Archive for the ‘Psychology in Daily Life’ Category


I have no real aversion to firearms.  I might be getting more libertarian in my old age, where privacy and individual rights are taking on a position of more and more importance. What bothers me about the gun debate is how passionate and emotional people get about guns, on both sides of the issues, without truly emphasizing the facts we know.

It has been said that statistics can lie, be cherrypicked to support whatever position you’re going to stand behind.  I have researched guns and gun violence extensively, and while there are many pro-gun websites and information hubs full of useful and appropriate positions, I double-checked sources and had difficulty verifying many claims.  Below are  studies and statistics verified through multiple sources.

While I don’t have an aversion to guns, I believe all of us need a good understanding of how guns are more than just tools.  Because they are more that just tools.  It is objectively true that a gun has a different effect on our thoughts and behavior than a hammer, or a screwdriver, or a stapler.  Whether or not you believe you should have an unadulterated right to own a gun, you must acknowledge facts and reality.  So here are some facts!  Read them and make your own decisions.




Every once in a while, I look at the things I do, and I get overwhelmed just thinking about them.

I look at the people I admire, my friends, partners in solidarity, activists, and am blown away by the time and energy spent to make our world a little bit better.

Generally, I don’t love being overwhelmingly busy, as it becomes…well, overwhelming.  But lots of jobs don’t help us work toward building a world we dream about, and doing social justice work often doesn’t pay the bills (or requires 2-3 jobs to make a decent living).

I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care lately, and reading about it.  Truthfully, this is an area I feel most activists struggle with; there is so much work to be done, and there are so many people who seem never to tire, or get sad, or have to let something go so they can pay their bills.  It’s easy to talk down to ourselves, or feel less than.  It’s easy to keep pushing, and forget that if we push too hard now, the long-term will actually be unachievable.


Most of my self-care breaks come when I get physically sick, or when I’m too exhausted to get out of my bed, or find motivation to complete the tasks I’ve set for myself.  I am working on taking time and space before a breakdown, to work better long term, by maybe doing a bit less in the short term.

In that spirit, I’d love to hear your stories about self-care, or the strategies you use to replenish and recharge.

My personal favorites are spending time with my dog, hiking outside, being by the water, reading a novel, and baking.

Lots of music can help us keep pushing, and replenish our commitment and energy.  Off With Their Heads does this tune, Focus on Your Own Family (lyrics here), that asks us to keep pushing, even when things are tough.

Today, take some time to care for yourself, so we can continue building the world of our dreams.



I am a fully functional existentialist.  I believe that we are all responsible for our own choices within the circumstances of our lives, and to make changes to our lives, we must both 1) acknowledge the reality we’re living in, and the true situation of where we’re at, and 2) own up to the things we’ve done, good and bad, and both the possibilities and limitations of where we can move.  We are not responsible for being born where high school is shit.  We are responsible for deciding what to do with our crappy education, whether that’s learning a trade, getting a GED, going to community college, or going to community meetings to talk about how to change it.

The toughest part of teaching classes to folks dealing with criminal charges is the idea of taking responsibility for the things they’ve done wrong.  It’s very easy to fall into what I call the “comparison trap”, looking at other people’s actions (even, maybe especially, if the other person is wrong) and minimizing our own actions.


See?  This dog gets it.


Example.  During a class I taught, there was a student who was charged for driving without insurance and driving on a suspended license.  He had been rear ended by another driver, and continued to insist his charges were this driver’s fault.


Was it this driver who suspended your license?  Was it this driver who chose not to put insurance on your car?

Other people make crappy choices.  Lots of times, they make choices that negatively affect us.  But that doesn’t excuse our own crappy choices.

After almost 10 years in mental health, I’ve decided taking responsibility is the hallmark of adult behavior.  But being responsible really sucks, because now you can’t really deflect blame.

Please note: this is not an article extolling the virtues of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.  Many people, much smarter than myself, have debunked and criticized that particular, self-servingoften racist, and fairly patronizing American ideal.  However, blaming/shirking responsibility and awareness of circumstances/taking responsibility look very different.

(We’re not talking systemic inequality either.  I can acknowledge the racist way drug laws are enforced, while still acknowledging I committed a crime by smoking crack.  The most effective place to fight that is probably not a prison cell; the way to fight it is probably not by getting arrested over and over.).

All you need to do to take responsibility is say you did something.  You can recognize the reasons for it, but still acknowledge you did something.


Example.  Abuse tends to run in cycles; one third of abused children tend to grow up to be abusers of their own children.  It’s generally a complex traumatic reaction.  They either model the behavior they learned as children, or don’t have proper coping skills to deal with their own anger/depression/anxiety/stress, or don’t have good/accurate parenting information (this is the “in my day all kids got a whooping” defense).  Abused children are nine times more likely to become involved in criminal activity.  They struggle with self-esteem and attachment to others.  Abused children have much higher rates of mental health concerns than the general population.

However, none of this excuses parents who abuse their children.  It can help us to understand, it assists the parent in knowing where help and assistance is needed, and can assist those of us in public health to target useful preventative areas.

But the abuse is still wrong.  The parent made the choice to abuse.  And if the parent points to their own childhood, or lack of parenting knowledge, or lack of social safety nets, or lack of social supports, without acknowledging their own agency, that’s a problem.

The behavior we don’t take responsibility for performing, we can’t take responsibility for changing.

Live dangerously.  If you don’t like our society, change it.  Don’t like our laws?  Fight them.  Don’t know where to start?  The internet!  Or…you know, take responsibility for not knowing, and ask for help!

Want to be independent?  Recognize your own agency today!


Like almost 12% of teenagers in the United States, I suffered from depression when I was younger.  (and still, but that’s another story).

Depression is insidious, partly because we overuse the term, but also because we have a lingering belief that folks should just “snap out of” whatever is bothering them, totally discounting that this is an illness that needs to be dealt with.

Building positive coping skills is an important part of treatment for people struggling with depression.  Coping skills (the fancy psychological term for how we make ourselves feel better) can be anything, from listening to music, to running, to petting a dog, to painting, to talking on the phone.  The possibilities are endless, and it’s important to have a large list, because each coping skill is not going to work in every situation (i.e. I might not always be able to go for a run, or some days my favorite movie doesn’t help, etc).

One of the most prevalent coping skills suggested to me, and that’s often suggested for folks through the popular media, is that things will improve in the future.  It was a movement of support for LGBTQIA youth a couple years ago.  It’s still something I tell myself.

It’s not the most effective thing to tell someone struggling with depression.

Part of being depressed is the loss of hope, of optimism, and of future orientation.  When you’re depressed, you’re not too interested in tomorrow, because things are awful today, right now.   Depression saps your motivation and energy.  “It gets better” might be true, and it’s a great message, but it’s not enough on its own, because depression works against that.

I truly believe that often things do get better, if only because feelings of intense sadness are just that – feelings, and feelings pass.  What we must be careful to avoid is invalidating people’s depression and sadness now, in service of a misty, hopeful future.



For the longest time, and likely right now, I thought communicating with my partner would take away something from our relationship.  Surely, if he truly loved and understood me, he could interpret my change in breathing, or remember what I wanted for Christmas, or actually empty the dishwasher.  If I were to say something out loud, I thought it meant we were no longer in love.

Truthfully, this is baloney.

And just as truthfully, in past (younger) relationships, I didn’t believe my partner was doing something because he actually wanted to…just doing it because I had asked, which took something away from the action.

Again, baloney.

The goal of communicating within a relationship is to increase your cooperation, happiness, and respect for each other.  Oh, and to get what you want, and make sure your relationship gets what it needs to be healthy.  If you’ve got a problem, the goal is to get the problem solved.  It doesn’t really matter if a partner really wants to empty the dishwasher, or if he/she is just doing that to make you happy – the dishwasher is still empty.   Problem solved.

My favorite sexual feminist issue is consent (read about it here!), and I have come to suspect our distrust and misuse of consent is centered around the same preconceptions I used to have about communication.  Surely, we think, if I tell my partner to do something differently, or that I don’t like that position, or that I’d rather not have sex right now, then I won’t be able to enjoy anything ever again and our love is over and this sex is no longer sexy.


Let’s pump the brakes on this, yes?

So many issues can be avoided if we’d just talk to each other!  And the worst song offender I’ve found, a song that totally centers the idea of acting without actually talking to the person you’re interested in, is this gem by pop rock stalwarts Weezer (lyrics here)…except the idea is that he says it out loud.  Great job, Rivers!

Ryan Gosling knows.  #bonusGIF



One of the easiest problematic themes to identify in our music is poor boundaries.

As my frequent readers are no doubt aware, I am a firm believer in boundaries.  These are the limits we set around ourselves in our relationships – they are what we will accept from others, what we will not accept, and the consequences for violations of these boundaries.

Often, those with poor boundaries grew up in a non-validating household, though not necessarily an abusive one.  Abuse, obviously, is a violation of personal boundaries; if you say no, and something happens anyway, you learn you have no power or control over your body, and that others do not respect your limits.  Correcting this misperception is often the primary function of therapy.  However, simple non-validation can also lead to poor boundary development – asking to use the restroom and being told “you can’t have to go, you just went,” or trying to ask for what you want, and being totally ignored, teaches us to mistrust our own wants, needs, and feelings.

Personal relationships often see the worst boundary violations.  The lines between ourselves and the significant other blur, creating an unhealthy and addictive relationship; those who have been enmeshed with a partner know how frightening this can feel, how emotions run unchecked, how powerless you can seem.

Unfortunately, examples of this issue are put forward as the ideal for romantic love almost constantly.  Listening to this song, I was reminded how we can’t depend on others for our entire well being, and how doing so is crazymaking.*  (really, Dido?  You can’t be until I’m here?  YIKES!)  Also, the Spice Girls have a great one which can be enjoyed for maximum nostalgia here.

However, as a change of pace, I’m going to put in a song with kick ass boundary setting, by Alanis Morissette from her first album (the first CD I ever owned, as it happens.)  Lyrics are here; I fully recommend reading along!  This is such a great example of setting boundaries between two people, I absolutely love it.  Enjoy!


