Thursday, October 31, 2013

Real Halloween Terror: Scary Adults!

Don't worry about psychopathic clowns on Halloween.
Be afraid of real adults with no common sense.
The news of the North Dakota woman who is going to be handing out candy to thin kids and letters to kids she deems "moderately obese" was all over social media yesterday. It doesn't take an expert to realize what a bad idea this is (think of the hurt it can inflict on kids, the anger it can arouse in parents, and the toilet paper it can elicit from teenagers). Nevertheless, here are my thoughts from yesterday's 9 News interview:

Click here if the video does not appear above.

Thanks for reading, and Happy Halloween-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Exhibitionism: When Is It Dangerous, And When Is It Just Annoying?

Narcissus, the mythical Greek who fell in love with himself.
At least he didn't show anyone his junk.
Last week, Will Ripley reported on a story out of Parker, Colorado where a man has been seen knocking on windows and then exposing himself to others.
Will interviewed me for the story.

Here is the video:

Click here if the video does not automatically appear.

In researching the phenomenon of exhibitionism for this story, I discovered a few interesting pieces of information:

1. Exhibitionism is considered a 'paraphilia,' a disorder where a person gets sexually aroused by an inappropriate action.
2. Exhibitionists typically engage in other paraphilic behaviors such as voyeurism.
3. People who engage in nonsexual crimes (like robbery, assault, etc.) and exhibitionism tend to be dangerous and may physically or sexually assault their victims.
4. People who only engage in the paraphilic behavior of exhibitionism are typically 'harmless,' in that they have no desire to attack their victims.
5. Exhibitionism is driven by narcissism and a lack of ability to appropriately express oneself. The act of exposing one's genitals to someone else is seen as a way of 'showing off.'

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Natural Disasters: Warning Signs for Emotional Distress

Several weeks ago, those of us who live in Colorado had to deal with a highly traumatic natural disaster. We are not used to floods, and the people and the terrain are not equipped to deal with the aftermath. In addition to roads and houses being destroyed, people lost their lives in the flooding. And, many people whose homes were badly damaged did not have flood insurance, leaving them with no way to pay for repairs.

From an emotional standpoint, most of us are going to be okay. Even those who were hardest hit will find a way to move on. But, in the midst of the tragedy and for some time after, it is not uncommon to experience mental health symptoms similar to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

If people are experiencing symptoms of anxiety after the flood (or any natural disaster), they may be struggling with a phenomenon known as acute stress disorder. Here are some of the symptoms:

1. Intrusive thoughts: recurrent and involuntary thoughts about the traumatic event
2. Nightmares
3. Negative mood and inability to feel happy
4. An "altered sense of reality" like seeing yourself from someone else's perspective
5. Amnesia for the traumatic event, like not being able to remember what happened
6. Avoidance of all mention of the trauma
7. Sleep or appetite problems
8. Angry mood and behavior
9. Being hyperaware of your surroundings, almost like feeling paranoid
10. Problems with concentration
11. Exaggerated startle response

It is common for people to experience a few of these symptoms after a major trauma. The issues normally
go away on their own, But, if you or anyone you know is experiencing a majority of these symptoms, you may be under acute stress. The stress typically dissipates within about a month. If the symptoms last longer than that, you are at risk for developing a more permanent problem, such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. If that is the case, you should see your doctor and think about the possibility of medication or psychotherapy.

Here is a link to a 9 News video where I talk about some of the symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder:

Click here to watch the video if it does not immediately appear in this blog post.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

reference: The list of symptoms for Acute Stress Disorder came from the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association

Thursday, October 3, 2013

One Potential Solution To The Gridlock In Washington: Chill Out

I think just about everybody in the US is angry right now. Democrats are angry at Republicans. Republicans are angry at Democrats. Progressives are angry at Conservatives. Conservatives are angry at Progressives. People hate the 1%. People hate the 47%. Billionaires are horrible people. Poor people suck.

It does not matter what your opinion is--At this very moment, you can find someone who agrees with you who is saying something awful about someone who disagrees with you. If you don't believe me, turn on a 24-hours news channel. Or just check Twitter.

Anger can be useful sometimes. It can be a clue that we really care about something. It can spur us to action. It can be a warning sign that we are masking other emotions.

But, it can also cause intransigence. In a 2013 study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers discovered something interesting. When they trained Israeli citizens to recognize, reassess, and regulate their negative emotions, they were much more willing to consider cooperating with Palestinians.

The researchers trained half the research participants in what they called "cognitive reappraisal," which is the emotion regulation process described above. The other half of the participants did not receive the training. The researchers then provided anger-inducing information about Palestinians to all of the Israeli participants.

Those Israelis who received the training were much more likely to want to work out their differences with the Palestinians, and those who did not receive the training were much more likely to want to respond to the anger-inducing information with aggression.

Interestingly, the effects of this one-time cognitive training lasted for at least five months. All of the research participants were reassessed at that time, and those who received the training were still much more likely to want to cooperate with Palestinians.

You have to hand it to the researchers--they really went for it. They could have examined the divide between Mounds and Almond Joy lovers, but instead they looked at one of the biggest conflicts in the world's most conflictual region. And they showed that chilling out helps.

Isn't there something in the Constitution about being
about to tar and feather politicians we don't like?
So, what does this mean for people in the United States? Maybe our real political problem is not that we have a certain president or that one side or the other is trying to ruin the economy. Maybe the real problem is that we all have been trained to be highly partisan and to see those who disagree with us as "the enemy." When the enemy does something we disagree with, we get very angry and we dig in our heels on issues that seem important to us.

The next time you notice this happening to you, stop for a moment and think about your anger. Think about how you are buying into a broken political system that needs to be changed. Take a few deep breaths. Calm yourself down. Recognize that the vast majority of Americans are not trying to sabotage anything. We disagree, but we all want the United States to succeed. Instead of stopping at the anger stage, think about why you are getting angry. Think about more constructive ways of dealing with that anger--educating someone who does not have the correct information, learning more about the issue yourself, looking for commonalities rather than focusing on differences, and so on.

If you do this, there is a good chance you will feel yourself wanting to cooperate with others. And others will want to cooperate with you.

If you need to win every argument, this will eventually
be you. At least you'll have a book to keep you company.
If you stop your emotional process with anger and then fire off a snarky tweet or an ill-worded Facebook post, you are not helping anyone. You won't change anyone's mind. You will feel miserable. And, you will be letting the emotionally immature people who currently run our political system play you for a fool. Stand up to them by refusing to get angry. If we can all just chill out a little bit and learn to cooperate, our elected officials will have no choice but to grow up and start cooperating, too.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

reference: Halperin, E., Porat, R., Tamir, M., & Gross, J. J. (2013). Can emotion regulation change political attitudes in intractible conflicts? From the laboratory to the field. Psychological Science, 24(1), 106-111.


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