June 27, 2011

Is The Cult Of Self-Esteem Ruining Our Kids?


atlantic self-esteem cover.jpgwhat does the author want to be true?



The article is called How To Land Your Kid in Therapy, it's in The Atlantic, and this is how it dares to start:

If there's one thing I learned in graduate school, it's that the poet Philip Larkin was right. ("They fuck you up, your mum and dad, / They may not mean to, but they do.")

Get the rum, we're going to need it.  No, all of it.


I.

Lori Gottlieb is a writer for the various outlets that pose as intelligent-- Slate, NPR, Salon, whose demo is people who use the word "inappropriate" and know there are no wrong answers.  She also wrote a book called, Marry Him: The Case For Settling For Mr. Good Enough which roughly coincided with her never marrying anybody.

Other than submit articles to The Atlantic, she did something else that a lot of confused, directionless people do: she became a therapist.  Easy, everybody, hold that thought for a minute, we'll come back to it.

But soon I met a patient I'll call Lizzie. Imagine a bright, attractive 20-something woman with strong friendships, a close family, and a deep sense of emptiness. She had come in, she told me, because she was "just not happy." And what was so upsetting, she continued, was that she felt she had nothing to be unhappy about. She reported that she had "awesome" parents, two fabulous siblings, supportive friends, an excellent education, a cool job, good health, and a nice apartment... So why did she have trouble sleeping at night? Why was she so indecisive, afraid of making a mistake, unable to trust her instincts and stick to her choices? Why did she feel "less amazing" than her parents had always told her she was? Why did she feel "like there's this hole inside" her? Why did she describe herself as feeling "adrift"?
 
I was stumped.


I'm not surprised.  None of those variables have anything to do with happiness.  Any way Lizzie has of identifying herself based on something she's done rather than something she has or is?  Any of those characteristics a verb?  No? (1-- read the footnotes later.) 

So I'm not surprised Lizzie is unhappy, the question is whether Lori, as her therapist, should have been surprised.

Maybe she was, maybe she wasn't but she spends 4 pages explaining that kids today are coddled, given everything, protected from harm/hurt/failure and squeezed into bike helmets, and this has the terrible effect of creating wandering, unfulfilled, depressed adults.  Too-perfect parenting has made the kids soft.

That may be the thesis of article, and it may be factually accurate, but boy oh boy is it not at all the reason she wrote it, or why it's the cover story for The Atlantic.


II.

In order to understand what is the real cause of the ruin of children, what makes them into "narcissists" (her word), you have to look carefully at why this story is in The Atlantic. I don't think even the lifetime subscribers in Westchester, NY turn to The Atlantic for the current scientific data in psychology, and no one turns to Gottlieb for parenting advice.  They're coming because they already know the answer they want to be true but want it stated more eloquently.  What does it say better than its readers could, that confirms their own beliefs?

Let's go through it.  When confronted with Lizzie's unhappiness, what is the first thing Gottlieb considers?

Where was the distracted father? The critical mother? Where were the abandoning, devaluing, or chaotic caregivers in her life?

Bad parenting, ok, fair guess.  But, as the title of the article reveals, it's actually good parenting, overparenting, coddling.  Do we all agree? Please observe that while this may be the opposite problem, it is in fact the exact same psychic solution: unhappiness is not your fault, it's caused by someone else.  Jot that down, we'll come back to it later.


Consider a toddler who's running in the park and trips on a rock... some parents swoop in immediately, pick up the toddler, and comfort her in that moment of shock, before she even starts crying....

"Well-intentioned parents have been metabolizing [the kids'] anxiety for them their entire childhoods," [psychologist] Mogel said of these kids, "so they don't know how to deal with it when they grow up."

The above consonants and vowels completely correspond with the preferred logic of Atlantic readers, but I'd like you to consider, for a moment, the kind of atrociously malignant parent that does not rush to comfort their toddler "even before she starts crying."  Are you raising a ninja?  "I just let her feel the burn, get used to the sight of blood.  Builds character."   Pass me that hammer, I want to build your character.

No one who doesn't eat human flesh would let their kid cry and do nothing.  So what is the purpose of this logic if it actually defies reality? 

Take a second and consider the likely offenders of this style of "too-perfect," rush to protect  overparenting.  Do they have mullets?   No.  Live in Daytona?  No.  Do they read Sports Illustrated?  Guns & Ammo?  No, they read The Atlantic

So the purpose of this article can't be to suggest to its readers they are terrible parents, and anyway they already suspect they're overparenting and that it is bad.  They're turning to Gottlieb and The Atlantic for therapy, to be told that they are indeed overparenting but it's understandable... you have good intentions



III.


And there's an awesome, unintentional subtext: parents are overinvolved with their kids because they want what's best for them, but this has the perverse effect of harming them, and so........... it's ok not to be.  Why don't you get a facial?

It is certainly ok/infinitely preferable not to spend so much time with your kids.  But saying you're doing it because it's good for the kids is like saying you're getting an Asian massage because it's good for Asians.


IV.

They didn't rush because the kid can't handle pain, but because they can't tolerate the kid's  pain.  They rushed to the kid's side because it protects the kid, yes,, but primarily because they can't handle the anxiety of it all.  What's my role as a parent?  What do I do?

I go through this because Gottlieb wants it to be true that the cult of self-esteem is ruining our kids, but the cult of self-esteem has already ruined the kids who are now adults. It produced her and her peers.  And now they are raising new kids, well or badly I have no idea, but their main preoccupation isn't with raising better kids but with self-justification.  This fact is completely lost on her.

As a parent, I'm all too familiar with this [entitled kids with too many options.]  I never said to my son, "Here's your grilled-cheese sandwich." I'd say, "Do you want the grilled cheese or the fish sticks?"... He'd come to expect unlimited choice.

Guess what six words she says next.


When I was my son's age, I didn't routinely get to choose my menu, or where to go on weekends--and the friends I asked say they didn't, either. There was some negotiation, but not a lot, and we were content with that. We didn't expect so much choice, so it didn't bother us not to have it until we were older, when we were ready to handle the responsibility it requires.

This is laughable coming from anybody, but is she unaware that she's written several books describing her own childhood psychiatric visits and teen anorexia?  And serial dating culminating in nothing?   If I were a therapist, I'd label this as "poor insight."

The kid's problem isn't that he is offered too many choices at all.  The kid's problem is that his mom believes these choices are the thing that will ruin him, that's where she sees danger, not TV or Xbox or learning violence is always wrong, but in choice.  

There's no insight about the dynamic effects of a mother who feels compelled to offer him  meaningless choices-- that she is discharging the anxiety of her own indecisiveness onto her kid.  Fish sticks and grilled cheese may not seem like heavy decisions but there are consequences nonetheless, and if she doesn't have to bear them, she'd just as soon pass them on to a four year old.

I wasn't there, but I will bet ten thousand dollars that every guy she has ever dated has had the following interaction with her:


Guy: What do you want to do tonight?

Her: I don't know, what do you want to do tonight?

and:

Guy: I'm at Blockbuster, what movie do you want to rent?

Her: I don't know, what movie do you want to rent?


Jesus Christ, just say Officer And A Gentleman and let me get out of this death spiral.

