Archive for the ‘Human Relations’ Category

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Is Civility and Human Kindness Dead?

May 4, 2010

I wonder what it is that makes some people so mean and cruel? I am not talking about terrorists or some convicted criminals, but every day, ordinary folks who act or speak in hurtful and mean spirited ways. Is there something about human nature that makes people hurt others, spread lies and say mean and ugly things about them? I just don’t get it. I am certainly not a perfect person and have had my moments but I try to live and let live. I strive to be positive and support others. Sure, there are plenty of people that I don’t care for and whom I dislike, but I don’t purposely set out to hurt them.  It is the purposefulness of the hateful behavior that disturbs me.

It is as if civility and human kindness are dying, if they are not already dead. The lack of both is demonstrated daily by politicians, CEO’s of Corporate America, professional athletes and celebrities. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me when ordinary people follow suit. There seems to be a need in some folks to bring others down and destroy them for personal gain. And when you are the victim of this type of campaign it is hurtful and depressing. I have seen the pain in friends, colleagues and the people I work with. And I have felt it myself. Sadly, there is almost nothing you can do to protect yourself or your reputation. Often, the best you can do is turn the other cheek and refuse to respond in kind.

Maybe the worst part is that some people seem to enjoy hurting others and actively set out to do so. They take joy from their cruel acts and words and laugh about their behavior with their friends. If you aren’t a member of their “club,” “inner circle,” or “organization,” you are seen as an enemy that needs to be destroyed. And if they don’t act and you succeed, the belief is that you will take away from them, or somehow diminish their own success. Isn’t it possible for all of us to succeed and be fulfilled by our individual endeavors? Why must some act to destroy others? What are they afraid of? What would happen if we supported and encouraged each other?

Perhaps we can all grow and become better human beings by reversing roles with and walking in the shoes of those we attack, speak unkindly of and treat inhumanely. Imagine what the world would look like if more of us did this. What have we got to loose?

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Open Forum

March 15, 2010

Instead of posting my thoughts, ideas and opinions this month, I open my blog to your ideas, comments and opinions on any topic of your choosing. I would like to hear from you about what is on your mind. I look forward to reading your posts!

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More Musings on Friendship

February 3, 2010

I have written before on the topic of friendship and the meaning, to me, of what it means to be a “true friend.” I find myself returning to this topic time and time again because it is something that often occupies my mind; especially when there is a break in a relationship with a person whom I believed was my friend but who, for expediency or to preserve their relationships with people in positions of power, ceased communication, abandoned me and at times, have acted hostile or even hateful toward me. No matter the reason, the ending of a relationship with someone you believed was your friend, is painful; more so when no reason or explanation has been offered, leaving you to guess and speculate.

From my perspective, I don’t understand how friendship can be so easily abandoned and tossed aside. Why claim to be someone’s friend if you are not, or if you are willing to end the friendship to advance your own interests or because some other friend expects or demands that you cease your relationship with another friend? Didn’t we leave that type of behavior behind in junior high school? I can hear the 7th grader demanding:  “You can’t be friends with so and so because I don’t like them anymore!”  Or “I won’t play with you anymore if you are friends with so and so.”  Or  “You can’t be in my club because you are friends with X.” Sadly, some people I know willingly play these games and easily throw good people aside, people to whom they professed friendship, simply because these good people have relationships with folks their purported “friend” doesn’t like, is upset with or struggling to understand. I find this behavior immature, petty and plain old mean spirited. It is certainly not the behavior of a “true friend” or that of a good person.

I don’t take my friendships lightly and don’t profess to be someone’s friend unless I am willing to do my part to maintain the relationship and to be honest and open with them. I may not always succeed, but this is my intent. And sometimes being open and honest with a friend can be painful. But it is real and genuine. I want my friends to be who they are, fully and completely. I don’t expect us to like the same people or to have the exact same circle of friends. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be disagreements amongst friends or that we share identical opinions on all topics.  But when we do disagree, we do so with honesty and integrity and most importantly, respect.  We allow each other to view the world through our individual lenses and are free to share and discuss our respective points of view. We value and respect each other’s individuality, unique gifts and talents. To me, these are some of the great gifts that flow from true friendship.  I want friends with whom I can be my most authentic and true self. True friendship is to be treasured and valued. It enhances us an individuals and enriches our lives.  At least it has mine.

