2019


General and Psychology and Relationships and Therapy05 Aug 2019 08:51 am

The following is an essay I wrote for the staff at a transitional living facility for which I consult.

In general one is able to avoid shaming another person by using descriptive strength based language. Vague terms even when not highly critical of another can be shaming if they have a person feel labeled, pigeonholed or judged. Since our initial and primary goal is to have our students feel better about themselves, shaming is best to be avoided whenever possible.

Embarrassment, on the other hand, can be an acceptable and sometimes valuable therapeutic experience/tool.  Psychology has long recognized that embarrassment, while often not a comfortable experience, contains elements of pleasure and validation.

In our meeting yesterday both Abe and Cal gave examples of the possible positive aspects of embarrassment with the students. Abe gave a marvelous impersonation of Russ responding to one of Abe’s insightful observations/teachings in a therapeutically beneficial fashion. One of the skills we are working with Russ is to have him identify his being able to use his chess master prowess in other areas of his life, both in finding ways to use his chess acumen in other areas of his life and social interaction, and to find additional hobbies and interests that use a similar skill set.

Abe, while standing next to Russ noticed/sensed that Russ was using his chess mind while observing/socially integrating with the other guys. He leaned over and said to Russ, “so you’re doing that chess thing with the other guys right now aren’t you”. Abe physically modeled for us Russ’s response which we have all seen before. It was a perfect exhibition of pleasurable embarrassment, in which Russ showed a bit of discomfort with being found out, with the joy and pleasure of feeling seen and understood by Abe.

The “hidden pleasure” and therapeutic element of embarrassment often centers around this basic primal need for children/people to be seen, found, understood and appreciated. One of the first games children learn to play is peek a boo. In this game they get a jolt of endorphins and oxytocin rush almost each time mom reappears after being temporarily out of view/lost. 

This seen/not seen scenario gets played out primarily in games such as hide and seek, red light, Simon says, mother may I, etc. and secondarily in game such as tag, duck-duck-goose, 7 ups and red rover. The thrill of being seen is maybe even surpassed by the thrill of mom or dad chasing and catching you, or capturing you when you were an infant in the cradle and making noises that they were “eating you up” of snuggling and making noises into your stomach. 

There is a local middle aged Asperger man in Asheville who makes some very poignant observations of life on the spectrum and, therefore, human life in general. He likes to talk of the fact that he “never got” the true meaning of tag during his early of even teen years. He always felt that he was great at tag because he was never it. He ended each game feeling like he was the winner and was baffled at how often other kids were “it”. It was only in his late 20’s and 30’s that he realized that the whole purpose of the game was to be chased and caught by someone who wanted to chase and touch you and make you be it. Being “it”, was, as he discovered, a sign of being “caught” in friendship the same way that a child is chased and caught in mom or dad’s loving arms.

So, tag is the joy of being sought after and chased. Being “it” shows that you are desired and your friendship bond is appreciated. In peek a boo you are the treasured object to be cradled in the gaze of your parents and loved ones. 

Often times in psychology the emphasis of peek a boo is on an infants development of object permanence. In early perceptual stages infants do not understand that objects hidden or currently out of view continue to exist. So, in peek a boo, the child sees mom disappear and miraculously reappear every time she hides and shows her face.

Yet, the relationship aspect of peek a boo is often ignored or minimized in the analysis of the significance of peek a boo. As mentioned above the infants squeals of delight and writhes of joy are due not to only seeing mom, but by her seeing him. Even before a child understands the words, they definitely gleefully feel the meaning of “Peek a boo, I see you”.

No matter how old a person gets it is important for them to feel seen and understood in a supportive loving fashion. Many of our young adult’s joy of being seen has been injured by trauma, predatory behavior of peers, or by receiving a disproportionate amount of angry criticism  over praise and recognition.

This is why many of our kids are initially skeptical or resistive to our observations and teaching. Wariness can quickly escalate to power struggles when we replicate their experience of receiving an ample amount of criticism and frustration over a lack of functional proficiency. 

Strength based teaching where we focus our attention on Catching Them Being Good begins to reestablish their innate joy in the fulfilling of their basic need to be seen, understood and validated. The more therapeutically sensitive the skills and central messages are, the more powerful the impact on raising their self-esteem and sense of connection. Skill work that is observational and fun is in the best possible tradition of peek a boo, hide and seek, and tag. 

