Category Archives: Mental Health Musings

Life Lessons from the Pottery Studio (Plus a New Release)

by Gilian Baker

Though I haven’t thrown pottery for many years, it was once my creative passion. And while it’s not the typical hobby you’re likely to find highlighted in a cozy mystery, it was ideal for my protagonist, Jade and mA Time to Kilne.

Why?

Well, because I’d planned the murder in my new book, A Time to Kiln, many moons ago when I spent all my free time in a dusty pottery studio.

Taking a pottery class seemed like a natural pursuit. I loved playing in the mud as a kid growing up on a farm and as an adult, I loved getting my hands dirty while growing organic vegetables. What started out as a chance to have some “me time,” away from the responsibilities of having a small child, soon grew into an obsession. For the next 7 years, I pored over pottery magazines and tested different types of glaze recipes.

I still use many of the items I created back then, as do my family and friends. Even though I’m now too busy writing cozy mysteries to throw pots, I still enjoy the ones I literally created with my bare hands years ago.

Although I had many successes in the studio, there were many failures too. I would study pictures in pottery magazines thinking, “Heck, I can make that.” This was around the time I learned that nothing ever turns out like the picture. The times when a friend or family member requested a certain item was when I experienced the biggest failures. I’d want it to be so perfect. The harder I tried, the worse it got.

I better understand that concept now—the more “work” you make of something, the harder it’s going to be. When I let myself enjoy the simple pleasure of creating, I ended up with sometA Time to Kilnhing lovely. When I didn’t, well, I didn’t. During my time as a potter, I learned the best way to do anything was to let go of how the final product turned out and just enjoy the process. Same goes for writing fiction.

Frustrations can easily overshadow the pleasure found in the pottery studio—there are many steps in the process to finish a single piece. The clay must be thrown, dried, trimmed, glazed and fired, and at any point in the process, it can be ruined. But oh, when you create something beautiful, you forget all about the frustrations and can’t wait to do it all over again. Throwing pottery is a great metaphor for life. If you are as malleable as the clay, you can learn patience and mindfulness. If you don’t…you probably won’t stick with it for long.

Sadly, Jade will not have the pleasure of drinking from a mug she threw on a pottery wheel herself, a fact that she bemoans. Before she can become proficient “behind the wheel,” her teacher is murdered.

A Time to KilnA Time to Kiln: A Jade Blackwell Cozy Mystery (Book 2)

Disenchanted with life after solving her first real case, Jade Blackwell, successful blogger and amateur sleuth, throws herself into a new hobby…until murder rears its ugly head.

But when Jade attempts to ferret out the killer of local pottery teacher, Paula Hexby, she comes up short and suspicion begins to descend on her daughter’s former boyfriend. Evidence and bodies are stacking up, as Jade finds herself caught between an untrustworthy client and her beloved community.

Now at a personal and professional crossroads, Jade must once again jump into the breech, along with partner Gabrielle Langdon, to uncover the truth behind this string of horrific murders. Is she really cut out for this life of sleuthing and danger? Has Jade been defending the real murderer all along? Or is there something much more sinister afoot?

Follow Jade in her next adventure in A Time to Kiln, now available on Amazon.

Gilian Baker is a former English professor who’s gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger, ghostwriter and cozy mystery author to her C.V. Gilian lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines. In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She’s the author of Blogging is Murder and A Time to Kiln.

Be the first to learn about new releases and upcoming deals, plus gain access to exclusive content by signing up at gilianbaker.com

Resistance to Commitment (Plus a New Release)

by Kassandra Lamb

As I said in my earlier post about fear of intimacy, we humans naturally crave connection to others. It’s in our DNA, because, as a species, we won’t survive without pooling our efforts.

Fear of intimacy’s kissing cousin is commitment phobia. And this is the obstacle that my protagonist in the Marcia Banks and Buddy series is struggling to overcome in Book #3, The Call of the Woof.

Like many folks with this phobia, she has a bad relationship in her history. Her first marriage was short-lived, never particularly happy, and ended with her ex-husband’s infidelity.

Another cause of commitment resistance can be having witnessed a bad marriage growing up. When all we’ve seen is two people making each other miserable, it’s hard to get behind the concept of a long-term relationship.

Some folks suffer from both of these extreme fears—being close to someone makes them very nervous and the thought of committing sends them into full-blown panic.

painting of jilted bride

Section of Eduard Swoboda’s The Jilted Bride, circa 1902, public domain

But others can do intimacy, just not commitment.

I had a boyfriend when I was twenty who suffered from a severe case of commitment phobia. He did intimacy quite well, but the thought of “being in a relationship” made him antsy. (His parents had a horrible, downright abusive relationship.)

He met me at a party and he pursued me, but the first thing he said once he was sure of my interest was, “Don’t get too attached to me. I’m planning to move to Colorado when my lease is up next year.”

I was in a place in my own life where an intimate but time-limited from the start relationship sounded okay.

But even that wasn’t enough to keep his demons at bay. After about six months, he broke up with me out of the blue, after telling me that he really cared about me but “this just isn’t working.” No other reason given.

After wracking my brain for days trying to figure out what went wrong, I called him. He was willing to get together and talk, and the short hiatus seemed to have calmed him. He readily, even eagerly, agreed to renew our relationship, but again reiterating that he would be gone in a few months.

And he was. When his lease was up, he packed his stuff in his car, kissed me goodbye and went off to Colorado to “find himself.”

