Shrink Rap: Guilty, by Reason of Insanity

Often, it is wise to wait before responding to big questions–to spend time listening, thinking, meditating, sitting with such questions. And, so, I have.

It has been two weeks, more or less, since the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. (Even more recently, another shooting occurred at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.) We have heard analyses from many people, from many points of view. Yet the big question remains unanswered: What caused James Holmes to booby-trap his apartment and then open fire in a movie theater, killing 12 people and wounding 58?

Even before collecting forensic evidence began, advocates and opponents of gun control popped off, sniping at each other, shooting off at the mouth. Would more stringent laws controlling certain guns and the ammunition that feeds them have prevented this tragedy? Such a question is unanswerable. And it is a diversion from the bigger issue of the paranoia and fear, legitimate or otherwise, that has led so many people to have so many guns and to support blocking reasonable measures for keeping guns out of dangerous hands. Continue reading

Shrink Rap: Tag! You’re It! Choosing A Shrink

Finding the right person to be your shrink, your child’s shrink or your couples shrink is one of the most important decisions you will make in life. Not quite as important as finding the right mate or life partner, but right up there with finding the right person to be your estate lawyer or general practitioner. Unfortunately, most people treat finding a shrink the way they do finding a plumber after a major pipe has burst in the master bath. They rush to the (now soggy) yellow pages and let large lettering, familiarity of last names or placement on the page be their guide.

It isn’t always possible to be thoughtful about choosing a shrink, but the more thoughtful you are, the more successful your choice will be. Being thoughtful means doing a little investigation before the psychological hot water pipes burst.

Word of mouth is important. Whose mouth the word comes from is even more important. Continue reading

Shrink Rap: Diagnosing Diagnoses–The Label Game

We go through life with labels that describe who we are. This is a fact of the psychotherapeutic world, as it is in the rest of life. We even label ourselves–shorthand for explaining who we are to others and to ourselves.

Imagine for a moment that each label is a Post-it, with attitude. From our earliest days, people slap so many labels on us so that we begin to resemble chickens covered in ruffles of paper instead of feathers.

Consider the first label the world slaps on us. Announcements of  “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” are often reinforced by pink or blue blankets and/or knitted caps–to spare people guessing what kind of plumbing our diapers hide and to help them mold our culturally determined, sex-informed behavior. Other labels quickly follow: daughter/son, sister/brother, granddaughter/grandson, Anglo/Hispanic/Black/Asian/Native/Mutt, nephew/niece, cousin.

As someone’s personality is revealed, other labels join the first ones. Is the kid a “Buddha baby” or “fussy”? Is the kid “quick” or “slow” Is the kid “adventurous” or “cautious”? Does this little person take after Grampa, Grandma or Uncle Willie? Continue reading

Shrink Rap: Opportunity Knocks…And Knocks

The people who come through my door don’t often consider their emotional pain, confusion or suffering to be opportunities. As their shrink, that’s my job. But as we work together, it’s my job to help them see opportunities for emotional growth and healing in whatever brings them to my door.

Everyone who seeks counseling wants relief from the pain of grief, the confusion of conflict with loved ones, the suffering of depression–or one of the many other emotional conditions that make life miserable. They want to be given tools to make their suffering go away. Pills, affirmations, advice, coaching and directives can help relieve psychological distress. But these things do not often address the underlying psychological/emotional issues that give rise to those symptoms.

That is where a shrink comes in. Continue reading

Shrink Rap: The Strength to Be Vulnerable

Raise your hand if you enjoy being vulnerable.

I thought so.

Most people believe that vulnerability is a weakness, something dangerous that can come back to bite them. Growing up, being smaller and less powerful than the older kids and adults in our lives, we were often hurt when we exposed vulnerability. Even when we grow larger and more powerful, people who are consumed by a win-lose approach to life often try to discover our carefully hidden vulnerabilities in order to exploit them.

But, as those of you who raised your hands already know, vulnerability is the key to both emotional and physical intimacy. Let me translate emotional and physical intimacy for you: love and sex. Obviously, love is not always sexual. In fact (hold onto your hats!), love is rarely sexual. But (cue the violins) the most fulfilling sex almost always includes love. Continue reading

Shrink Rap: DMZ and Emotional Boundaries

Emotional boundaries can be almost friendly, like the boundary between Canada and the United States. Or they can be heavily defended, like the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. It all depends on who you are sharing your emotional boundary with–friends or phone solicitors, parents or siblings, your boyfriend or girlfriend, or that obnoxious tipsy person at a party who thinks you’re cute.

But what is certain is this: Healthy emotional boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships and for understanding the reactions and emotions of other people.

Maybe you remember way back to junior high school, having to read a poem by Robert Frost called “Mending Walls.” Maybe you don’t remember because you were asleep. In it, Frost’s tight-lipped neighbor says (not once, but twice): “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Shrink Rap: DMZs and Emotional Boundaries  1/22/2012

When establishing healthy emotional boundaries, think fences. Continue reading

Shrink Rap: To Inner Space and Beyond

It’s a crazy world out there. You don’t need a shrink to tell you that. So here’s the big question: Is it possible to be sane in a crazy world?

Yes. But there are times when sanity needs a little help. That’s what going to a shrink is about.

It isn’t the job of a shrink to wrap your brain in plastic to protect it from contagious emotions that come from the emotionally sick culture we live in. It isn’t the job of a shrink to make your crazy-making problems smaller.

Among other things, it is the job of a shrink to help you discover what is crazy and what is not. Among other things, it is the job of a shrink to help you separate healthy thoughts and feelings from unhealthy ones. Let’s face it: There are times in all our lives when healthy actions seem unhealthy and unhealthy actions seem healthy. There are times in all our lives when we like ourselves and times when we despise ourselves. There are times when we like the friends and families we are stuck with and times when we hate their guts.

Perfectly normal. But crazy-making. Continue reading

Shrink Rap: Working with Dragons and Taming Anger

We’ve all been mad–hot, steaming mad; cold, calculating mad; or something in between. And most of us have been mad in both meanings of the word: crazy and angry. Although crazy doesn’t always look angry, anger often looks crazy. But one thing is for certain: Trying to keep angry feelings inside can be crazy-making, for you and for the people around you.

Most of us grew up afraid of anger. We were hurt by being the target of anger from other people, especially the anger of parents or teachers or friends. And we were often punished for showing anger, especially toward parents or teachers or friends.

Fearful as it is, being mad is an unavoidable, necessary part of everybody’s life. And it’s not a necessary evil: Anger can be valuable and validating and motivating. It’s just part of being human, part of who we are. Continue reading