The better we are at noticing and valuing their well intentioned, respectful and compassionate behavior the more lasting will be their improvements in positive self-regard. Similarly, the more frequent the repetition the easier it is for the student to incorporate (inculcate)   these new habits, attitudes and activities (hobbies and interests) into their daily life.

Our basic needs of belonging and being recognized as a unique and special human being are tended to in the games of childhood listed above. Those basic needs never go away, and our skills teaching becomes an excellent means to restore the joy and validation of being seen and valued. 

Yet, one’s ability to enjoy being seen, to overcome the risk and vulnerability “of becoming naked to others”, involves many factors such as trust, comfort and safety. One always must respect a person’s need for privacy and personal boundaries. Therefore, we should always move cautiously and with our observational eyes wide open and not try to push through resistances with an iron will. 

The more we create positive experiences for our students in the areas of mutual respect, positive self-regard and competency the increased likelihood they will be open to our invitations and guidance to replace old self-sabotaging habits with newer more efficient and life affirming ones. The hidden pleasure of embarrassment is only present when they want to be seen and found, and they take joy and solace in being known and appreciated by us.

Education and Government and Politics and Social Issues27 Apr 2019 07:40 pm


Due to the pervasive nature of mass media no previous culture has been as influenced by PR, propaganda, spin and perceptual management as ours. Our opinions, consumer habits, desires, goals, values and perspectives have never been more a central target of so much time, energy, research and economic resources.

We are monitored, watched, prodded and herded towards specific attitudes and ideologies which serve and benefit powerful alliances. More and more money is funneled into fewer and fewer hands which allows for the message to be honed and refined into a truly narrow focus. This allows for increased consistency of the message and goal. This is not to say that one day all variance will disappear with only one totalitarian message surviving, but rather that the variances that do survive will be relatively small and the shared goals of the remaining voices will become gospel and reality, at least for the vast majority of people.

This is evident in how our political system has evolved (decayed) to the point in which millions of citizens parrot and accept the premise that one has to vote for the lesser evil. Anything or anyone challenging or seriously questioning the status quo is either an idealistic dreamer, or a crazed conspiracist (quite an impressive disinformation campaign by our perceptual managers, I have to admit).

Since perceptual management is vital to the continued survival and success of the power elite, it is important for us to not only accept and identify its existence but try to remain at least partially immune to its influences. This becomes increasingly difficult as our busy lives and our exposure and dependency on their messages through all forms of media and information make it impossible to be as vigilant in maintaining perspective as they are devoted to molding and altering our perception 24/7.

Before talking about the current faux deflective controversy regarding vaccinations, I would like to visit a couple other divisive and confusing controversies that have raged during my lifespan. The two I’d like to recall are the smoking causes cancer and the current global warming debates.

The ill effects of smoking on one’s health became pretty obvious the more the entrenched the habit became in the lives of ordinary citizens. As the craving for and consumption of tobacco products increased so did health issues regarding lungs, heart as well as smokers ability to jog, be active or in many cases even walk without becoming winded or exhausted. 

Many scientists and health care professionals began sounding the alarm that smoking could negatively impact one’s health and quality of life. When the public response remained muted it became apparent that the addictive qualities of cigarettes over rode the health and quality of life concerns. The response of those concerned of the health implications of smoking was to intensify the message and suggest that the health harms of cigarettes could result in death. 

Expanded research seemed to bear this out and much data showed an increased probability of terminal cancers, and heart disease in the future of many smokers. The tobacco industry turned the entire discussion away from the irrefutable evidence regarding negative health impacts of smoking into a debate on whether or not smoking “caused “ cancer. This clever and effective distractive dialogue shifted people’s attention from the obvious health restrictions and impact on one’s personal quality of life at the hands of a habit/addiction into a theoretical, and almost impossible to win debate, on whether smoking or any individual variable could ever truly be said to cause cancer. 

As you know the debate lasted decades and the word games and spin continue even till today. The tobacco industry shows its compassion by offering programs which help people who want to quit smoking do so, while also supporting groups that espouse that smoking is a matter of personal choice and smoking is a right on par with any other freedom.

While the ill effects of air and water pollution were known for centuries the “ecological” movement became a popular political scientific entity in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The corporate industrial spin doctors borrowed from the tobacco industry play book and seized every opportunity to deflect common sense and observable negative impacts of toxic materials and pollution on personal and global health into a debate over whether pollution can prove to be the cause of some abstract global tragedy.