My experiences over the last many months have made me realize that for many people the term “friend” is really just a synonym for the term “acquaintance;” that  the words “I am your friend” are used frequently because friendship is socially valued and makes the person using the words feel good about themselves and elevates them in the eyes of their peers. After all, being a “good person” means having a lot of friends.  Doesn’t it?

But for my taste, many people throw the word “friend” around too easily. Perhaps they do so to impress others, because it suits them in the moment, or because they think saying they are a friend will get them something. This realization is both painful and discouraging. Maybe I am just operating from a different playbook.  Or maybe I am just naïve about friendship.

The good news, for me at least, is that I am blessed with some wonderful “true friends” who are honest and have integrity. Who do more than talk the talk; for whom the words “I am your friend” truly mean something, both in thought and deed. True friendship does not know distance or time. And so, to my “true friends,” thank you. You are amazing and wonderful people and I am blessed to have you in my life. And to those of you who have claimed to be my friend but your words were hollow or borne out of self –interest, thanks, but no thanks. I only have room in my life for true friends.

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An Intensive Start To 2010

January 6, 2010

2010 is off to a great start! I just returned from a four-and-a-half day psychodrama directing intensive in Phoenix, AZ, which I attended with one of my best friends, Fredi Sison. The trainer was Rebecca Walters of the Hudson Valley Psychodrama Institute. For those who aren’t familiar with directing intensives, the format is designed specifically to help folks who are learning to direct psychodrama and/or who are looking to improve their directing, increase their skills and proficiency. The intensive is limited to nine participants each of whom directs a two-hour psychodrama session including warm up, protagonist selection, action and sharing. After each drama, a full hour is spent thoroughly and completely processing the drama, discussing the psychodramatic method, director’s choices, options and ideas for improvement. Sociometry is also incorporated into the teaching. Feedback is specific and concrete. The intensive is a positive and safe environment in which to learn more about directing and to grow your skills and improve.

In addition to the opportunity to direct a full drama and run a group session, each participant gets to be a protagonist. I have found that working on my own issues and being in the role of the protagonist has helped me grow as a person and has been a great way to learn more about directing. Every time I am a protagonist I learn something new about directing.

One of the things that made this intensive so wonderful were the participants in attendance. In addition to me, Fredi and Rebecca, six other women from Arizona and Minnesota participated. (Unfortunately, the ninth participant had to cancel at the last minute due to a death in her family.) Five of the other six participants were mental health professionals and the sixth a woman with a PhD who has spent her career in academia. All of us have trained with various other psychodramatists across the country. Only three of the participants (including Fredi and me) are certified practitioners of psychodrama. The breadth of experience using psychodrama the group collectively brought to the intensive and the variety of ways in which each of us has done so added richness to the learning. We each brought our unique style to our directing and the laboratory in which we learned together was rich with new ideas.

There is something special and wonderful about working with an entire group of women. There were no egos, no attitudes or competition.  The group was incredibly supportive, collaborative and nurturing.  Our creativity flourished. The willingness to share and help each other grow and improve was powerful. Kindness and compassion were ever present.  We both laughed and cried together. I have participated in many psychodrama workshops over the years but this one was special given the wonderful, caring and talented women in attendance. I have added six new friends to my social atom.

I can’t yet articulate all that I learned but I know I have grown as a director and as a person. My personal drama was painful but gave me great insight into myself and a relationship I have deep pain about. I am eternally grateful for the group, the director who led me through my drama and for the insights I gained and the new ideas and tools I will add to my arsenal.

It was particularly wonderful to spend time with Fredi. She is an amazing woman, treasured friend and genuine person. She inspires me in so many ways and together, along with Mary Peckham, our creative energy sustains and energizes me. I am so blessed to have both Fredi and Mary in my life. I have no words to express all they mean to me or how much each of them has helped me grow.

2009 was a very difficult and painful year for me in many ways. I am more than glad to put it behind me.  Although 2010 is in its infancy, I am already building the foundation for a great year.

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Speaking Out – By Carl Bettinger

December 7, 2009

For the past few months  I’ve thought of little but Larry Selk’s story, the profoundly disabled man who was sodomized in a resident care home.  Towards the end of my closing, I told the jurors that I recognized that it is scary to speak up and be heard, yet doing so is sometimes necessary. I should not ask of my jurors anything more than I ask of myself.

