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Mysteries Of The Mind
7 minutes | Jun 11, 2020
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #53 | Remember How We Used to Leave the House Without Masks? How I Miss Being Free of Paranoid Anxiety
Among the many losses in this current pandemic is the loss of the ability to leave one’s home and go out into the public world without paranoid anxieties. Even the measures we take to protect ourselves and others e.g. masks, social distancing, etc., are triggers reminding our brains and minds that we should be careful, cautious, and vigilant. The result is a flooding of our systems with stress hormones and a great deal of tension and distress. People today are suffering from a lot more than the ability to leave home without worry. Still, every form of suffering is legitimate to talk about and toward which we should feel empathy and sympathy. In the end, we have to try to get through each day without hurting ourselves or others.
8 minutes | Jun 11, 2020
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #52 | Quarantine is Forever
Among the many stressors that are causing psychological suffering during the current quarantine is the sense that there is no end in sight to the various deprivations that we’re all living with. In this sense, reality mirrors the logic of the depressed mind which always suffers in the belief that one’s current distress will always be there, that the present predicts and determines the future. The feeling that the restrictions with which we’re living will go on “forever” adds a special topspin to the stress we’re going through. There are few psychological “tips” that can readily make this situation better. Yes, we can and should stop blaming ourselves and, yes, some form of meditation or mindfulness practice is likely beneficial. But the main thing we should be mindful about is that, rather than strive to be “productive” or “creative” during these days of self-quarantine, we should, instead, simply strive to get through each day without hurting ourselves or others. That’s right—just get through the day.
8 minutes | Jan 9, 2020
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #51 | “Trump and the Psychology of the Victim”
Donald Trump is committed to being a victim. He is always being misunderstood and subject to unfair treatment by the Democrats, media, and “deep state.” The psychological function of holding oneself out as a martyr is to reassure oneself and the world that one is not guilty or ashamed, that one is innocent. Secondarily, however, victimhood enables one to continue to do hurtful and bad things. It’s like a “get out of jail free card.” Since one is being victimized, anything goes; any hostile or aggressive action is justified. Given that Trump feels he’s always getting a raw deal from everyone, he’s entitled to retaliate, meaning he’s entitled to do bad and harmful things (which he does). Impeachment is especially provocative for him since it’s a public accusation that he’s done bad things. As a result, he feels sadistic rage which then makes him have to present himself as even more of a victim.
7 minutes | Dec 19, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #50 | “Christmas Depression”
Most people dislike the commercialization of Christmas. Impossibly unrealistic appetites are stimulated and happiness is equated with giving or receiving just the right commodity. There is also a more personal psychological dimension to this corruption. I explain how, since gifts are symbolically equated with love, the wish for perfect love is stimulated and then inevitably frustrated. This brings up trauma from childhood in which one’s wish to be special and perfectly understood and recognized was frustrated and, thus, feelings of being undeserving or abandoned are triggered.
28 minutes | Dec 12, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #49 | “Saying Goodbye”
In this podcast I show how many of psychological dynamics that I’ve been discussing this year—especially those involving the role of trauma in development—apply in my own personal life. I do so by reading an essay I wrote 10 years ago called “Saying Goodbye” for a collection called The Face In the Mirror: Writers Reflect on Their Dreams of Youth and the Reality of Age, edited by Victoria Zackheim. The essay is about saying goodbye to my terminally ill father for the last time. For the text of the podcast, please go to the source.
14 minutes | Nov 21, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #48 | “Trump and the Psychology of Grievance”
When someone feels aggrieved, that person is usually feeling betrayed and helpless and often responds with envy and anger. Trump voters often felt a sense of grievance about being left out and left behind – economically and culturally. This feeling generates envy and a need to blame others, in their case, liberals and people of color. It’s important to empathize with Americans who feel that the system has given them a raw deal and who identify, as a result, with similar messages they get from Trump.
