Duck, Duck, Goose

Muscovy ducks are ugly.

There’s simply no getting around it. Perhaps some find them in the category of, “So ugly, they’re cute,” the befuddling phrase used to describe certain regrettable-looking breeds of dog with what seems to be a permanent, long drip of slime on their maws. I don’t see it, in either the dog or the duck.

Muscovy are also an invasive species here in west-central Florida, driving out our adorable and good-natured native ducks. Thus, they are unwelcome both in, and by, appearance.

During an Emmaus retreat at the Franciscan Center in Tampa, I was able to observe a female Muscovy along the river last weekend. She was waddling along, looking into the river on her right and then to the ground on her left, seeking food. She was followed closely by one, then two, then four, large, ugly and showy Muscovy males. She seemed oblivious. They were posturing: just short of chest-bumping one another, fluffing up their feathers, strutting in circles and then, realizing she had waddled on further ahead, scuttling up closer to the object of their desire before devolving into posturing observed only by one another, and me.

Ms. Muscovy did not feel obliged to wear shorter feathers in her nether region or walk on her webbed toes to gain their attention, and indeed, it was apparently unnecessary. She had the power of her femininity, and that was sufficient. God knows how large the flock of males out-strutting each other got before she made her selection; the bells rang and I hurried off to join my fellow retreatants for Morning Prayer.

Flash back to the 1980s, when wearing brassieres over one’s clothing, instead of under, was all the rage for a few unfortunate years. During a lunch conversation, a male colleague (middle-aged, recently divorced and apparently adjusting with difficulty) mentioned his amazement at seeing this while out in a nightclub. A few of the females opined we would never do such a thing. If we weren’t married, he said, and had to be out there, competing for male attention…whoa, whoa, WHOA. A man, I said, for whom I was to “compete” by wearing my underwear over my clothes would not be the man for me. My female cohorts agreed. Divorced-dude was amazed.

Alas, times have, apparently, changed. Somehow the power to vote, own property, and be paid the same for the same work (let’s not go to where we compare part-time clerical staff with chemical engineers and whine about salary differences, okay?) seems cast aside for the “power” to wear vagina-hats in public, insist that tights are business trousers, and gain fame by posting indecent pictures of oneself to (anti)social media.

In our little yard, I cannot, from a respectful distance, tell Mrs. Bunny from Mr. Bunny, but apparently they can, and so things work just fine. Mrs. Cardinal is subtle compared to her (to human eyes) flashy husband, but trust me, when the six or seven species of birds – almost all larger – are sharing the seeds I have flung onto the front yard, it’s little, softly hued Mrs. Cardinal who commands attention and sets the rules. Mr. Cardinal does not seem to have any objections about being partnered up with his gently-toned, energetic little mate. Likewise the pair of black snakes, the ever-expanding clan of blue jays, or our resident crows, Poe and Annabelle Lee, and their hapless but fun-to-watch adolescent offspring: all seem content without the females doing strange and torturous things in a craven attempt for male attention.

Why are humans so singularly dysfunctional when it comes to male-female relationships? Can we blame it simply on the Fall and the impact of a long history of bad choices that have turned us slowly away from what we could have, and might still be, towards this strange situation in which much of our culture finds itself?

For almost three decades now, mental health professionals have dealt with body-image and sexuality issues created by a pornographic culture so pervasive that too many young women believe they should engage in sexual activity whether they feel like it or not, and many young males have incurred physical damage on themselves due to excessive masturbation with porn as the stimulant. Conditioned to images on electronic devices, a normal, living female is just not as attractive and too much trouble. We’ve all, no doubt, heard of the teen magazine that explained sodomy in how-to terms. In my work, this isn’t some abstract issue; I listen to young women wrestle with their discomfort and shame over what they feel obliged to do and the fear that their hesitancy to engage in impersonal sexual acts means there is something “wrong” with them. I help couples whose relationship has been torn apart by the husband’s pornography addiction and disengagement from his wife.

I used to pity my male college students, assuming the heterosexuals had their ability to focus on psychology (endlessly interesting to me but, I realize, not to all) cruelly challenged because, for a healthy straight young male, the proximity of female peers would normally be distracting. Now the female peers are often dressed in revealing clothing. I assumed (naively) that this placed an unfair, even uncharitable, if you will, burden on the males. Now I wonder. I wonder if, drowned since childhood in a flood of hypersexualized images, the presence in the next seat of a young woman with her breasts pushed up to her collar bone is…nothing. Now I feel sad about that; they are both missing something about the joy of being human: they have lost the capacity to appreciate one another.