Since she chose to go with doctor supervised immaculate conception, the kid now gets the job of sounding board for dinner choices.  You know what choice she'll never offer him?  The choice to fight back on the playground or disagree with her.  Being given the illusion of free choice when all of the choices are meaningless or terrible has a name, and they used to think it caused schizophrenia, so grant me that it probably drives some kids to therapy.

A similar phenomenon is the parent who "has" to quit smoking, or drinking, or cursing, or whoring, or whatever, "now that I have kids."   So noble.  Nothing better than making the kid a living replacement for your own hysterectomized superego.  There is absolutely no chance, none at all, that your resentment of him will ever come through in your interactions.  ESPECIALLY not when your kid one day tries these things himself.  Impossible.  Your parenting is rock solid.


V.

Along with the article, The Atlantic includes a video clip of Gottlieb interviewing another therapist. They did this because they are trying to kill me.  If you want your head to ignite, fast forward the video to 1:05 and watch the next nine seconds, then call Universal Studios and tell them you're the next Ghost Rider.




It's worth watching the video, but here's what happens: brown haired Gottlieb introduces a smiling white hair and glasses Dr. Mogel, who responds:


Mogel: Hi, Lori.

(cut to Gottlieb)

Gottlieb: I just wanted to start off and say, it seems like this idea of ordinary is so----

(cut to Mogel)




gottlieb atlantic video.jpg


The moment Gottlieb gets to the word "ordinary," Mogel nods her head vigorously in agreement and then starts writing something down.  WTF is she writing??  a) it's an interview, b) Gottlieb hasn't even said anything yet, and c) Mogel's the one being interviewed!

So obviously it's a nervous thing, a reflexive gesture, sure, I get it, but what you and she don't get is that every time a therapist writes something down it's a nervous thing.   They write to discharge their anxiety of too long looking into a person's eyes and it not leading to either "I love you" or "I'm going to kill you."  I know this is going to run me afoul of every comfy-chair therapist in America, but there is no reason to write anything down, ever.  You're not a detective, you're not looking for coded messages or lost time, the patient is there for answers and the structure of your relationship is itself the answers.  Why does she like me?  Why does she get bored/angry/expansive when I do this?  Why did she continue with a therapist who is so uncomfortable around other people that they need a yellow pad as an emotional shield?  Seriously, that's not an accident at all, answer that question and the therapy is done, the patient is cured.

We can discuss good and bad technique later; the point here is to establish that these two people are creating "environments" that are safe for themselves.  It may also be safe for the patient, it may be labeled as "for the patient" but I hope it is evident that the real impetus is the comfort of the therapist.  With me so far?  Ok: that's also how they parent.

"Many of us went through psychoanalysis, and we learned the minutiae of despising our parents and all the horrible mistakes they made."

What kind of psychoanalysis did this woman pretend she went through? Only a two year old, a 16 year old or a narcissist hates their parents because of the less than perfect things that they did, and that anger, not the effects of the parenting, is where the focus of the therapy should have been.  And yet:

Let your kids hate you sometimes, it's good for them.  You don't have to always have them agree with you or have them always like you.

Note the phrasing-- this is good for the kids, which is actual kids, not the adults-that-were-once-kids.  Adults' anger gets to remain justified.

And it's a lie anyway.  Sure, it is good for the kids, but is there anyone who can't see that the primary reassurance is for the parents who can't handle being hated by their kids?


VI.

That Lori Gottlieb has had a life marked by free agency, drifting around from interest to interest, job to job, relationship to relationship; and having the unique luxury, first by parents, then by writing talent, of being able to afford such wandering; and that it all leads to therapy, not just as a patient but ultimately as a therapist-- is not at all an accident.

The old adage that shrinks go into shrinkage to figure themselves out sounds awesomely correct except that it's incorrect and inawesome.  They go into it so they don't have to figure themselves out.  Best way to avoid judgment is to become the judge.  Overruled.  I said overruled.

The therapist has a sanction to create narratives, and there's nothing better than being able to create a narrative that also defends your ego from all manner of attack.  Actually, there is one thing better:  be a therapist and a writer for The Atlantic.  Now not only do you get to create the narrative, you get to make it the accepted wisdom.  "I don't fall for it, I don't read The Atlantic."  It doesn't matter if you read it, if anyone reads it, an article's publication in it makes it the default intellectual position of middlebrow America, and so if you want to disagree the burden of proof is on you, eat it.  She wrote 500000 words justifying her depression as her parents' fault but her overparenting the result of "wanting what's best for my child" and now no one else has to, because it passes into conventional wisdom.  "Oh, smart people are spending less time with their kids to watch Weeds."  


atlantic warning.jpg


It's the same way that an advertisement for a TV show you'll never watch can change the way you think about sex, because you think it is how everyone else thinks about sex, and now suddenly it is how everyone thinks about sex.  The commercial-- not the show-- made it true.

Gottlieb wants it to be true that overparenting and artificial self-esteem is causing kids to become narcissists, but that's all defense. Overparenting doesn't cause narcissism, narcissism causes narcissism.(2)

Here's what a therapist should say:  "too perfect" parents who coddle and overprotect their kids aren't doing it for their kids, they are doing it for themselves, in defense of their own ego; and that, not the bike helmets, is why their kids end up adrift and confused.   The problem isn't that kids are too wussy to go out and play, but that their parents do not trust themselves, their generation ("if I graduated Wellesley and I'm this stressed out, that other mom must be a pedophile"), their impulses and instincts, so kids must be dandelions made of cotton candy in a rainstorm made of lava, which makes no sense yet it makes perfect sense: paranoia.  Ego vs. reality, and you can't appraise either.   And then one day your kid is punched by some bully raised by Nascar fans or baby mommas and you shut down the school because you think the problem is the bully. The problem is you.  The bully may have punched your Edward in the belly but you mobilized a school district to DEFCON 2, who has more power?  Who is the biggest bully?(3) 

The problem is you are in therapy not to become better parents or to do better work but to... to what?  Do you have any idea?

More than likely kids overcome all this, everybody finds their own way, but to those who feel stuck the only solution is to forsake all attempts at figuring out who you are, conveying who you are-- because you aren't anybody yet-- and just accomplish stuff, yet be ready to discover in 50 years that the sum total of your life's real accomplishments may be very different than what you expected, and it must be enough.  In the irreplaceable words of Marshall McLuhan: "there's nothing God hates more than some mofo with a cable subscription running out the clock." 

That'll be $250.  You can pay at the window.