I’m kind of proud of the fact that I let him go without a struggle. On some level, I knew that the only reason he could be close to me for that year was because there was no commitment. I got it that trying to build a life with him would have quickly backfired. (I wasn’t always that astute in my youth.)

About a decade later, I ran into his mother. She told me he’d been married just long enough to have a couple of kids and was now divorced. The marriage surprised me a little, the divorce not at all.

I still feel sad every time I think of this man, whom I suspect spent his life seeking intimacy and then rejecting it when it became coupled with commitment.

In Marcia Banks’s case, she is also okay in the intimacy area. It isn’t that hard for her to let Will Haines in initially (it isn’t easy, but she can do it). But from there on, she stumbles over every little step, even finding it difficult to say the L word for many months.

Commitment phobia usually results in one of two types of behavior:

1.  Sabotaging the relationship. As with intimacy fears, this is a common reaction, and it often operates on an unconscious level. This may come out as picking fights or ceasing to be reliable, i.e. not calling or showing up where one is supposed to be.

The best approach to this is gentle confrontation and trying to get one’s partner to talk it out.

But a word about psychological “blind spots”—issues an individual just isn’t yet willing to face consciously. It’s sad, but sometimes these blind spots have tremendous control over the person’s psyche and even love can’t budge them (as in my boyfriend’s case).

2.  Backpedaling, or dragging one’s feet. This is what Marcia does, and poor Will handles it well. He gives her time and figures out ways to take baby steps.

But he presses her some too, because he feels like they’re running out of time—he wants children, which is very much at the root of Marcia’s resistance. (You’ll have to read the story to find out about the creative way he nudges her forward.)

This can often be the best approach, a combination of patience with an occasional reminder that you would like the relationship to move forward.

Fortunately, my fictional character is trying to work on her commitment issues (more or less 😉 ). Check out her story below.

What commitment-phobia behaviors have you witnessed (or exhibited)? Have you ever known anyone like my ex-boyfriend who ONLY had commitment phobia but could do intimacy?

And here is the new book… Available for PREORDER Now! Releases 7/20/17!

Just 99¢ through 7/21/17

book cover

The Call Of The Woof, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, #3

Army veteran Jake Black has a new lease on life, thanks to service dog Felix and his trainer, Marcia Banks. Despite a traumatic brain injury, Jake’s able to ride his beloved motorcycle again, with Felix in the sidecar. But his freedom to hit the open road is threatened once more when he and his wife are accused of robbery.

Called in to dog-sit, Marcia can’t sit idly by. She and her mentor dog, Buddy, set out to clear the Blacks’ name, fighting misconceptions about bikers and the nature of TBI along the way. When murder is added to the mix, Marcia redoubles her efforts, despite anonymous threats and her sheriff boyfriend’s strenuous objections, both to her putting herself at risk… and to dragging him along on her wild ride.

AMAZON     APPLE     KOBO     NOOK

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

What Is An “Ex-pert?”

by Kassandra Lamb

I was asked this week to present at a local marketing workshop for authors. It was suggested I could present on either “kickoff” parties or how to get reviews.

Since I’ve never done an in-person “kickoff” party, I quickly ruled out that topic. I was about to dismiss the suggestion regarding reviews as well, since I’m hardly a PR expert, when my fertile mind started constructing a lecture on the subject.

You see, I used to be a teacher. I taught college-level psychology for 17 years.

And one of the things I learned during my tenure in academia is that how much you know about a topic, while important, is not THE most important thing that makes you an “expert” who can educate others on the subject.

Technically, the definition of expertise is “possessing a high level of knowledge and an intuitive understanding of a particular subject.” But here’s MY favorite definition of an expert:

“Ex” is an unknown quantity and “spurt” is a drip of water under pressure. Therefore, “ex-pert” is an unknown drip under pressure.

So what is the most important thing that makes one an expert worthy of presenting your knowledge to others? IMHO, it’s whether or not you can convey what you know on the topic in a clear way.

book cover

Part of Marcy’s incredibly good Busy Writer’s Guide series.

My editor, Marcy Kennedy is, in my opinion, the best editor in the world. Does she know everything there is to know about plot arcs and grammatical constructions?

I don’t know (probably not).

But what I do know is that she is superb at EXPLAINING why something doesn’t work and what I need to do to make it work. And she gives excellent examples. She knows how to convey what she knows to others, and that, for me, makes her an expert.

Academia is full of teachers who can’t teach. They are “experts” in their fields, and that’s wonderful from a research perspective, because often those “experts” are good, sometimes brilliant, researchers.

But why are they expected to teach our youth?

This is a serious flaw in our higher level education system. Those who are “teaching” in our colleges and graduate schools are all too often mediocre to horrible teachers.

When I interviewed for my first college-level teaching job, I asked the person who would become my department chair if getting a second masters degree in secondary education (I already had one in my field) would help me advance.

He laughed (an ironic laughter; he got the issue here). “This is academia. Nobody cares if you can teach.”

me presenting

The last time I presented to this group, I actually DID know what I was talking about…lol (How to Incorporate Social Issues in Your Fiction presentation, April, 2017)

I taught for that university for 9 years. It was the best job I ever had, because that institution did care about teaching. But sadly, they are the exception to the rule among universities.

So I made a first draft of a list of “do’s and don’t’s” for getting reviews for one’s books… And lo and behold, I think I do know enough about the subject to do this presentation for my local authors’ group.

Does that make me an “expert?”

