Friday, April 9, 2010

“Giving Advice is Attacking Others”

“Giving Advice is Attacking Others”

 We are exquisitely sensitive to our own inadequacies and just maybe exquisitely sensitive to others pain albeit it often does not seem like it.

It does not seem like “we” or that is others are so sensitive as it is so often the case that we are victims of criticism when we are looking for understanding and support.

This experience so often is born of a sense of insecurity of not knowing the answer. It comes from reliving the trauma of childhood. We were expected at an age too early to know the answer, to come up with a solution, to know what to do.  When we are now put in a situation, one we did not ask for, of helping someone solve a problem we get “anxious”, feel shame for not knowing the answer.  We were told that “life is tough kid you better get used to it.”  It is being exquisitely sensitive to our own shame and humiliation being triggered by old memories. This trumps our ability to really be empathetic with others in the moment. But I also posit we could not be thrown into these “attacks” unless we actually recognized the immediate pain of the person in front of us. But our pain is triggered or memories of having to have the answer interfere and we give what we got and tell the person often the first “suggestion” that come to mind or return the ““life is tough kid you better get used to it.” 

This is the same kind of dynamic where the person is always telling you that they will be “right there.” It will be a “few minutes” or an “just an hour” and then they show up three hours later and act as if nothing had happened.  Yes they were trying to “please you.” They also are having a knee –jerk reaction to their own shame of not being in control of their actions and time albeit they probably would be in control of it if they were not sabotaged by the memory of a father, mother or brother telling them to constantly “hurry up.”

So in giving “advice” we attack?  Simply, so often I have been on the receiving end of “advice” that has been, even well intentioned, but useless.

The attacker needs to “fill the space”, the silence that is causing shame. The advice giver relieves this shame and distress by saying something and pretty much anything. Useless information is shaming and humiliating, of course, to the listener.

I want to be clear that the point is we are driven( always the question is what really motivates us?) by our own shame and distress for whatever reason. We give advice, again, on a knee-jerk basis. One of the most irritating situations is when the advice giver more or less knows he or she is giving “lite” advice, that is the first thing that comes to mind and they are called on it and then say “I know, you’re right.” Well, are we really paying attention or not?

Meaningful advice should be given after knowing a great deal about the others situation. A favorite of mine is that when I have needed help with something the advice is “why don’t you find someone to do this or that to help you out.  Get a college kid.” Well, have you ever tried to do that? It is quite an undertaking.  Nothing is truer than “good help is hard to find.”

It more and more amazes me how I can be in what I think is a safe and trusting environment and I share some problem and what happens is the worst kind of dressing down sometimes this is very blatant but more often it is a kind of “hit and run” comment.

Brian Lynch (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)
Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.
Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)

W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393311090

"Actions do speak louder than words."

"Actions do speak louder than words."

One of the most fascinating thoughts I have come upon in my study of human emotions is how everything has come into question again and again.

Like what?  Such as conventional wisdom that if someone treats you badly or does not recognize your distress then they are not empathetic.

Now what is empathy?  Usually it is the concept of “putting oneself in the shoes of another.”  It can be distinguished from sympathy as empathy can imply great concern for another or, and this is crucial, simply understanding the feelings of another. For example I can be happy and you can be happy and I can be empathetic to your happiness. We usually tend toward thinking it only has to do with “bad” feeling.

Then, what do I do with that empathy? I can be “sympathetic”, sympathy  being  that I “feel with you.” I care or am concerned about your feelings or I can abuse you! Yes, just because I can be attuned to your feelings, just because I am empathetic, does not mean that I care about them! It is “this guy is a sucker, lets take him!”  It is an interesting and disheartening thought and that is that in order to take advantage of your emotional state it seems logical that the person must be attuned to your emotional state!

These distinctions are surprisingly recent, within less than the last two hundred years, that is the distinctions between sympathy and empathy.

So with that background, I said “we”, that is generally feel that if someone does not recognize our distress they are not empathetic.  From what I just said that may be entirely not the case.  I will offer several possibilities. 1), is that they indeed do recognize our distress but  as I just said, they are after something else or 2) they themselves are suffering from so much distress/shame/fear that they are incapable of sympathy, of expressing in word and action their concern. Or 3) they simply are not empathetic or sympathetic.

Now, why would the third possibility happen? Well, it is not settled by a long shot but the possibility exists that some people just do not have the capacity to feel such.  Autism, for example, seems a clear example of someone without this capacity in various degrees. A less severe form of Autism called Asburgers Syndrome is very much a problem in “reading” other people’s   emotion. This is to say nothing of the origin of what we call psychopathology or socicopathology.

