Sunday, November 23, 2014

Overcoming Psychoanalysis

You may call this a success story if you like, but it shows the psychiatrist learning from the patient and not vice versa.

It is probably not an uncommon story. Anyone who has trained in psychoanalysis or a reasonable facsimile has been faced with the fact that Freudian and post-Freudian treatments do not work. Most often we learn it while working with a patient.

Clinically speaking, Dr. Robin Weiss’s patient, Julia, seems to have made some real progress against her depression. Weiss is happy with the outcome of the ongoing treatment. And she makes clear that Julia has helped her to become a better physician:

Many years have now passed. What’s become of Julia? She inhabits a life unrecognizable from this vignette, a life changed in many ways for the better. Alas, she still has a chronic relapsing illness — severe depression — for which there is yet no magic cure. But she has succeeded in training me to become a better doctor for her, and she continues to come to me for treatment. Though modern psychiatry can’t always cure every disease, I can at least help Julia do some of the heavy lifting.

Weiss is sufficiently self-aware to see that her patient was right to want to help her to get over the influence of psychoanalysis. 

We know that there is no magic cure for depression, but we also know that most psychiatrists today would prescribe medication and would direct the patient toward cognitive therapy.

Of course, Weiss prescribed medication. Without knowing more about the precise nature of Julia’s depression we cannot really say how much it helped.

And yet, Weiss’s approach to therapy does not seem to include the latest from cognitive treatment. At first, she took the opposite tack. Where Aaron Beck and the other practitioners of cognitive treatment ignored the supposed “root cause” of depression, Weiss, influenced by psychoanalysis, wanted to seek it out.

She writes:

Julia agreed to take antidepressant medication, which reduced her most immobilizing symptoms. Yet sitting in my office, wrapped in an afghan I had there for warmth, she looked like a sad and lonely waif. What was the origin of her melancholy? Unless we could better understand it, it would probably continue to predispose her to severe depressive episodes. So we embarked on more intensive psychotherapy.

Weiss wants to discover a root cause. Julia wants to make a human connection with Weiss.

This conflict, between Weiss’s clinging to a modified psychoanalytic framework and Julia’s fight for what she needed, defined the treatment.

Depressed patients fell detached, disconnected, and isolated. Therapy ought to allow a depressed patient to develop a rapport with his or her therapist. It is not rocket science. It is not difficult or complicated.

From the onset Julia knew it. Dr. Weiss learned it.

A human connection requires reciprocity between patient and therapist. If a therapist refuses to share any information about him or herself or if the therapist, at the limit, refuses any communication beyond empty interpretations, the patient will feel even more isolated, even more worthless.

Julia fought her psychiatrist because she knew that she needed to make a human connection and she saw that Dr. Weiss had to overcome her own training in order to let one happen.

Weiss recounts Julia’s opening gambit:

From the start of therapy, and despite her weariness, Julia mustered the determination to protest what she called the “rules of therapy” — especially the notion that I would not disclose personal information about myself during her treatment. She’d manage a faint, defiant smile and rattle off interrogations: “Don’t you get bored listening to us mental patients?” “You’re holding your head in your hand — do you have a headache?” “Do you have children? How many?”

She hadn’t learned this rule from me. She came to treatment under the assumption I would adhere to it. This was understandable; the caricature of the infuriating Freudian analyst, stroking his beard and deflecting the patient’s question with another question (“And how do you feel about that?”), pervades popular culture.

And in fact, the rule originated with Freud. In a 1912 paper, he advised doctors practicing psychoanalysis that the physician “should be opaque to his patients, and, like a mirror, show them nothing but what is shown to him.”

I will not explain why this is a terrible idea. I have done so elsewhere. This case report has value because it shows how Julia helped her psychiatrist to overcome her aberrant training. She had to help her doctor before her doctor could help her.

Of course, Weiss is not, strictly speaking, a psychoanalyst. And yet, she might as well have been. She has suffered its influence. She refuses to make a connection with her patient… thus driving her further into her mind and further away from human connection.

Weiss describes it:

Here, Julia’s instincts about my willingness to talk about myself were partially correct. I’m not doctrinaire, but neither am I one to divulge much about my private life.

Even if you’re not a classical Freudian analyst, there are good reasons for a therapist to adopt a posture of neutrality. For one thing, patients need to be free to take the discussion anywhere, including uncomfortable or taboo territories. If therapy were reciprocal, therapists might close off avenues of conversation that they themselves might want to avoid.

So I tended to be my usual “therapist self” with Julia: attentive, open and, I hoped, warm — yet neutral and withholding when it came to my own life. But the more I withheld from her, the harder she pressed me to open up. It was impossible not to wonder what lay behind her insistence.