I’m not sure, but I agreed to present at the workshop. Because what I do know is that I know how to teach.

What’s your area of expertise? Are you an “expert” at presenting the information to others?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Come Here, Go Away! (Thoughts on Intimacy & Fear)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m in the throes of final editing of the next Marcia Banks and Buddy book, and a subplot running through the whole series is Marcia’s struggle to trust her heart to love again after a disastrous marriage.

That struggle got me thinking about the two biggest obstacles to romantic partners initially getting together—intimacy phobia and commitment phobia (there are lots of other challenges re: staying together). People often assume these two fears are the same thing, but there are subtle and important differences. Today I’ll talk about the first one, which I think of as the come-here, go-away syndrome.

Human beings naturally crave connection with others. It’s part of our makeup. Survival of the species depends on pooling our efforts to benefit the group and to raise our young.

monkey and cat hugging

Everybody craves closeness, but too close can be scary. (photo by SalimVirji, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

So we crave connection, but those of us who have been hurt before by someone close to us (Show of hands? *everyone raises their hands*) also tend to carry some scar tissue around our hearts.

If we rate the thickness of that scar tissue on a scale from 1 to 10, a few people, with 9 to 10-level scar tissue, will manage to squash the urge to connect completely and they will avoid relationships.

For many of the rest of us, the scar tissue falls in the 1 to 4 range—mild to moderate thickness that we can work our way past when someone comes along who seems trustworthy and truly interested in us (friend or lover).

But those in the 5-8 range are most likely to engage in come-here, go-away behavior. They crave connection and allow a relationship to get started—maybe even actively pursue a potential partner or friend—but then the fears set in and the dance begins. They just can’t handle letting someone get too close.

There are several ways the fear of intimacy will be manifested.

  1.  The walls go up.
  2.  The person sabotages the relationship.
  3.  The person starts trying to control his/her partner.
  4.  The person starts denigrating his/her partner.

The walls – Somehow you get the gut sense that your partner is holding back. There is a part of them they keep hidden. You may be picking up on little hesitations in personal conversations, as if they are weighing how much to say. Or they may change the subject when things start getting too intimate.

(Note: by intimacy, I don’t mean sex; I mean emotional closeness, which results from disclosing your thoughts and feelings to your partner.)

Also they may pull away after a surge of intimacy. You bare your souls to each other on a date and you’re feeling all warm and fuzzy about that, but then your partner cancels the next two dates.

The worst thing you can do is to try to beat down the walls by sheer force (trust me, I’ve tried). Insisting that your partner let you in will likely get the opposite response.

The best approach is patience and being as open and trustworthy as you can be. People with walls tend to assume that others also have them. If they sense that you don’t (or you at least have doors in your wall), then they may feel more comfortable reciprocating and letting you in farther.

Also, if they are telling you they need things to slow down, hear that. Acknowledge that it’s scary to let someone in and that you’re afraid too.

My husband and I had a whirlwind courtship that felt pretty much out of our control. Somewhere around the second month we started this little routine. We would look at each other and then one of us would start it.

  • “Who the heck is driving this runaway stagecoach anyway?”
  • “I thought you were.”
  • “No, I thought you were.”
  • “Aw crap, guess we’d better hold hands and hang on tight then.”

I don’t remember anymore who thought of that little exchange first, but it got us through those early, scary times.

But there are no guarantees when it comes to walls. The person’s wall may be so thick, even they don’t know how to dismantle it.

Sabotage – This can take many forms. It may be picking fights, becoming unreliable, or even being unfaithful.

The important thing here is to recognize the underlying fear. If the couple keeps fighting over the sabotaging behavior itself instead of addressing why one or both of you feel the need to sabotage, the relationship probably will come to an end.

The best way to address this is directly but gently. “I’ve noticed you’ve been doing ______ a lot lately. Is that because you’re uncomfortable with how close we’ve become?”

Keep in mind the old adage about leading a horse to water. The other person may or may not admit to you or themselves that the sabotage is coming from a fear of intimacy.

Again, trying to force the issue is likely to backfire. Let it go for now and see what seeds you may have planted. Then address it again the next time they sabotage. (This is assuming you can tolerate the sabotaging behavior.)

Controlling – Trying to control you may be another form of sabotage, but there’s another layer here too. If your partner can control you, then they feel more secure that you won’t leave them.

cartoon of couple arguing

“Why are you arguing?” the mother-in-law says. “You are newlyweds.”
“We don’t need to argue if she would just agree with me,” the husband says. (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Also, some people are controlling by nature. This too comes from fear, but more from a fear of being out of control and helpless. Try to step back and ask yourself if your partner is trying to control YOU or the environment in general.

If it’s the latter, you’re not likely to get them to change readily, so then you need to ask yourself how willing you are to deal with their controlling behavior.

If it’s truly you they are trying to control, then again gentle confrontation is in order, but this time couple it with reassurances. “First, let me assure you that I’m not going anywhere. I care about you. But I feel lately like you keep trying to control me and I don’t like that. Is that just because you’re afraid I might leave?”

Denigration – This one is perhaps the hardest to deal with. Your partner starts putting you down, criticizing what you wear, how you talk, etc. This is often another form of control.

It can come from two possible motives. One is “if I tear you down, you won’t feel confident enough to leave me.” This is a sign of an abuser and you probably need to get away from this behavior and this person sooner instead of later.

The other can be a byproduct of their own poor self-esteem. I actually had a boyfriend tell me one time, “I know I’m a little pile of [crap] so I figure if you love me, then you must be a little pile of [crap] too.”

I kicked his pile of crap out the door.

But if you don’t want to do that, you can try confronting the behavior. Point out what they are doing and how it makes you feel, then go a step farther and ask them how they would feel if you said those things to them. If you can get some empathy going, you might just get them to change this behavior.

It can also help to point out that if they are doing this to tear you down so you won’t leave them, the behavior is about to backfire. It is driving you away.

Never, ever stay with someone who continues to put you down. You will not please them (because they don’t want to be pleased) and your self-esteem will be harmed, and it could be the first step to more serious abuse.

I’m sure there are other, more creative ways that people sometimes deal with their fear of intimacy, but these are the ones I saw most often during my 20 years as a therapist.

What about you? How thick is the scar tissue around your heart? Have you seen other ways that people exhibit intimacy phobia?

And here is the wonderful cover for my new book! I think my cover designer, Melinda VanLone outdid herself on this one.

book cover

The Call Of The Woof, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, #3

Army veteran Jake Black has a new lease on life, thanks to service dog Felix and his trainer, Marcia Banks. Despite a traumatic brain injury, Jake’s able to ride his beloved motorcycle again, with Felix in the sidecar. But his freedom to hit the open road is threatened once more when he and his wife are accused of robbery.

Called in to dog-sit, Marcia can’t sit idly by. She and her mentor dog, Buddy, set out to clear the Blacks’ name, fighting misconceptions about bikers and the nature of TBI along the way. When murder is added to the mix, Marcia redoubles her efforts, despite anonymous threats and her sheriff boyfriend’s strenuous objections, both to her putting herself at risk… and to dragging him along on her wild ride.

I hope to have the book available for Preorder by July 10th. Release day is July 20th.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Think About What You’re Doing! (Part 3: Critical Thinking and Action)

by Kassandra Lamb

We have an interim pastor at my church. The previous pastor left a few months ago and this gentleman is filling in while we search for a new permanent pastor. This interim pastor has made several small changes in the order of worship. I’m sure they seem important to him, but honestly I don’t get how having the ushers bring the alms basins all the way to the altar (instead of being met at the steps by an acolyte) really makes any significant difference in the state of the world.

inside of churchWhen someone steps into a new position of authority it is human nature to want to change things, whether those changes are truly needed or not. This may be due simply to discomfort because things are not being done the way the new leader is used to (I suspect this is the case with our new interim pastor). Or it can be about leaving his/her mark on new territory, to feel important or to assert one’s authority.

So they make changes, which may range from little tweaks to drastically reversing the previous leader’s procedures and policies. The consequences of these changes may not be thoroughly assessed, and sometimes, maybe even often, there wasn’t really anything all that wrong with the original way of doing things.

Which brings us to another reality of human nature. People don’t like change, especially if they didn’t initiate it.

As far as I can tell, the only thing these small changes in the church service have accomplished is confusion on the part of the ushers (of which I am one) and a mild sense of unease in the congregation every time something happens in a slightly different way than they are used to.

This chap is a nice guy, an intelligent and kind man of the cloth who means well. But he is temporary. And yet he couldn’t resist changing things to the way he is most comfortable with, even though it’s making everyone else vaguely uncomfortable.

This is what can happen when one fails to apply critical thinking to one’s actions.

(See Part 1 of this series for a discussion of the natural biases in thinking that make critical thinking difficult and Part 2 for how to evaluate information critically.)

Yoda meme: Broken Is Not, Not Fix It, You Must

meme created on imgflip.com

So how do we apply critical thinking to our actions…

Step 1: Evaluate the situation. Is there really a problem that needs action?

Or are we making changes for the sake of change, or to thwart those whom we see as opponents.

Step 2: Look for actions that might solve the problem (if there is indeed a problem) and then evaluate if those actions will truly make things better.

In 1920, many Americans deemed the excessive consumption of alcohol to be a serious problem in our country. The U.S. Congress voted for and the majority of state legislatures ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages.

But this action did not solve the problem. Only casual drinkers gave up alcohol because of this law. Within a few years, alcohol consumption was back up to 60-70% of pre-Prohibition levels as bootlegging and speakeasies became common.

membership card for a speakeasy

A membership card for the Stork Club speakeasy in New York (U.S. public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

When assessing the virtues of a potential action, we need to make sure it’s really a true solution to the problem. And that it doesn’t cause other problems.

Which brings us to…

Step 3: Apply critical thinking to evaluate what other consequences might result from the actions taken to solve a problem.

Prohibition not only didn’t solve the problem but it caused several others. Taxes went up as the costs for law enforcement and prisons rose dramatically. Illegal distribution of alcohol became a boon for organized crime. And thousands of people became ill or died from tainted “bathtub gin.”

In 1933, the ratification of the 21st Amendment of the Constitution ended the “noble experiment” of Prohibition.

Bottom line: it’s important to think (critically) before we act!

Your thoughts? Have you been in a situation where someone changed things for the sake of change and it backfired?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Resolving Conflict Effectively (an encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m up to my eyeballs in editing so I thought I’d re-run a post from two years ago that seems appropriate right now. With so much rancor and conflict in our society these days, it would behoove us to learn how to dig beneath the surface to find common ground and positive solutions.

Here’s one of the ways we can do that effectively…

I first learned of this model in a video in graduate school many (many, many) years ago. It’s stuck with me ever since. I, in turn, taught it to my psychology students. They often came back with reports of how well it worked with bosses, boyfriends/girlfriends, parents, etc. I think it is the absolute best approach to conflict resolution.

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0)

This angry lioness is assuming the other lioness is encroaching on her territory and will somehow keep her from getting her needs met. This may be the case in the wild but humans should be able to rise above that and find mutually satisfying solutions. (photo by Tony Hisgett, Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia)

First, let’s realize what conflict is all about. It occurs when two beings assume that their needs/desires are mutually exclusive of the other’s needs/desires. “If you get what you want, then I won’t get what I want” is the underlying belief. But often, if we can stop fighting long enough to analyze the situation more carefully, we will discover that there is a solution that meets both parties’ needs.

This process makes that possible.

Here are the four steps (then I’ll give an example):

  • DISENGAGE: This is the old “count to ten” adage. Separate yourself physically from the other person and take as long as it takes for both of you to calm down.
  • EMPATHIZE: This is more than just acknowledging the other person’s feelings. It’s truly putting yourself in their shoes and realizing how you would feel (in most cases, we discover we would feel the same as they do).
  • NEEDS ASSESSMENT: What does each party REALLY need? This requires digging beneath the surface. What the person is asking for/demanding may not be what they really need. Often it is what they think will satisfy their needs, when something else will also do so, and perhaps better.
  • SOLUTION: Look for a solution that satisfies each party’s needs COMPLETELY. Often we are told that in order to resolve conflict, we have to compromise, i.e., each party gives up something to get part of what they want. Well, sometimes that’s true. Most times, however, there is a solution available that gives both parties all of what they want. But we have to look for it.

The first step is the easiest of them. Steps 2 and 3 are harder, especially if you do them right and really dig beneath the surface. But if those steps are done properly, often step 4 isn’t all that hard.

Here’s the example I used with my psychology classes. For anyone who ever dated, it will strike a chord. Most of us have been there, on one side of the dispute or the other.

Jane and Phil, both full-time college students with part-time jobs, have been dating for several months and have committed to an exclusive relationship. More and more often lately, they have been fighting over how much time Phil is willing to spend with Jane.

Jane says: “I feel like you don’t appreciate me. You want me when you want me, but the rest of the time you expect me to sit on a shelf, waiting for your phone call. I feel like you don’t love me as much as I love you.”

Phil replies: “I do love you, but that doesn’t mean we have to be joined at the hip. I need some time to myself sometimes, and time to hang out with the guys. I’m starting to feel smothered here.”

My students had little trouble coming up with a way for them to Disengage. Their best suggestion was that Phil and Jane should take a day or two off from each other, and then make a date to sit down and talk about the problem when they were both calm, rather than when emotions were already running high.

young couple sitting apart on bench

photo by Elizabeth Ashley Jerman CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

When I’d ask about the Empathize step, I’d almost always get this response: “That’s easy too. Phil is feeling smothered and Jane is feeling neglected.”

“No,” I told them. “That’s not good enough. They each have to step into the other’s shoes. Phil needs to imagine how he would feel if half the time he wanted to get together with Jane she said she’d rather be doing something else.”

The students admitted that he would probably feel hurt and neglected.

It’s a little tougher to get Jane to empathize with Phil. The question for her is: “How would you feel if Phil wanted to be with you every waking moment, even when you want to wash your hair or when a friend calls for a heart-to-heart talk?”

I’d ask the class: “Ladies, have you ever had a boyfriend who was clingy and always wanted to be with you?” At least half the female students would raise their hands (as would I since I did indeed have a boyfriend like that once upon a time).

“Drove you crazy after a while, didn’t it?” I’d ask. They’d all nod. “Jane has to imagine this scenario and realize she’d feel smothered too.”

Now for the toughest step in the model, the Needs Assessment!

Phil is relatively easy. He has stated his need–for more alone time and time with his friends (assuming he isn’t intimacy-phobic and just using this as an excuse…hmm, another good idea for a blog post. *stops to jot that down*)

Jane is tougher. On the surface she’s saying she needs more time with him, but look again at her words about her feelings. She feels unappreciated and wonders if he loves her as much as she loves him. So is it more time with him that she really needs?

There would always be a pregnant pause in the classroom at this point. Then someone would get it. “She needs reassurance that he loves her.”

“Bingo! Now for the Solution. How can Phil give her that reassurance without spending more time with her? Because that does not meet his needs.”

The ideas would fly around the room. “Text ‘I love u’ or ‘thinking of u’ several times a day.” “Buy her flowers.” “Leave her little notes to find, like in her textbooks or on the windshield of her car.” (That one is my favorite!)

Jane might even be content with less of Phil’s time, if he’s giving her these reassurances of his affection.

This process works like a charm most of the time. If you remember to use it (which I often don’t, sadly).

What do you think of it? How do you tend to deal with conflict?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist/college professor turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Finding the “Truth” in Our Mangled Media

by Kassandra Lamb

The “truth” is in critical condition these days, gasping for air under layers of partisan biases, sensationalism, and plain old lying. Even the best of news sources may pick and choose which details they tell us to make the stories more exciting or controversial.

Venn chart

Words describing “Degrees of Uncertainty” (by Lbeaumont, CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons)

Because controversy sells!

But it isn’t good for our individual mental health to constantly be stirred up, nor is it good for our country. We are extremely divided right now, at a time in our history when we actually should have the least to argue about.

Most of us have the same goals for our country: good jobs, a strong economy, good education for our children and grandchildren, stop terrorism, etc. The fighting is over how we will achieve those goals, and in my opinion that fighting has become more personal and vicious, and less productive, than it has ever been before.

Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox now and get back to how to find the truth buried in the piles of information rubble. There are five things we should do to accomplish this:

(Note: This is Part Two in a three-part series on critical thinking; See Part One on natural human biases in thinking. Coming next time, taking action based on critical thinking.)

First, it is important to separate facts from opinions. Our society and the media have gotten blurrier regarding that distinction in recent times.

girl with newspaper

This ain’t your mother’s news! (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen or heard a “news” story that really wasn’t news at all, it was all speculation about something—about what it meant and what might happen in the future.

Second, consider the source of the information. Does that source tend to get the facts straight? What are the particular biases of that source? What “spin” do they tend to put on things?

Try not to get all your info from sources that share your own biases. Tune into the other guys now and then and see what they have to say.

And if someone is giving an “expert” opinion, take a hard look at their level of expertise. A lot of the controversies in my field of psychology were started by general-practitioner type psychologists or experts in other specialties expressing their opinions about some area that they knew little or nothing about (but thought they understood).

Definition of an expert: “ex” is an unknown quantity; a “spurt” is a drip of water under pressure… so an “expert” is an unknown drip under pressure.

Third, ask yourself how logical the information is. This is where you need to be most aware of that confirmation bias I talked about in Part One. It’s easy to assume something is logical because it jives with your own opinion.

But logic is very methodical. It has little or nothing to do with opinion. Does Piece of Info A plus Piece of Info B really add up to Conclusion C? Does it truly make sense? Are there other plausible explanations?

Fourth, what is the evidence and how solid is it? Has this issue been truly studied by professionals in that field? What have they found? What’s the story behind that 30-second sound bite on the evening news?

I know, for a fact, that the news media sometimes presents evidence as more solid than it is. How can I say that is a fact? Because I’ve heard or seen such stories in the news concerning topics that fall within my own area of expertise, where I knew the evidence they were citing was far more speculative than they implied.

And this spreading of tentative evidence as more solid than it is can have disastrous consequences.

Let me give you an example. The news media reported a few years back that it was safe for pregnant women to drink one glass of wine per day. Sometimes they specified red wine; sometimes, not.

This was based on ONE study of rats who were given red wine daily while pregnant and ONE AREA of their babies’ brains was later examined. The usual damage to this area that alcohol was known to cause was not there. But the entire brain was NOT studied. The researchers tentatively concluded that one of the components of red wine (that is not in white wine or any other form of alcohol) MAY counteract the negative effects of the alcohol on that part of the brain.

woman pouring wine

photo by Fabio Ingrosso CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The media got their hands on this one study and went wild, telling women and their doctors that red wine was now okay. Yeah, if you’re a pregnant rat!

Since that initial study, additional research has been done, with conflicting results. There is still no consensus on the subject and all healthcare professional organizations (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics) are still saying: “No level of alcohol has been proved safe during pregnancy. The safest bet is to avoid alcohol entirely.”

And yet most women now believe that it is okay to have a glass of wine a day while pregnant, and the really scary part is that some doctors and midwives are now telling their patients this. When I was teaching human development, I even had a pregnant student get up and walk out of class because I dared to cite the research and contradict what her doctor had told her (he had told her that a glass of wine a day was good for her baby).

Which brings us to…

Fifth, Check the facts! Google is wonderful, but again consider the source.

When I sought to check the current facts regarding the wine and pregnancy issue, Google was my first stop. But then I looked at who was publishing which articles. I’m going to believe the articles published by the Mayo Clinic, NIH and Harvard Medical School over a blog post by a woman who was pregnant three times, drank wine the whole time, and has three children “who are fine.”

Another option is to visit one of the fact-checking websites out there. Two of the more popular ones are Snopes and FactCheck.Org.

Stay tuned! Next time, we’ll look at the tricky process of deciding on what actions to take, based on our critical thinking.

Your thoughts on all this? Can you think of other ways we can check ourselves to make sure we are thinking critically?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Keeping An Open Mind (Is Harder Than You Might Think)*

by Kassandra Lamb

In the current climate in the U.S., it’s particularly hard to keep an open mind. For a lot of reasons, we are going through a period of divisiveness, when many would rather out-shout each other than listen to opposing points of view. I’m not going to get into the social and political reasons for all this drawing of lines in the sand, but I’d like to point out that our own human nature works against us as we try to keep an open mind.

sculpture of an open mind

An Open Mind (photo by Roger Cornfoot CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(*Note: This is the first post in a multi-part series on critical thinking.)

There are several natural biases of thinking that humans tend to suffer from. First, there is primacy effect. The information we receive first will be more readily remembered than later information.

This effect is kin to those first impressions that your mother pointed out are so hard to change. Our initial reactions to someone or something is primary information we have taken in, so it will come to mind more readily later, despite new information regarding that person or topic that has become available since that “first impression.”

Then confirmation bias steps in. This is our natural tendency to accept new information that confirms what we already believe and ignore or reject info that refutes those beliefs.

grumpy cat meme

meme generated by imgflip

We tend to believe that our “knowledge” of the “truth” is more robust than it really is. What we think we “know” is more often an opinion based on information we took in initially (that may or may not be accurate). But then we compare new information to what we already “know” and accept or dismiss accordingly.