You may also like:

Marry Him! Or Don't



------------------------------------------------

---  Footnotes:


  1. I've made this point before, but worth repeating: chronic, non-medical insomnia is a similar symptom of a lack of completion, accomplishment.  All the usual suggestions (read a book, light exercise) are temporary accomplishments, which is why they work; and the other maneuvers (surfing the web, watching TV, drinking) are searches for something accomplishable.  And nothing says accomplished like a Pornotron orgasm. Night night.
  2. A technical correction: the typical premise, articulated by Twenge (top of page) is that artificially elevating kids' self-esteem makes them narcissistic, grandiose.  But narcissism is not synonymous with grandiosity, not even close, and anyway high self-esteem should make them happier, not more anxious.  More accurately, the unhappiness comes not from thinking they are better than they are, and not even from the inevitable future failures, but from not being sure how good they are, if they are good at all.  They are not sure what is supposed to define them.   "How can you know what kind of a man you are if you've never been in a fight?" The important thing wasn't to win.  The reflex defense of existential anxiety is to define yourself against something, not "I am this," but "I am not that."  And where this is most harmful is the avoidance of guilt.  "Yes I did this, but I am not the kind of person who does that, you don't know the whole story..."
  3. Before you remember/reinvent how it was back in "the old days", here's the "sad" truth we just need to accept: we're never going back to the old way.  There was a time you could slap your bitch or paddle your kids, and right or wrong you can't do that now and you will never be able to again.  It doesn't matter if a little ass pinch at the office does improve productivity and morale, or treat zoster or prevent communism, it is never coming back.

    And the moment the nerds responded to a couple of wedgies with overwhelming firepower, the moment they made the bullying "this shit just got real" real for everyone else-- right or wrong, sissy or not, bullying was done forever.  If you're 11 and you punch a fat kid, let alone a gay fat kid, it's game over for you, they cancel your subscription to Weekly Reader and set you up for home schooling.  Unless you're in an inner-city school, of course, and then you get wrap-around services, 6 years of Adderall and extra time on tests.  We can spend the next 60 terabytes arguing whether this is progress or regress or whether America is soft or turgid, or we can stop wasting time comparing today to the day and just get on with the regular business of ordinary life.









Comments

No one who doesn't eat h... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 12:10 PM | Posted by Jason: | Reply

No one who doesn't eat human flesh would let their kid cry and do nothing.
Conclusive proof you've never eaten at Red Lobster.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 72 (76 votes cast)
"Seriously, that's not an ... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 12:27 PM | Posted by Gary: | Reply

"Seriously, that's not an accident at all, answer that question and the therapy is done, the patient is cured."

How do you know that you have actually answered the question, and not concocted another protective narrative?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 6 (14 votes cast)
the best piece of parenting... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 1:00 PM | Posted by Liora: | Reply

the best piece of parenting advice I could think to give my son on his high-school graduation: "Of all the things I have tried to teach you, the one I most want you to remember now is to know thyself—know your strengths AND your limitations, but especially your limitations, because that's what could really kill you. You know the story about Achilles, right?"

the thing of it is, "self-esteem" has never been shown to lead to happiness or fulfillment, and much of the bs surrounding the concept is, as noted, about superficial things. and if the idea is that you are esteemable because everyone wins a trophy for trying, not because you are worthwhile because you are you whether or not you suck at t-ball, it's no wonder many kids with positive self-esteem have no idea what any of it means.

the real "secret" to parenting is to love your kids unconditionally and to have unwavering faith in who they are and their ability to succeed--while at the same time being honest with them about your strengths and limitations and their own. it's not like they don't already know, and while it may seem paradoxical that being honest about our/their shortcomings is good for everyone involved, lying to them only undermines their ability to assess reality and trust in themselves.

i don't know. my kids are generally happy, well-adjusted, self-accepting, and (so far) extremely successful, by internal/personal measures and external/public ones. and there is nothing we don't discuss and struggle with together, as a family, because not being good at stuff and fucking up in life is just part of the deal.

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"Other than submit articles... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 1:06 PM | Posted by Walenty Lisek: | Reply

"Other than submit articles to The Atlantic, she did something else that a lot of confused, directionless people do: she became a therapist."

I minored in psychology when I was in college and noticed this trend as well. A lot of the psychology majors were there because they were self-medicating with the coursework. This was a big turn off for me and left a lasting enough impression that I don't trust therapists or the discipline of psychology in general. Well I also don't trust it for the blatant pseudo-science that was also often espoused.

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3st... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 1:50 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

3st

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -22 (32 votes cast)
Mama taught me unhappiness ... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 2:16 PM | Posted by Anna: | Reply

Mama taught me unhappiness comes from negotiating your mediocrity, which is just a nicer way of saying "coming to grips with your mortality." It's the negotiation part that's tough—much easier to coast off of indecision and moral equivocation.

In other news, can this one plz be in the book?

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Alone, if you don't write a... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 2:34 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Alone, if you don't write a book I am going to hunt you down.

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america is funny. i only kn... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 3:01 PM | Posted by jockstrap: | Reply

america is funny. i only know one person who's (admitted to having) had "therapy", and that was because he thought he was the jewish messiah. and the king of scotland.

he's better now. still weird though

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I get it. It's like microwa... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 3:35 PM | Posted by Jess: | Reply

I get it. It's like microwave food. It's all cooked, easy to prepare and understanding the process is not nearly as important as understanding the timer on the microwave.

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The sure sign of half-forme... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 3:51 PM | Posted by Robert St James: | Reply

The sure sign of half-formed personality is blaming your parents for who you are. I suppose it transfers over to anxiety that you're going to screw up with your own children just like they did. What about the children themselves? Maybe little Johnny really is a prison-bound monster, and little Jenny was always going to be a marketing exec no matter how they were parented.

Heh. There's an anxiety-reliever...


RstJ

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Permutation of cause and ef... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 7:29 PM | Posted by johnstricker: | Reply

Permutation of cause and effect.

Not: self-esteem leads to accomplishment/happiness.
But: accomplishment leads to self-esteem/happiness.

The first kind of self-esteem (being told one is special, being fussed about etc.) turns out to be empty, whereas the second one is proper, "one's own".

Disclosure: mid-thirties, single, no kids. The above reflects my personal experience.

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A. I thought the article DI... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 7:35 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

A. I thought the article DID say essentially this: ""too perfect" parents who coddle and overprotect their kids aren't doing it for their kids, they are doing it for themselves, in defense of their own ego."

and

B. "I'd like you to consider, for a moment, the kind of atrociously malignant parent that does not rush to comfort their toddler "even before she starts crying." -- My parents and lots of parents of their generation (now in late 60s-90s) seemed to be fine with this sort of laissez-faire or benign neglect behaviour and didn't consider themselves or others malignant. Crying wasn't considered something awful.

(I don't have kids and don't regularly read the Atlantic, but I thought the article was spot on for the most part.)

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Another great article that ... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 8:58 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Another great article that I think (and hope) I have benefited from in some ways from reading.

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A) You love Lori Gottlieb. ... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 9:25 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

A) You love Lori Gottlieb. By which I mean you hate her. Also, apparently, The Atlantic, Salon etc. etc. You've spent far too many words on her/them for it to be anything but true love/hate. We despise in others what we fear in ourselves etc. etc.

B) You should probably tone it down about knowing what it is that god hates. This is generally a funny, train-wreck of a blog but some times your craziness takes over and the tone becomes a bit too depressing. You and Marshall don't have any inside dope on any hatred but your own.

Keep it up. If your reading it its for you, and I'm reading it.

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Bullying is Awesome.<... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 9:43 PM | Posted by rDigital: | Reply

Bullying is Awesome.

http://partialobjects.com/2011/03/bullying-is-awesome/

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -4 (8 votes cast)
He speaks with authority be... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 11:26 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

He speaks with authority because he has no authority in his own life.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (15 votes cast)
Thank you for writing this.... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 11:36 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Thank you for writing this. :)

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 4 (4 votes cast)
Any notice the collective p... (Below threshold)

June 27, 2011 11:57 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Any notice the collective philosophy we share we addressing people's problems and shortcomings (find the not so obvious problem and relate it to a major theme seen in other contexts). I think this approach is valuable but incomplete as it is missing some of the positive psychology principles (identifying and building on the strengths and resiliency people have).

