Category: Psychology


via Daily Prompt: Adrift

Who am I w-out you3

This is a digital painting I did when thinking about my sisters borderline personality disorder, which has estranged her from me since we were kids. It was after our father died that she seemed to go off the rails mentally.

Did you know that the loss of a parent in childhood is often associated with the onset of borderline personality disorder and is believed to be one of the possible causative factors. BPD is a difficult disorder to treat as the anger, insecurity and mistrust that individuals who suffer this disorder feel makes it difficult for them to accept help. Unfortunately, this is what I believe my estranged sister suffers, though, to my knowledge, she’s never been diagnosed.

It is very important that children receive some professional counseling on the death of a loved one so that they learn how to process the experience in a healthy way.

Advertisements

The film Valhalla Rising was released in 2011 directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, co-written by Refn and Roy Jacobsen, and starring Mads Mikkelsen. It is a dark adventure drama set in pagan Scotland during the dark ages. The main character played by Mikkelson is a mute warrior named One Eye. He is enslaved by a pagan chieftain for the purpose of gambling on fights as he appears to have a supernatural ability to defeat all opponents.

One day while bathing in a mountain stream he discovers an arrowhead which he conceals. He later uses it to cut his bonds and then kill his masters. As he wanders off he discovers that he is being followed by the young boy who was tasked with feeding him while he was caged. The boy has decided that sticking with One Eye is probably the safest option in a dangerous world.

They eventually come across a group of Christian mercenaries who have just massacred a community of pagans and forced their women and young girls to disrobe. They are seen huddling in terror and from the cold. The “missionaries” ask who he is and where he comes from. The boy answers for him and tells them that he was born from hell. They offer One Eye and the boy a place on their ship as they are heading for the “holy” lands to do the same to Muslims and need good warriors.

Unfortunately, due to some abberation of both weather and trans-Atlantic current, the voyagers become lost at sea, surrounded by mist with no wind to fill the sails. As they edge closer to desperation and madness they eventually find that they have arrived at a new land. The leader claims this land in the name of God and declares it to be the new holy land though others think it is hell. The survivors of an attack by native Americans and some intergroup conflict decide the safest option is to set off after the warrior from hell who seems indestructable. This wasn’t the wisest choice as, one by one they are picked off by the natives. In the end One Eye offers himself in sacrifice, without fight, in order to save the life of the young boy.

For me the movie is a comment on society’s psuedo-ethics. The one adult character who showed any moral character was judged to be amoral, from hell, by every other character as a result of being forced to fight to the death to stay alive. The other characters saw themselves as morally and spiritually superior to him thanks to their religious psuedo-ethics, both pagan and Christian. Patriotism is another very similar psuedo-ethic, though not mentioned in this film. They rely on individuals believing themselves superior to others via their strength of belief in or attachment to some “thing”, whether it be a hobgoblin or a piece of dirt.

The film highlights the “Dunning Kruger effect” as it pertains to moral reasoning.

“The Dunning-Kruger effect, named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University, occurs where people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyse their performance, leading to a significant overestimation of themselves. In simple words it’s “people who are too stupid to know how stupid they are”.”

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger_effect

 In this case the characters, inexperienced as they are with the concepts of empathy and genuine moral reasoning skills based around genuine moral principles such as justice, beneficence and respect for autonomy, mistake their religiousness for morality…as so many people still do today. In the end One Eye, the social pariah, is shown to be the only character with any sense of strong moral principle or empathy by protecting the child and then sacrificing himself to save the child.

In relation to the debate over corporate salaries you might have heard the cliché, “If you offer peanuts for salary, you only get monkeys”,. The reality turns out to be that if you offer ridiculously large financial incentives, you get psychopaths.