Despite the admission of the harmful effects of various toxins and poisons in our air water and land, the bulk of the political debate has been on whether certain forms of air pollution cause the destruction of the ozone layer, and now whether or not industrial practices “cause” global warming. Whether or not global warming is truly an imminent problem, or even if such a thing exists is still up for debate, in much the same way that evidence regarding smoking’s relationship to cancer was challenged and dismissed decades ago.

The main point of the above discussion is to show how spin and perceptual management were used to obfuscate a discussion away from some basic common sense observations. Just as one can observe that depriving a person of oxygen results in death, one could state that lung capacity, breathing efficiency, etc. are impaired by smoking, or that toxins and poisons in our water, air and land are by definition generally harmful to life.

Big tobacco portrayed smokers as fun loving individuals who wanted to maximize the moment and enjoy life, and anti-smokers as up-tight busy bodies that wanted to control everyone’s life and end their freedoms. Environmentalists were posed by corporate industry as alarmists who were opposed to progress or misguided and paranoid extremists who didn’t understand or appreciate the reality of modern life. 

In the current “debate” and “controversy” over vaccinations the “anti-vaxxers” are portrayed as paranoid, naive, or misinformed nitwits who are unintentionally going to cause the resurrection of the very epidemics that the vaccines have successfully eradicated from society. The anti-vaxxers are deemed either opposed to all medical science or attempting to falsely blame the illness of their child or loved one on vaccines.

In many ways Big Pharma has turned Big Tobacco’s message on its head. Where Big Tobacco claimed that the anti-smoking crowd’s opposition to freedom and free choice was trying to inhibit the joy and quality of life afforded the smoker, the anti-vaccers refusal to get inoculations (freedom of choice) is endangering the health and quality of life of others, potentially leading to death or major disability (through the re-emergence of a disease such as polio).

While the above concerns contain much truth, the framing of the issue is where this “controversy” is being manipulated and spun in a similar fashion. In the cases of tobacco, industry and now Big Pharma the core issue is to protect and maximize profits and all arguments are designed to create controversy and debate in a way that obfuscates the issue. The misdirection and purposeful framing allows them to maximize profits and jeopardize the heath of others while avoiding any meaningful reform or engaging in social responsibility.

The very term “anti-vaxxers” is highly misleading and provocative. It implies that people questioning or challenging any aspect of Big Pharma’s implementation of its vaccination policies and methods is based on a blind and biased opposition to the very existence of vaccines. It purposely polarizes the situation as a black and white decision to vaccinate or not. It tries to make any challenge of their practices on vaccine administration into an attack on vaccines in and of themselves. It is framing the situation in such a manner as to make those who, through experience or data, are uncomfortable with vaccines as being anti-science or reckless alarmist trying to dismantle one of the greatest forms of disease prevention and extinction ever accomplished in the history of medicine.

The majority of people “opposed” to vaccines, are only concerned about the “disputed side-effects’ such as autism, immune system disorders, etc. observed after immunizations especially when administered in early infancy with its recommended schedule. 

The scientists denying any possible tie between vaccines and serious health repercussions sound extremely similar to those scientists who diminished or even denied the data of smoking related problems, and the scientists who claimed that the levels of mercury, arsenic, etc. found in air, water and land were at safe levels.

The number of lives damaged by being exposed to unacceptable levels of mercury and lead, just to give two examples, in paints, pipes, water, air and land during the long debate is quite sobering. We are similarly being assured that the levels of heavy metals such as mercury and aluminum added to our vaccines are no where near approaching a dangerous level. 

It is my understanding that the heavy metals contained in the majority of the standard vaccines are not essential to the efficacy of the vaccines. They are used as “stabilizers” or preservatives in order to increase the shelf-life and therefore the profit margin of Big Pharma. 

The label of ‘anti-vaxxers’ is a spin smokescreen to avoid any serious discussion on how we can maximize the benefits and reduce any potential harms of our vaccination policies and their implementation. Instead we’re being forced into a false debate in which we have to choose between to vaccinate or not to vaccinate. 

The number of articles pertaining to a potential “outbreak” of a once eradicated disease such as measles are appearing more and more frequently in the corporate press. The cases though most likely real are being posed in the most alarmist fashion, with commentary designed to up people’s fear of an epidemic while blaming either tacitly or directly those who refuse to immunize themselves or their children. The call for forced immunizations is growing with stories of parents being arrested and charged with neglect or some violation of a health code for not immunizing their child. 

The dialogue is now shifting towards a debate between freedom of choice versus public health. This feels like just another obfuscation, another way to protect the profits of Big Pharma under the guise of public health similar to the push for our acceptance of a loss of all our freedoms for the safety of the surveillance state in its fight against terrorism both internal and external.

Jim Guido

Economics and Social Issues18 Mar 2019 06:28 pm

I recently started binge watching episodes of Mad Men. Since I was born in 1955 the show naturally speaks to my early childhood, and more directly to the world of my parents. While my family was relatively poor there still are significant similarities between my parents world and that portrayed in the adults in Mad Men. 

One of the most glaring characteristics of the era is the fact that adults often had at least one of their hands occupied with beverage or cigarette. My parents and their tribe did not drink hard alcohol as much as the Madison Avenue types, so other than in evening social gatherings the glass of liquor was replaced by cups of coffee. 

My mom in particular spent the bulk of her waking hours smoking cigarettes (between two and three packs a day) and drinking coffee, a pot or two a day is my recollection. Most of my parents friends and relatives also smoked and drank with great regularity. While the confines of many jobs, such as factory work, kept a lid on both smoking and the drinking of coffee (and a few years later carbonated beverages) free hands usually were occupied by one or the other.

Though my mom was surely addicted to nicotine and dependent on caffeine, she was equally dependent on the oral habits of both activities. My mom stated and even looked lost, “naked”,  and lonely without a cigarette or cup of coffee in her hand. I can recall many occasions where my mom would go through an entire cigarette without even taking a single puff. 

She would be sitting on the couch deep in conversation with a friend with her hand poised above the ash tray occasionally flicking away a long ash and never once taking a drag. When the cigarette burned to its completion she would instantly replace the old cigarette in her hand with a new one, and continue talking. 

My mother, and many of her contemporaries, only seemed to feel complete and secure with a cigarette in hand. Sure cigarettes were chemically addictive and people began to be aware of the oral addiction of beverage and cigarette alike, but no one seemed to focus on the hands being occupied habit.

Cigarettes were the adult version of the toddlers stuffed toy or “security’ blanket, whose softness they found comforting, but also the object became part of their body image. A toddler often felt incomplete and vulnerable without their “softy’ in their hands or being cradled in their arms.

Looking back at my early childhood it now seems pretty obvious to me that the majority of adults and parents I knew used cigarettes, coffee and alcohol as hand held transitional object companions that had them feel complete. Without such objects in their hand they felt alone, empty, vulnerable and experienced a sense of loss. A hand without a cigarette mourned the emptiness similar to a widow misses the physical presence of their spouse in bed and around the house after they die.

I think the same sense of being incomplete, of an empty hand being experienced as a deep loss,  and the missing of an integral body part is now being replaced by the smartphone. Screen addiction is becoming accepted as an official diagnosis. Like cigarettes there seems to be a recognized habit addiction, but I do feel we are yet to fully realize that its not just a habit, but smartphones are becoming central to many people’s body image. Without their smartphone, they aren’t just disconnected from the virtual social world and missing the habit of having it in their hand, but it’s more than their hand being empty, it is experienced as missing a vital part of their body. 

Just as a young toddler’s identity and body image is made complete by their transitional object, so to are an increasing number of youngsters, teens, and adults feeling incomplete and physically deformed without their smartphone safely in their hand. The belief that the smartphone screen addiction is mainly about staying socially connected, or is just a habit of the hand, is missing a very important element of the smartphone. Smartphones are being experienced as an integral part of the body, where an empty hand is felt as an incomplete body.

It is not unusual for toddlers to give their stuffed toys a name, imbuing them with a personality and speaking to them as if they are a companion. While this is considered to be a generally healthy and natural stage of development it does become problematic when a toddler isolates and walls themselves off from the community of others and communicates almost exclusively with their stuffed toy.  

With smartphones, being our companion is less of an act of imagination that the stuffed toy. Smartphones can now speak to us with a human voice, they can inform and educate us, and even tell us stories. As the technology improves they will be able to converse and entertain us in an increasingly sophisticated and seductive way. Most toddlers eventually find the real world of others to be more rewarding than the pretend world of stuffed toys and inanimate objects, I’m not so sure if the same realization will be made to those addicted to smartphones.

Jim Guido