to assess the lost opportunity costs. That is, all the things you might have possessed, experienced, or accomplished if you hadn’t been dealing with this thing you had to deal with, for instance, that drug-using boyfriend you’ve been hanging on to for three years. Maybe there haven’t been any direct costs in terms of bills or broken bones. Maybe he’s treated you well and hasn’t been abusive. Maybe all he’s done is waste your time, time that might have been better spent dating someone else. Maybe your biological clock ran out while you were with him and you lost your chance to have children. Include that as a lost opportunity cost.

You could go through this exercise and discover that there is no long term price, no bruises or bills, and no lost opportunities. Maybe you were worried because he didn’t text, you got frustrated, or disappointed. Maybe you lost trust in him. Maybe the only consequence was your feelings were hurt. Well jot that down if that’s all there was. It’s still important. We’ll figure out what to do with those injured feelings later. For now, it’s important that everything is acknowledged.

Assessing the damage can be tricky. Very often, the damage is not directly apparent. I’ve had many clients in my office, suffering from PTSD, surprised to learn all the problems (and strengths) that can arise out of the experience of trauma. They didn’t know about that and, perhaps, didn’t want to think about it. You often need a good therapist to recognize the links, and, even then, it’s speculative. Also, a lot of the problems don’t emerge until later on. If your girlfriend cheated on you, you might think that, now that you have broken up with her, you’re fine, until you get a new girlfriend and find that you have a hard time trusting her. You never were suspicious about women before, but you are now that you experienced that betrayal. That kind of damage is like a computer virus which sneaks into your software and causes it to crash some time later, when you least expect it.

Assessing the damage can be a very emotional experience. It can drive home the reality of the loss you suffered, make real the pain. Having to total up the damage can seem like yet another awful thing you have to experience. But it can also be cathartic. It can affirm in black and white, and maybe blue, what you’ve been thinking all along.

If you were in court, suing for that traffic accident, all these expenses and pain and suffering would be converted into a figure in dollars and cents. That’s just what courts do because they don’t know how else to settle it. You don’t have to do that, unless you want. You don’t have to establish that your lost trust is worth a hundred-thousand, that your self esteem can be bought for a million, and your worries go five for a dollar. Eventually, you’ll have to think about what would settle the matter, what would make it right, but, for now, just assess the damage so you have something to start with. Go ahead, made a list and add to it as you think of more.

Once you have your list, do I want you to hand the list over to the person who harmed you? Do, I want you to say, here, this is what you caused? No, not yet. If you did that now, I guarantee you’ll be disappointed with the response. They’ll say you padded it with self-inflected injuries.

In my next post, I‘ll write about further additions to make to the list and then we will discuss whether there is anything you can remove. So don’t show it yet to the person who harmed you. There’s more work to do before you are ready to call anyone into account. For now, make the list.

The Road to Reconciliation: Looking at the Flip Side

If you’ve been hurt by the one you love, don’t forget to look at the flip side. That’s the other side of the coin, the positives, the reason you have been with the person in the first place. It’s only fair, but don’t do it because it’s fair.  Do it because the flip side says as much about you as it does about him.

In the same way you were honest about how much he hurt you, now be honest about how he’s been good to you. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You have to look at the flip side if you really want to know what’s going on, to get a full inventory. You can’t judge a person only by the worst things he did, you also have to look at the best to get a complete picture.

You can probably think of one thing to be grateful for, about this person. That’s a start. Tomorrow, think of another. In fact, every day, identify one new thing you are thankful for regarding her. This can be her behavior, her characteristics, or anything she brings to the table.  Schedule a reminder in your phone to think of the daily appreciation. It won’t take long before you’ve covered the usual things and you’ll have to dig. Digging’s good. Don’t make stuff up, just notice stuff you wouldn’t normally have.

It’s human nature to focus on the negative, especially after you’ve been together for a while. The problems, the hurts, and the disappointments are always much more noticeable, while the benefits get taken for granted. You have to do something deliberate to counter the tendency to just see the bad.

This exercise works even better when you actually tell the person how much you are indebted to him. Just watch him start to melt. Observe just how much more frequently she makes your favorite macaroni and cheese when you express gratitude before shoveling it in.

If you can’t even come up with one good thing you’re thankful for, then take stock of the positive memories you made together. What were the things that attracted you to her? It can be super sad to think about the promise you had as a couple, especially given what has transpired since then; but it’s important to take note that you saw something in him then.