The Great British Psychopath Survey conducted by Kevin Dutton, a research psychologist at the Calleva Research Center for Evolution and Human Sciences at Magdalen College, University of Oxford, provides us with some evidence of the paths of employment that psychopaths are attracted to in everyday society. The top ten of these professions are listed in the left hand column of Table 1. It is interesting to note that each of these professions could be said to offer one or more of three motivations that appeal to the psychopath, direct authoritarian power over others, social influence, and financial gain. These are incentives that they can, and do, abuse for their own benefit. It offers a precautionary warning to those involved in the recruitment processes for these professions that they should consider making the screening for psychopathy a standard part of the application process. It would certainly make a nice, prosocial change from screening out those who suffer depression from employment.

The masks psychopaths wear.

Looking at the right hand column, unsurprisingly, it appears that professions involving caring don’t seem to offer an appeal to the psychopath. Number 10, the accountants, is interesting. Perhaps corporations should only be offering their CEO positions to those in this profession at the standard accountant salary rates. Then they’d be getting someone who is not only financially competent, but who is not going to slash and burn a company’s staff, quality of products and services, safety standards, and environmental standards for the sake of increasing company profits to earn themselves some extra bonuses. Just a thought.

Table 1. Top 10 professions that are Most / Least occupied by individuals testing positive to psychopathy as measured on the Levensen Self-Report Psychopathy Scale. (n=5400).

The psychopaths you meet Table 1

Reference:

K. Dutton. 2013. Wisdom From Psychopaths? Scientific American Mind. Vol 23, No. P42, No. 6, January/Febuary. New York. Nature America Inc..

Practice Compassion

This is a stencil illustration of my mother that I created soon after her death in 2010. She was a person who lived a life for others. She was a person who had a deep well of forgiveness and compassion for others. On her grave stone I had inscribed “Resting here is Margaret Adele Thomas, beloved mother and unassuming princess among humanity . A soul of great beauty, compassion and self-sacrifice. She is my greatest role model in life.

When I created this work, as well as missing my mother deeply, I had been reminded of that iconic image of Che Guevera that is now commonly found on the t-shirts of non-conformists around the world (many of whom I would suggest don’t understand the idea of communism nor know much about Ché Guevera’s personal history). His image has come to represent the idea of revolutionary change in society. Those familiar with history will recognise that although revolution is responsible for a lot of interesting things in human culture, it hasn’t ever delivered a utopian society. In fact it very often leads to a lot of harm and suffering with just a change in the demographics of the people inflicting the suffering and those receiving.

There is something far less drastic than revolution that is far more effective in bringing us closer to a utopian society. That thing is compassion. Unlike emotions like anger, hate and fear, which originate in the basal ganglia, neurological structures that we inherited from our reptile ancestors, empathy and compassion are a product of cerebral activity. In other words, a person without these cognitive skills is emotionally stupid, cognitively impaired. It is not strength to be without compassion, it is weakness, pathological weakness. If you don’t believe this statement, ask yourself, who in our community are completely devoid of empathy and compassion. It is the psychopaths, people who rape, murder, torture, molest children without the slightest feeling remorse. They do not represent an evolved or evolving humanity. Those without compassion or who devalue compassion represent a diseased state of being.

Thus, I created this image to illustrate how each of the billions of individuals on this blue planet has the power within themselves to generate a revolutionary change in society, without revolution.

Compassion is evolved, compassion is strength.

Eer2

I generated this image to illustrate some important points regarding ethics and ethical/moral reasoning.

The title, “Ethics = empathy x respect squared” is not meant to be taken as a genuine algebraic formula, it is merely a play on Einstein’s formula for energy, E=mc^2. It expresses the idea that two very key elements to an ethical character are a) that a person is capable of empathy for others, and b) that they are prepared acknowledge the right of others to be treated with respect. By making reference to Einstein’s famous equation, which has had a significant impact on our understanding of the universe, I’m attempting to illustrate how ethical reasoning is of fundamental importance to our functioning as a social entity.

The sagital section of the brain, is arbitrarily delineated into four sectors. Each of these represent four qualities that I’ve held for a long time to be essential to being a good human being, virtue (ie engaging in prosocial behaviour and thought while refraining from antisocial behaviour and thought), compassion (the product of empathy), understanding (ie making the effort to use reasoning and evidence in making ethical decisions while refraining from ignorant thought processes such as stereotyping, bigotry etc), and finally tranquility (if a person has a calm mind then they are more able to reason clearly, perceive evidence, and less likely to react in emotive and antisocial ways).