*I am by no means saying those around us don’t affect us – they totally do!  But depending on other people to determine our emotions isn’t healthy, and deprives us of personal autonomy.  If I’m having a bad day just because you are, I’m also not going to be able to offer support and healthy feedback for you – it’s bad for everyone.

Since this isn’t a blog based on diagnosis, but more commentary and information, we won’t spend too much time talking about the validity of psychological diagnoses as a whole (though there are some incredible debates and thinkers who are great folks to follow).  However, I want to briefly touch on Delusional Disorder, the erotomanic type.

Delusions are thought processes and beliefs that do not fit with reality, and persist despite evidence that they’re untrue.  In the erotomanic type, (cribbed from the DSM-V), “the central theme of the delusion is that another person is in love with the individual.”

This is a terrifying concept, and one I think we often see represented in popular media.  One of my favorite bands, and one of the most problematic punk bands around, is Masked Intruder.  Many of their songs concern stalking and threats of bodily harm, and serve as great examples of how delusions form and have negative effects on the object of the delusion.  Imagine telling someone to get lost, and they don’t leave you alone. 

(There is also a terrific cultural argument to be made here, that men often disregard the rejection of women and continue to believe a woman is interested, despite clear evidence to the contrary, and get angry when the rejection continues.  Often, women are killed after rejecting men’s advances.  Coincidentally (surely), this is part of the criteria for Delusional Disorder.)

The song I’ve chosen, from the rich field of possibilities, is “Almost Like We’re Already in Love” (lyrics here).

Scary, right?!

One of the most important concepts, and one of the easiest to grasp, is how substance abuse (particularly, for our purposes today, alcohol use) impacts our ability to plan and organize our thoughts and behaviors.

Executive functions, including impulse control, planning, organization, moral judgments, and consequential thinking, are focused mainly in our brain’s frontal lobe.  Frequent readers will remember how this brain development isn’t finished until the early 20s (a great argument for juvenile justice reform).  This is the first part of our brain to really get drunk.

Because the frontal lobe is affected by alcohol so quickly, we lose our ability to properly plan and appreciate consequences of our behavior.  It’s the reason driving after a couple beers makes so much sense to the one drinking.  It’s the reason we have unprotected sex with people we don’t know after closing down the bar.  It’s the reason all those plans for calling our ride, or walking home, go out the window because it’s 1am and it’s cold and we’re tired and we could surely drive just this once, right?

Having a bit of alcohol in our system also impairs our ability to stop drinking.  It’s easy, when sober, to think that two beers will be where we’ll stop; it’s a lot harder after those beers to say no to the next drink.  (This is also due to alcohol’s biphasic effect – we’re feeling good, happy, relaxed after a few, but the depressant effect kicks in more strongly the more we drink.)

There are a million songs about bad decisions under the influence, but I think the most illustrative tune is this Flogging Molly classic, Drunken Lullabies (lyrics here).

The chorus – and we find ourselves in the same old mess, singing drunken lullabies.  We can’t learn when we’re drunk, and we can’t plan properly when we’re drunk, and when we’re drunk, we just want to keep drinking!

Part of my ongoing series exploring psychological concepts through a song, this week’s topic is narcissism.  Named after the Greek myth about Narcissus, a man who fell in love with his own reflection, then died because he couldn’t stop looking at himself (because the Greeks were pretty brutal), narcissism is found in folks who think they’re awesome.


A little narcissism never hurt anyone, but on the far end of the spectrum is narcissistic personality disorder.  Hallmarks are an inability to accept any criticism, overly grandiose ideas, inflated sense of self-worth, arrogance, a short temper, and a pathological need for admiration, paired with a lack of empathy for others.


As with any personality disorder, others tend to notice there is a problem before the person is aware or acknowledges a problem.

Say it with me, now: NARCISSISM IS NOT SELF-ESTEEM.  Narcissism tends to come from a feeling of being lacking, and any threat to this fragile self results in aggression, impulsive behavior, and increased frantic efforts to win admiration and personal recognition.

The best song I’ve found to represent this is a great tune by Guster called “Center of Attention” (lyrics here).

Lots of the problems we have as adults result from what we learned as children about how to deal with the world around us.  If we’re growing up in an abusive household, we learn that people are not to be trusted, and develop patterns of paranoia and watchfulness.  If we’re getting bullied in school, we develop armor, sarcasm, a ready defense, or learn to stay under the radar, be quiet, never speak up.

These patterns allow children to survive in hostile environments.  They are useful.  They are adaptive.

But what happens when these children grow up, and suddenly can’t make friends or build healthy romantic relationships?  When our patterns are no longer adaptive?  We have to recognize the use and purpose of how we were behaving, then begin to form new relationships with others and the world around us.

A great song about being stuck in an old, unhealthy, maladaptive pattern is “Happier” by the band Guster (lyrics here).

The song is deeply sad, concerning a person abandoning friends and relationships because he or she can’t trust others to stick around.

We’ll be back next week!  Have an idea or suggestion for a song or psychological concept?  Leave it in the comments!