Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The New Narcissism -- tech 5

It is a rising trend in the press now; it was even in Sunday's NYT, how Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, Four Square and all of this instant mobile connectivity is making celebrities of us all.  Everyone can see that the barrier to fame and notoriety is pretty low.  Look at the Kardashians, or Snooky, and many other of our recent phenoms.  All you have to do is be willing to sacrifice most of your dignity, and keep pushing it out there.

My girl Sarah (Palin) is one of the best examples.  It seems more and more that all she cares about is keeping her name in the news and making money on it.  She doesn't care what she says as long as she get coverage.  How much you wanna bet that six months after she decides not to run for President she gets at least $1,000,000 to show it off in Playboy.

And why not.  Two years ago a saw a fifteen year-old girl in treatment who had been devastated because her boyfriend had persuaded her to "sext" him a picture of her topless.  Two months later they broke-up and everyone in school was talking about it. Devastated.

Now, I know that happens all the time, and most of the girls don't seem to give a shit.  "Hey those are my tits and I'm proud of 'em."

In some ways it's awful, shocking, demoralizing and demeaning.  But in others ways it's liberating, equalizing, and can give the power back to the women.

These technologies are rapidly changing the way people relate.  They are changing how we communicate, our vocabulary, what we read, if we read, what we think, how we think, and how our brains work. It's changing our goals and standards of behavior.

Yes, there are many professors, psychologists even, who are writing lots of books and articles about how the world is going to hell, and it certainly is.  But it always has been.  Genghis Khan, The Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition, The American Civil War, WWI, not good times for humanity either.

If you watch TV, it's more and more about the trash in people's lives. Murder, divorce, bizarre happenings.  Who would have wanted to be on TV the day after your 8 year-old daughter has been eaten by a shark, abducted by a pervert, lies in a coma for three months, now it's expected.

Sympathetic Host: "Mr. and Mrs. T, how do you feel after you 11 year-old son broke 27 bones imitating what he saw on Jack Ass?

" Well, we're kind of upset."  But at least we're on TV!!

The technology is everywhere, immediately, and we all want our 15 minutes of fame, even though now it's down to six.

Not me.  I just want to write about it here in my blog.  For years and years I kept a journal that I wrote in every Sunday night.  But you know what -- no one ever read it.

That's not true, my wife read a lot of it once.  Afterwards she said:

"It sounds a lot like you."

Now that's true of so many of us --" A SuperStar in our own Minds!"

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Agreeing with Amanda

Hey, don't get me wrong either, I'm not actually complaining that I have too much time and enough money.
I'm just saying that it's weird.

I've worked pretty hard most of my life.  I can't say I worked very hard. There are times I know that if I were more persistent, more driven, and more willing to put in the time to network and market, that perhaps I could have been better known, perhaps I could have been one of the "names" in psychology.  I know as much as they do.  I could have constructed a four-box model and written a book about it.

The models I build were mostly sixteen box models, with each box interacting with each other, with varying intensity, which differed under different circumstances.  People thought I was very insightful, but that my stuff was too complex.

True, I said, then I went and played basketball. I played basketball because I really enjoyed playing basketball.  I played basketball until I was 55.  I can still shot pretty well.  But I can't run too well any more, or play defense.

I always thought of myself as a wild guy, with crazy, far out ideas, outlandish perspectives, and novel approaches.  All of this was true in my head.

However the life I led was much more of a tortoise than the hare. As  therapist I tried to get people to anticipate the consequences of their actions, not just for the immediate, but for three, four, five steps ahead.  I really put that into practice for myself.

Generally, more than not, it worked very well.  I avoided doing many stupid things. But I also skipped quite a bit of drama and excitement.  I don't drink too much.  I don't bet on long shots.  I don't get in fights.  I don't jump off cliffs.  I don't expect the chambermaid to do anything but clean the room.

And because of that I'm still married to the same woman.  My kids are great kids, who are married to great people and now are having great kids.

Also, I have been very lucky.  That helps a lot.  I can't take personal credit for luck.  I have been mostly very healthy.  My own parents were nice people who cared about me.  I did one great thing in my life; I was born two years before the baby boomers.  It helped me buy things cheap and sell them for more money.  Schools, jobs, stocks, houses, were easier for me to get because I was ahead of the competition. It made me brilliant!

Now, because of all that, I am settled and comfortable. (too bad)

But life is a process, not a game with a score and a beginning and end.  I have had many clients who were the ne're do well sons of rich families.  They had the money and the opportunity, but they didn't know how to struggles.  They could always chose what they wanted to do.  They often chose to do very little, and they felt very badly about themselves because they felt their lives consisted of one cop-out after another.

I am very fortunate that things have worked out for me.  I have time, health and resources.  I can choose what I want to do.  I want to make that choice.  I don't want to just let it all evolve.

Maybe solving the Israel - Palestine problem is a little out of my reach, but I am still working, and some of the couples I see are just as intractable.