In the lower right area of the work is listed what developmental psychologists recognise as the universal and sequential levels of cognitive development in the human species. These are the levels identified by the researcher Nancy Eisenberg. You will note that I have labelled the first three levels as being religious levels (with the label placed over the basal ganglia to represent that these are very basal modes of ethical reasoning). If you examine the moral instruction given by major religions you will realise that the forms of reasoning they use fit into these low level categories. Studies have indicated that religion in fact retards the development of ethical cognition, with followers often not rising above the sterotypical level. This is defined as representing a 7 to 12 year old level of reasoning. The majority of people tend to only reach the empathic level of moral reasoning, with only a small number developing partially internalised principles and strongly internalised principles. People tend to switch between different styles of reasoning depending on the circumstances. The reason few people obtain the higher levels of ethical reasoning is that little to no emphasis is placed upon the development of these skills in our education systems. Even the use of an already available curriculum such as P4C, Philosophy for Children, would be enough to help rectify this situation, leading to a more prosocial school environment and society.

Finally, in the lower left area I have simply listed the three major principles of ethical reasoning used in ethical philosophy and applied ethics. Individuals who reach the sixth level of moral reasoning often discover these themselves. It is my contention that the aim of each individual and the aim of education should be to raise everyone’s consciousness to the highest level of moral reasoning that they are capable of.

Just do a websearch for “myths about child abuse” and you will find that there are a number of cruel myths that surround child sexual abuse that make it difficult for victims to recover from the scars left by sexual abuse. The one that I think is the worst and cruellest is this one: “Victims of child sexual abuse grow up to become child sex abusers themselves”.

This fallacy creates the fear in the victim that if they tell anyone about the abuse, they are then going to be an object of suspicion themselves for the rest of their lives. This additional fear, (along with the fear of not being believed, called a twisted liar, being an object of disgust and so on), very powerfully robs the victim of the ability to disclose to anyone what has happened to them. Corollary to this fear is the hurt that people would believe them capable of the sadistic behaviour of the monster or monsters who abused them. This false belief held by the community at large, robs them of the hope that they could ever gain a sense of respect or acceptance from others. They feel as though they would be the social leper that acquaintances wouldn’t want to see near anyone’s children, nor having children of their own. And so they stay silent. It is a very effective myth for the real abusers to perpetuate when you think about it.

A little depressed avatar

In the criminological and psychological research literature it has become clearer and clearer that there is absolutely no basis to this poorly conceived belief. As the Australian Institute of Criminology points out in it’s report “Misperceptions about child sex offenders” by Kelly Richards
(ISSN 1836-2206), there is no causal relationship between being sexually abused and becoming a sexual abuser. Very few victims become abusers themselves. When this does occur, it is not as a result of the sexual abuse. The fact that most victims do not become abusers and that most abusers were never abused should be enough to destroy this myth. One can only hope, I say with an ounce of pessimism, that the public will become more educated as to the facts and that the cruelty of such false beliefs will fade over time. Thus making it easier for victims to heal and feel an accepted part of humanity rather than an outcast.

Image

In each or these diagrams there are represented two conflicting beliefs (circles), and four aspects of cognition that are involved in belief formation and maintenance, emotion, critical reasoning, attention. and conscious thought, There are others but l have omitted them for simplicity. Represented at the bottom of each diagram is a collection of “evidence” that either confirms or disproves belief s A or B. Colour indicates activation of the relevant neuro-networks. No colour (white) means no activation.

Figure 1
This is an illustration of the cognitive style known as top down processing. A pre-existing belief that the individual has gained through a process such as acculturation For example, the mother of the individual has passed the belief on to them and they have accepted it without any reference to evidence for or against the belief. If they have held the belief for any length of time there will be an emotional attachment to the belief that reinforces it as a part of their world view at the same time as inhibiting the formation of beliefs that contradict this belief. In this instance the person is presented with both confirming and disconfirming evidence. The weight of the evidence is against the belief A, however, in this individual there is a lack of critical reasoning skills and so the strength of the pre-existing belief determines which evidence the individual attends to. Thus they employ only selective attention to attend only to evidence that reinforces belief A and so belief A retains dominance in the conscious thought of the individual.

Figure 2
Here we have a second example of top down processing. In this instance all the available evidence disconfirms belief A while confirming belief B. However, the emotional attachment that the individual has to the belief has blown it’s strength out of all proportion. The individual in this case does not even try to attend to evidence for the belief as they are absolutely certain of its veracity. This is the sort of reasoning we observe in fundamentalist religious views. In fact critical reasoning is decried as a threat to the belief and is thus actively discouraged.

Figure 3
This diagram is representative of the cognitive style known as bottom up processing. The individuals beliefs are informed by the evidence for or against them. Evidence is gathered, hypotheses formed to account for the evidence, evaluation conducted to establish the facts, and beliefs are chosen based on the hypotheses that conform to the evidence. This is the mode of thinking adopted by the scientific mind and the scientific community. As can be seen by the pattern of activation in the diagram, all evidence is attended to and all possibilities to account for the evidence, including our hypothetical belief A, are considered.

Figure 4
Of course it is not possible to think without emotion. In fact damage to a person’s emotional centres causes severe impairment to decision making processes. So there is always emotional input into thinking and decision making. However, when a mind is trained in critical reasoning skills, emotions are moderated.

Top down processing is based on preconceived ideas. Another term for this is schema driven cognition. The social version of this being stereotyping. This is a very efficient form of cognition as it takes up few cognitive resources, it aids individuals in making very quick decisions about how to behave. However, this efficiency trades off accuracy, The cognitions of individuals who predominantly think in a schema driven style are often fallacious, in other words it is the cognitive processing style that defines the wilfully ignorant. It is stupid thinking in that it requires minimal cognitive effort. It is the style of thinking that perpetuates beliefs such as: Women are too irrational for the vote, men don’t cry, all Aboriginals are drunks who abuse their kids, all people on the social security are bludgers, atheists worship Satan and are all driven by greed and self-interest, artistic males are gay, people of other races are inferior, environmentalists are dope smoking hippies, anyone who believes in social justice is a communist, drinking recycled water is the same as drinking sewerage, women don’t have the emotional constitution to handle positions of authority, Aboriginals just want handouts. Individuals who adopt this way of thinking, and unfortunately that is the majority of the human population, can have disconfirming evidence thrust into their faces and they still refuse to alter their beliefs and attitudes.

 

There is a lot of ignorance, assumptions and discrimination surrounding depression that results in a lot of unnecessary, additional harm to those suffering the disorder. For instance the myth that people with depression are self-absorbed. Research has shown the exact opposite. Those with depression have a greater degree of empathy for others. This is possibly due to the amount of pain that we have experienced in our lives. We become highly sensitive to the pain or potential pain in others and tend to be more prosocial in our behaviour toward others than neurotypicals.

Another great misunderstanding about depression is that it is just a state of being ‘sad’. Sadness is a natural emotional reaction to losses or temporary unfortunate events in a persons life and the experience is short lived. Depression on the other hand is often, but not always, the result of severe trauma, years of relentless abuse, bullying, neglect, and/ or social isolation that ingrains a negative pattern of thinking that is very hard to remove without help from a competent Cognitive Behaviour Therapist. Along with this cognitive aspect, physiological changes take place inside the brains of its victims. The exact mechanisms are complex and not fully understood as yet but they centre around a dramatic decrease in the brains ability to produce enough of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Sustained child abuse has also been shown through scans to cause damage to neurological structures themselves. This all makes the experience of depression very different to the occasional sadness that most people experience. The experience of depression is one of severe emotional pain that feels as real as any physical pain. This emotional pain can become so extreme that it results in suicide to escape this relentless experience of pain (to sink the boot in, those who attwmpt or commit suicide are labelled “cowards”).