Given that high order investigational tools, such as PET scans and Functional MRI’s have only been available for some 10-15 years it would seem  logical that we might find that there is very much a continuum throughout humans  concerning the ability to feel others distress or other emotional states.

But that is biology. What of the environment and  the phenomena  of empathy?

I return then to the first two possibilities:  Let’s say I tell you of my distress and you tell me to “grow up”, you get angry, or you go away.

The purpose in writing this is to point out that we just do not know why the other acted as such. It may be that they really do “feel for you” but due to overwhelming “empathy” in the form of remembering their own pain(!) they simply are incapable of responding. Or they may be “after something else” which will leave us feeling manipulated. But even at this if they are “after something else” and are “manipulating” it does not mean that they do not “feel your pain” but simply something else is more in their “interest.”  They simply do not have the knowledge or learning to handle their interest in you and what their needs are at the same time. And indeed their interest in you might be quite nil. Will not most of us not betray someone dear simply for a greater interest? We will as long as we feel isolated.
Brian Lynch (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)
Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.
Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)

W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393311090

Thursday, April 8, 2010



I have been reading a number of personal histories and testimonials lately of people who are in therapy or have given themselves diagnoses, often very serious diagnoses.

I have written other pieces on responsibility but the logic of this particular thinking always pains me so much that I feel this can never be said enough.

It goes like this:  These narratives are written when the person is in a calmer safer place and when they can reflect. They have great insight concerning their pain. They tell “us” their loved ones, lovers, and friends and therapist that they have great psychic wounds due to abuse, abandonment and shame.  They explain, often in detail, the havoc they have visited on everyone in their life; their addictions, broken relationships, financial messes.

Now you may be surprised as to where I will go with this. The pain I feel is that they then ask are they seriously ill or disturbed and their answer is “yes” and then they ask are they “responsible” for their actions and then they say “yes” too.

And I wonder about the world and my own sanity and I wonder too about how many therapists repeat the same thing to these people? That is that they are “responsible” for their actions?

How is it that you can be “crazy” and “responsible” at the same time?  First of all I abjure the use of the term “crazy” unless we all admit to it.  I use it therefore to make the needed point and that is one cannot make a responsible decision  while unable to reason properly, a pretty straightforward thought. I say that is when we are overwhelmed by emotions.

We have good evidence now that the center for feeling of emotional pain is the same as the center for visceral or “gut” pain. So that is if you get “kicked in the gut” literally or figuratively your brain will light up in the same place. Now if you literally get kicked in the gut are you sure you are going to be in “control” of yourself.”  If you suffer a second degree burn or break your leg are you going to be in control of yourself?  If you receive news of a parents death or of your wife’s betrayal?  This week alone I have heard the line on  T.V. of men in respectable professions saying they drowned their sorry in a bottle for 1-2 months after a breakup.

When we stop and analyze these statements of being “responsible” they quickly make no sense but somehow we need to “need” to make sense of the world and so force the world to be orderly.  An orderly world is one where man’s reason must prevail and if it doesn’t then we must blame ourselves, that is our own nature, man’s. We  are “weak”, “weak minded”  unfit to exist.  We either attack others for being weak or attack ourselves for being weak and failing to make the right decision.

People do what they do for very, very good reasons.

Someone once told me that actually no matter how we are reacting for the “good” or the “bad” we are reacting to stimuli exactly as our organism “should” be reacting at that moment. We are “nothing more” than our memory banks. We can only react on the basis of what we know how to do in a given situation. We can not do what we don’t know how to do.

Either we are hopeless without redemption, we are, that is, so biologically damaged that they have to be removed form society, that to the best of our present knowledge we have no capacity for empathy ( To be  clear: not punished but removed from society. )  or we have the capacity for empathy but have been traumatized to the point that  our negative emotions continually overwhelm us in the present so we are thrown into turmoil. To the observer the two situations will appear the same. They both appear to be unable to empathize. It is important to sort them out because the latter person can be and needs to be helped.  And in the end all should be helped.

So one point is you cannot be “crazy” and responsible at the same time. In both cases the emotive side has taken over. In one case permanently and in the other momentarily.  For those caught in the moment it is a “shame” bind. It can be a set up for  eternal failure. “Oh my God I did such a terrible thing and I am responsible for it!”  The shame one feels at that moment now is as overwhelming as the original shame and rage or terror and it freezes one into inaction.  One now is incapable, even now in what seems to be a calmer state, a more rational state, to have the wherewithal to apologize, pay for damages or repair harm done in other ways.  