Unhappily for Julia, Dr. Weiss uses her knowledge of post-Freudian psychoanalytic theory to misunderstand the case:

Julia presented me with a therapy challenge. She had honed the art of shifting the valence of a conversation toward the other person, hiding herself. She desperately wanted to attach to me, and this was her tried and true method of establishing intimacy — or her approximation of it. But by persistently asking me personal questions, she also threatened to repeat the dynamic that left her feeling isolated and alone in the outside world.

If Julia was severely depressed, she was not establishing intimacy or any other kind of connection in the real world. By asking personal questions Julia was highlighting her therapist’s failure—perfectly rationalized—to make her feel less alone in the world.

Undeterred Weiss offered an interpretation, to the effect that Julia was merely trying to repeat in therapy her relationships in the outside world, the pattern for which derive from childhood:

When I pointed this out to her, she withdrew. No matter how gently I offered this observation, she experienced it as a rebuke, a hurtful break in our growing closeness. However, if I failed to point out these moments, I feared she wouldn’t see that she was unconsciously trying to mold our relationship into yet another of those unsatisfying one-way relationships in her life. I was in a quandary.

A quandary of her own making, one must add. Obviously, Weiss was trying to make the relationship unsatisfying. Julia was trying desperately to forge something else.

Taking a page from D. W. Winnicott, Weiss calls him a psychiatrist. In truth, Winnicott was an influential psychoanalyst who initially trained as a pediatrician.

Fortunately, Weiss learns the futility of offering even post-Freudian interpretations:

As therapy continued with her, I heard how flat and tinny I sounded whenever I attempted to analyze what was going on between us. When I lapsed into too clinical a mode, our connection would wobble, and her alienation became palpable.

So, Weiss began to change:

In contrast, as I began, in the face of her challenges, to let down my guard, our alliance grew stronger, and she became open to treatment. We would laugh together about her bringing me just the right greeting card or a flower from her garden — exhibiting her need to challenge “the rules” and exposing my need to interpret her actions….

I may have been a slow student, but eventually I understood: I was the one who had to change. From then on, when she saw that look in my eyes, I said yes, I did have a migraine. We followed episodes of the TV show “ER” together, and I told her where I was going when I left for vacation.

The point is well taken and important.

Just about everyone who has ever trained in anything resembling psychoanalysis has, advertently or inadvertently suffered Freud’s influence. Most of us who did so have had a patient who showed the futility and the uselessness of following even a modified version of Freudian technique.

I had similar experiences myself, so I recognize it well. I applaud Robin Weiss’s honesty in sharing her experience.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Who Failed Adam Lanza?

When Adam Lanza gunned down children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School we asked why he had never received any help for his very obvious mental illness.

Some blamed it on the gun culture. For my part I asked why he and some of the other apparently psychotic mass murderers were not committed involuntarily to psychiatric institutions.

Now, a new report commissioned by the state of Connecticut suggests that the issues were more complicated. If we assume that this report is definitive it corrects some of my views. Thus, it is worth reporting.

The story has been covered in numerous newspapers. The story in The Hartford Courant seems to be the most comprehensive.

Where I and others assumed that Lanza was suffering from a psychosis, the study suggest other diagnoses, among them depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anorexia.

In truth, these descriptive diagnoses do not preclude a more important problem, something on the order of a brain disease or psychosis. Sometimes people suffering from a brain disease adopt certain symptoms in order to try to self-medicate or even to draw attention to their illness.

Clearly, Adam Lanza was anorexic. Clearly, anorexia affects brain function. And yet, anorexia has never, to my knowledge been associated with mass murder.

And, while Adam certainly demonstrated obsessive-compulsive symptoms, that condition has never, to my knowledge been associated with homicidal mania.

Most striking is the fact that while the mental health professionals who evaluated Adam recommended an aggressive course of treatment, his mother consistently refused to follow their advice, preferring to appease and mollify her increasingly violent son.

The Hartford Courant summarizes the findings:

A report released Friday by the Office of the Child Advocate pointed to the Yale episode as one of dozens of red flags, squandered opportunities, blatant family denial and disturbing failures by pediatricians, educators and mental health professionals to see a complete picture of Adam Lanza's "crippling" social and emotional disabilities.

The study paints a picture of a grossly irresponsible mother who colluded with school officials to ensure that her son’s illness not be treated. One might believe that mental health professionals have a vested interest in shifting the blame, but there is little evidence that Adam’s mother understood the nature of his problem or the need for treatment. Apparently, she ignored the advice of professionals.

Yet, when Adam did take the medication prescribed by one physician his condition did not improve; it deteriorated. Thus, his mother’s decision to reject psychiatric advice might have had some basis in fact.

Also, while some professionals were reasonably alarmed by Adam’s deteriorating mental health, others were willing to take his mother’s side, ignoring the problems or assuming that they would go away.

The newspaper report explains:

Nancy relied heavily on the advice of a psychiatrist who, in contrast with other clinicians, said that Adam would benefit from being away from school. It was the psychiatrist who said that Adam was a candidate for the homebound program, in which students who are medically or emotionally unable to attend school are tutored at home.

The report was highly critical of this move, stating that there was no evidence that the school had a treatment or education plan for Adam, and that there was no record that he even received the 10 hours a week of tutoring required.

"In the face of disabilities that were so significant as to apparently justify [Adam's] lack of attendance for the entire school year it does not appear that anyone questioned why, if he was so debilitated, he was never hospitalized or referred for specialized educational placement," the report said. "On a number of levels and on numerous occasions, the district did not follow appropriate procedures, monitor [Adam's] individual education plan … for goals and objectives, or document attempts to follow up with providers or the family regarding psychiatric or pediatric care."

Even if Nancy Lanza could not make her way through a thicket of differing expert opinions, she ought to have exercised far more caution and not allowed her son free access to an arsenal of guns.

The Hartford Courant continues:

February 2007, Yale clinicians identified in Adam Lanza what they believed were profound emotional disabilities and offered him treatment that they said could give him relief for the first time in his troubled life.

But Adam was angry and anxious, and he didn't want to go. His mother, Nancy Lanza, constantly placating her son, was inclined to pull away from the treatment, prompting a psychiatric nurse to reach out to his father, Peter Lanza, in an urgent email.

"I told Adam he has a biological disorder that can be helped with medication. I told him what the medicines are and why they can work. I told him he's living in a box right now and the box will only get smaller over time if he doesn't get some treatment."

Let us emphasize that the nurse insisted that Adam had a biological disorder and that the disorder needed to be treated. One wonders why the clinic had a nurse communicate with the boy’s father. Surely, a psychiatrist’s word would have carried more weight.

When, in middle school, Lanza went to see a pediatrician, the result was as follows:

For example, at the apex of Adam's increasing phobias and problems coping with middle school, he went to a pediatrician and was repeatedly prescribed a lotion to soothe hands rubbed raw by excessive washing and a laxative to ease constipation brought on by a dangerous loss of weight. Yet, the authors note, there was no effort during these visits to address the underlying causes. A visit to a hospital emergency room was cut short before there was a chance for clinicians to explore Adam's problems at greater depth and schedule him for long-term treatment because Nancy Lanza said that being at the hospital was making Adam anxious.

Do we really want pediatricians making psychiatric evaluations?

School officials did not do their job either:

At times, the report said, school officials in Newtown failed to comply with legal requirements in their handling of Adam. They also point to a chronic lack of communication and coordination among the various players involved with Adam's education and treatment, inside and outside of Newtown.

"The lack of sustained, expert-driven and well-coordinated mental health treatment, and medical and educational planning, ultimately enabled his progressive deterioration," the report said.

Today, the psychiatric profession believes that psychoses are brain diseases, not mental illnesses. Why was it that no one recommended a neurological exam?

Among the troubling omissions cited in the report, the authors reveal that Adam never underwent a neurological examination despite reported seizures and a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. Adam was repeatedly pulled from special education programs, therapy and schools at various times and was in the state's little-known homebound program with minimal oversight by school officials.

And also,

Early on, in what would become a recurring theme throughout much of his schooling, Adam's ability to perform well academically led to the perception that he did not need special education or additional therapy.

The report said that "neither the parents nor the educational system persevered to ensure that he received neurological follow-up, a comprehensive psychological evaluation or evaluation of his behavioral and sensory processing challenges." Such follow-up early on "might have clarified and deepened the understanding of his needs," the report said.

Responsibility does not only fall on Adam’s mother. School authorities should have seen that something was radically wrong and should have taken charge of the situation.

If Adam had been subjected to child abuse, school authorities would have been obliged to report the case to the proper authorities. In that case the child would have been treated without his mother’s consent.

The report suggests that authorities did not pursue the case more aggressively because Adam was being brought up in relative affluence. If he had been a poor child he might have been removed from his home. It is easier to accuse a poor parent of neglect than it is to do the same with an upper middle class parent.

The report also describes what happened on the two occasions when Adam could have received psychiatric treatment. In both cases his mother prevented it:

In Adam's two most significant opportunities for meaningful psychiatric treatment — an evaluation at the Danbury Hospital emergency room in September 2005, and a complete work-up by clinicians at the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven the following year — Nancy rejected expert advice in both cases and further isolated her son by keeping him at home and away from school.

At Danbury Hospital, she declined an extensive medical evaluation and psychiatric examination for Adam, who was suffering from overwhelming anxiety. Instead, she asked for a note excusing him from school indefinitely. When she didn't get her wish, she took Adam home.

At Yale in October 2006, a psychiatrist examined Adam at Peter Lanza's urging. The doctor noted Adam's "accelerating" social withdrawal and concluded that Adam suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and severe social disabilities and would benefit from intensive therapy. The psychiatric nurse at the center reached similar conclusions about what the clinicians were calling an "increasingly constricted social and educational world."

But Nancy pulled Adam out of treatment at the Yale center, saying that the diagnosis "didn't fit" and that her son didn't want to go to the sessions. The authors noted that a clinical report by the Yale team apparently never made it to Newtown High School and that Adam's educational planning at the school lacked any connection to the Yale findings.

A story of missed opportunities, with some fault lying with psychiatry, some lying with the school system, but a great deal lying with a mother who refused to accept that her son was ill.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Decency Police Attack an Art Critic

The New York art world is a special place. It attracts hopers and dreamers, of course, but it is catnip for anyone who wants to overcome conformity and let his creative juices flow freely.

The New York art world has always proclaimed itself the home to free spirits, to aspiring creative talents, to anyone who wants to escape the spirit-numbing mainstream American culture.

No longer.

Or so says Jerry Saltz, an important player in the New York art world. Saltz is the art critic for the influential New York magazine. He has been featured on a television show on the Bravo network.

Lately, he has been having a problem. He has been noticing that today’s thought police have no respect for his free expression:

Flexibility is life, but lately I keep thinking that the art world has gotten a lot less flexible, and the freedom that I've always thought of as completely foundational — freedom to let our freak flags fly and express ourselves, even bizarrely — has constricted considerably. And it’s happening at such mutated and extreme rates that we must ask if the art world is not now one of the more self-policing areas of contemporary culture. How did we come to live in an insular tribal sphere where unwritten rules and rigid moralities — about whom to like and dislike, what is permissible to say and what must remain unsaid — are strictly enforced via social media and online disapproval, much of it anonymous? 

Need I say, Saltz’s progressive credentials are impeccable. He does not belong to the Tea Party, God forbid!

And yet, he has recently been publicly denounced for sins against political correctness. It is ironic, Saltz feels, because he holds to all of the correct progressive beliefs.

Take his, not my word for it:

Obviously, as a good little progressive humanist myself, I love holding people accountable for prejudice and bigotry. There is genuine progressive value in that, especially these days. This is why we have to address military and campus rape, laws restricting voting, the relationship of the police to people of color (in Ferguson and everywhere else), and dozens of other issues on which righteous indignation is a weapon. But when we’re treating works of art as ruthlessly and unsubtly as we would hate speech, is it political progress or aesthetic ignorance?

For the thought police, it is not enough.

Saltz describes his ordeal:

A handful of cases in point, all from the last year (and not including being trashed for daring to call Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman “psychotic” on CNN or not hating George W. Bush's thrift-store paintings).When I wrote that I didn't like phenom Oscar Murillo's gallery-filling David Zwirner chocolate factory, it was said on Twitter that I had "a brown problem"; others threw the word racist around. 

And also:

Since then, I've become "sexist," an "abuser of women," and a "pervert" for posting on Facebook a graphic picture of a woman's thrashed behind. The photo was a self-portrait from one of my Twitter friends' feeds. It'd been posted proudly by her. No matter. I got scores of Facebook messages from horrified "friends," and tweets like, "What was Jerry Saltz thinking!" People stormed off the internet in disgust; letters were written to my editor demanding that I step down and asking me to "explain myself." The strange thing was that I'd already posted dozens of similar and in fact far more graphic images on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — images from medieval illuminated manuscripts featuring men being castrated, tortured, and set upon by demons, each posted with some idiotic caption like, "This is what art critics do to bad artists." These images delighted everybody (or seemed to). But when I switched the gender of the “victim” (now female) and the medium (now photography), all hell broke loose, and the decency police descended. 

Why is this happening?

It is easy to understand. The denizens of the art world are the product of America’s university system, especially its Humanities programs. They resort to name-calling because that’s what they have been taught. It’s all they know how to do.

Saltz is suffering because these programs have not been teaching liberal values. They have certainly not been teaching conservative values. They have been teaching radical values. They have taught young people that the world of art creates the real world and thus that if you want to change the world you need to change the way it is portrayed in art.

They believe that insufficient diversity results from the fact that the populace has not been exposed to a sufficient number of sit-coms and docudramas where a diverse group of people is living, working, loving and laughing together.

Humanities education does not teach people how to learn from art or literature or philosophy. It does not teach the canon of the world’s great artists. Heck, a schoolteacher in California just replaced Hamlet with a podcast called Serial.

Humanities education teaches students to conduct their own pogroms on the canon… to pick out all of the politically offensive parts and to discredit whatever other value the work might have.

The practice, otherwise called deconstruction, does not limit itself to art. It extends to works of literature and philosophy. It is even used against influential art critics like Jerry Saltz. Its manic intensity does not spare the reputations of even the most progressive art critic.

In one respect, Saltz has misunderstood this phenomenon. He calls it “conservative,” presumably in an effort to embarrass the decency police.

And yet, the prototype of the decency police exists in Saudi Arabia where they really do have a decency police and in phenomena as diverse as Ernst Rohm’s Storm Troopers and Mao Zedong’s Red Guards.

Dare I say that the Storm Troopers who set out to destroy all evidence of Jewish culture were not conservatives. They were radicals. They did not seek to conserve. They sought to destroy.