How does looking at the flip side tell you something about you? Whatever attracted you to her, may well be the very thing that later drives you crazy about her. You liked him because he was fun loving, now he seems irresponsible. She was the very person who could keep you organized, now you feel suffocated by her need for order. He was a rock, but now he’s rigid.

This is where you went wrong. You looked for a partner who made up for qualities deficient in yourself. You were attracted to the fun loving guy because you tend to be pretty serious; he helped you have fun. You needed an organized person in your life because you weren’t. You were a pushover with your kids, but he could make them listen. Finding someone who complimented you looked like a match made in heaven, until it wasn’t. Now it seems a match made in hell.

If you really thought being fun-loving was the way to go, you would have been fun-loving yourself and wouldn’t have needed someone to loosen you up. If you thought it was important to be organized, you would have been organized, and you wouldn’t have needed someone to organize you. If you really believed the kids needed a firm hand, you would’ve learned to be strict, rather than outsource all the discipline to someone else and then fight with him because he’s so mean.

You learned that you don’t share the same values. You joined with someone different from you because she was different, then you tried to make her just like you.

Here’s another way that looking at the flip side teaches you something about yourself. Take a look at those things you are grateful for. Her blonde hair, his warm smile, that macaroni and cheese. The way she lets you sleep late in the morning, his love for the kids, the vacations you took together. What do they say about you, that you like such things? These things teach you and affirm your values.

Your values are your moral compass. They tell you what is important. They keep you from getting lost. Showing gratitude is another method find your way and keep you from getting distracted by all the hurt and pain you experience.

The Shrink’s Links: Sabbatical of the Mind

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31188992Six years from retirement, working for a three-letter government agency, David L. Winters suddenly quit his job so he could devote some time to getting a handle on his anxiety, his over-eating, and to deepen his faith.

Winters relied on medication to manage nearly disabling panic attacks. The meds weren’t helping him manage very well. His life was a grind. Long DC commute. Long DC work hours. Frustrating meetings as an elder of a dying church. So, he quit his job and searched for answers to life’s big questions. It didn’t take very long, just five months, and he was ready to return to work, better than ever.

Then he wrote a book about his experience: Sabbatical of the Mind: The Journey from Anxiety to Peace. He also wrote a thoughtful appendix that may guide you, should you take a sabbatical of your own.

I get books for free sometimes with the expectation that I will give an honest review. That’s how I got Sabbatical of the Mind. What’s my honest review? For starters, the subtitle should read A Journey…, not, The Journey….

This is a much more serious criticism than it might sound. Winter had a good reason to go on his sabbatical and it sounds like it was good for him. In any case, he is the expert on what he went through, but one should not get the impression that this is the only way of addressing one’s anxiety. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to get from anxiety to peace.

Just the same, taking a sabbatical is a very good idea, I dare say, for everyone. It’s a good idea to unplug and do something radically different at least once a week. It may also be a good idea for some to install one of those apps on their computer so that it makes them take a mini-sabbatical every few minutes. For that matter, even your computer needs a sabbatical. What do you think its doing when you shut it down? Does it work better when you turn it back on? A sabbatical is a time-tested method of keeping yourself and your electronic gizmos refreshed.

So, what’s the down side? Is there anyone opposed to taking sabbaticals? There sure are and it’s not that slave-driving boss of yours who emails you when you’re on vacation. The barrier is you. Every human. When we get used to doing something one way, we resist doing it another. We struggle against change, even a change of pace.

Maybe that’s why many of us seem to need to be ordered to take a sabbath. In the Abrahamic religions, sabbaticals are sanctioned by God. The once a week variety even has a commandment of its own.

A sabbatical is a rest and recuperation from what you’ve been doing. I suppose, when you go to sleep at night, you’re having a sabbatical. Sleeping makes a big difference in how well you function when you are awake, but just going to sleep at night is not going to be enough if you just do the same thing every morning when you wake up. There need to be sabbaticals on top of sabbaticals, layers of sabbaticals so everything gets renewed.

You can rest and recuperate by doing nothing. But, you also rest and recuperate by doing something different than what you’ve been doing. When I’m done with a long day of shrinking heads, I get on the treadmill and run like a lion is chasing me. It’s relaxing. That, too, is a sabbatical.