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I fuckin' love you sir. Eve... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 7:40 AM | Posted by Rookie: | Reply

I fuckin' love you sir. Every time I'm impressed by the latest article, every time it's a message I try to take to heart. It's far too easy to bullshit ourselves, our minds are built to do it, a great shortcut to the effort of changing our world for real, hey just do it inside our heads! Build up the dam bigger and bigger against the weight of reality, and then one day it breaks.

Keep chipping away, you're making a difference. I'm reading it. It's for me.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 13 (13 votes cast)
So you are saying that I sh... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 8:40 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

So you are saying that I should stop wallowing in subjectivity and just try to accomplish concrete stuff?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 21 (21 votes cast)
oh--and the very close seco... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 9:01 AM | Posted, in reply to Liora's comment, by Liora: | Reply

oh--and the very close second thought is that the real problem is not just the cult of self-esteem but the cult of self. at some point in the 70s/80s, we decided that the cure to our national ennui was to explore the self, bolster the self, love and perfect the self. but somewhere along the way we forgot about the importance of our interaction with others--who we are in the world as defined by how we behave in the world. it's not just about being productive. it is the ancient wisdom of the sages who immediately followed the question "if i am not for myself, who will be for me?" with "if i am only for myself what am i?" --because if we are not for ourselves, we are irresponsible, but if we are only for ourselves, we are less than human.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 16 (16 votes cast)
I vote for this one for the... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 9:30 AM | Posted by Patrick: | Reply

I vote for this one for the book.

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Since the topic is parentin... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 9:47 AM | Posted by Cambyses: | Reply

Since the topic is parenting... I was in the park with my kid the other day and a friend from high school sauntered over. He's known me for decades and commented, "she's dressed so bourgeois... you're not keeping it real." She was wearing a dress that my mom had sent to us, a high-end number that her grandmother had bought in order to help direct my choices in what kids need. So I picked up my friends' comments on my identity and my inauthenticity, then took a step back. The idea from my friend is that my child should reflect my own identity, or rather the identity that I would like the world to hold of me. Basically, she's a billboard for advertising my own authenticity. My mother's perspective is from a different generation (she's pre-baby boomer): "you've never been girl and despite your strengths as a dad, your fashion sense is dreadful. You need help with this."

I shrugged this off and moved on. Then there was some spot on the radio about Madonna and adopted kids from Africa. The thought came back, "what does my child tell you about me?" It's kind of an end-run around the aging notion of multiculturalism, seizing the signifiers of the "other" in a narcissistic re-interpretation of diversity. I had a brief reverie about rewriting "Heart of Darkness" with Madonna as Kurtz, then an eerie thought hit me... that there's something of a commodification of children at work here... of African children... This has all happened before. Frederick Douglass writes about one of the women who owned him and their awkward interpersonal relationship as he hit adolescence and ceased to function in her own internal economy. At the hands of Douglass, the tone of the narrative is tragic. At Douglass' hands, the narrative is tragic. On this radio show, it was heroic, rescue-fantasy material. There's almost something cognitively wrong with narcissists in that they are incapable of understanding tragedy.

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TLP was insightful but the ... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 12:45 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by RL: | Reply

TLP was insightful but the article criticized wasn't a good example; I think Lori would say she and he are writing about the same thing. TLP's judgement was more thoughtful and eloquent Lori's.

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Your point about therapists... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 1:07 PM | Posted by Jessica: | Reply

Your point about therapists with notepads is great - and it also applies in large measure to therapists with cognitive behavioural therapy. If you're running your therapy session like a business meeting with a formal agenda and the primary task is to intellectualize about the patient from an analytical, one-step-removed perspective, there's a good chance of avoiding anything even hinting at real relationship and interpersonal closeness. Emotional shield indeed!

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This better be in your damn... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 2:13 PM | Posted by Zenfnord: | Reply

This better be in your damn book.

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Excellent post. It squares ... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 2:15 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Excellent post. It squares with a lot of parents I've known in recent years, and how they discuss their own parents.

Also noticed how these very middle-class anxieties have transfered to poorer people who were once 'immune' (?) to such levels of narcissism (at least in the UK). Either through media noise, or actual public policy enacted 'on the ground' via various institutions. Being fed the ideology and values without any of the wealth.

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Excellent post. It squares ... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 2:17 PM | Posted by W.Kasper: | Reply

Excellent post. It squares with a lot of parents I've known in recent years, and how they discuss their own parents.

Also noticed how these very middle-class anxieties have transfered to poorer people who were once 'immune' (?) to such levels of narcissism (at least in the UK). Either through media noise, or actual public policy enacted 'on the ground' via various institutions. Being fed the ideology and values, without any of the wealth or opportunity.

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the notepad = run!... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 3:05 PM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

the notepad = run!

the only thing worse would be if she were a psychiatrist.

great post.

Jessica is right on with the behav therapy comment.

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Another classic TLP article... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 4:56 PM | Posted by MH: | Reply

Another classic TLP article, Alone.

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I love this as a descriptio... (Below threshold)

June 28, 2011 9:18 PM | Posted by Marcus: | Reply

I love this as a description of the class war:

>> "And then one day your kid is punched by some bully raised by Nascar fans or baby mommas and you shut down the school because you think the problem is the bully. The problem is you. The bully may have punched your Edward in the belly but you mobilized the school district to DEFCON 2, who has more power? Who is the biggest bully?"

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"More accurately, the unhap... (Below threshold)

June 29, 2011 7:33 AM | Posted by Or: | Reply

"More accurately, the unhappiness comes not from thinking they are better than they are, and not even from the inevitable future failures, but from not being sure how good they are, if they are good at all. They are not sure what is supposed to define them."

A lot of recent articles on this subject come close to articulating this point, but then they quickly fall back on the inflated-expectations line of reasoning. It was pretty clear to me and my friends that there was something odd about everybody being showered with awards weekly, and what I learned was to be wary of anyone who praised me. I noticed this same reaction especially in other high-achieving kids. We knew what kind of bullshit we were being fed and what little meaning there was in our formal accomplishments, but we also knew that as long as we kept the grades up and worked toward the next logical step, it would put off our day of reckoning. Do well enough, keep going to the next level, make it into an Ivy League or a top tech school -- you have no idea what you're going to do with your life, but whatever it turns out that you're meant to be, the door won't be closed if you stay on track now... except you'll never know what a door looks like. Royally screwing up and having to withdraw from college for a quarter and having to admit to myself that I finally broke the chain was the only thing that ever opened up any options.

God only knows how fucked I'd be if I'd finished my degree on time and applied to grad school with my cohort. Another recent trendy topic in Atlantic-ish magazines is how universities hoodwink such smart, dedicated people to slave away for eight years for zero chance at an academic job. But that's unnecessary when you hoodwink yourself. To do otherwise would prove you don't love your field enough to deserve that nonexistent job, so the less you love it, the more you have to do it.

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... or maybe your mom just ... (Below threshold)

June 29, 2011 11:38 AM | Posted, in reply to Cambyses's comment, by Sabrina: | Reply

... or maybe your mom just saw a nice dress in a shop window and got pleasure in buying it for her grand-daughter?

As to your friend -- I'm wondering, did he say "hello" to your little girl? And what does he mean by "keeping it real"?

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Rum must be in short supply... (Below threshold)

June 29, 2011 6:06 PM | Posted by Felan: | Reply

Rum must be in short supply if every perceived sin of media/humanity is made tolerable with its application. It would amusing to see you apply your usual fun house mirror to your own posts. What does the author want to be true when he says, "Get the rum, we're going to need it. No, all of it." Well he doesn't mean you should drink but that what he is about to reveal to you is another example of astounding badness that you will need tonic for the pain.

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Alone, I think that my ques... (Below threshold)

June 29, 2011 8:01 PM | Posted by Bnd: | Reply

Alone, I think that my question is probably a retread version of an old one:

could you point any influence to your idea in "The men, or women, aren't lying to you, and you're not even lying to yourself. You are being lied to, by yourself."?

I think that last sentence is just fucking awesome. It's being of great help lately.

I remember the response that you gave for: http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2009/08/district_9.html#c005186

I would appreciate any light on this.
Thanks!

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You want a comprehensive li... (Below threshold)

June 29, 2011 9:03 PM | Posted by Michael Duff: | Reply

You want a comprehensive list of every post on this blog? Just do a search for narcissism. I don't think you're wrong in these observations, but I'm afraid narcissism is one of those words like "selfishness" or "altruism" that can be twisted to mean anything you want it to mean.

Parents aren't doing things for their kids because they love their kids, all that matters is how their treatment reflects on the parents.

Nobody really cares about the homeless, they just pretend to do nice things so others will think well of them.

Nobody loves anyone, they just do the bare minimum required to keep the sex coming.

Nobody writes a book (or a blog) because they want to help people. The only reason this blog exists is to stroke your own ego. All that matters is the attention you get, right?

My point is, can't we do both? Every human action can be defined as selfish if you follow the motivation back far enough. What's the difference between dangerous narcissism and ordinary self-interest? Are ALL self-interested actions a symptom of narcissism now?

Do I have to be Mother Teresa and live in a shack? Do I have to break my TV and isolate myself from all advertising messages for ten years? You make the media sound so powerful, it's like we don't even have free will.

Maybe I just don't understand your definition. Instead of harping about narcissism, show me its opposite. Reach back into history if you have to. I'm ready to repent for my sins, but without virtue to measure it by, we can't even define what sin is.

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Hmm. So two points made: fi... (Below threshold)

June 29, 2011 11:54 PM | Posted by pseudonym: | Reply

Hmm. So two points made: first, your kid is your kid, not an extension of your success or failure. Second, if you want your kid to have self-esteem, drive them to accomplishment.

Combine the two together, and you get- let your kid succeed at whatever they're good at, even if I'm a scientist and my kid wants to be a (shudder) artist. Encourage her to kick ass at it. And encourage the virtues I value- honesty, diligence, stoicism- but don't tell her what music to like.

I can do that.

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It was pretty clea... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2011 12:58 AM | Posted, in reply to Or's comment, by Reader: | Reply

It was pretty clear to me and my friends that there was something odd about everybody being showered with awards weekly, and what I learned was to be wary of anyone who praised me. I noticed this same reaction especially in other high-achieving kids.

This. It's a kind of mental cluster-fuck to go through life second-guessing every compliment or bit of praise you get. I'm a writer - someone tells me they like my article, what's the gut reaction? "Give me the honest truth, mofo, and stop trying to blow sunshine up my ass."

Nothing is ever genuine. It may have started off as an innocuous bit of confidence bolstering nonsense - we'll tell all the Little Johnny's and Jane's we love their vomit on a page so they'll want to do better next time - but it turned into a culture that can't openly communicate at any level. I say "may" because I've only been around since '85, long after everything went to hell. [You old people think the 20-something Gen Ys are screwed up? Look at Gen X. At least we have cynicism to fall back on. They actually believed your nonsense.] Example: as a woman, it's insanely hard to have a man tell me I'm attractive without thinking, "How many condoms is he planning on using tonight?"

Now we're all narcissists. We're either the self-esteemed kind who believe every bit of happy ever sprinkled on us or the paranoid kind who think everyone is lying to us. Either way, everyone is always thinking about us, constantly, good or bad.

God help our children. Our parents over-indulged us, so obviously if we basically neglect our kids they won't be as screwed up. I hope Alone is still around in 20 years to do the postmortem on the next generation's flavor of neurotic.

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Interesting post.B... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2011 2:07 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Interesting post.

But like a quasi autistic I choose to hyperfocus on an irrelevant point, which will be criticized by other readers surely.


Insomnia is a sign of a hyperstimulated HPA axis.

I've had chronic insomnia, I don't have chronic insomnia any longer. It's HPA axis. "Lack of accomplishment" is one way to get there, but don't tell us everyone gets there via that route. I got there by not eating food and being in school and being underweight and estrogen deficient. Cortisol CRH and more cortisol. Try to sleep on THAT. Pffft.

This is a classic example of why psychiatrists suck. They get a preconceived notion about why a behavior or symptom is caused - irregardless of medical reality - and then they apply that to any patient who presents with the symptom. No, a lack of "accomplishment" did not prevent me from sleeping every single night. Weighing 100 pounds, not eating, being in school, and being amenorrhetic and estrogen deficient is why I could not sleep. If I did anything to diffuse my stress, such as take an opiate (suppresses CRH) or cry (also reduces stress), or eat a lot of food, or listen to hypnotic sounds which were calming, I could then sleep.

More than likely trying to "accomplish" something would only make it worse because accomplishment requires action which requires stress.

If you have a patient presenting with primary insomnia, odds are better than not they are in a state of HPA activation, due to physical and/or psychological stress. If it is a post menopausal female, it's probably estrogen related. If it is a very thin/dieting/over exercising person, it may be nutritional. If they are experiencing sudden stress in their life, it's that too. ALL OF THIS is stuff that increases CRH/cortisol and that will cause insomnia.

This is also why stress causes manic episodes - keeps your brain on BLAST. Yes, by the end of that stint, I was also manic.

Lets deal with medical reality here, not made up freudian nonsense religious-like fairytale explanations for real events.

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So basically, at the time o... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2011 2:31 AM | Posted, in reply to Liora's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

So basically, at the time of your son's life when he felt proud and accomplished, you took that time as the right one to remind him that he is weak and flawed like achillies?

Is horrible timing an accident, passive-agressive behavior, or something you pride yourself on in an ironic kind of way?

"Most sons would expect their mom to gloat on their graduation day - my mom told me I would probably fail and have a fatal flaw."

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Most important comment here... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2011 2:34 AM | Posted, in reply to johnstricker's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Most important comment here, including the OP.

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You old people thi... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2011 2:43 AM | Posted by Jason: | Reply

You old people think the 20-something Gen Ys are screwed up? Look at Gen X. At least we have cynicism to fall back on. They actually believed your nonsense.
Cynicism - if not outright nihilism - is a defining trait of Gen X. Read your Strauss & Howe. Or pretty much anything ever written on Gen X. What passes for cynicism among Millennials is just kind of cute. But it's funny that you little narcissists actually believe you were first to this party. That's fairly typical of Gen Y.
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a very narrow and grossly m... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2011 8:09 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

a very narrow and grossly misinformed interpretation of my comment. of course it was not at the moment of his graduation, and not the only words i had for him--simple the best bit in terms of advice moving forward. and, most importantly, my unconditional love and unwavering faith in who he is and his ability to succeed are what makes it possible for us to be honest about our weaknesses, no big deal, and plan/problem-solve accordingly.

Achilles was weak? are you kidding me?? Achilles was an ass-kicker--he just forgot to attend to his one fatal flaw.

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My point is to contrast the... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2011 9:04 AM | Posted, in reply to Sabrina's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

My point is to contrast the two interactions. The friend is not a bad guy, just an aging hipster locked for twenty years in his Ericksonian stage of identity vs. role confusion. Sadly, his interaction was with me via my daughter and not with her (he didn't interact with her at all), and she may as well not have been present. His whole life is characterized by these missed experiences. However, it sounded like he was critisizing my daughter. This is what made me irritable, "are you critisizing my kid's appearance?" Exit stage left. The kid likes the parks, particularly the ducks and the texture of grass, moss, tree bark, the splashing fountains and the feel of grass on her feet. The second issue (grandma) is that there are plenty of influences that will inflict anxiety on the parent (vaccines and autism, mercury in the fish, drugs in the breast-milk... parenting advertisements are just a carnival of grim consequences and paranoia), then steer that parent into a decision (you need this bottle, this pump, this gluten-free rice cereal). My mom, despite a three-decade long debate about my socks never matching, does not try to induce this anxiety. The result of this kind of anxiety, as I see it, is a temptation to forfeit one's authority as a parent to the judgment of any number of authorities (manufacturers, national autism foundation, the AAP...) to whom we defer when the anxiety gets overwhelming. This makes us good consumers and crappy parents who. Does that make better sense? I felt, from the interaction with the friend, that he was trying to influence how I dress my kid, which is none of his business.

As for "keeping it real", he meant that I have a profession, wear a tie and lost my accent during my education. This is a separate and gigantic issue in American culture.

Does that make sense?

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Ok, Anon.First, I ... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2011 10:15 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Ok, Anon.

First, I think that you focused on this point because of your medical history, not because of "like a quasi autistic I choose to hyperfocus on an irrelevant point, which will be criticized by other readers surely."

And, apart from that, very good point you have there. I see some of these mistakes in alone's writings too.
In another post, he said that he write, rewrite his texts before posting it; if it wasn't for that, I would think he's a little careless sometimes or on some topics.

It's just that he can't know about everything, and one and another mistake will come. I'm glad that people like you can contribute on this.

But all in all, Alone still doing a great job; some insights are priceless.

Bye,
and thanks for your comment. I was thinking about that insomnia point too.

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Yes, your reply makes a lot... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2011 11:27 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Sabrina: | Reply

Yes, your reply makes a lot of sense.

"The kid likes the parks, particularly the ducks and the texture of grass, moss, tree bark, the splashing fountains and the feel of grass on her feet."

The kid knows what "keeping it real" really means! Great days!

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Neither Alone nor Lori know... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2011 3:14 PM | Posted, in reply to johnstricker's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Neither Alone nor Lori knows what they're talking about. By Alone's own admnission he's a drunken failure, and Ms. Gottlieb doesn't need to tell anybody she's a failure at everything but self-promotion.

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Anon & Anon, Alone's actual... (Below threshold)

June 30, 2011 7:43 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Anon & Anon, Alone's actual words were "chronic, non-medical insomnia is a similar symptom of a lack of completion" (emphasis added). Doesn't seem that you are discussing the same phenomenon.

Thanks, Alone, for another thoughtful post.

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A failure at what? <p... (Below threshold)

July 1, 2011 12:57 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by : | Reply

A failure at what?

People who are HIGHLY successful often struggle with doubt. Self deprecation pushes you to new heights of achievement. Contentment leads to stasis.

"I'm only a thought leader in my field, how the hell am I going to get around to curing cancer?"

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Yeah, my mistake.T... (Below threshold)

July 1, 2011 8:16 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Yeah, my mistake.

Thanks.

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Well, in fairness, the whol... (Below threshold)

July 1, 2011 8:07 PM | Posted by Neovenator: | Reply

Well, in fairness, the whole 'taking notes after but 3 words were said i the interview' fiasco really wasn't. It sounds like a 'noddy shot', whereby editors insert a shot of an interviewer/ee nodding sagaciously to someone's statement because just watching their interlocutor prattle on for 3 minutes is especially boring (particularly if their surname is 'Gottlieb'). The particular shot was probably taken at the end of the interview, for insertion at a point of the editor's choosing.

To which you may say 'well, the whole concept of the therapist taking notes is what's really rotten, and just symbolises it'. I'm not sure that's true though. As someone who conducts interviews for a living, taking notes isn't just some way of avoiding gaze (at least, so I'd claim). Rather, it's used (perhaps, indeed, misguidedly) as a way of indicating that you are listening and that what the people are saying matters - 'gosh, what you're saying is so important and meaningful that I will write it down!'.

Anyways, pedancy aside it seems reasonable that the issue around cotton-wool parenting is likely one of self-justification. I do wonder if this manifests itself just as much as self-justifying that one's failings are due to one's parents or that one's parenting is better than that of your peers as much as it manifests as justifying your own selfish decisions and narcissistic guilt as a parent.

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Yea I was waiting for someo... (Below threshold)

July 2, 2011 2:33 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Yea I was waiting for someone to say that.

Chronic non-medical insomnia is like saying "chronic, non neoplastic cancer".

It's IMPOSSIBLE and the only reason TLP threw in the "non-medical" bit is because he knew someone would criticize him ("But I had severe depression and was insomniac and it wasn't because of lack of completion"). There are tons of well described medical illnesses where insomnia is a symptom.

However, the thing is, an dthis is a common psychiatrist mistake, TLP is assuming just because a medical cause is not well elucidated in the patient, that means there is no medical cause and the patient is just a borderline asshole who needs a shitton of therapy. Just because a real medical doctor has not diagnosed your patient with a medical cause does not mean the symptom is non-medical.

ANY AND EVERY time a person consistently and chronically cannot sleep I assure you the cause is probably medical. Even if it is as simple as a hyperactive HPA axis due to stress and rumination, therei s always a medical cause.

"Lack of completion" is fantasy religious-like freudian thinking. This is not how medical doctors should think.

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I consistently and chronica... (Below threshold)

July 2, 2011 6:12 PM | Posted by John: | Reply

I consistently and chronically can't sleep because my shoulder hurts and I have dry skin which is itchy. Also the dog next door barks. Why are extremely trivial causes not being thrown around with all the high-tonnage existential anxiety and hormonal problems?

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"saying you're doing it bec... (Below threshold)

July 2, 2011 9:33 PM | Posted by noob: | Reply

"saying you're doing it because it's good for the kids is like saying you're getting an Asian massage because it's good for Asians."

hahaha!

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Real Self-Esteem, li... (Below threshold)

July 3, 2011 8:57 AM | Posted by Ray: | Reply


Real Self-Esteem, like the Marine's sword, is never given, it is always earned. It cannot be otherwise. It is the internal reward for knowing you have tried, sometimes succeeded, and even when you have failed you have done your best. If I ruled the world I'd sentence, no, maybe that's not the right word? - require every kid in every public school to memorize the once-famous poem by Rudyard Kipling, "If," which begins . . . If you can keep your head when all of those about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you . . . Loving your kid isn't the same as giving your kid self-esteem, which you can't do, but you can teach your kid how to do his, or her, best, and earn their own self-esteem, and that's loving your kid.

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Okay, for those who've forg... (Below threshold)

July 3, 2011 9:29 AM | Posted by Ray: | Reply

Okay, for those who've forgotten this, or never read it, here is the recipe for genuine Self-Esteem:


If you can keep your head when all about you
are losing theirs, and blaming it on you
if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
but make allowance for their doubting, too
if you can wait, and not be tired by waiting
or being lied about, don't deal in lies
or being hated, don't give way to hating
and yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise

If you can dream, and not make dreams your master
if you can think, and not make thoughts your aim
if you can meet with triumph, or disaster
and treat those two impostors just the same
if you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools
or watch the things you gave your life to broken
and stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss
and lose, and start again at your beginnings
and never breathe a word about your loss
if you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
to serve your turn long after they are gone
and so hold on when there is nothing in you
except the Will which says to them, Hold on!

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue
or walk with Kings, nor lose the common touch
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you
if all men count with you, but none too much
if you can fill each unforgiving minute
with sixty seconds worth of distance run
yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
what's more, you'll be a woman then, my daughter
and what is more, you'll be a man, my son.

Rudyard Kipling - "If"

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This is no more insomnia th... (Below threshold)

July 4, 2011 12:40 AM | Posted, in reply to John's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

This is no more insomnia than someone who is locked in a room with no food for a few months is said to be suffering from anorexia.

Insomnia is defined by the inability to sleep assuming conditions permit sleep.

If someone is poking you with a stick every hour and therefore you can not sleep, you do not have insomnia, you have a shitty friend/family/partner who is poking you with a stick hourly.

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"Being given the illusion o... (Below threshold)

July 4, 2011 5:41 PM | Posted by Anonymoose: | Reply

"Being given the illusion of free choice when all of the choices are meaningless or terrible has a name, and they used to think it caused schizophrenia, so grant me that it probably drives some kids to therapy."

What name is Alone implying here? Crazy-making?

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I must confess that I thoug... (Below threshold)

July 4, 2011 8:09 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymoose's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I must confess that I thought of double bind theory... but I don't have any idea what he was referring to...

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I do think the cult of self... (Below threshold)

July 6, 2011 11:53 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I do think the cult of self esteem is a problem. It actually undermines the real self esteem. If you never struggle, victory is impossible. And if you can't even win a small victory because everything is handed to you, it causes a major problem to self esteem. In some way I think it makes a human being into a pet. Don't get me wrong, a pet has it pretty good, but it is also unnecessary. If your pet died, you'd be sad to be sure, but it's not essential to the household. And deep down most social animals (humans included get that. And they are driven by instinct to seek usefulness for themselves. Dogs are much happier chasing rabbits and walking their humans than lying about the house. And I think it's the same thing for humans -- we feel the need to give something to society and struggle against the odds. If we get stymied by being pandered to, then it's a psychic blow. the message isn't that you're so good that we need to protect you, but that you can't handle it for yourself and we need to baby you.

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Oh hell -- thank you, thank... (Below threshold)

July 10, 2011 1:46 AM | Posted by EAS: | Reply

Oh hell -- thank you, thank you. I could never articulate why the whole "it's all your fault for being coddled as a kid" concept sits so poorly with me, but you are exactly right. It was never that my parents couldn't bear to see me in pain. (They've intentionally inflicted enough of it that that excuse wears very thin as the years go on.) They couldn't bear their own response to it. They couldn't bear their own anxiety. You have just solved a mystery that has been plaguing me for most of my life.

To this day I struggle with the fact that my mother is incapable of expressing any emotion except for anger at me -- her outlet for fear. (Pride, happiness, joy: all these things are reduced to "Oh. Well, I expected it of you.") Unfortunately, the rational knowledge doesn't help much with the emotional response; I cannot talk myself into feeling her anger for me as fear FOR me. That channel was broken long ago.

And I'll volunteer that my father gave up motorcycle riding "for the kids" when he first became a father, then built himself a biplane. (He did both things very well and later became an exceptional MSF instructor, for which I still admire him very much, but "for the kids" was never the reason for any of it.)

I'll also offer that the best -- all right, the only good -- therapist I've ever had was a man who very seldom spoke and never wrote a single word of notes (in my presence), but years later remembers all the details of my miserable little personal problems. (But wait, does it make me a narcissist to judge my therapist on those particular criteria? Nevermind, we're all narcissists here.) In any case, today I would describe him not as a therapist or as a counselor but an empath.

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Oh, and I too want you to p... (Below threshold)

July 10, 2011 2:02 AM | Posted by EAS: | Reply

Oh, and I too want you to publish a book so that it can become the Gideon's Bible of shrink waiting rooms across the globe. Except your book would be, you know, helpful.

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it's Westchester, NY, West ... (Below threshold)

July 13, 2011 6:04 PM | Posted by me: | Reply

it's Westchester, NY, West Chester is in PA

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A knowledge, a growth, a go... (Below threshold)

July 29, 2011 10:51 PM | Posted by cheap chi flat iron: | Reply

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cheap chi flat iron

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"to those who feel stuck... (Below threshold)

August 1, 2011 3:53 AM | Posted by DG: | Reply

"to those who feel stuck the only solution is to forsake all attempts at figuring out who you are, conveying who you are-- because you aren't anybody yet-- and just accomplish stuff, yet be ready to discover in 50 years that the sum total of your life's real accomplishments may be very different than what you expected, and it must be enough."

Fucking awesome.

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One of the best, period. I ... (Below threshold)

September 14, 2011 5:46 AM | Posted by DGS: | Reply

One of the best, period. I hope this comment gets more eyes on it

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Who ARE you? This is brilli... (Below threshold)

November 3, 2011 3:33 PM | Posted by Amanda: | Reply

Who ARE you? This is brilliant! When that article came out last summer, I wanted to scream. I actually cancelled my free gift subscription that I got last year to The Atlantic (ok... I just let it lapse... but I let it lapse with purpose and intention, so... same diff). Still, never have I read such a succinct argument for any of the ridiculous arguments Gottlieb makes about marriage and family as this one. I can't wait to read what you have to say about that book she wrote. Many thanks for an enjoyable read. /cas

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I'm a doctoral student in s... (Below threshold)

November 10, 2011 9:50 PM | Posted, in reply to Walenty Lisek's comment, by Jennifer: | Reply

I'm a doctoral student in social psychology, and your comment has muffed up my day and my self esteem. You'll be paying for my next few decades of therapy, correct?
In seriousness, I have to jump to the defense of my field. I will agree with you that there are psychology professors who spout pseudoscience, particularly in an undergraduate institution. Professors in undergrad also often teach outdated theories as though they're still considered to be true, even though current research has blown them by. There are biology professors guilty of the same. This is really a reflection of the professor and perhaps the department, not the field of psychology in general. (Note that I speak for psychology, not psychoanalysis/psychodynamics and not psychiatry. The latter are both very different fields.)

Psychological science today, particularly in academia, is guided by a firm belief in scientific reasoning and evidence-based practices. Self esteem research actually began largely in social psychology. However, a peek at contemporary, peer-reviewed, journal articles on the subject will show that researchers today are finding that excessively high self esteem is actually often associated with negative consequences. That bullshit some well meaning counselor tells you that the school bully is stealing your lunch money because he (or she) feels badly about himself (or herself) has failed to show up in empirical study. What researchers have instead found is that that bully probably thinks he (or she) is a pretty awesome person, and that's why he (or she) has the right to bully others.
Unfortunately, the self-esteem business, along with a lot of other pseudoscience, has made a lot of people a lot of money. Plus, who doesn't want to believe a theory that says we have a right to feel good about ourselves? I'd love to think I'm a super awesome gal and be able to discount anything I do that may suggest otherwise. I'll take my ribbon for participating in life, thanks!
Also, I certainly can agree with your contention that students often use psychology coursework to "self-medicate." Sometimes this isn't such a bad thing; is it really so terrible to learn better ways of interacting with others, ways to avoid cognitive errors, etc? Unfortunately, many of those very students are in the wrong major; they often fail to think critically and scientifically about the issues they're facing.
I'd really like to say that they mostly come out in the wash, but my experience with some psychology graduates indicates that they can cling on nicely and managed to "earn" a degree. This isn't always the case, and I'm very sorry to hear that you had to deal with such irresponsibility from your professors. I must ask, though, that you understand that many of us are fighting the good fight against pseudoscience. When you dismiss the entire field, you're dismissing the life work of genuine and ethical psychological scientists. You're also losing out on a lot of opportunities to hear some really great stuff. And some really boring stuff. But, hey. We can be pretty nerdy.

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I'm not sure either, maybe ... (Below threshold)

January 29, 2012 8:27 PM | Posted by ginnygeneva@gmail.com: | Reply

I'm not sure either, maybe schizogenic? You could certainly call it manipulative too, but just calling it schizogenic or manipulative would not, of course, make your meaning as clear as what TLP actually wrote in the text.

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I retired from the Navy aft... (Below threshold)

April 9, 2012 10:44 PM | Posted by bill jones: | Reply

I retired from the Navy after a long career.

I wore a uniform every day with every single one of my accomplishments neatly pinned to my chest.

With every single officer and enlisted they knocked you to the ground and almost dared you to get up. Those who rose up succeeded. Those who stayed flat, failed.

And that is about it. Other than that the military was entirely unremarkable.

But to its credit: The honesty of its brutality was impressive.

You are NOTHING unless you accomplish something.

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Wearing seatbelts, and helm... (Below threshold)

April 16, 2012 2:51 PM | Posted by lauren: | Reply

Wearing seatbelts, and helmets for skiing and biking isn't coddling, concussions suck. Safety measures suffuse our daily lives, it's as simple as it's costly when an accident happens. I've had to put expensive systems in my company on the production floor that were never dreamed of in the 70s (or current 3rd world conditions.) I'm fairly sure a production worker doesn't become more confident and manly if an arm gets chopped off by a brake press. Really.

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Hi, just wanted to tell you... (Below threshold)

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LMAO; great write-up. I sto... (Below threshold)

October 24, 2012 12:01 PM | Posted by Trebuchette: | Reply

LMAO; great write-up. I stopped worrying about it (parenting); did what felt right, kept smoking, cursed like a sailor (until recently, for personal reasons opted to clean up my mouth), but helped with homework (to make school less drudgery), probably a little over-protective but don't give a shi--poop. My kids are in h.s. now and doing okay; not at all how I expected them to be, but fun to be around, decently well-liked, somewhat productive. I think if you don't stress/overthink about being good parent, kids will be who they'll be and it'll work out.

But I do force-feed them this blog, LOL. So many of their friends, really intelligent people (I'm not into IQs except for extremes), got on the ritalin train. Saddest crap I've ever seen. Little zombies, or emos, or whatever. I don't blame the parents, though; I blame the system that allows for a holocaust to take place right under our noses with a rubber stamp of approval from the FDA. I don't know those kids that well anymore, though I did try to intervene a little (not too much because 'doctor knows best', parents reasonably argued).

I think one day, we'll look back and realize we are a lot like the 'evil German citizens' who didn't fight Hitler's cleansing of the state. Seriously, I used to say, "if I had been in Germany back then, shit wouldn't have happened!". And yet I'm not up in arms about the zombifying of the nation's less-privileged by 'professionals'. At least maybe now, I think I can feel a BIT of what those 'irresponsible' Germans who didn't overthrow Hitler might have felt like: 'MAYBE it's not as bad as Alone makes it out to be'; and, 'well, those kids CAN be a problem and MIGHT hurt us one day if they're not "treated"'. And my ubiquitous, 'I don't like it, but I don't know what to do about it.'

I have every confidence that a future generation will look back on us and wonder how our society approved of such a vile way of bringing up children: handing over reins to 'professionals'. They will hate us and claim to their children that we're example of how NOT to be.

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in your second endnote - sh... (Below threshold)

April 13, 2013 2:00 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

in your second endnote - shouldn't it be avoidance of shame, not avoidance of guilt, since the re-writing says 'I'm not that kind of person' -- not 'I didn't do it'?

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Response to Anon in the ins... (Below threshold)

July 7, 2013 1:11 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Miko: | Reply

Response to Anon in the insomnia discussion:

I agree Alone's explanation of (non-medical) insomnia is probably overly reductive, but you're being just as reductive, if not more. Alone is reducing everything to psychological causes, while you're reducing everything to medical causes.

I don't know your story, but let's take a hypothetical person with a similar story to yours. She can't sleep and she says she's stressed out at school and she's not eating. It seems to me that "OK, let's test your cortisol and estrogen levels" is not obviously the right way to start helping her. At some point wouldn't you want to know WHY she's not eating? Why she feels stressed?

You mentioned things like rumination as a cause of insomnia--rumination is a not a medical condition, unless you've decided to redefine "medical."

Of course, now that we all know (or believe) that everything ultimately has a physical cause, it's true that the line between "medical" and "non-medical" has blurred. But that doesn't mean we should throw out psychological explanations--there's still a need to understand the behavioral and mental processes which arise from physical foundations. It's not Alone's job to describe every neural pathway and brain chemical that results in a particular psychological state (although I'm not denying the usefulness of that information).

Identifying the chemicals involved in a certain problem does not fully explain the problem. There's a complex interaction between thoughts, behaviors, and hormonal/chemical processes. Ultimately these things may all be physical, but focusing on the purely physical processes is not always the most helpful way to look at it. Similarly, we can break down any piece of music into its component sound frequencies, but that doesn't mean we should throw out music theory.

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