Idem for Mao’s Red Guards when they tried to destroy all vestiges of traditional Chinese culture, from Ming vases to the works of Confucius to politically offensive operas. When the Red Guards submitted party bureaucrats and even their teachers to public humiliation they were not being conservative. They were being extremist radicals. When they banned all but one book, the writings of Chairman Mao they were not being conservative. They were practicing brainwashing on a grand scale.

Saltz is correct to not that some American conservatives tried to shut down artworks that they found offensive, but, at the least, theirs was a failed crusade. Conservatives do not control the culture. They have next to no influence on it. 

The radical leftist decency police rules the culture. It has not merely shut up those who disagree with it, it feels so empowered that it can even take out after progressives like Jery Saltz.

It is true that conservative forces, like the Catholic Church has put books on the Index. The church has certainly exercised an outsized influence on art.

And yet, ask yourself this question: how good was the art created under the aegis of the Christian Churches. After all, a great deal of Bach’s music accompanied religious observances. Did the influence of religion constrict Bach’s creativity? Who is a greater artist: Bach or Eminem?

Of course, the Catholic Church gave us Giotto and Duccio. Our politically correct art world has given us Jeff Koons. Take a look at some of the work and tell me whether the conservative church or the radical art world is producing better art?

For your edification:


 Crevole Madonna - Duccio


Jeff Koons:

More Jeff Koons:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why Women Don't Break the Glass Ceiling

There’s nothing very new here. It has long been known that a very ambitious woman, a woman who wants to rise up the corporate hierarchy would do well to have a… wife. Especially a wife who stays home and cares for the children and the household.

Well, maybe not a wife, but at least a househusband.

Feminists have been saying this for quite some time. And it is certainly true. You cannot give your job your undivided attention if your attention is divided between home and office. If you do not give your job your undivided attention you will most likely fall behind your colleagues.

Of course, this means that a man who wants to rise up the corporate hierarchy would do well to have a wife at home.

The notion of shared responsibilities is a feminist pipe dream. Or better, a feminist lie.

Jessica Grose reports on a study of Harvard Business School graduates:

The majority of women said they assumed they would have egalitarian marriages in which both spouses’ careers were taken equally seriously.

These are intelligent, well-educated women. And yet, they happily bought the feminist lie about egalitarian marriages.

Nothing about the study should be shocking.

Grose reports:

The study’s authors interviewed 25,000 men and women who graduated from Harvard Business School over the past several decades. The male graduates were much more likely to be in senior management positions and have more responsibility and more direct reports than their female peers. But why? It’s not because women are leaving the workforce en masse. The authors found, definitively, that the “opt-out” explanation is a myth. Among Gen X and baby boomers they surveyed, only 11 percent of women left the workforce to be full-time moms. That figure is lower for women of color—only 7 percent stopped working. The vast majority (74 percent) of Gen Xers, women who are currently 32-48 and in the prime of their child-rearing years, work full time, an average of 52 hours a week.

Why don’t women advance in the workplace? The study suggests that married women allow their husbands’ careers to take priority over their own.

Grose summarizes the results:

About 40 percent of Gen X and boomer women said their spouses’ careers took priority over theirs, while only about 20 percent of them had planned on their careers taking a back seat. Compare that with the men: More than 70 percent of Gen X and boomer men say their careers are more important than their wives’. When you look at child care responsibilities, the numbers are starker. A full 86 percent of Gen X and boomer men said their wives take primary responsibility for child care, and the women agree: 65 percent of Gen X women and 72 percent of boomer women—all HBS grads, most of whom work—say they’re the ones who do most of the child care in their relationships.

Apparently, four decades of second-wave feminism have failed to destroy the sexual division of household labor. Then again, only a feminist would take offense at the notion that a woman might want to be a more active mother to her children.

Note well, the feminist response to these numbers shows no respect for the decisions that women might make… freely. To feminists, any woman who takes on more parenting responsibilities than her husband has colluded in a system that represses her talent for business and prevents her from breaking the glass ceiling.

Another study, this time from the University of Texas throws an unwelcome light on this phenomenon. It suggests that a woman who rises up the career ladder will pay for it with her emotional well-being. Could that be one reason why women prefer not to work their way up the corporate hierarchy?

The Daily Mail explains:

Women who have power at work are at risk of poorer mental health than women further down the career ladder, a study has found.

Researchers found that while men tend to feel better the more authority they have, the reverse is often true for women.

‘Women with job authority – the ability to hire, fire and influence pay – have significantly more symptoms of depression than women without this power,’ said Tetyana Pudrovska, of the University of Texas, who carried out the study.

‘In contrast, men with job authority have fewer symptoms of depression than men without such power.

‘What’s striking is that women with job authority in our study are advantaged in terms of most characteristics that are strong predictors of positive mental health,’ she added. ‘These women have more education, higher incomes, more prestigious occupations, and higher levels of job satisfaction and autonomy than women without job authority.