During the trial, I was asked to staff Round Top in February.  Normally, I would have signed on without a moment’s hesitation.  I’ve decided not to staff the Round Top program. This is the first time I have not accepted a request to staff that was not related to work or family matters since I began staffing in 2003.  I can go to Texas in February, but I choose not to. This isn’t easy for me, as I believe that the TLC which now exists is one that may decide to remove me from staff for speaking up, a removal that I do not want, but if I can’t say what I want and need to say without fear of retribution, I don’t belong here.

Two months ago, when I showed up to staff the Advanced Program at the Ranch, I was asked by Jude Basile to resign from the Board. While it was deemed a “request”, there did not seem to be any volition involved. I agreed to do so, as I was planning to resign after the Board Meeting in January, 2010. However, I  was bothered by the timing of it, and the disingenuous way it was done. It occurred the first night that staff showed up for the program and without any forewarning. The decision to ask for my resignation clearly had been made long in advance of my arrival. To me it felt as though I had been kept in the dark so that I would prepare for and show up to staff the Advanced without having a chance to consider whether to attend at all under the circumstances. To my knowledge, my “resignation” from the Board, and those of Lynne Bratcher, Katlin Larimer and Fredi Sison, were requested without a formal Board vote.

There have been many changes in recent years at TLC that trouble me, and many relate the extent to which important decisions are made behind closed doors. I am not suggesting that the Board not make decisions, but why are the minutes not available to all alumni? In fact, why does the Board self-select? Why not an election of Board members by the alumni? Since people have questions about the finances, why not simply post the books to the web page so any alum can examine them? When I was on the Board (albeit the shortest tenure ever for any Board member!), I was shown the books. Why not show them to everyone? Why are staff evaluations not disclosed to the very staff being evaluated, and how many of you know this is the practice, i.e., not to show them to staff?

Why are so many decisions, particularly those of consequence, made in secret? Who has been removed from staff, when, and by whom? Will this be formally announced, or will these staff simply disappear? It would seem that Joane is no longer a member of the TLC staff. When was this decision made? And by whom? Why not put it to a vote of the alumni, many of whom return again and again as students?     Why should so many, particularly staff, feel reluctant to speak up for fear of retribution? During Grad II, Fredi Sison utilized a modified psychodramatic  exercise which probably has a formal name, but I will call “Step-in.” The group forms a large circle. A person steps in and says, “Who else here [fill in the blank]?”  Our psychodramatists had used this in other contexts before, usually asking people for a personal sharing. This time, however, the share was not limited. Participants asked wonderful questions, e.g., “Who else here has had to care for a dying loved one?”; “Who has ever lived with a mentally ill person?” “Who considers their body a friend?”   A collection of these would be enough for a book on jury selection. I asked, “Who is afraid to speak their truth at TLC for fear of retribution of some sort?” Many group members stepped in. After this year’s staff training, I suspect that number would be much higher if that question were posed to the staff.

My concerns include the loss or marginalization of those who, to my way of thinking, make TLC possible, particularly the psychodramatists.  It should go without saying that our psychodramatists are the finest of their kind in the world. To say we are lucky to have them is like saying the world is lucky to have oxygen. Yet, they have become increasingly marginalized over the years, particularly this year in the way they have not been fairly compensated. (If money is a problem, I sincerely doubt that the TLC community would not do what is necessary.) The college’s curriculum is unique because of psychodrama, and it succeeds because of psychodrama.  John Nolte,  who had been with the College from its earliest times, has contributed much over the years.  Not only his outstanding psychodramatic skills, but his sense of humor, his compassion, his sense of fair play have made this college a special place for so many.  He told me he had been invited to Round Top, but that TLC would not pay his way (although one Board member graciously offered to pay for it personally); rather he was expected to pay his own way and to teach without pay.  I find that insulting.  Katlin has been responsible for many of the exercises that we use at the college. She has the most institutional knowledge of all, but has been increasingly sidelined. Don is our guru on groups, Kathie our luminary on speaking your mind, and Louise Lipman, our newest, is out of this world. They are part of the very essence of TLC, yet are being treated as though they are otherwise.