Try this kind of sabbatical: For one meal, if you eat with your right hand, eat with your left. For one day, skip eating. If you sit in one chair, sit in another, facing the opposite way. Once in a while, drive a different route on your way to work. If you wear your shirt untucked, tuck it in. If you’re a tucker, pull it out. Anything you do, you can do differently. You might discover you like keeping your shirt untucked. You might discover why you like it tucked. You might become more flexible this way, less set in your ways. There are a hundred million ways you could conduct this kind of sabbatical. You could continuously be on sabbatical from something.

How about another kind of sabbatical? Get to know how someone else really thinks. Not just anyone. Someone who thinks differently than you. If you’re voting for Hillary, grit your teeth and listen to someone who’s for Trump. If you want to make America great again, listen to someone who is with her. I don’t mean have a debate. I mean really understand things from their point of view. Talking to someone who is different from you is a sabbatical, too. It refreshes your perspective. It teaches you that there are other ways. It gives you a break from having something to prove, an argument to make, a justification to trot out and groom. If nothing else, it helps you be more persuasive later.

What happens when you don’t take a sabbatical? Let me give you two illustrations, one from your own experience and the second from the book.

Undoubtedly, at one time or another, you have gone without sleep. You get tired, grumpy, and single minded in your focus. You make silly mistakes. You lose attention to detail. You’re more susceptible to depression, substance abuse, unrestrained anger, psychosis, or those panic attacks that Winters had. That’s basically what you get when you are overdue for any kind of a sabbatical.

The second illustration comes from Sabbatical of the Mind, but I don’t think it was intentional. If you get a copy, you’ll see that the author forgot to put page numbers in his table of contents. As a writer, I know how this happens. You get so used to seeing things as they are, you don’t know how they can be different. You try to do everything yourself, so you don’t use a proofreader. These things happen because you need a sabbatical.

Let me say that again. You are need a sabbatical. No matter who you are or what you’ve been doing, you need rest regularly, do something different, get another point of view, and switch things up somehow. You could have just completed a five month sabbatical from your job, and you will still need one.

Winters is an Evangelical Christian who seems to be writing for other Evangelical Christians. He talks a lot about God, but there is one essential point that anyone, Evangelical or not, Christian or not, God-believing or not, can agree. No matter who you are or what you think about God, you are not God. You need a sabbatical.

Click here to go to the link

The Road to Reconciliation: The Journey, Restated

I’ve been at this series for quite a while, describing the road to reconciliation. These posts are an early draft of what I expect to be my next book. You have the privilege of getting it first; but, sometimes, as I write, need to go back and revise. That’s the case this time. I had initially planned on describing the journey a victim makes towards personal peace, then describing the efforts of the perpetrator towards taking responsibility, and then chronicling their passage towards reconciliation. However, as I went along, I realized that the offender’s journey does not begin when they accept responsibility. Before they ever get to that stage, they first have to go through the same passage as the victim.

Therefore, I went back to the first post, what I anticipate will be the initial chapter, and re-wrote it. This is good time to post it here.

The Journey

You’re wounded and angry. Someone close to you, who should be loving you, hurt you instead. This person might be a parent, a sibling, a child, a friend, a partner, or a spouse. Whoever it is; where you once had trust, you now have fear. You were attracted; you are now apprehensive. You had love, but now you have loathing. You don’t know what to do. Should you stay or should you go? Put up with it, or give it right back to him? Retaliate or bury your feelings? If neither choice seems good, it’s because neither choice is good. You wish there was another way. Some way that affirmed your experience as a victim, but didn’t leave you weak and vulnerable. Some way that facilitated change and showed mercy, without opening you up to more disappointment. Some way to be firm, but not rigid.

Luckily, there is a way. The road to reconciliation can be a long, long road, often not well marked, the choices are confusing, but there is a way.

You’ve done something wrong. You have not been as good as you could be. You hurt someone you love, someone who deserves better from you. This person might be a parent, a sibling, a child, a friend, a partner, or a spouse. Whoever it is; where you were once trustworthy, you’re now unreliable. You were close, but now you’re distant. You were loved, but now there’s disgust. You want to do better, but you don’t know how. You’ve apologized, maybe a hundred times, but you can’t get past it. You know that your action, even though it was wrong, was not the whole story. There were precipitating factors. It’s complicated, you’d like to explain, but you can’t talk about it without sounding like you’re making excuses. You wish there were another way between groveling and pride. You’d like to learn from your mistakes without losing your dignity and voice.

There’s a way for you, too; a way to repair what was damaged.

So much had happened that you don’t even know who’s at fault. You’ve been caught in a cycle of injury and reprisal so long that you don’t remember how it started. It was once a loving relationship with a parent, with a sibling, with a child, a friend, a partner, or a spouse. Now you don’t know what it is anymore. It’s a bait you must take, a trap you can’t escape. You’ve gone to years of therapy, dozens of marriage counselors, and read a shelf full of self help books, but you can’t change. You’d like to, but it takes two and you both can’t seem to get it together at the same time. You wish there was another way, a way that was simple, clear, and direct.

I wish there was another way, too; but there’s not. There is no simple way. There’s not a way without some pitfalls, temptations, blind alleys, and complications. The road to reconciliation is not easy, but it’s easier than the way you’ve been going.

The two of you, the offender and the offended, have to travel the first part of this route by separate paths. You each have to do your own work before you can come together. You each have a part to play before you can arrive at full, genuine reconciliation. Not everyone is up to it. Not everyone makes it all the way. Your counterpart will not make it to the rendezvous point exactly when you do. Your counterpart may not make it at all.

Total, genuine reconciliation requires collaborative effort that some people cannot do; cannot or will not. Both parties have to take responsibility for their share of the situation. If you have a counterpart who won’t do his share, you will not make it all the way to Reconciliation. Luckily, you can make it pretty far down the road without their help. You can make it all the way to Personal Peace, which is on the road to Reconciliation. Personal Peace is a pretty nice place.

The offender and the offended have their own paths to travel, but it’s the same path and they both start from the same place. In all cases, whether you were harmed or the one doing the harm, the road to reconciliation, or personal peace, if that’s the best you can get, begins with the sense of being a victim.

You might be surprised by this. When someone has done harm, we usually want to start with them admitting they were at fault. We’re looking for a confession, before repentance begins. We want them to be sorry, to take responsibility, if not, grovel, pleading for forgiveness. I don’t believe in starting there; we don’t make meaningful progress if we start there; we may not start at all if we try to start there. It goes better if we start where the perpetrator is, at the source of their offense: not at the conviction of sin, but at the conviction of injury.

The cycle is obvious. When you’re injured, you sometimes act out and harm someone, who is injured, so they may act out and harm someone as well. Around and around it goes. The solution is obvious, too, If the perpetrator found a way to deal with his injury, he wouldn’t need to act out and injure anyone else.

So that’s why I start where I do. Everyone is a victim, somehow. There are certainly enough bad parents, bad neighborhoods, bad teachers and schools, nuns with rulers, muggers with guns, ruthless terrorists, selfish boyfriends, narcissistic girlfriends, vicious trolls, reckless drivers, treasonous spouses, ungrateful children, exploitive bosses, racist cops, lying politicians, and demanding elderly to go around. These people and their actions do not bring out the best in you. When you don’t know what to do with the harm they cause, you take your place in the ranks of those who do harm. Before you ever became an offender, you were a victim first. You were a nail who fashioned yourself into a hammer.

This is even true for those who seem to always get the breaks. People born with a silver spoon in their mouths can complain that they never had to struggle, so they never learned how to cope with the little trouble they do have. Their complaints don’t have to be justified or reasonable to act on them, they just have to have them. If, in their eyes they are harmed, that’s enough to make them want to cause harm, themselves.

This is why, in all cases, I start where I do. If you’re a victim, you may resent that I ask you to open your ranks and let perpetrators of all kinds march with you. Why should you feel sorry for cheating spouses, self-absorbed parents, bullying siblings, alcoholic girlfriends, drug-dealing, woman-beating boyfriends, as well as child abusers, rapists, murderers, and criminals of all kinds? You may see this as yet another indignity visited upon you, you who deserves to be called victim, that I permit sympathy for their kind. What am I, a soft, bleeding-hearted fool?

As you read on, you’ll see that I’m not. It fact, I think you will agree that I like to be up-front, plain-speaking, straight-talking, and unreserved. As a matter of fact, I’m going to start now by pointing out that this whole mess begins when a victim starts believing that some people are more deserving of sympathy, care, and respect than others. That’s when a victim begins to cross the line and becomes a perpetrator, himself. So, cut it out. You don’t have to feel sorry for the selfish prick who is blubbering that he’s had it so hard; but you do have to acknowledge, if that’s where he’s at, that’s where he has to start.

So, let’s begin, not by reconciling, for reconciliation is still a long way off, and maybe you’ll never get there. Your first objective is coming to peace with what happened. You get there by first going in what seems to be the other direction. You’ve got to get angry first, or, at least, know your feelings about what happened.