broken_by_toradellin_danaan-d5rt6u2

The reduction of serotonin in the motivational and pleasure centres of the brain means that it is almost impossible to feel happy about anything, and results in great difficulty engaging in everyday activity, hence the myth that we’re lazy. In extreme cases a sufferer cannot even bring themselves to look after their own well-being on a day to day basis. Assuming that this is because the sufferer of depression is just lazy is like assuming that a sufferer of paraplegia doesn’t walk because they’re just lazy. Just because you can’t see the cause of disablement, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

get_over_it_by_toradellin_danaan-d5rrq64

Another assumption that people make comes as a result of Joe Pleb being unable to distinguish between a mood disorder and intellectual impairment. People seem to automatically treat those of us with depression as though depression makes us stupid. An unfair irony considering that they are the ignoramuses. Having an IQ of 170 I often feel like a I’m talking to monkeys who are hiding bananas behind their backs and thinking that they are much cleverer than I…even though I can plainly see the banana over their diminutive shoulders. But how do you explain that to a stupid monkey?

Then of course is the assumption that having a mental illness makes you dangerous. As they say, “You have to watch the quiet ones!” Being socially withdrawn and reserved as a result of feeling so much pain and no motivation to interact, obviously we are plotting the serial murder of everyone we know. In this case they are confusing what is referred to variously as psychopathy, sociopathy, or it’s proper psychiatric designation, anti-social personality disorder (APD). Soon you find yourself suspected of all the unsolved murders in the local area. Another unfair irony with this is that sociopaths are quite often charming and outgoing and the last person to be suspected of crime within a community. They are quite often considered pillars of the community in fact, and are very good at hiding their indiscretions.

I had the next assumption bluntly thrown in my face once from an acquaintance from my amateur ballet days. The individual in question was a principal dancer with the Queensland Ballet who had choreographed a pas de deux that I had performed in an amateur production. I was walking down the main street in West End in Brisbane and happened across he and his wife. He introduced me to her as, “Roger, the snob!” This is in fact a prime example of what is known in psychology as the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE). A curse to anyone suffering, even temporarily, from mental dis-ease. Put simply, it is a phenomenon whereby a person’s behaviour is attributed to an internal trait as opposed to an external influence. So, to this principal dancer, the reason that I was quiet and withdrawn was not because I was suffering, as I have since childhood, major depression as a result of various abusive personalities and traumatic experiences. The reason, to his minds assumptions, was that I consciously chose not to be talkative and bubbly towards him because I saw myself as superior, ie a snob. Fundamental Attribution Error is essentially an act of cognitive laziness. It is a failure on the part of those who engage in it to reason more deeply as to the motivations and causes behind the behaviour of others. It is cognitively easier to attribute a behaviour as an internal, consistent trait of the individual rather than as a temporary state resulting from environmental circumstances. That would require the individual to use cognitive resources to conceive of possible environmental explanations.

One expects ignorant bigots, to have a complete deficit in empathy. The real hurter is family, and people you considered friends who show you absolutely no understanding or compassion. This lack of compassion causes so much extra unnecessary pain. That is why it is so important for sufferers to surround themselves with a social network that is understanding and supportive…if they can. I have to admit from personal experience, that understanding, empathic people are very hard to find, even among the clinical profession that is supposed to be there to help. Of course, having studied psychology and seen the plethora of privileged young people studying psychology who don’t appear to have any sense of suffering beyond missing an episode of their favourite tv program, I’m not surprised that they don’t show empathy with their clients. Don’t give up trying to find empathic people though, and don’t give up on seeking therapy either. A competent cognitive behaviour therapist will help you recover despite being a compassionless twit. It is the structured program of CBT that does the work. It would be nice to live in a world where those of us who suffer depression are not told, “Cheer up”,or even worse, “Harden Up”, as if that is the problem, it would make recovery from depression so much easier. The general attitude and lack of understanding of people towards those of us with depression however adds an extra layer of stress in our lives and a perceived need to keep our affliction to ourselves. We live in fear of the treatment we will receive from neurotypicals.

Addendum: I thought I should mention that I have finally found genuinely empathic therapists who have helped me immeasurably.

%d bloggers like this: