Trauma & Transformation

Psychologists like to talk about trauma. If you have experienced X, then it must have been a traumatic experience. But, this is a function of the lens with which they view the world.

Our experience of the world tends to form a lens of interpretation. An emergency room physician — who, by definition, sees emergencies in their community — will think emergencies are normal. It will shape they way they view the world.

The same is true of every line of work. If you are a police officer, you will have developed a heightened sense of whether a situation matches a pattern where people are likely to be breaking the law. If you are an insurance claims adjuster, you will have seen a lot more outlier events and might view certain activities as more risky than others, when they might not be.

The same phenomena applies to psychologists and psychiatrists. They have seen people in their worst psychological condition, and they know to what depths we can all sink. But, the selection bias is such that the people that don’t need their help might be viewed as damaged people that just don’t know that they need their help. But, how often, in most circumstances in life, do we need help and not know it? This situation is unusual, not commonplace.

The problem is that trauma is just one story. We have the ability to overlay onto our experience a whole host of manufactured fictions. And while trauma may have a time and a place, I’d argue that trauma as a primary narrative should be reserved for experiences and situations which truly require assistance from a professional. Most situations don’t.

One person’s apocalypse is another’s day-to-day. If you need help, by all means, get it. There’s nothing wrong with getting it from psychologists or most any other place, if it benefits you. However, I’d argue that we are all much more resilient than we know, that trauma below most thresholds is the means through which we trigger the adaptation response and become stronger – mentally, physically, etc. – in response to our environment. This is not a negative nor should the focus be on the trauma, but in the adaptive response to it.

Of course, there’s taking it to the level of Neitzsche: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” If you have had a limb cut off, it is unlikely you will become “stronger” in any meaningful sense of the term. But, on the other side, painful experiences do help to build psychic muscles. Doesn’t it make more sense to view most negative experiences as positive forces driving our development over the narrative of trauma?

Masks are the Pandemic Marshmallow Test

“The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a study on delayed gratification in 1972 led by psychologist Walter Mischel, a professor at Stanford University.[1] In this study, a child was offered a choice between one small but immediate reward, or two small rewards if they waited for a period of time. During this time, the researcher left the room for about 15 minutes and then returned. The reward was either a marshmallow or pretzel stick, depending on the child’s preference. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores,[2] educational attainment,[3] body mass index (BMI),[4] and other life measures.[5] A replication attempt with a sample from a more diverse population, over 10 times larger than the original study, showed only half the effect of the original study. The replication suggested that economic background, rather than willpower, explained the other half.[6][7]

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Stanford Marshmallow Experiment,” (accessed December 7, 2020), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment

It occurs to me that masks might be the pandemic equivalent of the marshmallow experiment.

Cults: Dissociation, Group Psychology, and Cognitive Dissonance

“”How does cult psychology work? How is it possible to persuade human adults to enter a weird cognitive landscapewith no basis in reality? To enter a fantasy realm so profound that they’ll willingly die for whomever has been selected as the local Messiah?”

–Matthew J Sharps Ph.D, “Cults and Cognition: Programming the True Believer.” Psychology Today. October 2, 2020.

Partial answer: Through dissociation group psychology, and cognitive dissonance.

“…cognitive dissonance (e.g ., Festinger et al. 1956), which manifests itself in the tendency to overvalue anything in which we’ve invested too much—money, time, emotional energy, whatever. Cognitive dissonance essentially means that the more you’ve paid, the better you like. Whether it makes any sense or not.

-ibid.

Happiness Curve / U-Curve

For some reason, I believe I’ve posted the idea that happiness and perception of well-being follows a predictable curve that hits its low-point in one’s late 40’s for people in developed countries. However, looking for it right now, I was not able to find it. So, here’s a link to an overview article, a book length treatment, and a research article with the following abstract that brought the idea into popular currency:

“We present evidence that psychological well-being is U-shaped through life. A difficulty with research on this issue is that thereare likely to be omitted cohort effects (earlier generations may have been born in, say, particularly good or bad times). First, usingdata on 500,000 randomly sampled Americans and West Europeans, the paper designs a test that can control for cohort effects.Holding other factors constant, we show that a typical individual’s happiness reaches its minimumeon both sides of the Atlanticand for both males and femalesein middle age. Second, evidence is provided for the existence of a similar U-shape through thelife-course in East European, Latin American and Asian nations. Third, a U-shape in age is found in separate well-being regressionequations in 72 developed and developing nations. Fourth, using measures that are closer to psychiatric scores, we document a com-parable well-being curve across the life cycle in 2 other data sets (1) in GHQ-N6 mental health levels among a sample of 16,000Europeans, and (2) in reported depression-and-anxiety levels among 1 million UK citizens. Fifth, we discuss some apparent exceptions, particularly in developing nations, to the U-shape. Sixth, we note that American male birth-cohorts seem to have becomeprogressively less content with their lives. Our results are based on regression equations in which other influences, such as demo-graphic variables and income, are held constant.

-David G. Blanchflowera and Andrew J. Oswald, “Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle?Social Science & Medicine. March 7, 2008.

Noba

“Noba is a free online platform that provides high-quality, flexibly structured textbooks and educational materials. These textbooks and materials are licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License. Users may reuse, redistribute, and remix the content to suit their needs.

The goals of Noba are three-fold:

* To reduce financial burden on students by providing access to free educational content

* To provide instructors with a platform to customize educational content to better suit their curriculum

* To present free, high-quality material written by a collection of experts and authorities in the field of psychology

Noba

Authentic Happiness

“The purpose of this website is to provide free resources where people can learn about Positive Psychology through readings, videos, research, opportunities, conferences, questionnaires with feedback and more. There is no charge for the use of this site. If you would like to take the questionnaires, you first need to register.

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. This field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of work, love and play.”

https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/

A Narcissist’s Prayer

“That didn’t happen.

And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.

And if it was, that’s not a big deal.

And if it is, that’s not my fault.

And if it was, I didn’t mean it.

And if I did…

You deserved it.”

-Anonymous

There’s a support group on Reddit called /r/raisedbynarcissists that provides some basic resources for helping people understand the behaviors of their parents and other people in their lives who may have Cluster B personality disorders. They have guides to traits and tactics, and the idea of FLEAs, that living or growing up with someone with these behaviors often means you will pick up these traits and strategies yourself, even if you do not have a personality disorder.

Perhaps the most useful resources is their Best of post that links on red flags, boundaries, forgiveness and so forth. If you’ve encountered this kind of person in your life, it’s probably worth a look.