Archive for February, 2011

Bullying and Popularity and Brain Damage and Prosecution and, and and…..

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Bullying. It’s the cause du jour. It’s the new disease, the new focus. We’re off of childhood depression, past social phobia and onto bullying, which we’re criminalizing as well as stigmatizing, theoretizing, and philosophizing. We do everything but empathizing (with the bullies.) Of course we also point out that being the victim of bullying leads to depression, social phobia, and stigma. We don’t look at what being the perpetrator of bullying leads to except that it should lead to correctional facilities and straightening out.

There’s an article in the New York Times (02/14/11) by Tara Parker-Pope  about, well, what’s the title up there? Bullying and Popularity .” Web of Popularity, Achieved by Bullying” . There’s also an article in the Boston Globe, “Inside the Bullied Brain” that speaks about “damage” and differing formations that occur in children who are bullied that appear similar to children who are subjected to sexual and physical abuse.

The basic argument in the Times article is that the teasing and jockeying for position and popularity that goes on is only different by degree from the Bullying that gets lots of attention in the press. These cause stress as high schoolers vie for status. The Boston Globe article is a bit more honest, saying that although these differences are seen on scans it’s not clear whether the bullying causes the differences or the differences cause the bullying. The Globe does say that showing that there’s a physical effect could make it easier to prosecute bullies.

As unpopular as the view I’m about to express might be, I’ve got to disagree with these findings and this urge to label all “aggression” on the part of students as harmful and prosecuting bullies (even at the school level) unless there is real, physical damage like broken bones, just like any other case of battery.

We are over-reacting towards trying to correct a situation in which some individuals have an exaggerated and inappropriate response to the beating down that they’ve received, including the lack of support from the schools and parents.

I’ll be very clear – I’m not condoning bullying. I’m condemning the reactions we have to it. Most of the methods used to stop bullying just give the “bullies” more power and get them sympathy from their fellows, rather than shunned. Labeling someone a bully is labeling. Period. Having the school intercede and tell the “bullies” to stop rarely works.

Brain scans look great but, honestly, do we really know what we’re looking at when areas of the brain “light up” in reaction to a stimulus? Is it glycolization, blood flow, or pixies? We really don’t know. We can just guess. I can safely say that somebody getting hit in the head will cause some form of brain damage but I don’t know about the verbal alternative to “sticks and stones.” An aside to the bullies: if they’re only calling you names, don’t tell them that names will never hurt you – it doesn’t pay to hip the squares.

What’s missing in every one of these studies is the support given by family and school to build up the ego strength of both the bullied and the bullies. Just labeling someone a “bully” is also a form of bullying, but it’s OK because it’s us doing it, right? We’re on the side of good, yes? NO! The so-called bullies aren’t criminals (until they commit battery, rape, etc.) As Izzy Kalman points out in his Bullies to Buddies website & a past newsletter if we have to legislate against bullying we are admitting that we are failures as psychologists.

Before we look at brain scans, before we decide that schoolyard squabbles for pecking order are just another example of behavior we need to stamp out, lets look at the family systems involved. Let’s look at what is being done to help the victims and the perpetrators. Let’s look at what we’re doing to help the families, the schools, the society to deal with the situation. Without stress steel doesn’t become forged and strong, but it also needs to be quenched and tempered, all by a guiding hand. Without stress children don’t strive to become better, people don’t strive to be more than they are, but without support the stress can break a child or an adult.

Let’s not rush to judgment and condemn the bullies without looking at what we’re doing that feeds the situation.

Are Psychoanalysts Ever “Off-Duty?”

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

First, a disclaimer. I don’t go around listening in to conversations at nearby tables, on the street, the bus, or anywhere else. Maybe I should say I don’t try to listen. I can’t help it if you’re going to speak loudly enough for everyone in the general area to hear you. This isn’t about why people think others need to hear what they’re saying, so enough of that. It’s just a disclaimer. Period. Done.

OK – so why the disclaimer? The other night I was walking home after getting off of the bus and there was a group of three people on the street ahead of me, two men and a woman. As I was approaching I heard a part of the conversation. One of the men said to the woman,”You’ll like him. He’s a psychoanalyst.” She responded by asking something about are psychoanalysts always analyzing everybody or do they ever turn it off. She also said something about it being tiring to always being “on.”

Do we ever turn it off? You betcha!  Tiring to always be”on?” Jeez. Probably even more tiring for everyone around than it is for us. Can you imagine that? Why would I, using myself as the example I know best, want to constantly be confronting people with their “hidden motives” for doing things? Where would my respect for my friends and neighbors be if I did that?

The people who come to me for psychotherapy are asking me to use my skills to help them.  They expect me to “listen with the third ear,” as Langs put it, to attend “with free-floating attention,” to quote Uncle Sigmund. They pay me to do this. My friends, family, neighbors and total strangers aren’t paying me for my time or my skills. They aren’t asking me to listen to their free associations and make an interpretation. I’m expected to be just another person in the room and not invade the privacy of why they do what they do.

Yeah, I’m a curious guy. Uh, maybe I should rephrase that. I’m curious about a lot of things in this world. I’m curious about what makes people tick, including me (especially me,) and seriously hope, as the old, sad joke says, that it’s not a time-bomb. That doesn’t give me the right to pry into what’s going on in someone’s psyche and, contrary to what some believe (and/or have done) it’s not a parlor game where I can (or will) look at people in the room, talk with them for a couple of minutes and then give a psychoanalytic profile.

I like my friends, family, neighbors (trust me on this.) Why would I want to piss them off by telling them why they’re doing what they’re doing or trying to manipulate them by analyzing them without their knowledge or consent. Ah, there it is – perhaps the real point of the question (OK – this is analyzing but it’s me thinking about what I might be trying to accomplish by that seat-of-the-pants analysis) is whether I would be “using my powers” for my  own nefarious purposes. To manipulate things & people.

What do you think? Do you think we ever “turn it off” other than when we sleep? Do we manipulate people? Let me know – leave a comment. I won’t analyze what you’re saying or how you say it – promise.