Tag Archives: mental health

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. 🙂 )

Taking Risks and Reaching Out

by Kassandra Lamb

statue of children dancing

(photo by Andreas Praefcke, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia) Commons)

Shannon Esposito and I are doing our happy dance again, because we have a new member in our misterio press group.

But I must say that we approached the idea of inviting this new author with some trepidation. Not because we didn’t think she would be great (we did), but because it had been awhile since we’d brought in someone new.

Our little group had gotten quite cozy and comfy with each other. Did we really want to upset that?

We asked the other authors, and the general reaction was “Sure, invite her in!” So we did.

Please help us welcome Gilian Baker to our little band!

GILIAN

Gilian is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger & ghostwriter to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over.

When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries, or discussing literary theory with her daughter.

Our hesitation about issuing the invite to Gilian reminded me of past risks Shannon and I have taken. A few didn’t turn out quite like we’d hoped, but most of them have. And wouldn’t life be dull if we never took risks nor reached out to others?

I remember how hesitant I was about spending the money on a writers’ conference back in 2011. The conference was near enough to my home that I could drive, but still it was a lot of money when you figured in hotel room and meals on top of the registration fee. But if I was going to get my new career as a fiction writer off the ground, I needed to network.

So off I went.

During a break between sessions, a few attendees were standing outside getting some fresh air. None of us knew each other, so of course the conversation was a little inane. One woman and I somehow ended up comparing hairdressers (I think it started when I admired the lovely blonde streaks in her hair).

Later I ran into the same gal at the last event of the day, one on e-publishing, a new- fangled thing at the time. Then we collided again in the line to get our free glass of wine at the cocktail party that evening.

As we chatted about this brave new world of e-publishing, we became more and more excited about the possibilities. While others were schmoozing with the agents and publishers, she and I were huddled in a corner, plotting (and getting a little tipsy).

That woman was Shannon and the plot we hatched was to start misterio press. That evening I went out to dinner with her and her family (It was a “Hey hon, look who followed me home; can I keep her?” kind of scene 😉 ). By the end of the evening, a new friendship was budding as well as a new business venture.

Taking risks is hard, and letting a stranger into your territory is definitely taking a risk. We certainly don’t want to be naive and trust just anyone. We do want to evaluate a situation and weigh how much of a risk we are really taking. And perhaps we may want to look at contingency plans, should things go awry.

dead tree

photo by Walter Baster, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

But sometimes our instincts tell us to give someone (or some idea) a chance. You all know I am big on trusting one’s instincts.

And what happens if we never take risks?

Stagnation happens. We stop growing and learning.

What happens to a tree when it stops growing—when it stops reaching for the sunshine? It starts dying. Its leaves shrivel and its branches dry up.

So even though it’s always a little scary to reach out to someone who’s essentially a stranger, it can have huge payoffs.

And here we are, Shannon and I—strangers at that conference five and a half years ago—but today, we have a successful indie press going, with six wonderful authors!

Champagne_flutes_glasses_bubbles by Jon Sulllivan pub domain wiki

Please grab a glass of virtual bubbly and toast our newest member with us.

Here’s to Gilian! And to taking the risk to reach out. Cheers!!

What risks have you taken in your life? When has reaching out to a stranger paid off for you?

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. 🙂 )

Inner Beauty vs. the Ugliest of Emotions

by Kassandra Lamb

The-Beauty-of-a-Woman-BlogFest-V1-2

This post is part of the 2017 Beauty of a Woman Blogfest, sponsored by the wonderful August McLaughlin. Please go to her site to see the other great posts in this wonderful event—some are funny, some are serious, all are entertaining and informative.

Physical beauty has little to do with attractiveness for me. I’m much more focused on inner beauty. And inner beauty is emotional (and is reflected in the person’s body language). Is the person warm and kind and seems comfortable in their own skin, or are they tense and frowning?

As a psychologist, I am intimately acquainted with emotions. And I know that almost all of them have some value.

Fear tells us when our safety or our ability to get our needs met is being threatened. Anger gives us the courage to stand and fight against such threats. Joy, love and excitement tell us that our needs are currently being met, encouraging us to seek similar situations to those currently happening.

Even guilt and shame serve a purpose by providing a moral compass for our behavior.