And then I pick up my round-faced little granddaughter and she smiles up and me, and I never want to put her down.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

sliding along toward

This semi-retirment thing is still weird for me.

Work I understand.  I did it for over forty years.  The last 30 years I had my own practice up here in this charming, diverse, sometimes prosperous, sometimes struggling mill city up nestled in still cold New England.

Once things got rolling I averaged about 37 clinical hours a week.  Then there was the billing, the phone calls, the forms, the letters; it was a 47 hour a week job.

Last year I got loose about working Friday and averaged about 33 hours a week.  Three months ago I stopped working Monday, so I could "pursue other interests" as they say when they leave office.  And I have lots of other things that interest me.


It's easy to do what seems like very little.  Where does the time go?

The time gets eaten up quickly with, of course, my wife's lists -- the "Now that you have time" stuff.  This is not to be confused with fixing things.  I don't fix things.  I fiddle around with them until they break.  I can fix people ( some of the time) not things.

 I do cook, I shop, I clean up stuff, I move things around.

But most of the time has been going to, of all things, people.  I went to NYC with a couple of friends.  I see other friends more often.  I see my rolling-over, smiling, gurgling grand-daughter.

I didn't go to work today.  It was easy.  I am much less tired at the end of the week.  Actually "the week" doesn't end because it feels like it never really got started.

When you have kids, really until they have been out of the house for two years, you focus.  You have to watch and take care of the kids, whether they want it, appreciate it or even think you are doing it, that is what your life is.

When your working, especially if you get satisfaction out of what you do, then you focus.  That is what you're doing; you're working.

When the kids are young and you are working.  Then you don't have any existential questions -- you are just doing.  This is what you're supposed to be doing. Do your work, support the family, watch the kids, bother them.  Relate to the wife too, that helps. Any break you get is a break to savor. But those are quick, and disappear.

Now, it's different.  I can do what I want.  I guess I can please myself.
But I know that it doesn't really matter how.  Nobody cares, Nobody's counting.  It's easy to just take it easy.  The time slips away.  The mind can wander and rest.  It can remember, or in many cases, it can worry.

For me, a project is needed.  I will have to manufacture a focus, as nothing intrinsic really exists. I tell this to many of my clients, that the meaning of their lives is up to them.  Now it's my turn.

The difference between fun and senility often seems vague.

Monday, May 16, 2011

floating away

See that picture of the bridge.  It's on the Mighty Mississippi, just miles away from where they opened the sluice gates to save the oil refineries. I hope it works out for all the folks down there.  It's quite a river. The Mississippi Delta really takes up most of Louisiana; water just keeps flowing down there, coming from everywhere else.

Ron Paul, the clever little man who is again running for President, feels that we, through our government, should not insure, or protect the people whose homes, farms and businesses are being flooded and washed away.  It's nature, he reasons, and if this huge river is going to wipe them away, then maybe they shouldn't be there.

He has a point.  But perhaps it's a little too simplistic.  People have lived in towns along this river for a few hundred years now  Yes, the population is increasing, but that is because we have been a successful society, and kept our people alive and healthy, so we build more houses.  For years the river grew large in the spring, and often there were floods, but now there seem to be bigger ones, and more often. " Hundred Year Floods" seem to occur every three years now.

There is a very good, and probably scientifically provable, probability that the increase in these floods has been caused by the lack of regulation of pollution, climate change, and waste disposal. If people want to deny that, then more people will watch their stuff, and perhaps some of their relatives, float away.
And then be blamed for it.

But admitting that this is a more complex problem could mean more regulation, and that could be bad for business.

This kind of reasoning comes at the time when there are new studies being published by members of my profession that report that younger people in this country are much more narcissistic and much less empathetic than they were ten years ago, and even more significantly less than they were thirty years ago.

This seems to be related to three major factors:

1. Children's; lives are much more structured, much more guided by adult aspirations and directions.  There is much less time for kids to do what my mother told me to do, or what I always wanted and expected to do as a kid, to "go out and play."  I played with kids on block, or kids on the next block, or when we moved out of the city I played with kids in the park.  We made up our own teams, our own rules, and often even our own games. If we wanted to have fun we had to get along.  We had to negotiate, settle disputes, and enjoy being together.   The kids who were demanding, overbearing or who cheated were left-out and avoided.  They ruined the fun.

Today, when I drive around, in cities and suburbs, I see very few kids ever playing in the street, and in the parks it looks like all the activities are sports with uniforms, supervised by adults, often with paid referees.   Everything is more competitive than cooperative.  No kid is left alone because of the fear of kidnappers and perverts.  Fear and competition is taking over from fun and cooperation.

2. This competition is often emphasized by parents, who are very competitive through their kids.  Getting better grades, more activities, better scores, more coaching, in school, in sports, in music, in everything is important to get a step ahead in our capitalist, make it on your own world.  Cooperation is often seen as a weakness, while using any means to find an advantage is rewarded.