Mind you, we psychologists didn’t just make up these ideas. Both confirmation bias and primacy effect (otherwise known as serial position effect) have been studied exhaustively by cognitive scientists. (Here’s an easy-to- read article that mentions some of this research and gives some real-life examples of confirmation bias.)

Next, we have the tendency to fill in the gaps (to the best of my knowledge, psychologists haven’t come up with a cute name for this one). If we only have a few pieces of information about something, our minds will automatically make educated guesses about the rest, to give us a complete picture or story.

It’s a good thing we have this ability; otherwise it would take forever for us to process a scene. We would have to focus our attention on every detail and process it separately. That would really sloooow life dooown.

"Mind The Gap" sign next to railroad tracks

Perry Barr Station, UK (photo by Elliott Brown from Birmingham UK, CC-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons).

The problem is that the assumptions with which we fill in those gaps aren’t always correct. And then we memorize those assumptions along with the real information and remember it all later as fact.

Last but not least, we have source amnesia—the tendency to forget where, when or how we obtained a piece of information even though we retain the information itself. So you see an article headline in a link on Facebook… maybe you don’t even read the article. Then later you remember the info in that headline as if it is fact (if you agreed with it), but don’t remember where you saw or heard it.

Frequent or more severe source amnesia may mean the person is suffering from head trauma or some kind of brain disorder, but all of us experience a certain amount of source amnesia, especially when information is taken in casually.

This may be due in part to how thoroughly we are processing information and with which parts of our brains. Concrete information (whether accurate or not) is usually processed in our left hemispheres via word thoughts. So we read that headline and think, “Oh, that’s interesting,” or “Wow, I never knew that,” or even “That can’t be true!”

The info in the headline, along with our thoughts about it, can be fairly readily brought back into our conscious awareness later.

But when, how and where we took in the information is a different kind of memory, called episodic memory—memories of the events in our lives. These memories are processed and stored in the right hemisphere, and in a more global way. We take in the scene in general, along with our emotional reaction to it. For example, when you’re singing “Happy Birthday” at a friend’s party, you’re not intellectually evaluating the expression on each individual’s face, but later you have a general sense of people smiling and a happy atmosphere.

And how important the setting/source is will also impact on how well it’s remembered. You’re more likely to remember the source of a conversation that occurred during that birthday party than the name of the publication behind that article headline that caught your eye for a moment on Facebook.

But getting back to primacy effect and confirmation bias, what causes them? I don’t know that anyone has come up with a definitive answer to that question. But the natural tendency toward these ways of thinking has probably become more common in the human gene pool because they helped our early ancestors to survive.

meme created with imgflip

meme created with imgflip

In more primitive times, in order to protect and provide for one’s family, one had to make a quick assessment of any situation as being either a threat or having positive potential. So the first information available about the situation was processed rapidly and with a fair amount of emotional charge attached to it.

Then a decision was quickly made and put into action, either to welcome those strangers coming toward them or capture or kill them. Indecision or waiting for more information (i.e., keeping an open mind) could be disastrous.

And of course, these biases are exacerbated today by the Internet and social media where we are inundated with information, true and false, practically every waking minute.

The need for open-minded critical thinking is greater than ever, and yet these mindsets/skills seem to be eroding.

In Part 2 of this series (in three weeks), I will talk about some concrete ways that we can improve our critical thinking skills. (In the meantime, we’ve got a couple of fun posts coming up.)

What do you think about all this? Have you ever noticed how hard it is to keep an open mind?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Love Thy Neighbor

by Kassandra Lamb

easter eggs in basket

photo by Toelstede – Wikipedia-Name Nyks CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

Sunday was Easter. On a secular level, many of us are celebrating spring and rebirth on this day, with symbols like eggs and bunnies and chicks.

But Easter is one of the two most joyous holidays in the Christian calendar. It commemorates the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified, after allowing himself to be tortured and killed for the sake of others.

Although the religious components of this holiday are matters of belief, most historians agree that a man named Jesus did live in ancient Israel, around the time of the Roman occupation, and he was crucified.

He could have saved himself. All he would’ve had to do was disavow everything he stood for. He could have lied to Pontius Pilate, told the man what he wanted to hear, and he would have skated.

But then we would have no conscious memory of his teachings, two thousand and seventeen years later. Martyrdom is often required in order to make a lasting impression.

Technically, I’m a Christian. I was baptized in the Methodist Church and I’m a confirmed Episcopalian. I say technically because lately I haven’t felt all that willing to publicly admit that I’m a Christian. Some folks have been giving Christianity a bad name.

One of the most important teachings of Christ is:

Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Well, I don’t know about the “as myself” part. I’m pretty darn fond of myself. But I try to remain benevolent toward those around me. And I know Jesus meant everyone when he said neighbor. But we might as well start close to home.

I live in a college town, so those who are literally my neighbors are a fairly diverse lot.

Benevolence is easy with our neighbor to the left. She’s a white, middle-class, elderly widow who’s lived here longer than we have and loves to garden. Her yard is always neat.

IMG_0422 cropped

Directly across from us is a middle-class white man and his twenty-years-younger wife. They were also here before us and we always wave and smile when we see them. He has grown children close to his wife’s age. We don’t know the story behind that, but it isn’t our place to judge.

The family that has been the most friendly lives next door to him. They are a Lesbian couple with one child, a son. They were the first to greet us as new neighbors when we moved here, with a basket of cheese and wine and a lovely card.