But jealousy? I’m sorry, it’s just ugly and has no socially redeeming value.

Recently I’ve had two friends complain about jealousy. One, a male, said, “Why are women so conniving and competitive and jealous?” The other, a girlfriend, simply said, “Why are men so jealous?”

Their comments inspired this post for BOAW. Because honestly, I haven’t personally found women all that jealous or competitive or conniving.

Perhaps that’s because I’m not particularly physically beautiful. Oh don’t get me wrong, I don’t break mirrors. I’m a reasonably attractive woman, but I’m no beauty.

I’ve also rarely encountered jealousy in men. As I think about the issue, I’m concluding that this is because I tend to hang out with fairly confident people.

Jealousy is not a gender-specific trait. It has absolutely nothing to do with being male or female. Rather it has a lot to do with being insecure!

One avenue that insecure people may take is to put down, compete with, and feel jealousy or envy (jealousy’s kissing cousin) toward those they perceive as better than themselves. (See my recent post on healthy vs. unhealthy competitiveness.)

This is incredibly self-defeating, a total waste of psychic (and sometimes physical) energy.

But wait, let me break down jealousy a bit more. It actually has two emotional components—fear and anger.

We feel jealous when we fear that someone is threatening our ability to get our needs met. We then experience anger regarding this threat.

If we want to be mentally sane individuals, our first task when we feel jealous is to assess if the threat is real. Is there a REAL risk that someone might steal away the affections of someone important to us?

Jealousy is only a “helpful” emotion if it is truly warning us of an actual threat. If it is mainly our own insecurity talking, we need to deal with that within ourselves. We need to work on improving our own self-esteem so that we do not feel so easily threatened.

two birds fighting

I saw you coming on to that canary! (photo by Jen Smith CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia-Commons)

Once we’ve determined that the threat seems to be real, we need to assess where we can legitimately aim our anger about that threat. Should we direct it at the person important to us? Is he or she ACTUALLY showing an interest in someone else? Or is that someone else ACTUALLY attempting to steal his/her affections?

Let me give you two examples from my own life. I don’t always get it right, but these two times, I did.

Example One:
In my early twenties, I dated a guy who had a nasty habit. He had to comment on the attractiveness of every female who crossed his path. This behavior didn’t surface until we were supposedly dating exclusively.

More and more frequently, he would make references to the attractiveness of women passing by on the street, in very personal terms. “Hmm, I wouldn’t mind coming home to her” was one of his milder comments.

Of course these comments hurt. They made me feel jealous, scared that he would someday find one of these women preferable to me.

It all came to a head one day when a woman passing by, who happened to be a bit on the plain side, prompted him to comment that he wouldn’t “f**k” her unless he could put a bag over her head. This brought home to me the absurdity of his behavior. This woman was oblivious to his presence, so it certainly wasn’t her fault that he was commenting on her attractiveness or lack thereof.

HE was the problem. HE deserved my wrath, not the women he ogled on a regular basis. So I dumped him.

Example Two:
My husband and I had been married just a few years when he told me about a woman at work who was going through a rough divorce. “Why do women confide in me about this stuff?” he asked.

“Because you’re a nice guy, and a good listener,” I replied.

A few weeks later, he came home from work more than a little agitated. He reported that this woman (we’ll call her Jezebel 😉 ) had asked him if he was, quote, “getting enough,” and did he want to go out for a “nooner.”

My sweet husband was concerned that Jezebel was fragile due to her recent divorce. He wanted my advice on how to gently let her know that while he was willing to listen to her woes, he wasn’t interested in having an affair with her.

Can you imagine the array of feelings I was experiencing? I quickly attempted to evaluate the situation. One, I figured if he was telling me about all this, then he wasn’t the least bit tempted by this woman.

So I had no reason to be afraid, and, two, no way did he deserve my anger.

This is the most common mistake people make with jealousy. They direct the anger over the threat toward their loved one, rather than toward the one who is actually presenting the threat. Which can all too often lead to the very thing they’re afraid of, a disruption in that important relationship.

Once I was clear that my anger should be directed at Jezebel, for daring to step into my territory and try to take my man, I had to decide what to do with that anger. First, I put my therapist hat on and responded to my husband’s desire to be a nice guy. I suggested several possible approaches he could use to back her off gently.