He may be sentenced, until he works to change it, to a life of seeking ever-more extreme forms of sexual stimulation, and she will be reduced to claiming that her power comes from the right to have sex indiscriminately and wear unflattering pink hats in parades.

Meanwhile, Ms. Muscovy is enjoying the riverbank and may eventually pick some posturing, squawking, ugly drake from among her admirers.

The ducks have it figured out. Guess who gets to be the silly, sad goose?

 

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2017

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

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When Media Lies Hurt: The Destructive Impact of Sloppy Journalism on Real People

(Originally published in USA Today Magazine, July 2016. A few updates were made for reposting to this blog)

It’s safe to say that most people have long since given up on the idea of unquestioning trust for the media. Walter Cronkite died in 2009. Despite vague mistrust, people are vulnerable to the effect that repeatedly hearing things has. Hearing something over and over engrains it in our brains, even if it’s not true. The repeated lie tends to rise to the top when a related topic comes up. This is one reason so many people believe that, for example, violent crime is up all over the country (it’s not) or that we know for sure exactly what schizophrenia is, or what it’s caused by (we don’t).

As a psychotherapist, I see the pain that sloppy journalism creates for real people on a regular basis. I don’t mean transient worry; I mean the possibility of a lifetime of unnecessary anguish inflicted upon people who believe that the information hurled at them by media must be based in truth.

Three examples will suffice to illustrate; you can no doubt generate plenty of examples of your own.

Media Misrepresentation: People considering suicide always give clues about their intention, and thus friends and family have an opportunity to see it coming and intervene.

According to A. Dadoly in the Harvard Health Newsletter (2011), professional estimates are that 30-80% of suicides are impulsive acts, with little or no planning beyond the immediacy of the moment. That means family members could usually not have read the signs, and could not possibly have intervened. Yet, most people believe, because they’ve been told repeatedly, that warning signs are just about always there and thus are tormented with guilt and self-reproach for failing to see something that was, tragically, probably not there.

Media Misrepresentation: Depression is a medical illness that is a lifelong condition. You’ll be on medication forever because there is something wrong with your brain.

The truth is, depression, or “major depressive disorder,” as it is currently labeled, is a construct. It is diagnosed off a checklist of symptoms. Meet enough of the symptoms for a two-week period of time and, bingo, you can be diagnosed, whether that sadness, poor sleep, lack of energy, poor concentration, etc., is due to grief because someone you love has died, or to some other life circumstance…or, perhaps, something medical. Some research indicates that most cases of depression will improve within 7 weeks whether you do anything to treat it or not. Plenty of evidence shows that lifestyle changes such as proper sleep, diet and exercise, plus social supports and a bit of emotional support via therapy, will create improvement in less time and leave you more resilient the next time life throws you a challenge (which, of course, it will). You can find a wealth of scientific research as well as specific steps to apply that research to real life in Stephen Ilardi, MD, Ph.D.’s wonderful 2009 book, The Depression Cure. There’s plenty of other research out there, of course, but for busy readers, Dr. Ilardi has done a masterful job of tying together many researchers’ work and working out a useful process.

Yet millions of people have been sold the lie that their symptoms are evidence of a brain disorder that requires lifelong medication. The medications change the brain, cause all sorts of unpleasant side effects, such as weight gain, loss of sexual interest and/or function, and general apathy towards others, and often cause terrible withdrawal symptoms. They also carry a risk for impulsive acts of self-harm, including suicide, and violence against others. Almost every adolescent and young adult mass killer in the US in the past couple of decades, with the exception of avowed Islamist terrorists, has been on one or more psychiatric drugs, including many antidepressants.

Do these medications help some people? Apparently so, according to them and their doctors. That does not, however, prove that everyone who is sad for more than two weeks has an incurable but manageable brain disease and is “mentally ill.”

Media Misrepresentation: Your gay son or daughter is going to burn in hell just because he/she is LGBT.

This lie is a criticism of many religions, and recently has been part of the background of a television show called “The Real O’Neals.” One part of the plot involves a gay young man whose supposedly Catholic mother is consumed with despair because “her religion teaches her that her son is going to burn in hell because he is gay.” That’s a paraphrase from interviews I’ve read with a star of the show. I have seen many families suffer under this belief. Parents are alienated from their children; children believe that their parents are condemning them; parents and children alike reject their faith. I will address this from my Catholic perspective; you can do the homework on your faith.

