Saturday, December 29, 2012
… The early learning experiences from parents and significant others that teach us to overuse “the suspicious eye” – the brain’s survival reflex that mistakes a stick for a rattlesnake - can add fuel to the fire of an aversion to differences.
… If we took ten people who stated openly - “I just don’t particularly care for people from that country” – and measured their brain-body reactions when talking about “those people”, we would find that their fight-flight response was activated at some level, from mild to extreme arousal.
… Stressful events are stored in the emotional centers of the brain, and influence unconscious feelings and automatic reactions in adulthood. It helps answer the question: Why is it so tough to embrace our differences?
… When a negative memory and focused attention to eye movements occur together, the dual stimulation seems to weaken the negative memory. This neural pathway to therapeutic success is one of several theories that are currently being investigated to help explain the rapid success of eye movement therapy.
Can the information summarized above help in the fight to reduce intolerance and embrace diversity? If we transfer the positive results in the last 20 years in stress and trauma reduction (scientifically validated in the EMDR journal) to the areas of bullying, ethnic and sexual intolerance, the possibilities become exciting, particularly for a stress expert like me. Let’s take the example of bullying.
Consider these alarming facts.
…Children and youth in the U.S. are teased and tormented by bullies to the extent that 160,000 students skip school each day (Olweus, 1993).
…86 % of children and youth ages 12-15 said they get teased or bullied at school, making bullying more prevalent than smoking, alcohol, drugs and sex among this age group (Kaiser Foundation, Nickelodeon TV Network and Children Now, 2001).
…The most common forms of bullying are related to physical appearance, disabilities, perceived sexual orientation or gender expression (Survey, 2008). 31 % of gay youth get threatened or injured at school in one year (Bart, 1998).
Bullying is not limited to the U.S. but occurs in countries throughout the world. The most disturbing fact is provided by the course authors who reviewed the studies cited above: “…the common thread in all countries is that children are relentlessly and repeatedly bullied without significant objections or outrage from responsible adults.” (Elite Continuing Education)
Clearly, we need to help children and youth who have been victims of intimidation with every therapy method available. To make a dramatic inroad into this problem, we need to treat the children and youth who are the perpetrators of bullying. And we need to get to them as early as possible. My expertise is primarily with adults, but many EMDR trained therapists, thousands of them, are child experts. They have used their technology very effectively to work with child trauma, stress and anxiety issues, and a host of other problems. The technology is available to apply an eye movement desensitization approach in an early intervention program for children and youth who show bullying and intimidation tendencies.
In order to accomplish this goal, we need a bit of “outrage from responsible adults”: teacher, parents, administrators, government officials, physicians and mental health workers.
This is just one example of how we can get started in making inroads to the rampant problem of intolerance. I hope to discuss other ways in future blogs. Visit www.drparrino.com for more on EMDR and other relaxation and desensitization technologies.
Friday, December 21, 2012
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Friday, December 7, 2012
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
My blogs on this subject will focus on educating you about the potential stress-related triggers to prejudice. I realize that intolerance and bullying cause an enormous amount of stress on its victims, but the literature on this subject is growing and significantly larger than writings on stress as a potential trigger for victimizing others.
I am a Clinical Psychologist with advanced training in the neurosciences so my focus will be on stress from a brain, body and behavior perspective. In future blogs, I will write about the fight-flight response and the brain’s tendency to overreact emotionally to perceived threat, as well as the issue of early learning and memory storage of emotional experiences.
First a caveat and disclosure: I realize that prejudice and intolerance are complex issues and don’t pretend to know the answer to these problems. Clearly, there are multiple causes that are being considered by other professionals such as Social Psychologist, Sociologists and specialists on racism. My intent – based on decades of work on stress and anxiety – is to fill in the gap of information on the mental, physical and behavioral sides of the intolerance of diversity.