“And if none of those things work,” I then said, “you can tell her that if she doesn’t leave you alone, your wife will come down to the office and rip her eyes out!”

My husband gave me a very startled look. “The first few suggestions were the therapist talking,” I said. “Now your wife is talking. Tell her to find her own man. You’re taken!”

I felt much better after that. 🙂

Getting back to more recent events, my male friend’s relationship ended over his girlfriend’s jealousy. She freaked out because she saw another woman as her competition (even though he wasn’t interested in that woman) and she put him in a damned-if-he-did-damned-if-he-didn’t position. So he decided to opt out of the relationship, and I couldn’t blame him.

But I did try to set him straight about the gender thing.

What are your thoughts? Have you seen more jealousy in men or in women? How have you dealt with the fear and anger of jealousy?

To read some other wonderful posts about the Beauty of a Woman, click over to August’s site and see the list of funny, entertaining, interesting, serious posts.

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. 🙂 )

February, the Runt of Months

by Kassandra Lamb

Contemplating this month of February that we’ve just entered got me thinking about being the shortest or smallest in a group—a team, a classroom, a family, etc.

We humans are fairly obsessed with size, as if that’s some indicator of power and, in turn, worth. Small equals powerless equals unworthy.

football player receiving the ball

Photo by Torsten Bolten CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

Big equals better. Bigger cars, bigger houses, bigger you-know-whats…

Look at football players. Definitely bigger is better, right? Hey, it’s Super Bowl time so we’ve gotta have some football references.

(But wait, who’s that wiry little guy ducking and dodging around the big bruisers? You know, that receiver who makes a bunch of touchdowns because he’s a bit smaller and leaner, and a lot faster, than the others.)

Being the shortest/smallest one can bring on teasing, and whether it’s good-natured or mean, that teasing can leave one feeling less than and can undermine self-esteem for years to come.

Poor February is the shortest month—the runt of the year. Do you ever wonder if February feels self-conscious about it’s lack of length—inferior even. Do the other months pick on February? Do they point and make fun?

Here’s some advice I found on the Internet* for short kids who are teased by their classmates. Just for fun, let’s see if we can apply these ideas to February.

1. Ignore those bigger ones who put you down for being smaller.

Ha, I turn my back on you, January. You are so yesterday!

2. Confront those who tease you.

Hey, March, cool it with the short jokes. You’re no better than me. I may be cold and snowy, but you’re rainy and dreary, and about that wind…

3. If it gets to be too much, tell an authority figure, someone with the power to stop the teasing.

Hey, April. You may be 30 days long and the true beginning of spring. But if you don’t stop picking on me, I’m gonna tell July and August. They’re each 31 days long and they will burn you!

4. Embrace your size. (It may be that you just haven’t had your growth spurt yet.)

There’s nothing wrong with being short. (Oh, and just you wait until the next leap year!)

hearts on a bare tree

photo by Johntex CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

5. Play to your strengths.

Yes, I’m short, but I’m sweet, and a lot of fun. I’ve got the Super Bowl, Presidents’ Day (Yay, long weekend!), Valentine’s Day, and Mardi Gras going for me.

6. Stand tall and be confident!

That’s it February, head high, back straight!

You may be short, but for those of us who hate winter, you sure seem like the longest month of the year.

(*Loosely paraphrased from WikiHow: How to Handle Being the Smallest Person in Class.)

What are your thoughts on being the shortest, or the youngest, or in some other way, the runt of the litter? Do you have other suggestions for overcoming the message that you are less than if you’re the “runt?”

And speaking of teasing, my protagonist’s daughter is now in middle school and coping with being the youngest kid in her class, among other things. Check out this subplot in my upcoming Kate Huntington Mystery (#9), ANXIETY ATTACK.

Cover reveal today. Ta-da!

book cover

ANXIETY ATTACK, A Kate Huntington Mystery, #9

When an operative working undercover for Kate Huntington’s husband is shot, the alleged shooter turns out to be one of Kate’s psychotherapy clients, a man suffering from severe social anxiety. P.I. Skip Canfield had doubts from the beginning about this case, a complicated one of top secret projects and industrial espionage. Now one of his best operatives, and a friend, is in the hospital fighting for his life.