3.  The many kids who do not want, or cannot  be that competitive, are the ones who stay home and play by themselves on video games.  Yes, the often play virtually with other kids, but that is very different that playing WITH other kids, and discussing, negotiating, compromising and then competing. So many kids now play video basketball, with virtual swoops and dunks, but fewer are joing other kids and playing real pick-up basketball, and learning work together to pass, guard and set-up shots, even when you are 5 foot five inches tall.

When we played games we were often very competitive.  It felt good to win.  But if we were going to play the next day we had to stay friends with the kids we played against.  Either they would be on our team the next day, or else we had to like and trust each other enough to want to play together the next day, and have a good time.  There was a degree of friendship and respect, even to kids we hardly knew. You could go to any park in the state and the rules were pretty much the same, and the winning team got to stay on the court.

Bullying is more of a problem today because of these factors.  Because of Facebook and email and text messages meanness can come from further away, and even be anonymous.  There isn't the need to keep a relationship going to play again the next day.

The world is changing.  Things happen much faster.  Kids are exposed to somethings much sooner, but other things, like the kind of fun, chaos, exploration, negotiating, understanding, cooperation and friendship that they find on their own, without guidance, supervision or "enrichment programs," seems to be lost.

It creates a society in which a politician can say " Don't help them, they shouldn't have been living there." and to get away with it.

I don't agree with that.  I feel badly for the people who have four feet of water in their living room. I know that if the wind blows a little harder here tomorrow, it could be me.  And I didn't do anything to deserve that.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Interesting Question

He was upset.
Mostly upset because she caught him.  She had walked in many times and noticed that he quickly changed the site he was looking at on his computer.  But then she found the CD with the male-bondage stuff going on.

She was upset.

She wanted to know if that meant that he was gay.

He insisted it didn't.  He said he never had felt turned on by any live man, and he works with men.  The idea of actually touching, holding, and being with a man is something he never thinks about, and he doesn't  feel like he could actually be aroused by that.

It doesn't help that they haven't had sex in five years.

Really, and this is after an hour of talking to them, so this is a less than certain opinion, I don't think he's gay.

I think he is very anxious.  Real live women scare him. He found some excuse five years ago to retreat from her.  He found that getting turned on by porn was much easier, less threatening, and  less judgmental.  After a few years of porn he began to get a little bored and found several variations, and then variations on that.  Who knows, the next step could have been sheep.

The real question is can he get reoriented to appreciate real, live women?  Does he want to?

Does she want to?  That's another very important question.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

A New Model?

Last time I wrote about how I can imagine that the way I do psychotherapy could change.  New insights, new technologies, or convincing  new evidence could, I hope, lead me towards a new way of doing things.  I'd like to think that I'm flexible enough to change.

Yes, I do believe that interpersonal interaction, especially between humans, is very powerful, and is one of the most basic components of our psychological existence.  But, that doesn't mean that the process can't be helped along.

There is a group of neuro-biologists on the west coast of the USA, the most prominent of them is a Dr. Christof Koch.  Working with Dr Fried, who treats epileptic patients, they implanted electrodes in their brains in order to help treat their seizures.  Slowly, they have been able to find  some exact spots in a brain that hold a specific thought.  And working with some talented computer programmers, they have found a way to have people's thoughts control which image appears on a screen just by thinking about what that image is.  For example, they had a woman who thought about Josh Brolin and about Marilyn Monroe.  They had electrodes placed on spots in her brain that represented their memories of each of those people.  When she thought about Josh, his picture would appear.  If she then began to think about Marilyn, Josh would fade and Marilyn would appear.

I feel that the implications of this technology for my work are tremendous.  What if a person harbors very ambivalent thoughts about themselves, or something they did, or someone they are close to.  If they could learn how to make one of those thoughts (and the feeling that goes with it)  become more dominant, they could have much better control of their lives and emotions.  The change process could go so much more quickly if someone was able to get immediate feedback, such as seeing a picture of what they want to see become clearer and clearer, the more they thought the good thoughts.

What about people who suffer with obsessive thoughts: is there a spot in their brain where these thoughts originate?  Could we tap into it and help them to learn to think about it less, while thinking about something else more?

Done correctly, this could become the opposite of brain washing, which is when someone else has a strong influence over what you think or believe.  People could be able to think and feel what they want, and learn to do so much more quickly than happens when they just talk about it.  I could see up there on the screen, how well they were doing.  How strong the thoughts and ideas are; how persistent is the idea we want to repress.

Of course, this implies a very reductionist philosophy, one that favors the stance that the brain controls the mind, more than the mind is controlling the brain.

But that raises the question of who (what?) controls the brain that controls the mind, if it is the person who is doing all the thinking for both the brain and the mind.

(I used to talk about this to my son.  He would leave the room screaming.)

But if we can change what we think and feel more easily, just by thinking about it.  That's what all this therapy stuff is about isn't it?

And what if there was an App for that?