16 minutes | Nov 14, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #47 | “The Psychology of Patriotism”
Patriotism, the connection to transcendent notions of the nation state, can be used for political purposes. It draws from childhood needs for attachment and security. Conservatives in the U.S. have been more effective in this effort and have used images of the “demeaned Other”—racist and ethnocentric stereotypes and dog whistles—to satisfy the longing people have to belong to a community.
12 minutes | Nov 7, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #46 | “Inequality Makes Us Sick”
Poverty and harsh social environments make people physically and psychologically sick. Among the many reasons for this is that economic privation directly triggers our stress response system which causes harm to our brains and bodies and leads to maladaptive “solutions” like alcohol and drug addiction, depression and narcissism. Of special importance is the fact that inequality itself causes stress through producing enormous “status anxiety” in everyone but especially in those near the bottom of the hierarchy. Societies like ours that are so unequal produce higher than normal symptoms of social and emotional suffering. Inequality itself is a toxic affront to our bodies and our spirits.
14 minutes | Oct 31, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #45 | “Suffer the Little Children: Why Family Separations at the Border Broke Our Hearts”
The scenes at the southern border last year evoked grief and outrage across the political spectrum. But why were these stories so much more provocative than the equally tragic stories of children in poverty or living in families that routinely neglect them? The answer has to do with the universality of attachment needs. All of us harbor feelings of loss growing up and we vicariously protest against them in our reactions to border separations. In addition, the fundamental innocence of children evokes disavowed feelings of innocence in the rest of us.
15 minutes | Oct 24, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #44 | “A Psychologist Analyzes Bruce Springsteen”
Based on his extraordinary autobiography, Born to Run, I offer some reflections on the psychology of Bruce Springsteen. His life long struggle with depression was a result of chronic strains and traumas in his childhood home. He responded to this emotional wasteland with a fierce determination to separate and an unusual ability to focus on his career. In addition to getting help via psychotherapy and medication, Springsteen was ultimately healed by the love of his wife and children. In his musical development, he was concerned always with community—the effects on people’s personal lives of injustices in that community, and his successful attempts to create community in his infamous live performances. Since Bruce Springsteen has been my musical idol since 1969, I hope that I’ve done him justice. Download Transcript
14 minutes | Oct 17, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #43 | “How I Helped An Impossible Patient”
I present my work with a woman who was constantly suicidal for a year, frequently phoning me from the equivalent of “the ledge.” I felt overwhelmed with guilt, worry, and responsibility. I eventually was able to understand what was going on and how to help her. She was turning “passive into active” and testing me to see if I would be as traumatized by caring for a suicidal woman as she felt with a suicidal mother. I passed her test by confronting what was going on in a way that helped her identify with the healthier parts of myself.
10 minutes | Oct 10, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #42 | “Trump’s Psyche Under Pressure”
I review three aspects of Trump’s psychology—First, his need to lie all the time in order to ward off humiliation, Second, his inability to separate his personal and public lives, and third, the ways that his need to denigrate women comes from his fear of them. All three dimensions of his psyche are worsened by the pressure of Impeachment and the resulting threat of failure and humiliation.
11 minutes | Oct 3, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #41 | “Understanding the Meaning of Sexual Fetishes”
Sexual fetishes refer to situations in which someone is sexually aroused by either an inanimate object or by a part of someone’s body or personality. They include such sexual interests as high heeled shoes, leather, and particular body parts as well as qualities like youth or independence. At the heart of fetishism is objectification which functions subliminally as a way of negating, counteracting, or disconfirming the repressive weight of feelings of guilt, worry, and responsibility that often inhibit sexual excitement. You don’t have to worry or feel guilty about a “thing.”
13 minutes | Sep 26, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #40 | “Are Parents Always to Blame?”
Therapists seem to routinely blame parents, particularly mothers, for everything that goes wrong in a child’s development. Following WWII there was a rise in so-called “child experts” (like Benjamin Spock) who laid responsibility for development at mothers’ doorsteps. But if looked at objectively, it’s important to remember that a child is utterly dependent on parents for psychological survival, for a sense of reality and morality. The relationship may be two-way but it is fundamentally asymmetrical. Parents affect children much more than children affect parents. But this doesn’t mean blaming parents, however. Parents were themselves victims of families when they were children. Most importantly, parents raise children in a social context. One can see that women, following WWII, were straight-jacketed in many ways that led to their unhappiness and distress which was later passed on to their children. Thus, we should have sympathy for both parents and children, each of which has to contend with forces beyond their control.
10 minutes | Sep 19, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #39 | “Understanding Trump Fatigue”
Trump Fatigue refers to the experience of being beaten up and enervated by President Trump’s paranoid and narcissistic behavior. The fatigue results from having to constantly fight against feelings of helplessness and the experience of being gaslighted. There’s nothing we can do about the fact that Trump poisons the airwaves and social media. We have to, instead, compartmentalize and focus on what we can control—namely, mount a political response to get Trump out of power.
7 minutes | Sep 12, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #38 | “The Myth of the Spoiled Child”
There is a popular misconception about “spoiling” children. This belief is that the spoiled child is overly gratified by parents who can’t say no, a problem that results in the child growing up to be an entitled and self-centered adult. In fact, such children are being deprived of what they really need, namely, parents who are empathic and who recognize them as unique individuals. Such experiences are gratifying, not being given too many things. Some parents do suffer from an inability to say no to their children because they construe limit settings as harmful. Their children, however, construe their inability to say no as weakness and feel guilty about being able to push around their parents.
10 minutes | Aug 29, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #37 | “’Shooters Are Just Crazy’ Republicans’ Dishonesty and Hypocrisy About Mental Illness”
Trump, Republicans and the NRA always speak out about the problem of mental illness following a mass shooting, obviously a distraction from gun control and, lately from the problem of white supremacy. But they are hypocrites or liars. I present seven things that anyone committed to the early detection and treatment of severe mental illness should support. It is obvious that such programs are more likely to be cut by conservatives, thereby giving the lie to their apparent concern for the mentally ill.
8 minutes | Aug 22, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #36 | “Psychotherapy Is Supposed To Help You Feel Better, Isn’t It?”
Psychotherapy is hard to study. It’s particularly hard to study what it is exactly that helps people in therapy get better. Some schools of thought, like psychoanalysis, are uncomfortable even declaring therapeutic aims to be the primary consideration of the analyst. I argue that outcome is the only thing that should matter to us, as therapists, and that there are few universal principles of technique that we can rely on to judge whether or not something that we’re doing is helpful or not. Therapists have to ruthlessly analyze and judge their patients’ responses to their interventions. If a patient leaves sessions feeling misunderstood and isn’t getting better over time, then the therapist is responsible and needs to change his or her approach.
16 minutes | Aug 15, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #35 | “The Happiness Trap”
The Happiness Trap is a self-help book written by Russ Harris and is based on the ideas of Steven Hayes who developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT. ACT is based on the premise that our attempts to fight or flee from uncomfortable feelings create most of our problems. Our culture, too, is filled with images that suggest that the good life is one without any distress. This is impossible and our attempts to subtract any and all forms of unhappiness are doomed and leave us unsatisfied. Instead, ACT urges us to be mindful of our thoughts without having to buy into them and, instead, to attempt to live our lives in ways aligned with our values.
16 minutes | Aug 8, 2019
Mysteries of the Mind | Episode #34 | “Testing In Psychotherapy”
Psychotherapy can be understood as the process by which the therapist and patient work to disconfirm the pathogenic beliefs that the patient acquired growing up, beliefs that cause the patient to feel distress. One of the central ways that this occurs is through testing. There are two kinds of tests—transference tests and passive-into-active tests. In transference tests, the patient experiences the therapist as if the therapist was a problematic parent. In passive-into-active testing, the patient enacts the role of the problematic parent and assigns the therapist the role that the patient was in as the child of that parent. Examples are given of each type of test. In each case, the patient gets better if the therapist contradicts his or her assigned role. If the therapist re-enacts the patient’s childhood relationships, then the test is failed and the patient doesn’t get better.
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