Why is this? I believe one reason is that deep, deep inside one feels the truth with which this essay started that their organism could not have done anything different than it did at the time it did it and so in the most strict cosmic sense there is never any guilt or responsibility. There is at least a kind of emotional determinism. Why should I apologize for my emotional demons that control me and for whom I cannot control? I did not traumatize myself!

But the world attempts to work in the hear and now: this organism does harm to that organism now and the one that has harm done to it is not expected to understand anything other than that they are hurt. They want and need reparation.

How does society grow and begin to accommodate both these understandings? A serious attempt is being made through the Restorative Justice Movement(see When Restorative Justice is done correctly it invites all injured parties to come together on equal footing to express their narrative and understand.

It is almost an entirely new way of thinking.  Humans have always argued, and since Aristotle supposedly convincingly that we can indeed control our emotions and therefore our actions. I say it is not convincing at all and that Aristotle’s teacher Plato knew better and tells us so through his elegant defense of why we should not punish in the Republic. Now, punishing goes hand in hand with understanding motivation and the conditions that caused the harm.

As this is entitled "Responsibility" a final note on the word. We might take note that the word is made up of the words "response" and "ability."  That is don't we first have to have the ability to respond?  The "knee jerk" admonition of "be responsible" I hope is now seen in a new light. We would "act" better, be better, do better if we knew how. We all need help in learning. 

Brian Lynch (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)

Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.

Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)

W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393311090

"Mind and Body"

"Mind and Body"
"There, there’s a place
Where I can go
When I feel low
And I feel blue
And it’s my mind……"  Beatles
A glaring problem in modern psychology and psychiatry is that we are unwilling to admit a glaring disconnect in our thinking (contradiction).

Basically it boils down to a thought that there is no distinction between the “mind” and the “body.” If there is no difference between the “mind” and the “body” then at there is a lot to explain and deal with. That is the contradiction is that

First of all the old “mind” “body” distinction that we like to believe in is defended and believed in so much because if there is a “mind” separated from the body then there is a “place” where we can go to be “safe” and “control” “everything.”  We can invent “there in our mind” everything about ourselves; our fantasies,  our hates, loves, cultures, relations, everything about ourselves. Our “mind”  is our retreat.

Does the mind exist? Well of course it does as we do exactly what I just explained. But on the other hand my point is that the mind is “only” part and parcel of the “body.”  Or maybe better stated the body is only part and parcel of the mind.  The brain is three pounds of physical flesh and in fact I am fond of pointing out the rest of the body is “nothing more than a projection of the physical brain.” Everything about us is bound and determined by the brain.

But since it is the brain that is in control of everything it is in effect the mind and the body. I do not remember reading that thought anywhere else. “The brain is the mind and the body.”

So our problem is that often “the mind” is not as in control as we think it is. We think that we are in rational control. This is, of course, the only way it really can be. We, for the most part, are not going to jump to the conclusion that we are “wrong” about the world.

But why can this happen? This can happen because our “body” , our nervous system is extremely sophisticated and the brain is a copy of our entire body or as  I said our body is a copy of our brain!? Not just the “mind.” It is doing everything and so much can get confused. A lot of damage can be done. We can indeed think that white is black when it is indeed it is white to everyone else.

There is a famous drawing called the “rat man” in psychology you show it to people and some people see a rat and some the face of a man. Reality is not the same for all of us!  It is not. You cannot say the picture is of a rat or of a man, it is of both.

Our emotions will often take over the more rational part of our brain and sabotage us.  We are aware more and more that the nervous system “maps” our “scripts” throughout the body.  These “scripts” determine “rat” or “man.”

The only reason we can do anything is due to memory. We anticipate much of everything we do.  To get up and walk across the room is a very complex task. Your body certainly responds “instantaneously” but that does not mean it still does not “instantaneously” prepare itself to do the action. Movement does not start from zero. Action involves an “image’ of what I will do next and this image immediately follows a road map to get it done. We are again “scripted” to do most everything and these scripts are laid down not in some “thought” that is not physical.  They are laid down as the wiring in our house or the computer this was typed on.  Most everything we do is programmed. We are indeed “knee jerk” responders.

All of this is “good” and “bad” without this total integration we would be bound up in complex rituals to do anything. Scripts free up much of our capacity so we can do other things like pay attention to one another. On the other hand if the “script”  can be one that “solved” a problem early on and it turned out to be a not so good but temporary solution. Such as the urge to use physical violence, get high or spend money each time we feel bad. (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)
Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.
Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)

W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393311090