Their son, who was 6 when we moved here, is now 20. He has a steady girlfriend now. I get a little teary-eyed when I see him cruising down the street in the pick-up truck that used to be one of his moms’ main means of transportation.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never officially introduced myself to the slightly swarthy-skinned woman and her daughter, who moved into the house on our right about a year ago. I haven’t even had many opportunities to give a friendly wave. They pretty much keep to themselves. Are they illegals? Or just shy?

None of my business, but I stand ready to wave and smile if I do spot them outside.

The single white guy next to the Lesbian couple doesn’t mow his lawn all that regularly. I find that annoying but try not to hold it against him.

The house on the corner is occupied by three (or more; it’s hard to keep track) students. Two of them drive motorcycles, but other than that they’re fairly quiet. So live and let live.

A middle-aged African-American couple moved in down the street a few months ago. They put on a new metal roof, added a freestanding garage, and repaved their driveway. The place looks really nice and I told them so, when they were climbing into their car one day as I walked past with my dog.

(I should point out here, lest I come across as holier than thou, that I am naturally a very outgoing person.)

photo by Alexscuccato CC-BY-SA-4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons

photo by Alexscuccato CC-BY-SA-4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons

I always feel better when I come home from my walks, and not just because of the satisfaction of good exercise.

All that waving and smiling brightens my own mood.

I wonder what would happen if everyone smiled and waved at everyone they cross paths with every day (yes, even in big cities up north). What kind of ripple effect would that have, internally and externally?

I know it’s been said before, but why can’t we all get along? And why can’t we start today by loving every “neighbor” we encounter?

Happy belated Easter, everyone!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

These Kids Today!

by Kassandra Lamb

There are many things about human nature that never cease to amaze me. One is how short some people’s memories are. All too many of my friends and acquaintances seem to have forgotten what it is like to be young.

I wince ever time I hear one of my age-mates complain about “these kids today,” using much the same language that our parents used to complain about us when we were young adults.

When I taught college, I certainly encountered irresponsibility, but I met a lot of responsible young people as well. But they don’t stand out in the crowd. They’re just going about their business, doing what they are supposed to be doing. The irresponsible ones get noticed because they’re screwing up.

My brother escorting his little girl down the aisle.

My brother escorting his little girl down the aisle.

All this is on my mind right now because I just got back from a trip up north for my niece’s wedding. And overall, I was pretty darned impressed with the young people involved.

My niece is an extrovert extraordinaire. She has a high-pitched voice and a bubbly personality, and people sometimes underestimate her. I can relate. I shared the same traits at her age (still do to some extent, although some mellowing has occurred), and I struggled with being taken seriously.

She did a great job of planning and executing this wedding (with no professional wedding planner involved). It was a particularly tough task since they were attempting to blend two cultures. (Thus the red dress which is traditional for Chinese brides.)

The groom had the good sense to provide a sympathetic ear when she needed to vent, but he otherwise stayed out of her way. Both mothers were sweetly but firmly told that she had it under control, thank you very much.

And she did. The whole thing went off with only a couple of minor glitches—both unforeseeable and neither all that earth-shaking.

Bride and groom cutting the main cake, with cupcakes stacked around it.

Bride and groom cutting the main cake, with cupcakes stacked around.

One was when the make-up lady accidentally dropped some makeup on the bodice of the maid-of-honor’s dress. There was a flurry of discussion about what to do, until both her sister and I reassured her that the spot was barely visible and probably wouldn’t be noticed if one didn’t know it was there.

This wonderfully mature young woman then shrugged and went back to the many duties my niece had assigned to her, from making sure the cupcakes were stacked appropriately on the cake table in the reception hall to keeping my niece’s rebellious train pointed in the right direction.

She didn’t seem to give the tiny grease spot another thought, which impressed me, since at her age, I would have been totally self-conscious all evening.

That train had a mind of its own!

That train had a mind of its own!

 

That was one of the things I noted as the reception progressed. These young people didn’t take themselves too seriously, but they did take their responsibilities seriously.

There were plenty of high jinks and clowning around (especially over at the “photo booth”) with the occasional ear-splitting squee. But none of them, that I could tell, got sloppy drunk.

I’ve watched many of these youngsters grow up, and I’ve got to say that I couldn’t be prouder of them.

Bride and groom in the "photo booth."

Bride and groom in the “photo booth.”

 

Adjusting to adulthood isn’t easy, and I wish more of my generation would cut youth some slack. And pay closer attention to the ones who are doing it right, instead of the ones who are messing up.

As one of my young Twitter peeps recently tweeted:

“Adulting is like looking both ways before crossing the street and then getting run over by an airplane.” – unknown

I think my niece would agree. I’ve heard her make similar comments.

Although I sometimes wonder about the sanity of some of my age-mates, I’m not all that worried about the younger generation. They’ll do just fine.

Bride and groom serving tea to groom's grandparents

Bride and groom serving tea to groom’s grandparents

 

How about you? Do you have some young people in your life who make you proud?

Chinese good luck character projected onto dance floor.

Chinese characters for “good luck” were projected onto the dance floor. (The stiff lace of the red dress made it hard to move; thus the white dress for the reception.)

 

 

 

Two Quick Notes:  I presented at the Writers Alliance of Gainesville this past Sunday, on the topic of Integrating Social Issues into Fiction (pics posted under Author Events and on my Facebook page).

And I’ll be posting this coming Friday, 4/14, on Janice Hardy’s Fiction University on the pros and cons of “writing short” (i.e. short stories and novellas).

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )