Category Archives: Psychology

Vilifying the Victim

Have you ever noticed people often have the tendency to attempt to vilify someone they have wronged? Think about it – how many people do you know that have cheated in a relationship, only to explain away their behavior by making their Ex out to be a bitch or an asshole or frigid or whatever? It’s almost as if they need to depict this person in the worst possible light in order to justify their own behaviors.  There seems to be a need to vilify the person who they have hurt in order to alleviate their own guilt about the wrongdoing.

It’s like they have to decide between two choices:

  1. I did a horrible thing which makes me a bad person.

-or-

  1. I did a horrible thing, but he/she is a bitch/asshole so I am justified.

When I was in college (many moons ago when the dinosaurs still roamed the Earth), I had a brief “thing” for/with a college friend. This “relationship” was never going to go anywhere (he was wholly unsuitable for a long term partnership and he, honestly, never thought of me that way anyway), but there were feelings involved. One night while we were all at a party, he drifted away with one of my good friends (not my best friend, but the one with whom I spent most of my time – an important distinction). I didn’t realize it until the next day, but he had never gone home and had spent the night with her. At the time, I was temporarily “devastated” – upset, perhaps more so, by the perceived betrayal of her friendship than by the loss of any “relationship” with him. Now, everyone could have gone their separate ways quite easily, but I quickly learned through the grapevine that she was angry with me. She was telling anyone and everyone she was going to kick my ass” (not the most mature way to express her anger, I know).

At the time I was flummoxed (I really like that word – flummoxed). But now, eons later, I can recognize what was going on. She wasn’t comfortable being the person who had slept with her friend’s crush – this was not consistent with her vision of herself, so she needed to distance herself from our friendship. I needed to be a horrid bitch in her eyes, so she wouldn’t have to be one instead. I have no idea what happened to her after college, but, hopefully, she no longer wishes me ill.

Consider this the next time you feel someone who has done you wrong has unfairly turned the tables on you with regard to blame/responsibility. Chances are – it’s not about you. It’s what they need to do to live with themselves. It doesn’t make it fair, but maybe it, at least, explains it. Maybe you can pity them rather than fear them and you can gain comfort in knowing you probably didn’t do anything to deserve it.

Advertisements

Jillian Barberie just recommended leaving a woman to be beaten

OK – I need to vent a little. I was driving home after dropping Charlie off at dance class (a full-time job, I swear) and I was listening to talk radio killing some time. Here in Southern California there is a station KABC 790 AM which airs various talk radio format shows. At this particular time it was “The Drive Home with Jillian Barberie and John Phillips”. Jillian was sharing how she and a friend were at El Pollo Loco in the greater So Cal area over the weekend and had witnessed a man beating on a woman, screaming at her in Spanish. She further shared her conviction he was on drugs and was upset the woman had used up his supply. Jillian then shared that her friend had wanted to run out to her car so she could use her cell phone to call the police and get help for the woman. Jillian explained how she had talked her friend out of it and told her not to get involved. She made some reference about how she knew the woman would just get back together with him anyway (in fact they were probably already back together now) and it would be such a waste of time to make a report. She complained about the pain in the ass it would be to have to put her name to the report and maybe testify.

I was absolutely horrified by this response and John Phillips’ seconding the notion she should pretend to see nothing (“like a referee in professional wrestling”). Really? What if this woman is killed? I understand we need to consider our own safety – no one is saying you have to let loose a flying tackle on the guy and risk your own life. But – call the police. Try to get help. Maybe he is her boyfriend and maybe she will take him back, but that should never stop us from doing the right thing. Our moral compass is not supposed to be based on outcome, but on doing the right thing because it is right. The end.

Do you remember the story of Catherine Genovese? In the 1960’s, Catherine Genovese was walking home from work when she was attacked by a man with a knife. She screamed repeatedly for help, but no one came. When lights turned on in neighboring apartments, the perpetrator ran away, afraid he would be caught. He then noticed no one coming and returned and killed her. It was later noted that no less than 38 people heard or saw some part of the attack and did nothing. The police were never called until she was dead. (The attack itself lasted over 30 minutes.)

If we followed Jillian Barberie’s example, we, too, would have stood by and waited for her to die without lifting a finger to come to her aid. I don’t care if the woman at El Pollo Loco ultimately went back to her abusive boyfriend (assuming that is even who he was), but I would have had the comfort of knowing for one night I did what I could to help and keep her safe. After that, it is up to her.

Bobbi Kristina: The Perfect Storm

I was recently contacted by a journalist writing an article about Bobbi Kristina Brown – she was seeking information how domestic violence can occur within a celebrity household, why a famous person would stay and what friends and family could have done to help her. We’ve talked about domestic violence in this blog before and the facts we discussed don’t necessarily change just because someone is famous. There was a whole twitter campaign following Ray Rice’s videotaped beating of his now-wife in a New Jersey casino elevator (#whyIstayed) that deals with all the myriad of reasons people have stayed in abusive relationships. I won’t rehash this conversation. If you have time, I really suggest you Google it and read what these people have written. It was very interesting and very moving.

From what I have gathered, there is not definitive “proof” that Bobbi Kristina was in a domestically violent relationship, but there have been a number of allusions to it. I am going to have this discussion as if this is true for the sake of conversation. There are a number of additional reasons why Bobbi Kristina may have stayed in an abusive relationship – the death of her mother, Whitney Houston, three years ago rocked her world and further estranged her from her father, Bobby Brown; her relationship with Nick Gordon was reportedly not well received by friends and family which created separation from those who loved her; and her issues with substance abuse might have caused her to feel trapped in a relationship with a man who had become her whole world. She was raised in a household rife with domestic violence and parents with substance abuse issues. Her life being so chaotic might have actually made it feel normal to her.

The difficulty really comes in what friends and family can (and can’t) do for loved ones struggling with substance abuse and/or domestic violence. If the individual in question is a legal adult, your options are somewhat limited. We, as adults, are free to make whatever decisions we choose – regardless of how detrimental they are. As doctors we have the option of involuntary hospitalizing someone if they are a danger to themselves, a danger to others or gravely disabled, but, unfortunately, substance abuse and domestic violence do not apply. Though these can often be a slow-ride to suicide, they do not apply as a “danger to self” situation.

So what can you do?

  1. Express your concerns. Often times this can alienate your loved ones. It is a delicate balance, but they need to know you have concerns and what you are willing to do to help them. You might offer your place as a safe place to start over or to research rehab programs. Try not to spend too much time bashing the violent partner – you don’t want to create a Romeo & Juliet situation where you end up pushing them closer together.
  2. Recognize the limitations of what you can reasonably do. You cannot want their health and safety more than they do. You will make yourself miserable (and frustrated) if you spend all of your time brainstorming ways to get them out. Sometimes they may need to hit bottom before they are ready to change.
  3. Identify when you are becoming more of an enabler than a friend. Are you doing things to make it easier for them to remain in the relationship (with the person or the substance)? Do you help to make excuses for the abuser? Do you give money to cover when she is short because her money was spent on drugs? Support the person, not the illness.

Finally:

  1. Know there is only so much you can do. You cannot force sobriety or the end of a relationship. It is possible the outcome might be bad – very, very bad. In the case of Bobbi Kristina, it seems likely she will pass as the result of her relationship (either with drugs or with Nick Gordon or both). This can happen even when people repeatedly try to save someone. If this happens to your loved one, it will be horribly, profoundly tragic, but it is in no way your fault. You need to find a way to put the responsibility where it truly belongs – the addiction, the perpetrator or both.

Relationship Reincarnation

Have you ever noticed some people keep going back to the same jerk over and over again? The jerk can be the same jerk even if he (or she) is in a different body. You’ve seen this, right? Maybe your friend consistently dates guys who cheat on her. Maybe you are only attracted to people who are emotionally unavailable or are total commitment phobes. Maybe your brother is only into people who are emotionally needy and cause him to run in the other direction. They are consistently unsatisfied in these relationships, but keep getting drawn back into them again and again.

This reminds me of part of the theory of reincarnation. The idea is people keep getting reborn to the same life until they resolve whatever problem/issue is keeping them from moving on. There are a number of religious and/or philosophical doctrines which follow these tenets. Basically, people are faced with a life challenge and, if they do not overcome it, then they will be reincarnated as a human to face the same challenge again. This happens until they finally overcome it and are able to move on.

I see relationship repeaters the same way. They don’t need to die and be reincarnated per se, but, instead, the relationship is reincarnated – over and over and over again. These individuals are doomed to repeat their relationship until they are able to identify their specific challenge and conquer it. This will enable them to move on and find a healthier relationship in the future. In my teen years and early twenties, I repeatedly dated “the player”. (I blame this on “Daddy issues” – mine is a bit of a man-whore and so were the guys I was dating.) Maybe I was trying to fix my dad through my relationships. Somehow I needed to “fix” him and turn him into a relationship-valueing guy. Huh? Gross. It finally came down to recognizing I didn’t need to find a guy to change, but rather a guy who was already relationship-quality.

What I want for you is to recognize when you are in a repetitive cycle – are your relationships on a self-destructive loop? If yes, take a moment to work on why you are being drawn back to this same type of person. What is the challenge they are representing to you? Do you need to learn how to accept healthy love? Do you need to learn “drama” isn’t necessary to feel excited about someone else? Are you learning you don’t have to “make” someone love you to have worth? Whatever it is – work on sorting it out. Hopefully you can break the cycle before you are too many incarnations into it.

As Fame ↑, Common Sense ↓

Have you ever wondered where the line gets crossed for celebrities? You know the line where they cross from being “regular” people making “regular” money to becoming someone who doesn’t bat an eye at a $3000 handbag. They jet set around the world, wear expensive and designer clothes (even when designed to look casual and inexpensive), drive luxury cars, and live in humungous houses. Most of these people (but not all), were born average people who lived in average houses or apartments and had parents who made ends meet working more typical jobs.

You may wonder what made me think of this – well, it is something that has bounced around in my mind for years, but, recently, it was Gwyneth Paltrow who has received a lot of media attention for a recommendation for a “V-steam” she made on her GOOP website or in its newsletter. Now, from what I can gather, this is a relatively inexpensive indulgence (I think it was something like $25), but to families making ends meet, $25 to have your vagina steam-cleaned (seriously) seems the height of idiocy.

I read a lot of magazines largely geared toward a female readership. Often within the pages, there is a section dedicated to celebrity product recommendations (either direct or indirect). These can include anything from food products or beverages, makeup and skincare, clothing and accessories and/or furniture/décor. Rarely are these items anything a typical reader would ever be able to comfortably afford. Now, I know there are a percentage of readers who might simply enjoy learning some intimate detail about their favorite celebrities without ever hoping to purchase those items themselves, but I have to think there are those who are actually seeking product recommendations. Do these celebrities understand most people cannot manage $145 for 0.5 oz of La Mer eye cream?

Do you think this is a gradual process? Do they start out feeling comfortable and confident with a $30 purse from Target only to move onto a $150 bag from Fossil? Are there Coach bags and Michael Kors on their way to Louis Vuitton and Berkin handbags? Does your average celebrity marvel at the cost of her clothing (even though she can afford it or gets it for free)?

What do you think? How does it happen?

You CAN and WILL survive the end of your relationship.

I hope this doesn’t sound heartless… I really do hope it doesn’t, but you need to know you will survive whether or not your relationship does. I say this coming from a place of a happy marriage of almost 16 years. I think it would monumentally suck if he was to leave me, but way down deep, I know I would survive it. Why? Well, I’d survive it because I would have to. I have a child. I have a job. I have friends. I have family. All of these things are things that would help me to get through and also would be reasons to make myself get through it.

You might be asking why it is important to know this about yourself. Well, if you feel the loss of a relationship would be something you couldn’t bear, it might cause you to act in a certain way. When you feel something HAS to work, you probably start to feel a bit desperate. This changes the way you behave.  You will do or say anything to maintain the relationship even if it is not in your best interest. Think of all the horrible things people have put up with in relationships: infidelity, abuse, neglect, substance abuse issues, criminal activities, I could keep going, but now I am just depressing myself. You need to know there is a line that if crossed, means you are out. You need to know that, though it may suck (big time), you could get out if you needed to. You would also survive if they used the escape hatch on your relationship.

This doesn’t mean, by any means, you are less committed to your relationship – I have no plans on going anywhere – just that you will not stay “no matter what.”  You can and will leave if the relationship becomes unhealthy and/or dangerous. If they leave you, you will find a way to move forward and rebuild your life. You can and will survive this.

Finding pleasure in the effort, not in the results.

I was recently sitting with a client discussing why he wasn’t making progress on his goals – he has many of them and they are fairly clearly defined which might make them more achievable, but each week he comes to see me and has made absolutely zero progress on his goals. For a while, we talked about the importance of breaking his goals into smaller, more manageable pieces. We talked about how they need to be quantifiable, so he will know when his goal is complete (i.e., writing 3 blog posts per week). We discussed the importance of not having too many goals operating at the same time – you really CAN spread yourself too thin. We talked about it. You know what we didn’t talk about? Fear.

Fear about what happens once your goal has been reached and is now outside your control. I know a little about this – I wrote a book last year (Life Lessons for the Teenage Girl: Quotes, Inspiration and Advice for Women by Women, Morgan James, 2013). For the longest time, my goals were to make contact with various famous/successful women, research specific sections or work on writing certain chapters. I could control whether or not I accomplished these goals. Do you know what I couldn’t control? What would happen next. Would anyone actually buy the book? Would they think it sucks? Was I wasting a crap-ton of time and energy?

I realized this is what was going on with my client. He was so focused on whether or not people would like this final outcome, he couldn’t get anything done. We need to change the way we look at things. It isn’t about the results, but, instead, needs to be about the process. You goal is about completing the process to the best of your ability. If no one likes it – OK, that sucks, but it doesn’t change the fact you accomplished your goal.

Here are some examples:

  1. A client told me he was always afraid his girlfriend was going to leave him someday. We talked about the importance of knowing he was doing everything he could to be a great boyfriend. He could not control her feelings, only his actions. We can never make anyone stay with us (at least not legally), but we can know we’ve done everything we could.
  2. My book. Hey, it may suck. I don’t think so, but you might. I cannot control how you might feel about the book. All I could do was my best to make it good. I can’t control the outcome, only my efforts.
  3. I have a number of high school seniors in my life right now (both professionally and personally). College applications are all submitted now and all they can do is wait for the acceptances/rejections. I have had a number of conversations about how they have now done everything they could to submit strong applications (grades, extracurriculars, essays), but it is now out of their control. Satisfaction needs to be found in the process.
  4. I have mentioned a few times that my daughter is a dancer – she dances in competitions with her studio. All the kids can do is go out and do their best (and hopefully enjoy it). The results are completely in the hands of the judges. Whether they like your music or costume or dance style or your face all impacts on how well you fare in the competition. Enjoyment needs to be found in performing, not in winning.

This is a long, perhaps drawn out, way of explaining we need to find our satisfaction in our efforts. Too much in life is out of our hands for us to be able to rely on the outcome for our pleasure. Learning to be proud knowing you have done the best you could will carry you farther than inconsistent trophies, raises, promotions or praise.

Internet Shaming

I am not all about shaming fellow parents based on their parenting decisions as a rule – we have all been there and have all made some not-so-great choices here and there, but I do have to question when a parent chooses to post those decisions on the internet. Have you heard about the dad from Missouri who posted the note sent home regarding his 8-year-old second grader’s lunch? (You can read the article – and letter – here, if you are curious: https://gma.yahoo.com/dad-posts-meddling-note-sent-home-teacher-over-215755494–abc-news-parenting.html). Supposedly a cafeteria worker reported to the little girl’s substitute teacher that the little girl had four chocolate bars, a bag of marshmallows, Ritz crackers, and a pickle in her lunch. The teacher did not believe this was a healthy enough lunch and wrote a note home requesting the child bring a healthier lunch to school the next day. Now, I see a lot of overreaching here on the school’s part here:

  1. She is a substitute teacher. While she is still a concerned adult in the child’s life, the teacher should have been the one to contact the parent when the teacher returned to the classroom. This sub did not know about any existing agreement that might have been in place or how best to interact with the family.
  2. When contact was made, it should not have been accusatory – the implied message in this note was that these parents suck at providing an appropriate lunch for their child.
  3. Finally, it was assumed that what the cafeteria worker reported was 100% factual. I’m sure she was busy working and may not have been able to watch this kid the entire time.

The father (a physician) noted the child also had four pieces of ham and a piece of string cheese – no sandwich because the family does not eat much bread. OK, here is where I go after the parents a bit. We have all made questionable parenting choices – my daughter’s own lunch (and dinner and breakfast) has been far from nutritiously sound on occasion, but I don’t post about it on the internet as if I am doing the right thing. I am often embarrassed when these situations occur and I would hate for anyone to know about it. (Who hasn’t had the occasional “frozen yogurt for dinner” kind of night?). The father also comments that his daughter is a very independent second grader and packs her own lunch – well, maybe this is a sign she could use a little more guidance. I think it is great for kids to take on responsibility, but, perhaps, she could be selecting from a more limited pool of available options – i.e., which type of fruit to take or what type of lunch meat.

There are better ways to address the teacher/school/principal/school district than to post a letter on the internet. It seems to me the school, though misguided, well meaning. Is this a new thing we are doing as a society now? Are we posting other people’s mistakes for the world to see rather than dealing with the problem directly? Oh crap, did I just do that? What do you think? Who was out of line?

Rationalizing Death

Have you ever noticed how we try to rationalize death? It’s as if we can control it somehow if we can explain it away. If I can understand why it happened, I can somehow avoid it happening to me and mine. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work. If you read my post from a few days ago you know that a little girl who was competing at the same dance competition as my daughter, Charlie, passed away suddenly after suffering an asthma attack at the competition. (https://psychobabblechat.com/2015/01/27/a-little-girl-died/) Her passing has impacted my daughter, her friends, and our family in a variety of ways, not the least of which is my daughter’s current awareness that children really do die. This made me think about my own somewhat similar experience from my own childhood. When I was in junior high, a classmate was diagnosed with some form of cancer. I don’t remember what type, but within a year or two, Jackie (Hebeka, I think) had passed away. From what I can remember, she had been out of school for some time before she died. I went to the visitation with some friends to pay our respects and I remember it being a surreal experience. It was an open coffin and she was just a kid. But I also remember thinking, “Well, she had cancer and I don’t have cancer, so I am OK”. It was really important to me at the time that I know I was OK and not going to die.

My daughter had the same reaction. See, Charlie has asthma – an extremely mild form of asthma, but asthma nonetheless. You should have seen her face when I explained that this little girl had passed… from asthma. She immediately asked if the little girl had severe asthma (I assured her she had) and asked for reassurance that her own asthma was mild (I again assured her it was). Isn’t it amazing how it is our natural inclination to try to explain death and, often, try to use that explanation to provide comfort that we (are our loved ones) are safe.

How many times have you heard a conversation like this?

Betty:                    “Did you hear about Ben?”

George:                               “No, what happened.”

Betty:                    “He died on Monday.  Heart attack.”

George:                               “Wow. That’s terrible. I just saw him last week and he seemed fine.”

Betty:                    “Well, you know he didn’t take very good care of himself.”

George:                               “That’s true. Poor Judy.”

We are always looking for a reason people have passed away as though this somehow protects us from sharing the same fate. They died because they smoked or drank or sped or didn’t exercise or ate like crap or had cancer… or had asthma. Maybe it is a way for us to focus on the logical side of our brain rather than feel the emotions related to the loss (sadness, fear, anger, etc.). What do you think?

Challenge for Challenge Sake

When I was much younger, a teenager really, I would seek out relationships with men who were unavailable. I don’t mean they were taken already (I was not a total bitch), but these were guys who didn’t want relationships or were just really bad risks. Now that I am much, much (quiet, you) older, I realize I was seeking out these relationships for two reasons:

  1. I was not emotionally ready to be in a “real” relationship and dating crappy people reduced the likelihood of anything serious ever happening. The guy known as a player, the one who is drunk all of the time and the guy who is a borderline criminal are unlikely to settle down anytime soon.
  2. I was excited about the challenge. If I could “break” them and make them change then they must really be into me. The sad thing is I broke a couple, but then I didn’t want them anymore. This is the danger of being after the challenge – once the challenge is gone, so is the spark.

Fortunately, I reached a point when these reasons were not the way I chose my relationships. When I was ready, I chose for much better characteristics – fun and friendship, attraction and chemistry, loyalty and passion. What I am realizing, though, is the tendency to focus on things only because they are a challenge – not just relationships. We do things just to prove we can. In and of itself, not tragic, but it is important to know why you are doing things. I ran the LA marathon in 2004 just to prove to myself that I could. There was no other reason. It was a challenge, I faced it and I never need to do it again (it was hard). If I had approached that marathon expecting some other outcome, I would have been terribly disappointed.

Know why you are acting. If it is a challenge, for challenge sake, know it and accept it. If you want there to be a higher purpose behind it – identify that goal and determine if it is a realistic one or not. If it is – great, if not – it is time to reassess and change your game plan.