‘Yet they have worse mental health than lower-status women.’

No one should find this surprising. When a man gains more authority he will become more attractive to women. When a woman gains more authority she will become less attractive to men.

Some would call it sexism. Others would say that it’s reality.

Pudrovska is a feminist, so she blames it on sexism:

Prof Pudrovska said the reason a woman with authority may be negatively impacted is that she can encounter ‘resistance’ from colleagues, who may judge her for being ‘unfeminine’.

‘Years of social science research suggests that women in authority positions deal with interpersonal tension, negative social interactions, negative stereotypes, prejudice, social isolation, as well as resistance from subordinates, colleagues and superiors,’ she said.

‘Women in authority positions are viewed as lacking the assertiveness and confidence of strong leaders.

‘But when these women display such characteristics, they are judged negatively for being unfeminine. This contributes to chronic stress.’

Of course, you might also suffer chronic stress for pretending to be something you are not.

This does not mean that women cannot do it. It does not mean that they should not try to do it. It certainly does not mean that men should not become househusbands, if that is their inclination.

But if it doesn’t work out as well as your ideology says, don’t blame the patriarchy. Question the ideas you have been tricked into embracing.


Why do Muslim extremists continue to behead people with impunity? Why do Palestinians continue to celebrate terrorist acts?

The answer is easier than you think.

They keep doing it because it works. When ISIS executed American aid worker Peter Kassig, President Obama took the occasion to show off his Islamophilia, his reverential respect for Islam.

Asked yesterday why Palestinians continue to engage in murderous acts of terror Prof. Alan Dershowitz explained that their actions have cowed much of the Western world… to the point where more and more Europeans and Americans favor giving Palestinians whatever they want.

When Palestinians attack Israel the American Secretary of State and other Western leaders conspicuously call for Israeli restraint.

When terrorism is rewarded, it is likely to continue.

Mona Charen has shown that Obama manifested his Islamophilia in his official statement about the recent murder of Peter Kassig.

First, the White House statement:

Today we offer our prayers and condolences to the parents and family of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known to us as Peter.  We cannot begin to imagine their anguish at this painful time.

Abdul-Rahman was taken from us in an act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity.  Like Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff before him, his life and deeds stand in stark contrast to everything that ISIL represents.  While ISIL revels in the slaughter of innocents, including Muslims, and is bent only on sowing death and destruction, Abdul-Rahman was a humanitarian who worked to save the lives of Syrians injured and dispossessed by the Syrian conflict.  While ISIL exploits the tragedy in Syria to advance their own selfish aims, Abdul-Rahman was so moved by the anguish and suffering of Syrian civilians that he traveled to Lebanon to work in a hospital treating refugees.  Later, he established an aid group, SERA, to provide assistance to Syrian refugees and displaced persons in Lebanon and Syria.  These were the selfless acts of an individual who cared deeply about the plight of the Syrian people.  

ISIL's actions represent no faith, least of all the Muslim faith which Abdul-Rahman adopted as his own.  Today we grieve together, yet we also recall that the indomitable spirit of goodness and perseverance that burned so brightly in Abdul-Rahman Kassig, and which binds humanity together, ultimately is the light that will prevail over the darkness of ISIL.

What’s wrong with this statement?

A great deal.

First, Charen points out, Peter Kassig converted to Islam when faced with a death threat. He did not voluntarily embrace the Muslim faith. When Obama insists on using Kassig’s Muslim name he is effectively affirming the legitimacy of the conversion.

She explains:

Peter Kassig converted to Islam and took the name Abdul-Rahman, but only in captivity. President Obama’s insistence upon using his Islamic name reflects his continuing belief that by denying Islamic extremism, he can promote peace….

When someone converts at the point of a sword, in hopes of saving his life, is that “adopting the Muslim faith as his own”? Whom is Mr. Obama respecting by using the Islamic name — Kassig, or his executioners?

Note well: Obama’s use of the Islamic name is a gesture of respect for Kassig’s executioners!

Even more appalling is Obama’s insistence that ISIL’s actions represent no faith, and certainly not the Muslim faith.

Who is he trying to fool?

Charen replies:

But Mr. Obama is still at pains to protect the good name of Islam. He condemns the barbarism of the Islamic State and other terrorists, but feels the need to quickly add that their crimes “represent no faith, least of all” Islam.

Throughout the Muslim world, extremism is in full bloom. Only a minority of Sunni extremists travel under the name al-Qaeda. Others are called al-Nusra (Syria) and AQIM (North Africa) and ISIS (Syria and Iraq) and Wahhabi (Saudi Arabia) and Boko Haram (Nigeria) and Abu Sayyaf (Philippines) and Taliban (Afghanistan and Pakistan) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (Pakistan) and al-Fatah (Palestinian territories) and Hamas (Gaza). The Shia extremists include the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hezbollah (Lebanon), and the Madhi Army of Iraq.

Why does Obama feel compelled to protect the good name of Islam? Surely, that good name and the reputation of people who profess the Muslim faith has been sullied by the actions of multiple Islamist terrorist groups.

If Muslims want to restore their good name they will need to destroy the terrorists in their midst.

Obama’s servile profession of respect for Islam denies reality and tells the terrorists that their actions have not compromised the reputation of Islam. Their actions seem to have terrorized him to the point where he can only show respect for the terrorists’ faith.

Islamophilia is the other face of Islamophobia… the latter meaning, fear of Islam.

Charen is right to say that Obama is in denial. She might have added that the Islamic State will continue to do what it does because its actions have caused world leaders to show greater and great respect for the religion it represents.

It isn’t just that ISIS and Palestinian terrorists have barely paid a price for the horrors they have unleashed on the world. They have been rewarded for it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Are the Traumas of Parents Visited on Their Children?

We have all heard that the sins of the father are visited on his sons. 

The truth of the statement depends on what you mean by sin or iniquity.

No son is or should be punished for his father’s crimes. We do not arrest the children of felons and put them on trial.

And yet, when a father disgraces himself and sullies the family name—think Bernard Madoff—other members of his family lose status and reputation.

But, you might be thinking, that only involves the perpetrators. What about victims of trauma? 

Keep in mind… while trauma victims do not or should not feel any guilt, they often feel shame.

If we could erase that shame by telling them that they are not guilty, we would. Unfortunately, reducing the corrosive effects of shame is far more difficult.

The next question is more difficult. We know that family members share the disgrace of someone who has acted dishonorably. But, that involves reputation and social standing. Does the shame get passed down in other ways from one generation to another?

Is the process biological or cultural or both?

Judith Shulevitz addressed the question in an excellent article in The New Republic. Her report on the current research on the children of trauma survivors is intricate and comprehensive.

The process of transmission is complex. It contains more than a few moving parts. We know much more than we ever have, but we do best to recognize that we still do not have definitive answers.

It’s the right attitude for scientific research.

Since much of the research involves the transmissibility of PTSD by trauma victims, it is worth noting that, among such victims not everyone contracts PTSD. Different people and different communities process trauma differently.

The Cambodian refugees living in Lowell, MA are a case in point. Survivors of the killing fields of Pol Pot and their descendants have suffered a pervasive anomie and have had great difficulty adapting to their new lives in America.

One suspects that neither they nor their forebears ever faced the challenge of adapting to an alien culture. Nor had they developed the social mechanisms that would have allowed them to process the trauma and move beyond it.

With their old culture obliterated they produced a new culture that could only perpetuate the trauma.

Psychologist Rachel Yehuda saw an example in some Holocaust survivors:

What made Yehuda the saddest while cataloguing the stories of survivors’ children, she told me, were the descriptions of childhood homes that felt like graveyards and the children’s sense that laughter desecrated the memory of the dead. Death, she says, must not quash life: “Living and laughing and being joyous and almost disrespectful to those who suffered—it’s what they’d want you to do, without forgetting them,” she says.

Among Holocaust survivors, however, some dealt with the trauma more effectively than others. Many Jews have learned how to adapt to foreign cultures. They have also learned how best to overcome abuse and persecution. Where Cambodians who landed in Massachusetts did not find a flourishing Cambodian-American community, many Holocaust survivors joined established Jewish communities.

Shulevitz explains:

If refugees from the Nazis and their offspring have thrived relative to other victims of massive historical trauma, surely that has to do with the quantity of cultural and human capital that washed up with the survivors on the shores of America and Israel. But their flourishing may also be a therapeutic benefit of ritualized communal mourning. It is no accident that the Holocaust now has its own holy day: Yom Ha-Shoah, the Day of the Holocaust.

It is not good to ignore the trauma and it is not good to wallow in it. A day of commemoration accompanied by a culture that shows people how to deal with trauma seems to be the best formula.

And yet, as Shulevitz points out, communities that have been subjected to repeated traumas tend to lose all hope. They give up and are incapable of developing the coping mechanisms that would allow them to live productive lives.

The social psychological explanation has some salience, but it does not seem to answer all of the questions.  Researchers have accumulated some evidence suggesting that the anguish associated with trauma can be transmitted biologically.

Psychologist Yehuda told Shulevitz that biology plays a much larger part than most culturally-based theories would have us believe.

Obviously, it is not precluded that trauma and the failure to deal with it produces a biochemical change in a human organism.