My concerns continue with other fantastic staff we have lost over the years. Charlie Abourezk is gone. Garvin Isaacs is gone. Susan Mindenbergs, Cricket. All gone, either by their choice or design. Joane was told she would be asked to staff and she has not been, nor would there appear to be any intention to ask her.  Fredi Sison would appear to have joined this circle of non-staff. After Joane left, Fredi volunteered as the executive director of two programs, Grad II and the Advanced, both of which turned out great. She not only oversaw each program, but she created the curriculum and developed a new exercise (which I referred to in my postings about my recent trial as the “social atom”, but which my notes from Grad II label “Exploring the Cast”).  Are there any public defenders left on staff?

We are losing some of the best people in the college.  Some have left by their own choice, and some have been forced out. Obviously, the leadership can choose whomever they want to be part of the college, be it student or staff.  But they shouldn’t get to do so without anyone speaking up. In his nearly celestial eloquence, Dr. King once said that “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

At the risk of being the latest to be pushed out the door, this is my way of honoring my friends and Larry’s jurors.

Carl

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Are You a True Friend?

September 24, 2009

I have been thinking a great deal about what it means to be a friend. I have written on this topic before in my post “Darling, I Am Here For You.” Luckily for me, I have some incredible friends who embody this saying and have been there for me over the last several months during a time of great challenge and transition. I have cried with these friends and laughed, and they have held, supported, encouraged and nurtured me through my pain and sadness. They have also celebrated my great joys. For my part, I have, I hope, been there for them as well. While this saying, or more aptly stated practice, is incredibly important to me, I have realized in the last few weeks that friendship is about so much more than this simple principle alone.

In the last several months, I have discovered, much to my dismay, that for some people friendship is a matter of convenience or is based on what I can do for them. The word friend easily rolls off their tongues and while they talk a good game, the meaning of true friendship is a concept they are unfamiliar with.  Sadly, some of these proclaimed friends have turned their backs on me when I was down and had no qualms about dumping me when they felt it was beneficial for them to do so. Before the last few months, I simply couldn’t fathom that some of those people who called me friend, professed to love and care about me, would quickly abandon me when others, with more power or greater influence beckoned them. Apparently, for these people, advancement of personal interests is higher in priority than friendship.

This realization has been quite painful for me and causes me to question my own judgment in trusting some of these people. Over the years, I have trusted and bared my soul in psychodrama to many of these folks.  Much to my surprise, some have had no difficulty revealing to others what I shared in confidence.  Some have gone so far as to use information gained in a psychodrama about my childhood experiences against me. Perhaps I was naïve, but this simply shocks me. How can anyone trust the psychodramatic process if those who participate are willing to and will breach confidence when it suits them to do so or when it gives them an advantage?

Don’t get me wrong; I am a firm believer in psychodrama. I don’t, however, think it is a panacea or the solution to all a person’s problems. But it is a method that can help people understand themselves and grow as a person. This is valuable and worthwhile. But it does not nor can it answer or solve all problems nor eliminate or erase the bad things that have happened to us. It can, however, give us clarity and insight and help us change for the better.  At least it has done this for me and continues to do so.

Psychodrama is a process through which I have greatly benefitted in terms of my knowledge about myself, who I am and why I am the way I am. I have grown immensely as a result of my own personal work. I have also benefitted from my personal therapy off the psychodrama stage. The combination of both have given me strength and empowered me to stand up for myself and take control of my life.  I know my therapist will not, and legally cannot, reveal my confidences. Just as a lawyer must guard and protect a client’s confidence (with limited exceptions), so must a therapist.

Despite the agreement of the participants in a psychodrama to hold in strict confidence the innermost thoughts and feelings of the protagonist, I have come to learn that too many people (including many lawyers) are willing to share confidences with those who were not part of the group.  The hurt that results from such breach is especially painful when it comes at the hands of one who has professed to be my friend. And perhaps more so when someone I admire, respect and look up to and who has repeatedly told me that they loved me and would “be there for me” has violated my confidence. Even worse is when these people, who advocate and teach role reversal  for greater understanding of others, have flat out refused to reverse roles with me when asked and instead have responded “I am not going to play those silly games.” Silly games?

I believe that a true friend seeks to understand, cares for and about me and will guard and protect my confidences as if they are their own. It has been a shock to me to learn that there are people who will take things I have disclosed in confidence, either in a psychodrama or a private and deeply personal conversation and reveal such information to others. I simply do not understand the ease with which my requests for confidence have been ignored. I hesitate to say the revelations were made maliciously or to hurt me, but I can’t reconcile why someone with whom I have shared deep, innermost thoughts and feelings would share those with others, especially with people who are not my friends or who have purposefully set out to hurt me.

