Ditch Your Inner Bully

SelfBullying2.jpg

You’ve just left a meeting or an evening out with friends. As you’re walking away, you feel a rush of anxiety. Then IT shows up: that voice in your head – rehashing what happened, second-guessing your actions, mind-reading what others were thinking, anticipating the fall-out and calling you names. Sound familiar?

You may be surprised to learn you’re not alone. This is particularly the case with women. That’s the irony: each woman thinks she’s the problem. Why is this? Well, I have two explanations.

First of all, women tend to be relationship oriented. In her groundbreaking book, In a Different Voice, research psychologist, Carol Gilligan, introduced two moral viewpoints: the logical, individualistic perspective – which makes decisions based on people’s rights and the rule of law –  and the care perspective – which places more emphasis on protecting interpersonal relationships and taking care of other people. Dr. Gilligan referred to the two perspectives as the “masculine voice” and “feminine voice.” She even observed these differences watching how boys play together versus how girls play together. ⌈¹⌉⌊²⌉

Your inner bully is a coping strategy you use to protect your relationships. It’s just not a healthy coping strategy. For one thing, the inner bully uses up a lot of mental energy. All that ruminating – analyzing the past and dreading the future – is exhausting. The inner bully also interferes with your concentration and your ability to be “present.” If you’re trying to impress your boss, the least helpful strategy would be to take your mind off your work. If the entire time you’re on vacation, you’re thinking about work, you won’t feel like you had a vacation. It probably comes as no surprise that the inner bully also causes anxiety and depression. Imagine if you, literally, had someone following you around everywhere, criticizing you and second-guessing you’re every move. That can’t feel good. But that’s exactly what your inner bully is doing to you!

The second reason why women self-bully stems, I believe, from social/cultural expectations and limitations. Over my 25 years of practice, I’ve been struck by how many of my female patients report feeling inadequate and undeserving. It appears almost universal! My colleagues report this, too… women from all “walks of life,” regardless of their accomplishments. This can’t be an accident. Women frequently tell themselves, “If I don’t bully myself, I’ll end up alone and a failure. I’m inherently inadequate… I can’t just be myself ! If I don’t rehash my conversations… If I don’t mind-read… If I don’t anticipate people’s needs and put them before my own… If I’m not hard on myself, I’ll really screw up.”

Would you ever talk to your child or a good friend this way? Which advice would you find helpful: “You’re stupid,  you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t deserve to be here” or “It’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes. Let’s look at what you did well and what needs improving?” Every single time I ask a female patient these questions, I get the same response: “I would never talk to someone else this way.” They know it’s not only unhelpful, it doesn’t even reflect their values. You know how to encourage and help others. You just need to apply it to yourself. I call this “being your own best friend.”

You don’t need to bully yourself to avoid rejection or failure. That doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes or rub some people the wrong way but, rather than trying to be all things to all people, start holding others accountable. In this age of social media, where people constantly compare themselves and judge each other, it’s easy to forget we’re all flawed. We can all be more tolerant. Ask yourself, “How would I behave in this situation? What would I’d say?” And there’s your answer. Those are your instincts. Trust them. Stop looking for validation from others. You have the power to give that to yourself. Stop anticipating problems. If other’s are upset, hold them accountable for speaking up. And no matter how angry, annoyed, frustrated, hurt, etc someone is, they are responsible – not you – for how they control and express their feelings. This is what you’d want your daughter, niece, mother, girlfriend to do.

The inner bully is like an addiction. As soon as you feel that anxiety, you’ll be tempted to analyze the situation and second-guess yourself. Remind yourself, “I know I’m doing this because I’m afraid of rejection or failure, but the solution is not to bully myself.” Think about what you would tell your son or daughter, friend or coworker. Use your relationship skills – your ability to nurture, encourage, validate and problem-solve – on yourself. Rely on your inner cheerleader instead.

¹Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, Cambridge, MA: Havard University Press, 2016

²”Carol Gilligan”. (November 23, 2019). In Wikipedia. Retrieved December 1, 2019 from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_Gilligan

Green, Penelope. “Carefully Smash the Patriarchy: Carol Gilligan, author of the feminist classic, ‘In a Different Voice,’ reminds us that we’re all humans.” New York Times, March 18, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/18/style/carol-gilligan.html?auth=link-dismiss-google1tap

All the President’s Men: in order to impeach Donald Trump, hold his inner circle accountable

All the Presidents MenIn our media-driven culture of 24-hour news and rapidly breaking headlines, some say House Democrats are running out of time to make the case for impeachment. This is exacerbated – falsely, I think – by the looming Presidential election.  One factor, however, political observers agree on is this: if held today, House Republicans would vote against impeachment. The same is predicted in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority.

As a psychotherapist, I’ve learned people rarely change they’re minds via rational argument, no matter how potentially destructive the consequences. If you have to repeat yourself, like House Democrats and legal analysts have been doing, that’s a sign no one is listening. It has become increasingly apparent no argument or evidence will sway Congressional Republicans. Donald Trump has remained in office because of an insidious campaign by Republican lawmakers, Party officials and right-wing media outlets to keep him there.

It was no different during Nixon’s impeachment. As James Robenalt recalls in a piece for The Washington Post, “although the timeline gets compressed in our collective memory, the ‘drip, drip, drip’ of revelations about Watergate came over a full two years.” In fact, “Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote relentlessly about the scandal [but] Americans were largely unmoved.”¹

As someone who has grown up her entire life in the DC Metro Area, I forget not everyone is as intrigued as I by politics. Over the past two weeks, every moment I wasn’t with a patient, I was riveted by the testimony of LTC Alexander Vindman, Ambs Marie Yovanovitch and William B. Taylor, Jr, Diplomats George Kent and David Holmes, and Russia expert, Fiona Hill. Beyond the evidence, no honest person could be anything but impressed by their professionalism and moved by their patriotism.

So if evidence of bribery, risks to our national security, and appeals to patriotism don’t sway Republicans, what will? The answer may be in recent reports implicating the President’s inner circle. I always say people have good reasons for making bad decisions. Clearly, what drives all the President’s men, is not ideology, policy or patriotism. It’s fear over their own political survival. Make no mistake, when it is no longer politically (and criminally) expedient to protect the President, Republicans will turn on him, just like they’ve turned on the country. 

If House Democrats allow themselves to be pressured by the upcoming election, then they’re as guilty as Republicans of succumbing to politics. The President and his inner circle, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, former Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, and former National Security Advisor, John Bolton, are on the defensive, and rightly so. They have a lot to answer for. Let them.

If Republicans want to drag out the impeachment process, so be it. It is easier to run against a President who is under investigation than one who’s acquitted. Republicans are trying to make Democrats the bad guys for holding Donald Trump accountable. Don’t let them. If the country is tired of scandals, tired of hearings and investigations, tired of the lies and the tweets, tired of seeing Members of Congress bicker like children, the obvious answer is to get rid of Trump.

Americans are suffering from scandal overload. Democrats offer a return to normalcy.  In less than a year, House Democrats passed bills on healthcare, gun control, climate change, voter protection, income equality, citizenship for “dreamers,” domestic violence and internet neutrality. Meanwhile Senator Mitch McConnell has buried each and every one.

The “problem,” as it were, is that Democrats tend to struggle with creating a message voters can relate to. We are the substantive Party, the nuts and bolts Party, the Party that tends to argue policy rather than ideology. While “inside the beltway” nerds, like myself, eat this stuff up. Apparently, the majority of Americans do not.

Over the last two weeks, I asked some of my patients if they were watching the hearings. Some did not even know they were on. Those that did were not paying close attention. The Republicans would like to frame this as evidence the country doesn’t care. But since when did most voters pay close attention to the machinations of government? In fact, the country has been more engaged than ever. The ratings jump for mainstream news is testament to this. The problem is there’s just so much of it!

Unlike a trial in a court of law, the purpose of an impeachment inquiry is, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated, “to take the case to the American people.” While the hearings proved that President Trump bribed Ukraine, Congressional Republicans and the right-wing media continue to deny, deflect and distract from this fact. It is no wonder the country is divided on impeachment. Just imagine if Republicans showed leadership and honored their oath of office. Imagine if Congress stood united against this rogue President. Does anyone doubt the polls for impeachment would increase?

So, I urge Democrats to be patient. Be guided by fact, not politics. Continue to gather evidence (with the help of the press and advocacy groups) and take it “back to the forest.” Americans may not follow all the intricacies of diplomacy, but I doubt they want a President who thinks he’s above the law.

¹https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/why-these-tv-impeachment-hearings-wont-matter-as-much-as-watergates/2019/11/15/266350d2-0729-11ea-ac12-3325d49eacaa_story.html

Morning (Joe) in America

I’ve been watching Joe and Mika for years. Accusations of favoritism toward Trump are inaccurate. Yes, they were initially friendly toward Trump but so was the rest of mainstream media. They also repeatedly criticized Trump for his inappropriate remarks on the campaign trail, only to discover – like the rest of us – this just fueled his popularity.

It’s a quandary the media is still struggling with: how to report the news without enabling Trump’s infatuation with attention. Keep in mind, the media responds to audience demand. Ratings have sky-rocketed under a Trump administration. We may criticize media outlets for covering him, but we keep watching and posting on social media.

It is also inaccurate to accuse Joe and Mika of admonishing the crowd for booing Trump. They were not criticizing the sentiment, just the way it was conveyed. To put it simply, two wrongs don’t make a right. What was and still is fundamentally wrong with the chant, “Lock her up!” is the assumption of guilt before due-process. Simply booing to express public outrage is one thing. Condemning someone – even in the face of apparently compelling evidence – is antithetical to democracy.

As someone who watches Morning Joe regularly, Joe and Mika are as astonished and frustrated as the rest of us over Trumps political endurance. And don’t confuse insight with acceptance. Mika publicly predicted Trump’s rise in popularity but this was to her own dismay.

There’s a reason the symbol for justice is wearing a blindfold. We are a nation of laws, and objectivity is a cornerstone of the law. In fact, it takes a true patriot to stand up for democratic principles even in the face of criticism. Something Republican members of Congress would do well to remember.

Stop Worrying FOREVER!

If you struggle with anxiety, you’re not alone. It’s rampant. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States, ages 18 and older, every year. Although anxiety is highly treatable, only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.¹

One of the biggest misconceptions about anxiety is that it’s interchangeable with worry. Not so. Anxiety is an emotion. Worrying is a thought process. Anxiety is a normal reaction to feeling out of control. Worrying is a coping strategy, albeit an ineffective one. Anxiety is unavoidable. Worrying is a choice.

It saddens me that so many struggle with incessant worrying, interfering with sleep, disrupting their productivity, making them depressed. It’s so unnecessary! You probably don’t believe me. You probably think I’m selling you “a bill of goods.” But I have conquered worrying and teach others everyday how to do the same.

You may have heard of the “fight or flight” response. The sensation you know as anxiety is your body revving up to protect you from a threatening situation. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but so is touching a hot stove. It’s there for a reason. It’s how most people cope with anxiety that is problematic.

Anytime we feel out of control, we experience anxiety. This is particularly true when we’re emotionally invested in the outcome. For example, if you’re going on a job interview, you would likely feel anxious about making a good impression. If you start getting severe headaches, you would likely feel anxious until you got answers from your doctor. If you’re going on a first date, you would likely feel anxious until you got past the awkward introductions.

Through my years of practice, I have found anxiety is the result of three fears: harm to self or a loved one; rejection; and failure. Most people worry because they mistakenly believe it gives them some measure of control. By anticipating the worst, they are more likely to avoid it and less likely to be disappointed. But if you lay in bed worrying all night what are you accomplishing? You’re not doing anything to fix the problem.

In order to avoid whatever you’re anxious about, you have to identify what’s in your control and then follow through. Once you’ve done everything in your control, worrying serves no productive purpose but to make you miserable.

Furthermore, when we worry, we’re either anticipating something bad happening or rehashing something that’s already happened. In other words, our minds are preoccupied and not focused on what we’re doing in the moment. So not only is worrying a waste of energy, it also undermines our happiness. You cant be happy if you cant be present!

(This is an excerpt from a book I’m writing: Mantras for Managing Anxiety. Let me know what you think!)

¹ Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Facts& Statistics https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

What an American Superhero Looks Like

Spiderman

At 5yo, I vividly recall sitting on the floor in front of our living room TV watching Spiderman. I can still recite the theme song. And even though the TV was black-and-white, I remember the show in color. Perhaps this says something about a child’s imagination or revisionist history, but I’ve always wondered why this particular memory?

It may have something to do with our culture. The American ideal of the omnipotent and indestructible “superhero” dates back to the era of the Depression and WWII. It should come as no surprise that classic superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain America came out of the minds of children of Jewish immigrants escaping war-torn Europe – artists like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Jerry Siegel. Who else would hold such high ideals of America than people deprived of them?

But as movie technology has made superheroes into a huge entertainment industry, they have become increasingly unrecognizable from their quaint origins. I wonder what impact these depictions have on our ability to recognize hero powers among us. For who would recognize themselves among these fantastical depictions?

I thought about this as I watched the Mueller hearings yesterday. One common theme among superheroes is their secrecy. They loathe attention. They don’t care about accolades. Their reward is knowing they are making a difference. (As a therapist, I can definitely relate to this!)

Superheroes have special abilities (or supernatural powers), but they never use them for their own benefit, only to help others. This makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation or destruction by those with selfish intentions.

When not helping others, superheroes are unrecognizable from everyone else. Even though they have remarkable skills, they are otherwise like you and me. They experience the same feelings, struggle with the same personal issues and have some of the same vulnerabilities. This may be disillusioning for some and an excuse for others to question their abilities, but they don’t feel a need to prove themselves.

Superheroes have a set of values that never falter – no matter how much they are criticized or how hard others try to stop them. Their mission is not based on what is popular or easy, but what is the right thing to do. It doesn’t change under peer pressure or fear of failure. And it is bewildering to them how a person could behave any other way.

Superheroes are not as elusive as you think. Despite appearances, be assured they are among us today. Just don’t expect them to tell you.

For additional information on the history of superheroes, see: https://www.humanities.org/blog/how-american-history-created-the-american-superhero/

 

A Letter to Mitch

Dear Mitch,

I’m not Black. I don’t know how it feels to be Black. But I am Jewish. And no matter how much time elapses between past and present, Jews will hold Germany responsible for the Holocaust. No matter how many generations pass, my family will feel a kinship with my Polish grandfather, who lost his family during the Holocaust.

America is not just a geographic location. It’s an identity. We are “Americans.” Your wife is a Chinese immigrant and she’s an American. You can’t point to a specific flag in the Capitol and say, “This flag on this pole is the American flag” because it’s a symbol.

You and I will die one day but America will still be responsible for slavery. I don’t know if your justification against reparations stems from ignorance, racism or political convenience, but there’s no excuse.

Most Germans living today did not participate in the extermination of 6 million Jews, but their country did. In his article for John Hopkins Magazine, Greg Rienzi describes the history and conditions of Germany’s ongoing reparations for World War II. According to his report, an estimated $1.1 billion in compensations is made every year. Of course, there are economic and political advantages for Germany to do so, but Jews would expect it regardless.

The culture of slavery and its predecessors are gone, but it’s legacy lives on. “Who would reparations go to?” you facetiously ask. How about places where racism has been institutionalized: e.g; public schools; law enforcement agencies; the justice system; housing; education; and healthcare?

While we’re at it, voters should “clean house” of relics like you who ignore slavery’s stain on the country.

Greg Rienzi’s article, Other Nations Could Learn from Germany’s Efforts to Reconcile After World War II, can be found here:

https://hub.jhu.edu/magazine/2015/summer/germany-japan-reconciliation

The Debate Myth: Advice from a therapist

2020 presidential debate

Attention Democratic Presidential Candidates:

You’ve studied the issues, honed your policy proposals, reviewed videos, consulted political experts, prepared remarks and practiced with surrogates. But have you talked to a psychotherapist?

Naturally, you will be anxious. Any time you feel emotionally invested in something (eg.; a job interview; medical diagnosis; first date) and you don’t have complete control over the outcome – which is pretty much always – it’s human nature. Don’t even try to talk yourself out of it. However, anxiety can be compounded by unrealistic expectations.

Which brings me to the point of this article. Hyping up the “2020 Presidential Campaign Debates” makes for good ratings, but puts unnecessary pressure on candidates, particularly with ten competing at once for air time. Debates should be about informing the public and contrasting ideas, but they’ve morphed into political theatre. The media is fixated on performance and tussles between candidates. It reminds me of reality TV, creating conditions destined to cause drama.

Some of you (like me) are old enough to remember when Party conventions were more than pageants. They served a practical purpose. Platform policies were leveraged in exchange for votes from delegates. The position of Vice-President was a prize for working hard and galvanizing a lot of voters. Being a “political insider” was not a dirty word. Although way too homogeneous, at least they had expertise and a familiarity with the candidates. I can’t think of a single Presidential candidate who survived that process who didn’t at least have a command of the issues and experience governing. And, because the candidates had insider support, they actually did have “all the best people” wanting to work in their administration. Under this process, I have a hard time believing the GOP establishment would have nominated Donald Trump.

The idea that a good debate performance has bearing on who makes a good president is ludicrous! So stop accepting their exaggerated relevance! You are enabling a process that is harmful to our country.

I know you want to win, but it should never be at the country’s expense. Yet, that’s exactly where we are. Politicians are so fixated on winning, they start wars, misappropriate funds, twist laws and circumvent democratic procedures to do so. This idea that you have to be in-charge to implement change, is why Congress is so dysfunctional. It also explains how the Office of the President has accrued so much executive power.

If you go along with this charade, you’re as responsible as the Republicans for our dysfunctional government.

So take advice from a psychotherapist: be honest with the American people. Tell them “soundbites, zingers and ‘gotcha’ moments are superficial and unimportant.” (They’re also a lazy way to pick a president, but I know you can’t say that.) Hold Americans responsible for learning more about you. Remind them debates are one of many steps to choosing a candidate.

Since I have no faith the media will frame debates this way, it’s up to you. Push back on efforts to label and simplify complex issues. Challenge reporters who ask about theatrics when they should be asking about policy. Wait until you’re one of three or four candidates before debating. Tell the networks, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to debates, “but I’m happy to do a town hall.”