Tensions build when Skip learns that Kate—who’s convinced her client is innocent and too emotionally fragile to survive in prison—has been checking out leads on her own. Then a suspicious suicide brings the case to a head. Is the shooter tying up loose ends? Almost too late, Skip realizes he may be one of those loose ends, and someone seems to have no qualms about destroying his agency or getting to him through his family.

Release Date:  2/18/17  ~  Will be available for Preorder on 2/14/17! 

Just $1.99 during preorder.

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. 🙂 )

Are You S.A.D. in the Winter? (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Since I’m up to my eyeballs in three different editing projects, I figured now would be a good time for an encore presentation of a previous post, and this topic is always worth mentioning this time of year.

I hate talking about depression because, well, it’s depressing. But if you’re one of those folks who gets S.A.D. in the winter, or you know someone who does, you may appreciate this post.

I’m talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder, i.e., folks who start getting more and more fatigued and listless for no apparent reason as the days get shorter and grayer.

If you’ve been told that you must have some deep-seated negative association with winter, forget that BS. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a biologically-based depression. It’s caused by a malfunction in a natural phenomenon that occurs in all of us. This natural phenomenon developed through evolution.

In cave-person times (tough to be politically correct when talking about that era), those folks whose metabolisms slowed down in the winter—so they burned fewer calories—were much more likely to survive until spring. They dragged their butts through the winters. But when spring came, they’d come bouncing out of their caves, full of renewed energy now that the sun was bright.

Much to the annoyance of their skeletal cave-mates who just barely made it through the first hunt.

Photo by Lynn Kelley Author, doing her spring happy dance (from WANA Commons, share-alike license).

I have a mild case of S.A.D. When I lived in Maryland, I would get increasingly grumpy in the fall. I often wouldn’t realize just how depressed I’d became during the winter months, until spring came along and I started feeling sooo much better.

It was kind of like a low-grade, chronic case of the flu—one where you don’t realize just how sick you’ve been until you start to get better.

In the winter time, all of us (thanks to that evolutionary tendency inherited from our more wintertime-lethargic, springtime-energetic cave ancestors) have an increase in the release of the hormone, melatonin, from the pineal gland. This hormone regulates our sleep cycles and promotes deep sleep. The increased melatonin release makes us all a little bit less energetic in the winter.

For those with S.A.D., the melatonin levels increase too much, causing more severe fatigue and lethargy. S.A.D. can range from mild cases, like mine, to people who become severely depressed in the winter.

What can you do about it:

1.  The first thing to do (and this may be enough if you have a mild case) is go outside as much as possible in the winter, especially on sunny days. Because it is not the cold that triggers S.A.D.; it’s the lack of daylight. In my thirties, I started horseback-riding regularly year-round. My S.A.D. got a lot better. It went from a moderate to a mild case.

2.  Light therapy. There are light boxes, and other devices, that simulate sunlight. These are specifically designed to treat S.A.D., although they serve other purposes as well. More on light therapy below.

3.  Move to a southern clime, (or at least winter there, if you’re retired or filthy rich). My S.A.D. is one of the reasons–a major one, in fact–for our move to Florida when my husband and I retired.

More about light therapy boxes:

If you think you have S.A.D. these are a worthwhile purchase. They can change your life. But do your research first to find the best device for your needs. Check out this article from the Mayo Clinic about how to choose a light box. They range from $100 to $400, and unfortunately many insurance policies will not pay for them. (But they will pay for antidepressants that cost that much or more per month or for hospitalization when you’re suicidal. Go figure!)

Light therapy lamp (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

A light therapy box.

Even if you have to pay out of pocket, it’s worth it to get your winters back! Someone asked me, shortly before our move south, why I was moving to Florida. I said, “Because I’m tired of wishing away almost half of my life.” I would start dreading winter by mid-October and wouldn’t really come out of it until some time in April. At that time, light boxes were much more expensive, but looking back, I should have bought one anyway.

Life is too short to spend anymore of it than necessary depressed!

Here are more tips on how to use light therapy effectively from PsychEducation.org.

Does this resonate with you? Do you think you, or someone you know, may have S.A.D.?

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. 🙂 )

Reassessing Where We’re Going: 4 Careers I Opted Not To Pursue and Why

by Kassandra Lamb

When the year is new, our minds may turn to evaluating our careers. And sometimes we decide we need a change. This can be a good thing, but only if we choose wisely.

I’ve had four careers in my lifetime—clerical worker in human resources (striving for but failing to break the glass ceiling), psychotherapist, college professor and fiction author.

Choosing a career is both complicated and life-changing, and yet I believe that we as a society give people far too little guidance in making this important decision.

When I taught psychology, I always included a unit on career choice. I emphasized that you really needed to walk not just a mile, but a whole year, in the moccasins of another. I suggested that students interview someone in the career they wished to pursue and ask them about a typical day, a typical week and a typical year in that field.

Here are 4 careers I opted not to pursue after checking them out.

Elementary School Teacher:

As a teen and young adult, I loved small children. I entered college with the intention of majoring in elementary education.

In my junior year, as I started taking more courses in my major, I realize that K–12 schoolteachers had very little autonomy. There are principals and vice principals and curriculum supervisors looking over your shoulder at every turn.

empty daycare center

This could have been my work setting (photo by bakztfuture CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Being a cussedly independent person, this did not sit well.

I dropped out of college and got a clerical job to support myself while I tried again to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I discovered that I actually liked the administrative tasks involved in running an office, but eventually I got frustrated by that whole glass ceiling thing (this was in the 1970s).

Daycare Center Owner:

Still enamored with small children, I took several night courses in child development while investigating what was involved in running a daycare center.

What I discovered was that the owners of such facilities were buried in paperwork and administrative duties and spent little time interacting with the children. And the teachers in such centers—while they did get to spend all day with the kids—tended to not make a living wage.

This was a no. I was already struggling on a secretary’s salary (this was before they were called administrative assistants).

Kass and son as toddler

Having my own little one cured me. (He turned 37 yesterday 🙂 )

Fortunately having a child of my own seemed to shift my desire to spend all day with other people’s toddlers.

My maternal instincts satisfied, I moved on.

Lawyer:

Several years into my career as a psychotherapist, I became fascinated by the legal field. I’d encountered a few cases where my clients were dealing with legal issues—divorces, lawsuits, etc.

The law appealed to my analytical brain. And I certainly had the people skills, grasp of language, and chutzpah to do trial work.

empty courtroom

Another potential work setting. (photo public domain Wikimedia Commons)

But I also had a couple of clients who were lawyers. Their descriptions of law school and the long, tedious hours they had spent in law libraries doing research as junior associates soon disabused me of any desire to change to a law career.

I do not deal well with tedium!

Antiques Dealer:

This one actually made it to the business-cards-are-printed level—“Antiques by Kassandra” they proclaimed—and my basement was piled high with old furniture and glassware.

Ironically, the law was a big part of what burned me out as a therapist. Over the course of three years, I had four clients who ended up in legal battles, each one nastier than the one before. I went to court with them and held their hands, and in two cases, ended up testifying. It was the final straw. I didn’t want to hear about nor watch people going through misery anymore.

I appreciated antiques, so I decided to become an antiques dealer. Fortunately, I tested the waters before closing my therapy practice.

I had no desire to open a shop, but I could buy and sell—I’d always loved flea markets and yard sales and such. I soon discovered that being the middleman in the antiques business was not a great role. The owners of retail shops wanted to tear down the quality of what I had to offer, in order to get it at a cheaper price and then resell it for more.

18th century chair

Do people think  no one ever sat in this chair? (Museum of Fine Arts, Toluca, Mexico, photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I loved old things. I did not want to hear, day in and day out, how these things were practically worthless because they had a scratch or a ding in them, especially since I knew the person denigrating my stock was only doing so to get a better deal. And to me, the scratches and dings enhanced their value!

Fortunately, around that time, I landed my first teaching gig at the college level. I soon discovered that I loved being a professor, and I was off and running in that new career.

And then of course, after retirement, I had the time and financial security to finally pursue my life-long dream of writing fiction.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every one of my careers, and I’m grateful that I managed not to go too far astray down these other paths.

What career changes have you considered? Did those pursuits turn out good or bad?

Also, today is the LAST DAY in our 7 Free Mysteries for 7 Days giveaway! Click HERE to grab your free books!

freebie banner

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. 🙂 )