I have also come to value the honest feedback of those friends who have been and are there for me. I know their comments come from the heart and are made with love and caring and not out of spite or with an agenda. It isn’t always easy to hear difficult things from your friends but it has been my experience that the truth from a loving friend enhances the friendship and helps me see things about myself that I may not have been able to see on my own. I appreciate people with whom I can be myself, even when we disagree. What would be the value of a friendship with someone who shares all of my opinions, sees all things through my paradigm or who agrees with every idea or thought I have? The sharing of ideas and open debate with those close to me are gifts I treasure and stimulates my creativity.

I am certainly not a perfect friend. I can be opinionated, short and at times angry. I can also be impatient. I have no doubt I have hurt people out of ignorance or anger. But I strive to be there for those close to me and keep to myself the confidences that have been shared.  I also try to apologize when I inflict pain. I imagine at some times I am more successful than at others.

Maybe in life we only earn a few close friends who we can trust both implicitly and explicitly, and who will truly be there for us in our time of need. I am grateful that I have a few such people in my life. They bring me great joy and hope. And to those who have discarded me and my friendship because it no longers meets your needs, I hope you find what you are looking for and that you will be blessed, as I have been, with a few true friends.

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Blind Loyalty, Betrayal and Self Preservation: The Silencing of Dissent

August 23, 2009

A person can’t be expected to be loyal to something or someone who is hurting or destroying them, that causes them pain or asks them to go against their personal morals, values or integrity.  It also requires the person from whom this blind loyalty is demanded to overlook, ignore or set aside their own ethics and beliefs and replace them with those of the person or group from whom the demand emanates. Such expectation of blind loyalty runs contrary to our fundamental human instinct of self-preservation and results in a loss of self.  Indeed, a high price to pay.

Expecting someone to chose another over themselves is akin to demanding an abused spouse stay in a dysfunctional marriage or risk being labeled disloyal or a betrayer. It puts all the blame on the person who has the courage to preserve themselves and end or leave the relationship. Speaking up as a way to defend oneself is simply not a viable option because to those who demand blind loyalty, objecting, or voicing dissent is, in itself, an act of disloyalty. And, it will nearly always be punished.

When one human being treats another badly, abuses them either physically, mentally, psychologically or emotionally, or asks or expects them to engage in behavior that goes against their personal values and/or morals, in essence, they force them to make a choice. Either choose to continue the relationship and suffer in silence in the dysfunctional environment; or, save yourself and preserve your integrity. Sometimes in life we must, for our own well being, choose ourselves or risk loosing our mental health and/or our integrity. This is true whether the dysfunction comes at the hands of a single person or through participation in a group.

When problems arise in groups, effective leaders focus on problem solving strategies in order to explore various ways to make things better. They are willing to open the lines of communication and hear all voices, whether they be concurring or dissenting ones. When this opportunity is not provided or such a mechanism is not in place, it forces a dichotomous decision on the part of the group’s members – me or them; self or the group.

The narcissistic leaders of dysfunctional groups never take responsibility for problems within the group, are not willing to hear the voices of dissent but rather, scapegoat or blame others, and in particular, those who chose to speak up or leave the group to preserve themselves. In this way, these so-called leaders maintain the myth of loyalty on their part and force the label of betrayer on those who chose themselves over the group. It is a convenient way to silence dissent and to vilify those who depart for their own reasons. And, in the twisted mind of these narcissistic leaders, they believe it builds greater loyalty on the part of those who remain. If they can successfully label someone a betrayer, those who remain will focus on that person rather than on the dysfunction of the group. It also sends a strong message to the members of the group; give us blind loyalty or be punished.

Betrayal is a loaded word, especially when ones only choice is to betray another or to betray yourself. How can a person be expected to maintain their loyalty when doing so is injurious to them, their integrity, mental, psychological, emotional, and in certain circumstances, physical well being?  Either way, the person who is forced to make this choice looses.
Some people like to use the phrase “The magic mirror is always at work” to describe the relationships between people. E.g., if I am feeling distant from my friend, they must be feeling distant from me. If I am not feeling heard by my friend, they must not be feeling heard by me. If indeed there is such a “magic mirror,” then it necessarily follows that when one person labels another “betrayer,” the one being so labeled also feels betrayed by the person labeling them.

Fundamental fairness dictates, at the very least, that the people being accused be given the opportunity to defend themselves; to speak their truth. Aren’t all of us innocent until proven guilty? Doesn’t justice, truth, honesty and love, yes love, demand that the accused betrayer be given a chance to tell their story? And as we all know, no story is one sided. If you love someone, or profess to love them, shouldn’t you treat them with respect and dignity? Shouldn’t you care about what they are feeling or have to say? Or do you act as judge, jury and executioner and condemn the person you allegedly love and demand their voice, which may be one of dissent, remain silent?  Do you threaten punishment in the absence of blind loyalty? If speaking up and telling the truth is considered an act of disloyalty, that speaks volumes about the person or group who requires silence as an act of loyalty. This is, at the very least, hypocrisy, and at most tyranny.

The bottom line is that it isn’t right, fair or just to expect any of us to give blind loyalty to someone or something that is toxic, dishonest or unethical, or not what it purports to be. Moreover, it is even more dishonest to silence the voices of dissent. The “magic mirror” is a myth, a convenient excuse used to justify bad behavior. A person who refuses to give blind loyalty to another or to an organization is not a betrayer but simply a person who made a choice that was best for them, to preserve themselves, their well being and in some cases their integrity. We all have freedom of choice and in the end, we are the only ones who can protect and preserve ourselves. We can’t, and shouldn’t, expect others to do it for us. Nor should we be punished for exercising our free will, or, our freedom of speech.

Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court Justice, perhaps said it best: “Those who begin cohersive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”

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Narcissists and Sycophants: A Marriage Made in Hell

July 29, 2009

Whether we realize it or not, we all have at least one narcissist in our lives. In fact, according to authors Jean Twenge, PhD and Keith Campbell, PhD, there is a narcissism epidemic in this country.  (The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, Free Press, 2009, Twenge PhD., Campbell, PhD.).

After reading this eye opening book I found myself thinking about this subject in general and agree with the authors that narcissism is sweeping our country and wreaking havoc on the personal, social and professional relationships of the masses. Most of us, however, live in denial. We don’t want to view someone we look up to as a narcissist and we certainly don’t want to acknowledge the hold narcissists have on us and on the world at large. We also live in denial about the part we play in the creation of the narcissist and the perpetuation of his or her behavior. Far too often the people drawn into the narcissist’s force field enable, condone and tolerate the negative and destructive behavior of the narcissist. We absolve ourselves by saying we are doing it for the greater good, or by apologizing for the narcissist’s behavior. Often we take responsibility for the damage caused to other’s psyches by the narcissist. If truth be known, we do it because we are afraid. We don’t want to wound the highly sensitive narcissist because we will pay dearly for this narcissistic injury. We don’t want to be tossed out of the narcissist’s orbit for speaking up, for disagreeing or challenging the narcissist because what we get from the narcissist fuels our own needs.

I have a theory about why this is. From my life experience, I have come to believe that sycophants fuel narcissists and enable them to exist and even thrive. I am sure this isn’t a new or novel idea on my part. In fact, it is probably overly simplistic.

Let’s begin with some descriptions. A narcissist is a person with inordinate fascination with himself or herself. They have few social control mechanisms, fewer friends, little or no psychic demands to do the right thing (even though they give lip service to this concept) do not look for approval from others, lack social barometers of how to conduct themselves, and are driven to be captivating, inspirational, charming and seductive. They have a desperate need to get others to buy into their worldview–their vision, to create a world that they populate with their devoted followers. They are grandiose, don’t listen to others, are prone to angry outbursts (often used to control others who disagree with them), bully subordinates, dominate meetings and are often isolated and paranoid. According to Twenge and Campbell, narcissism is “a disease that causes others to suffer.” Narcissism is nearly always corrosive to social relationships as it breeds distrust. Narcissists are prone to using people like they use books, information and knowledge—they pump them for information and then when they are through, throw them aside. To the narcissist, there are only friends or foes; you are either for or against their vision. There is no middle ground.