In a way, we all have the capacity to be cautious, suspicious even paranoid about people who are different from us. It stems from a built-in, automatic brain system that keeps alert about potential dangers in our environment. I call it the “suspicious eye”. The early learning experiences from parents and significant others that teach us to overuse this “eye” can add fuel to the fire of this aversion to differences.
The knowledge of the effects of stress on prejudice may give us clues to the most important issue: How do we increase tolerance of diversity in our world. That’s my ultimate goal for writing this blog. For more information about stress and its profound effects on brain, body and behavior, you can visit my website at www.drparrino.com.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
A married couple must confront more than a ‘lack of communication’ to heal a troubled relationship. Stress is a silent killer of love. The brain’s habit of swiftly igniting stress and defensiveness - the fight flight reflex - is the smoking gun of love’s demise.
In my new e book, NEVER POINT A LOADED GUN AT YOUR MARRIAGE: How to Conquer Stress Before It Slays Your Love, I use jungle animals – a Tiger and Giraffe - to symbolize the fight and flight reactions that are natural in all of us. These animals have opposing traits in the jungle, yet they are irresistibly attracted to each other. I often warn my clients: “You know the honeymoon is over when primordial habits appear on the marital scene: Conflict escalates, the Tiger claws at the Giraffe for love, and the tall, repressive animal retreats for cover.”
My mind-body strategy for love relationships is based on the powerful principles of Relationship Stress Management (RSM). Readers will learn to manage destructive thoughts, relax defensive reactions, and emit positive actions in the midst of conflict. As they learn to conquer their impulses to fight (the Tiger) or flee (the Giraffe), they tap the Love Reflex (the Elephant) – an instinctual yearning to reach out and connect with their partners.
This fable is a simple, entertaining and profound story. Readers will experience a personal safari through the jungle of love, and uncover the Tiger, Giraffe and Elephant in their love lives. And they will discover that the principles of RSM are powerful tools in their pursuits of marital health and happiness.
You can purchase a copy of my new eBook on Amazon by clicking here
You can find my website at drparrino.com
Friday, January 6, 2012
Sitcoms give us a chance to relax, let go of reality and experience some good belly laughs. Let’s dig a bit deeper into the dynamics of the characters to decipher how these shows provide viewers with the benefits of stress relief.
Many sitcoms feature a control freak – often a man – who strives to be the center of his Universe. One or more victims revolve around this character and are the brunt of his jokes and putdowns. A counterbalancing force, a nemesis, is often present to keep the control freak in check.
Two and a Half Men is a perfect example. Charlie is the self-centered, control freak who uses sex appeal, money and an outrageous self confidence to control his brother and the plethora of women in his life. Alan doesn’t have a chance against Charlie. He’s divorced and broke, with no place to live and low self esteem. This up-down relationship provides lots of laughs, mainly at Alan’s expense.
Much of the fun in sitcoms stems from the battle between the control freak and his nemeses. Jake, Charlie’s nephew, ignores his Uncle and prefers to focus on food, games and bodily functions. Berta, the brute of a housekeeper, downsizes Charlie’s huge ego every chance she gets. She doesn’t give a flip about his sex appeal or money, and refuses to feed his inflated sense of self. By the end of each episode, nemesis Berta provokes change in the group dynamics. Charlie temporarily loses control of his finely tuned Universe, and Alan recovers a bit of respect at his brother’s expense, only to start again next week with the same old scenario.
Is this an all-too-familiar psychodrama? Of course! In real life, self-centered people are perennially manipulating us for their own good. This is what the creators of certain sitcoms have in mind: Each episode presents reality in an exaggerated, funny way, and then the control freak gets his comeuppance. We identify with the characters and their nutty habits, laugh at them and feel a sense of relief. If we can’t stick it to the bad guy in reality, at least his nemesis does the job for us.