The Catholic Church has an international apostolate (a fancy term for an approved special ministry) called Courage, focused entirely on providing spiritual, emotional and social support for LGBT Catholics. Its intention is not to “make them straight,” but to help them live Catholic lives with the orientation they experience. The official Catechism of the Catholic Church isn’t exactly politically correct: like the psychiatrists of just one generation ago, it considers homosexual behavior disordered – but you could say Catholicism (and all orthodox Christianity) says about the same about any sexual activity outside of marriage.

However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church also says: (paragraph 2358):

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible…They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter… (that “uniting to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross, is of course, what all Catholics do when, faced with challenges, we talk about “offering it up” – this is not a unique imposition upon GLBT persons).

Paragraph 2359 ends with, “They can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” Hmmm. No ineluctable path to hell and damnation there.

One can, however, imagine the pain of a parent who imagines their child is immediately rejected by God. One wishes they were bold enough to seek right guidance.

Our Responsibility

It’s easy, of course, to blame the media. Journalists go to college and seem to take pride in getting the “real story,” or whatever they imagine they’re doing. So why don’t they do their homework? Why present the easy, available tale? Psychologically, they appear to indulge in confirmation bias: the tendency to seek out and focus on things that verify what they already “know.” We consumers of media need to check the facts.

Bad information creates pain and suffering. Don’t assume what you read is the whole truth. Do your research, and turn to people who might have access to information you don’t have. Someone’s peace of mind may be at stake.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Cut Them Some Slack

Doing unto others as we would have done for ourselves…well, there is one thing that most people tend to do for themselves that they are often slow, reluctant and resistant to do for others: cut them some slack. Consider the historical narrative on this:

Jesus of Nazareth: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye but not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” (Luke, 6:41, NAB)

Soren Kierkegaard: “Most people are subjective towards themselves and objective towards others, frightfully objective sometimes – but the task is precisely to be objective towards oneself and subjective towards all others.” (Works of Love)

CS Lewis: “…It is no good passing this over with some vague, general admission such as, ‘of course, I know I have my faults.’ It is important to realize that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives the others just that same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don’t know about…” (Essay: The Trouble with “X”, from God in the Dock)

Psychologically, of course, it makes sense: we, after all, know what we intend to do/say; we have deep awareness of all the people and events that obstruct our good intentions. Meanwhile, we have no clue – or concertedly avoid taking notice of clues we trip over – about whatever obstacles and heartaches might underlie others’ disappointing and often frustrating behaviors. We cannot know what it is like to have the particular limitations that someone else has –anymore than they can understand the particular limitations we tote around with us.

Sometimes someone will say to me in the context of therapy how badly they feel that they are struggling with some particular issue – anxiety, or depression, for example – when (from their perspective) other people all seem to be going around, carefree and without this sort of anguish. In a country in which 20% of women and 10% of men are prescribed antidepressant medications each year, and who knows how many various prescriptions for anxiety, it hardly seems fair, to oneself or others, to assume that everyone is skipping along as carefree as they often very deliberately attempt to appear. Then there are physical pains and illnesses; the sufferings of loved ones; the anxiety for a loved one in a danger zone; grief; loneliness. These are so often invisible except for the side effects of passing crankiness or thoughtlessness or scatterbrained-ness that annoy other people who are, to quote Kierkegaard, being “objective” about others.

For the person who is suffering and, unable to see evidence of suffering in others, believes s/he is alone, it is disheartening. To be so alone in suffering…! But no one is alone in their suffering.

Not all the objective/subjective dichotomy concerns suffering. Sometimes it is about unseen limitations or differences. No doubt you have something you are not naturally good at doing. Perhaps it’s spelling, or “being handy,” or math. If you are a grownup who is doing well in life, you may have turned this into a kind of joke, or perhaps you use this as exhibit A, the evidence that you know you’re not perfect: “Oh, I know I’m far from perfect…you should see the disaster my checkbook is,” but in fact you have a certain secret pride that you do not have to bother with this, or that your flaw is so small and even borders on not being a real defect at all…and, after all, at least you are not “stupid/lazy/arrogant/whatever you perceive in someone else.” Yet unless you are in that experience, you cannot understand the frustration of someone with a brain injury who on the one hand knows that a certain skill set used to come naturally but is now a fuzzy memory and source of perpetual struggle. You cannot know what it is really like for someone with an IQ thirty points below yours to struggle through a complex and fast-paced world, when their processing speeds are so much slower, and you likewise cannot know what it might be like for someone with an IQ thirty points higher than yours to bear patiently with you.

Part of good psychotherapy, like good spiritual growth, is becoming aware of one’s flaws – not for the purpose of self-recrimination and useless shame, but as opportunities for growth of oneself as well as a growth in compassion for other people. The process, once begun, is the work of a lifetime.

 

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Thoughts on Lent…

It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian 40-day period of spiritual boot camp. For a few weeks, the normal, daily practices of various forms of prayer, fasting/self-denial and almsgiving are supposed to be kicked up a notch. The point of such actions, as Thomas Merton wrote, is not to become a “spiritual athlete” but to push aside trivial things and focus on Who, and what, ultimately matters.

For Christians, the increased on focus on prayer highlights our need to grow in faith. Fasting and other forms of self-denial teach us to trust God – to have hope, rather than an inflated notion of self-reliance. Almsgiving pushes us to love others without conditions or recognition.

All pretty hard stuff, actually.

What if you’re not Christian, or a Christian from a denomination that isn’t particularly engaged in the Lenten season? What about you? Is it still useful to have some sort of extended period of intensive work on bettering yourself in whatever areas you could use a little boost? No doubt a loved one, or perhaps your coworkers, physician, or dental hygienist have suggestions for your improvement. Odds are, the answer for most of us is, yes – sometimes ramping things up for a set period of time is enough to break a bad habit, start a good habit, and have a target date in mind for a shift in perspective to take hold.

Have a Lent that is a season of growth or, if not Lent – have a personal boot camp.

 

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Way 10/Day 10: Make it a great year – give stuff away.

Most people in the US are blessed with having more than we need. Much more. So much more that we invest in fancy containers to hold it in new ways, rent special places away from our home to use as vacation homes for our extra stuff – and yet many of the people who do these things also continue to shop as a form of recreation.

Consider adopting, at least for a while, one or more of these approaches to your surfeit stuff:

  1. For each new non-perishable item you bring home, select something else to give to charity. You may start considering purchases carefully in light of figuring out what goes into the pile for AmVets when you put the new thing away.
  2. Try to select one item per day for a set number of days to give away. One author did this for a year; you might practice it for the 40 days of Lent.
  3. Have a 30-day list. If a non-essential still seems like a very good idea in a month, then you can decide to make the purchase.

If, on the other hand, your problem is an addiction to shopping, recognize that shopping is meeting one or more emotional needs in an unhealthy way, and find a better way to meet those needs. If you are in debt and out of space because of a shopping addiction, consider seeking professional guidance. You may be struggling to sedate emotional pain with the short-term rush of attention and gratification that shopping can provide.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

31 Days/31 Ways: Make it a great year!

Day 6: No whining!

Practice makes perfect. If you practice complaining, focusing on the negative and wallowing in self-pity, you will become very, very good at being very, very unhappy – and pretty miserable to be around, too. The more you think a particular thought, the more energy your body put towards strengthening that particular set of connections in your brain. It’s hard to NOT complain, and there is a difference between whining and asking for something specific or relaying information. Try to catch yourself complaining and reframe it: make it a specific request, for example, or refocus on something positive.

A dear friend describes his approach to this: “Ron” died of a terrible disease very young. When something comes up I want to complain about now – years later – I stop and think, hmmm, how would Ron feel about being able to complain about that right now?

If that approach works for you, please borrow it!

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Day 3/Way 3: Make it a great year!

Back away from the television…or tablet…or computer…or whatever else electronic screen mesmerizes you during non-work/non-school hours.

The average American is consuming 5 hours or more of non-work/non-school related screen time daily. It’s worse for retirees, who average 43 hours a week. There are lots of ways reducing screen time can make it a much better year. I’ll pick one: the fact that much of what’s on there has an ulterior motive of making you feel badly about yourself and your life. If you weren’t dissatisfied, you wouldn’t be tempted to spend money on whatever is being marketed. Your stuff isn’t as new, your face hasn’t been airbrushed and you didn’t have a staff of five fixing up your hair and makeup so, compared to what you see on television, your life and mine look pretty blah. Even if you’re too smart to think so consciously, that subconscious message is hammering away. Make it a great year: just reduce exposure and do something that will make you feel good about your life, instead.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.