Sycophants are self-serving servile flatterers and are often slavishly submissive to the narcissist.  The narcissist and the sycophant need each other. The narcissist is completely dependent on the sycophant to feed his ego, to feel important and powerful.  The sycophant, on the other hand, is also dependent on the narcissist for the narcissist makes the sycophant feel included and connected to someone the sycophant believes is powerful and important and will elevate the sycophant to great success, recognition or social standing. The sycophant derives a lot of self worth from the narcissist as the relationship with the narcissist gives the sycophant social standing he otherwise would not have. In short, the relationship between the narcissist and sycophant is symbiotic; each feeding and dependent on the other. Without sycophants, the narcissist struggles, becomes depressed and feels his or her life has no meaning. A narcissist must have blind allegiance and the adoration of sycophantic followers because that is the food of the narcissist. Most often, a narcissist surrounds him or herself with “yes men” (slavishly submissive flatterers) who the narcissist sees as no threat to him or herself but yet, who are also not much good for advancing the narcissist’s vision. But that is ok with the narcissist, because he or she has all the answers, knows what is best and right and doesn’t listen to others anyway. The “yes men” are the means to an end, they help the narcissist get what he or she wants and will only be kept close as long as they serve a purpose.

As a group, sycophants find meaning and purpose out of protecting and becoming the narcissist’s handlers. They bond with other sycophants in this common purpose and are simultaneously validated by each other for how dysfunctional this interpersonal interplay is, either on a conscious or unconscious level, depending on the dysfunction of each individual. In such groups, everyone suffers. There are no winners in this symbiotic relationship. The narcissist’s hold is so great it is hard for the sycophant to escape the narcissist’s seductive embrace. At some point, depending on the amount of pain the sycophant has had to endure, they will wake up when they are no longer able to tolerate being used or when their own ethics or integrity will no longer permit them to be passive participants in the destructive world of the narcissist. Faced with abandonment, the narcissist acts more and more out of desperation, devolves deeper into his or her pathology and ends up alone and even more isolated, completing the cycle of narcissistic self-destruction.

In the end, narcissists die alone and sycophants suffer stunted emotional and psychological growth, unless they grow strong enough to break their addiction and choose to value their own self-worth instead of abandoning it for the advancement of the narcissist.

I highly recommend anyone interested in the burgeoning narcissism epidemic read Twenge and Campbell’s excellent book. It is both eye opening and thought provoking.

Another good book on narcissists is Michael Maccoby’s Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails (Broadway Books, 2003).

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Depression – A Black Hole

May 28, 2009

Nothing is worse then depression. When you feel lost and hopeless; like you are trapped and there is no escape. In these moments my world is dark and cold and all I want to do is sleep … or die. I can picture my lifeless body lying on the floor, pools of blood encircling me.

With this depression comes loneliness and isolation. I don’t want to go anywhere or see anyone. I don’t want to talk on the phone or even to my wife. I just want to retreat into my inner world and curl up in the fetal position, rocking myself like an infant. How I wish I could go back to the innocent days of childhood when I was worry and care free. Even the tiniest responsibility feels overwhelming and the smallest obstacle insurmountable. Worse yet, I am certain there is no one in the world who understands. How could they possibly understand? I am all alone.

I know I have friends and a wife who love me and have listened, but I fear they will grow tired of my overwhelming, unending sadness and abandon me. I can’t stand feeling this way but am powerless to change. I am a prisoner, my arms and legs shackled together like a calf that is hog tied and waiting for slaughter. I am unable to move. Friends can avoid or ignore. For me there is no escape.

Right now I hate life. I hate myself, my job and the world. I feel no joy. I am despondent. I have no mental, physical or emotional energy. I feel as if I have nothing left to give to anyone, even to myself. If I could will away this depression I would in a heartbeat. I would make a deal with the devil himself to feel normal again; to laugh; to sing; to care.

The doctors say this will pass. That this is just a result of burn out, caused by prolonged and excessive stress. Many people confuse stress and being overworked with burn out. They are incredibly wrong, uninformed and naïve. Stress involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you. But, you can still manage if you can just get everything under control. Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough and results in your feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring.  It is feeling undervalued, unappreciated and lacking in control. When you are burned out you don’t see any hope for positive change in your situation. The former is drowning in responsibilities and the later is being all dried up. I am all dried up like a dead rotting flower, its petals falling helplessly and unnoticed to the earth.

Right now I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. I am hoping, no, praying, that someone pierces that darkness with a pin and let’s the light stream in. In the end it will have to be me. But right now I don’t even have the ability to find the pin, let alone use it to pierce the darkness.

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The L Word is a Lie

December 5, 2008

About 5 or 6 years ago, the lesbian community rejoiced at the creation of a Showtime original series “The L Word” whose story lines focused on several lesbian characters, their lives and relationships. Every Sunday lesbians across American sat together in living rooms, bars and community centers and watched with deep satisfaction and joy as the lesbian lifestyle was exposed to all of America.  L Word parties became the rage and were the highlight of many a woman’s weekend as well as the hot topic of conversation. Lesbians were finally main stream.

The problem, as I see it, is that the show presents a mythical, fictional and unrealistic view of lesbians and their lives. I mean, come on, have you ever met as many hot, sexy and gorgeous lesbians as the main or supporting characters on the show? Do you know any lesbians who live the kind of life the women on the L Word live? Maybe you will see these types in small numbers at the annual Dinah Shore event in Palm Springs or on occasion in Provincetown, Los Angeles or New York but in my everyday life, I can count the lesbian women I know who look, dress and act like the women on the L Word on one hand, and then using only one or two fingers.

I recently married my partner and we are now one of the 18,000 gay couples who got married in CA before a slim majority of ignorant and bigoted voters passed Prop 8 (it should actually be called Prop Hate) prohibiting gay marriage. For our honeymoon we went on an Olivia Cruise to the Caribbean. In case you don’t know, Olivia cruises are lesbian cruises. Prior to departure we were excited at the prospect of being on a ship with all women, in a community where we could be a couple, hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes at dinner without fear of hateful looks or nasty comments. We could enjoy a real romantic and celebratory honeymoon as a couple and not have to pretend to be roommates or sisters. And, as an added bonus,  having seen footage of Olivia cruises on both the L Word and Work Out, I had a vision that the ship would be filled with beautiful lesbian women such as those featured on both of those shows. For one short week, my wife and I could live the L Word life! Boy was I in for a surprise.

As we embarked on the cruise I looked around at the women on board and thought to myself “The L Word is a LIE!” The majority, and I am talking 80 to 85% of the women on this cruise we not only fat, they were obese. They were not, as a whole, beautiful, hot, sexy or gorgeous. Most had short butchy haircuts. Most were older. Where were the normal looking women? Where were the women like me? I exercise, eat healthy, am fairly attractive, and dress somewhat fashionably. In short, I take care of myself. Before I stepped foot on the ship I thought I would see and meet a lot of women like my wife and myself. This was not to be.

Another thing I found disturbing is how masculine many of the women were.  I am a lesbian because I am attracted to women. I have never understood why a lesbian who purportedly wants to be with another woman would chose to be with a woman who looks like a man. What is up with that? The number of extremely butch and masculine women on this trip astounded me.

Now there is nothing wrong with a woman being athletic, wearing her hair short or having masculine qualities, (I have straight women friends like this) but I really cringe when I see women dressing in men’s clothes and acting like men. I just don’t get it.  On formal night, I was shocked by the number of lesbian women wearing men’s suits, and I mean real men’s suits complete with ties and wing tips. This is not to say that dresses should be required (I only own two and rarely wear them) but couldn’t these women dress in female clothes? Is it lack of self-esteem that drives them to men’s clothes or is it rampant obesity? I guess the obesity should have come as no surprise. After all, nearly two-thirds of Americans are obese or grossly overweight. Why should the lesbian community be immune to the epidemic?

Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the cruise. Olivia is a great company and provides travel opportunities for women in safe, secure and comfortable environments. They have created settings where we can feel free to and simply be ourselves. The company does a great job and I recommend that more lesbians take advantage of the Olivia experience.  But don’t expect to see the type of lesbian community the L Word or Work Out projects. Beautiful, hot, sexy and gorgeous lesbians were in the minority on my cruise. But one thing you can count on, you will feel safe and free to be yourself in a loving and open community.

The point? The L Word IS a lie. Isn’t most everything we see on television or at the movies? If television simply held up a mirror to society, no one would watch. Who among us would watch a show about fat, unattractive lesbians? Every one of us, gay, straight or questioning wants to believe in something better and more beautiful, more perfect than ourselves or our everyday lives. Come the beginning of the final season of the L Word, you will find me and my wife in front of our television every Sunday night imagining ourselves living in the fantasy world created by Showtime.