These forces unfold differently in each sitcom, depending on the unique gifts of our antihero. Larry, The Larry David Show, is a misfit of a personality, socially awkward but immensely successful. This gives him confidence and chutzpah, which he uses to control his now ex-wife Cheryl and agent Jeff. Fortunately, he gets a regular tongue lashing from the expletive-proficient Susie.
The most popular sitcoms in recent history make use of this psychological triangle in some manner. Watch how this successful formula unfolds: Jerry Seinfeld is a compulsive control freak with a dysfunctional entourage - George and Elaine - who revolve around his fame. In an ironic twist of reality, Kramer – the weirdo – challenges, frustrates and takes advantage of Jerry, and he drives him a little nuts as well.
In Frasier, the Psychiatrist-turned-radio-personality has a voracious appetite for fame that devours everyone in its path, particularly his brother Niles. Roz and Daphne periodically get a bit chewed up as well. But Martin, his blue collar dad, comes to the rescue and persistently punctures his bloated ego.
Everybody Loves Raymond has the same three forces at play: With the aid of Marie, his doting, manipulative mother, Ray controls his wife Debra and his brother Robert. But he gets his self confidence shattered on a regular basis by Frank, his cranky Italian father.
Control freaks are emotional magnets for the rest of us who lack their grandiose sense of self importance. A good sitcom takes advantage of this attraction to connect us to the characters. We crave laughing at their antics because the humor offers a bit of comic relief. This can be a healthy antidote to reality where our struggles with self-centered people are perennially challenging, and not so terribly funny.
Dr. John J. Parrino is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia, and the author of self help and advice books on stress and relationship issues. For more information on his publications and free online articles, go to his website at http://www.drparrino.com/.
Imagine how bored their Docs must get waiting for plaque to build up in coronary arteries or watching for a polyp to crop up on intestinal walls. On the other hand, psychological experts would have their hands full immediately.
The candidates need real pros to provide feedback when their verbal habits veer off track, help them unload repressed feelings when the media frustrates them, and provide emotional support after the ‘accusation of the day’ from their own and the opposing party.
The presidential aspirants might require a team of specialists: a marriage counselor when things get tough with the prospective First Partner, a Psychologist to help with the self-esteem issues that stem from striving to be adored by several hundred million people, and when all else fails, a Psychiatrist to give their brain cells a boost of serotonin.
We Americans suffer from the illusion that our chosen leaders must have their collective heads on pretty straight. Not necessarily true! When you’re at the top, people get squeamish about pointing out your idiosyncrasies. Would you tell the prospective President of the most powerful country in the world that his temper tantrums with the media represent unresolved rage towards his/her mother? Of course not, but a good Shrink would!
We need a permanent policy mandating a few good shrinks to follow each potential leader. Wouldn't it inspire confidence in our candidates - and set a great example for our kids - if the networks ended their news programs with this important message:
“And finally, ladies and gentlemen, we come to our Presidential candidate Smith, who consulted a counselor today because
.....the pressure of running for the most powerful position in the world was stressing him/her out.
.....he/she had a nightmare last night that revealed deep-seated feelings of inadequacy.
.....and, worst of all, the prospective First Partner was peeved at him/her during dinner.
The presidential aspirants exhibit these natural human reactions whether we want to believe it or not. Do you want someone running your country that is not in touch with his/her deep-seated feelings of inadequacy?
We should require each candidate running for the highest office in the land to submit to a complete psychological evaluation. Our team of shrinks could be summoned to the primaries to pinpoint potential problems. Family members would be interviewed to evaluate the level of dysfunction in the prospective First Family. This way, we could tell if a future “Prez” was about to experience a midlife crisis. A candidate with sociopathic tendencies could be eliminated before he/she got into serious trouble.
Think about it! Can we afford to take a chance with the future Big Guy/Gal’s psyche? That's pretty risky! Remember, our lives will ultimately be dependent on the ongoing health of his/her brain cells.
Dr. John J. Parrino is a Psychologist and author in Atlanta, Georgia. His website is http://www.drparrino.com.