Yehuda discovered that it was not just the survivors who had more trouble managing stress. Their children were also suffering the same complex:

Shulevitz summarizes the biochemistry of PTSD:

PTSD occurs when the dysregulation induced by that trauma becomes a body’s default state. Provoke a person with PTSD, and her heart pounds faster, her startle reflex is exaggerated, she sweats, her mind races. The amygdala, which detects threats and releases the emotions associated with memories, whirs in overdrive. Meanwhile, hormones and neurotransmitters don’t always flow as they should, leaving the immune system underregulated. The result can be the kind of over-inflammation associated with chronic disease, including arthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, agitated nervous systems release adrenaline and catecholamines, both involved in the fight or flight response, unleashing a cascade of events that reinforces the effects of traumatic memories on the brain. This may partially explain the intrusive memories and flashbacks that plague people with PTSD. Extreme stress and PTSD also appear to shorten telomeres—the DNA caps at the end of a chromosome that govern the pace of aging.

The children of mothers with PTSD were far more likely to suffer PTSD themselves:

In early papers Yehuda produced on Holocaust offspring, she discovered that the children of PTSD-stricken mothers were diagnosed with PTSD three times as often as members of control groups; children of fathers or mothers with PTSD suffered three to four times as much depression and anxiety, and engaged more in substance abuse. She would go on to discover that children of mothers of survivors had less cortisol than control subjects and that the same was true of infants whose mothers had been pregnant and near the Twin Towers on 9/11.

And also:

Maternal PTSD heightens the chance that a child will incur the kind of hormonal profile that makes it harder to calm down. Paternal PTSD exacerbates the possibility that the child’s PTSD, if she gets it, will be the more serious kind that involves feeling dissociated from her memories. A mother’s PTSD can affect her children in so many ways—through the hormonal bath she provides in the womb, through her behavior toward an infant—that it can be hard to winnow out her genetic contribution. But, Yehuda argues, paternal transmission is more clear-cut. She believes that her findings on fathers suggest that PTSD may leave its mark through epigenetic changes to sperm.

Evidently, it is fascinating to consider that trauma can change one’s genetic makeup and that one’s children will receive genes that have been modified through experience.

If that is true, it means that some people are genetically more vulnerable to trauma:

At the frontier of this research lies a very delicate question: whether some people, and some populations, are simply more susceptible to damage than others. We think of resilience to adversity as a function of character or culture. But as researchers unravel the biology of trauma, the more it seems that some people are likelier to be broken by calamity while others are likelier to endure it.

Terror in Jerusalem

The New York Times doesn’t understand. It believes that no one else does either.

Editorially, the Times does not understand why terrorists attacked a Jerusalem synagogue yesterday:

There is no comprehending the murder of four men, including three rabbis, at a synagogue complex in a neighborhood of West Jerusalem on Tuesday.

They were civilians, unarmed and at prayer in a religious sanctuary when two Palestinians, residents of East Jerusalem, went on a bloody rampage with a gun, knives and axes before being killed in a shootout. Two Israeli policemen were also wounded in the gun battle, and one later died of his injuries.

Like President Obama, who condemned the attacks, the Times takes the opportunity to draw a moral equivalence between Israelis and the Palestinians who were, lest we forget, celebrating the attack:

But it is also a tragedy for all Israelis and Palestinians. The two communities appeared increasingly locked in a cycle of hatred and hopelessness, where chances for stability, much less permanent peace, seem nearly impossible.

One suspects that drawing a moral equivalence, thereby demonstrating a cowardly inability, on the part of the Obama administration and many other Western democracies, to denounce Palestinian terrorism for what it is bears some responsibility for what happened.

By way of comparison, the Wall Street Journal had no problem understanding what happened on its editorial page:

To understand why peace in Palestine is years if not decades away, consider the Palestinian celebrations after Tuesday’s murder in a Jerusalem synagogue of five Israelis, including three with joint U.S. citizenship. Two Palestinian cousins armed with meat cleavers and a gun attacked worshipers during morning prayers, and the response was jubilation in the streets.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility, while Hamas praised the murders as a “response to continued Israeli crimes.” The main obstacle to peace isn’t Jewish settlements in the multireligious city of Jerusalem. The barrier is the culture of hatred against Jews that is nurtured by Palestinian leaders.

As for the larger political issues, the Journal explains them clearly:

The goal of this new jihad is to frighten Israelis into agreeing to a divided Jerusalem, a chief Palestinian demand in the peace talks that recently collapsed. Yet it is only under Israeli rule that all religions have been respected in Jerusalem. On the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world should not be dividing cities.

President Obama condemned the attack, but his government has also done harm by denouncing Israeli construction in municipal Jerusalem. The George W. Bush Administration guaranteed in a 2004 letter to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that a future peace deal would require some West Bank border adjustments depending on the reality on the ground. In 2009 Hillary Clinton said the Bush letter had no standing, thus encouraging Palestinian hope for a divided Jerusalem.

Of course, Obama and Clinton were not the only Western leaders to direct their rhetorical fire first and foremost at Israeli buildings.

Is it not ironic that Israelis have been chastised for construction while Palestinians have been given a pass on their politics of deconstruction?

In addition, Hillary Clinton has allowed the Palestinians to believe that they might still use terror to gain a piece of Israel. Their goal, evidently, is to dismantle and destroy Israel, one piece at a time.