Category Archives: Mental Health Musings

Overachiever Angst! (And a New Release)

by Kassandra Lamb

One of the joys of being an indie author is that you set your own deadlines; one of the pitfalls is that you set your own deadlines. Or at least, it’s a pitfall for recovering overachievers like myself, who are struggling to ward off “overachiever angst” and maintain some semblance of balance in our lives.

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I fell into the pit this year. In early January, it seemed perfectly reasonable to me that I could finish the Kate Huntington novel I was drafting, write another service-dog novel and then a novella I had planned for that series, and get all of those stories edited and published in order for the novella to be released around July 4th, since that story involves Independence Day.

Just reading back over that sentence is exhausting, much less actually doing all that. But I was determined to try.

So the deadlines were set…

The Kate book would come out some time in May, The Sound and The Furry would be released in mid-June, and A Star-Spangled Mayfair would come out on or before July 4th.

I made the first deadline; Police Protection came out on May 24th. The other two deadlines…not so much.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

Overachievers have trouble adjusting goals. Even goals that are self-inflicted (yes, I have chosen that word intentionally).

It was a downright painful decision to slide those other two deadlines. But it finally dawned on me that once the Independence Day novella is out, people will be reading it at all different times of the year in the future. It is an integral part of the series and the character’s ongoing stories. So its relevance is not limited to the time period around July 4th.

And as long as it came out during the summer “beach-reading” season, even this year’s readers probably wouldn’t mind that they are reading about July 4th on, say, July 24th.

Why did I do that to myself?

Why did I set myself up for overachiever angst by taking on more than I could possibly get done?

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I used to do this kind of thing more often. I would almost always over-estimate how much work I could get done in a given amount of time and/or under-estimate how much work a project would require. I’ve gotten somewhat better and don’t make these miscalculations quite so often anymore, so I’m looking at this as a moderate setback in my recovery as an overachiever.

I think I also set these kinds of goals sometimes to create a challenge for myself. Let’s see if I can do this? That challenge can be stimulating, but it can also be a set-up for disappointment, when I can’t meet the nearly impossible goal.

I’ve gotten better at forgiving myself though, when I have to adjust a goal.

What Drives Us Overachievers?

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In my younger years, I was trying to prove something to myself and the world. I had to be the “best” at everything I did. I got past that when it dawned on me that it was okay to not be the best at things I didn’t care all that much about.

It’s okay for me to be a mediocre cook and a less than stellar housekeeper, for example, since those are not high priorities for me. But I still tend to put a fair amount of pressure on myself to be the best I can be when something is important to me.

And that’s what convinced me to slide my self-imposed deadlines. My writing is very important to me. I did NOT want to produce inferior stories, just to get them out by a certain date. So I decided to push through my overachiever angst and make some adjustments.

The Sound and The Furry is releasing today. Yay!! And A Star-Spangled Mayfair is tentatively scheduled to come out on July 23rd. I hope to have it available for preorder soon. (Covers and blurbs below.)

How about you? Do you tend to be an overachiever, an underachiever, or (the sanest position) somewhere in between? What do you think is driving those tendencies for you?

The Sound and The Furry, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, #7

The Sound and The Furry book cover

A tropical paradise turns deadly.

Service dog trainer Marcia Banks had thought it was the perfect arrangement—stay on her client’s private Gulf-coast island and get the human phase of the training done more quickly, while enjoying a much-needed break from the chaos of house renovations back home.

This certainly wasn’t the tranquil getaway she’d envisioned, however. Two resident ghosts, a sour-puss housekeeper and bearing witness to her client’s shaky marriage are bad enough. But within days, she’s discovered even deeper and darker layers of dysfunction.

Via emails and static-filled phone calls, fiancé Will Haines convinces her to get herself and her dog Buddy out of there, but before Marcia can accomplish this, a late-season hurricane abruptly changes course and strands them on the island… with a murderer.

AMAZON ~ APPLE ~ KOBO ~ NOOK ~ GOOGLE PLAY

And coming very soon… A Star-Spangled Mayfair, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Novella (#8)

Star-Sapngled Mayfair book cover

A flamboyant fiancé, a “Mob Killer” Roman candle, a yappy rescue dog, and a bison bull named Tarzan.

A recipe for chaos and calamity for Marcia’s introverted friend, Jess Randall.

When not serving up her to-die-for eggs and biscuits at the Mayfair Diner, Jess just wants to live quietly on their farm. But her fiancé Dan has impulsively offered to host the Mayfair Independence Day Extravaganza.

The day of the big bash, Marcia and her dog Buddy witness a public fight between the couple, and just hours later, Dan is found with a Roman candle through his chest.

Was it an accident, or was it murder? And is Jess a killer, as the sheriff’s department believes?

Between dog-training sessions, Marcia feels compelled to investigate, especially when there are signs that the real killer may not be finished… Could Jess be the next target?

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 the cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

What to Do When Anxiety Takes Over Your Life (Plus a New Release)

by Kassandra Lamb

If you’re someone who has been dealing with an anxiety disorder for some time, you probably know as much or more about them than I do. But perhaps this post will offer some useful tidbits. If you’re newly diagnosed and/or finally focusing on how one or more of these disorders is controlling your life, this will provide an overview of what to do when anxiety takes over.

The Gold Standard of Treatment

Only two types of anxiety disorder are curable at this point in the history of the science of psychology. Specific phobias and some social phobias, such as fear of public speaking, are almost always learned reactions, although they are deeply ingrained in the cerebellum (as I mentioned in my last post on this subject) and do not respond well to conscious efforts to control them.

But they can usually be unlearned via a process of systematic desensitization. While practicing relaxation techniques, the person is gradually exposed to more and more of the stimuli that they are afraid of, whether it be heights or spiders or whatever.

For the other anxiety disorders, a combination of medication and talk therapy is the gold standard of care. Plus, there are a lot of other things one can do—lifestyle changes that can reduce the anxiety and make it more controllable.

Medications

Meds can be the best thing when anxiety takes over.
Photo by Pina Messina on Unsplash

Better living through chemistry. There are over a 100 drugs on the market today that affect anxiety in one way or another. The trick is finding the right one for you, and getting used to it.

But, again with the exception of phobias (and some versions of social anxiety), there is no other way to truly control the anxiety. The body is producing it, so it must be treated biologically.

Now, if you have a fairly mild case of an anxiety disorder, there are coping techniques you can learn that may be sufficient. But for most folks suffering from these disorders… the brain chemistry is broken, and it takes adjusting that chemistry through medication to get somewhere close to normal.

1. Finding the right meds for you.

First of all, consult a psychiatrist. Don’t rely on your family doctor for this. The brain is incredibly complicated, and scientists are learning new things about it every day. And there are many different meds, each with its own pros and cons, its own way of operating on brain chemistry. There is no way that a general practitioner can keep up with all that. So find a good psychiatrist—they are the doctors who understand psychoactive drugs—and preferably find one who specializes in anxiety disorders.

Secondly, give the meds a chance to work. Most anti-anxiety meds take several weeks to start to make an impact. The best way to find the right med for you is through trial and error, which takes patience. Yes, I know it’s hard to be patient when you are anxious ALL THE TIME.

But if you eliminate a med too soon, before it has had a chance to show what it can do for you, well, that might have been the best one for you and you passed it by, out of impatience.

2. Getting used to the meds.

Folks with anxiety disorders tend to become hyper-alert to changes in their bodies and brains. Feel a little lightheaded or queasy and immediately your mind jumps to the conclusion that a panic attack is starting up.

But psychoactive drugs, by definition, are going to make you feel different. Yes, it’s really, really hard to do, but try to ride out those odd feelings until they don’t seem so odd anymore.

(For more on anxiety meds, check out this article.)

Talk Therapy

The most commonly used approach in psychotherapy for anxiety disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). That’s psychobabble for the therapist is going to help you retrain your thinking and your behavior to lessen your anxiety and learn how to manage what’s left.

By definition, psychotherapy is a bit abstract and therefore hard to test scientifically, but cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most studied form of therapy—it has a lot of fairly concrete techniques that can and have been scientifically analyzed. And it has been found to be a very effective approach to anxiety disorders.

There are a lot of these CBT techniques, but two very commonly used ones are:

Journalling can help figure out the Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence, when anxiety takes over.
Journalling is often used to pinpoint antecedents, behaviors and consequences. (Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash)

1. An A-B-C Assessment

A-B-C stands for Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence.

In other words, what proceeds the anxiety attack, how does the person respond to the anxiety behaviorally, and what is the consequence of that behavior. The antecedent can be an external trigger—anything from a loud noise to a weather or news report to a fight with your boss or spouse. Or it can be internal—a thought or feeling that gets things rolling.

Once the anxiety is running rampant, how does the person react? Do they become physically ill, do they hide from the world, lash out, have a drink (or several), try to pretend nothing is wrong (while anger and resentment builds up inside)?

Then the Consequence—how does the outcome then reinforce the behavior and/or the anxiety?

Ha, I bet you thought I was gonna say how does the behavior impact on the person. Well, often that is the problem. Hiding from the world (agoraphobia) definitely has a negative impact on the person’s life. But to break the pattern there’s a need to analyze how the avoidance behavior of not leaving the house is being REWARDED.

A person with panic disorder contemplates going out (antecedent), then they start to worry about having a panic attack while they are out among strangers, and how that will be so embarrassing and they won’t be able to get any help, etc. Then they decide not to go out after all (behavior), and the anxiety/worrying subsides a good bit (consequence). The avoidance behavior has just been rewarded by a reduction in anxiety.

The goal with an A-B-C assessment is to figure out where and how to break the cycle. (For more on ABC assessment, see this article.)

Which brings us to another CBT technique commonly used with anxiety disorders.

2. Changing Self-Talk

This is probably the simplest and yet most effective technique in a therapist’s toolbox. Have the person pay attention to what they are saying to themselves internally. And work with them to change those automatic internal ruminations.

Because almost always, self-talk is negative. “I’m going to screw up.” “This is going to be horrible.” yada-yada

People with anxiety disorders are NOT the only ones who tend to have negative self-talk. It’s very common in a lot of folks.

But those without anxiety disorders do not already have a constant sense of anxiety and impending doom coming from their faulty body chemistry. So they negotiate life’s twists and turns with mild to moderate insecurity, muddling through the things they’re sure are going to go badly and then breathing a big sigh of relief when it wasn’t all that bad after all.

And maybe they even gain a little confidence and are a little less negative next time.

But for folks with anxiety disorders, their self-talk often takes the form of “awfulizing.” Their already anxious minds immediately jump to the worst case scenario, and they quickly convince themselves that this is exactly what will happen, the most awful possible outcome imaginable.

When anxiety takes over your life, learning to monitor and change self-talk can be crucial.
photo by Sydney Rae on Unsplash

Once the exact nature of a person’s negative self-talk is identified, the therapist helps them come up with good counter-messages. Not just some bland “Everything’s going to be okay,” but something specific, like, “I’ve dealt with this _________ (fill in the situation) before and handled it. I can do this.”

And then the therapist will use role-playing to help the person practice that new self-talk again and again. Until it becomes fairly easy to catch the negatives and switch gears, when out in the real world.

Again, there are more CBT techniques than these two, but this should give you an idea of what to expect in therapy.

Other Things You Can Do

1. Learn and Use Relaxation Techniques
Yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis, progressive relaxation, guided imagery, etc. Again, there are multiple options. Check them out until you find the one or ones that work for you. And then USE them. Every day, multiple times a day, and especially if you start to feel anxious.

2. Be Physically Active
Nothing reduces daily stress (which contributes to anxiety) quite like physical activity! Find an activity that you like, or at least can tolerate, and then make it part of your routine. Twenty-five to thirty minutes every other day is sufficient. More often is better.

And if your anxiety disorder has led to other issues, such as fibromyalgia, find a gentle way to be active. Yoga or swimming are great options.

3. Take Care of Your Body
Of course, all of us should be doing this, but if you have an anxiety disorder, this is CRITICAL. Develop a healthy eating plan, with nutritious foods that you LIKE. Make a point of going to bed at a consistent time each night, and develop a wind-down routine that helps you go to sleep more readily.

Again, experiment with different possibilities. Does reading work for you, or watching TV? Whatever you do, don’t do household chores or other stressful activities past a certain hour in the evening!

(She says as she is writing a blog post at eleven p.m…. Do as I say, not as I do. 😀 )

When anxiety takes over, it's tempting to self-medicate.
Resist the temptation to self-medicate with alcohol or recreational drugs. (photo by Sergio Alves-Santos on Unsplash)

4. Avoid Self-Medicating
Alcohol and recreational drugs can backfire on you. They may help initially in small quantities, but their addictive tendencies and the development of tolerance can lead to more anxiety in the long run. And alcohol suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep. So it can contribute to insomnia big-time!

Also, nicotine is a sneaky drug. Smoking may make you feel more relaxed, but it is an illusion. Nicotine has a muscle-relaxant quality, which we feel almost immediately with each drag on a cigarette. But make no mistake, it is a stimulant. It increases your heart rate, your blood pressure, your muscle tension…i.e. your anxiety.

Caffeine can also be sneaky in its own way. I can’t begin to tell you how many people (my own husband included) have told me that “caffeine doesn’t affect me.”

Yeah, it does! But you’ve developed a tolerance for it so you no longer notice how it is affecting you. My husband eventually (not due to caffeine, due to aging) developed heart arrhythmia and had to cut back on his caffeine. He was amazed at how much calmer he felt and how much better he slept.

5. Break the Cycle
Do not let anxiety make itself at home. When you start to feel anxious, break the cycle. This may be through self-talk, or you may need to literally get up and move. Take a walk, read a book, watch TV, pursue a hobby. Do something that distracts your mind before it starts to awfulize.

6. Make a Commitment to Your Routine
Establish a routine of taking your meds regularly, paying attention to your self-talk, exercising, etc. And then when something knocks it out of whack, as life inevitably will—a holiday, a vacation, illness, etc.—make a point of getting back into your routine as quickly as possible afterwards.

7. Socialize and Seek Support
Make an effort to spend time with friends and family. Socializing is a great stress reliever and also a wonderful distraction from your worries. And finding a support group of people who are dealing with similar struggles can make the process so much more bearable. Google “anxiety disorder support” and your city and/or check out the websites of organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

I hope you find all this helpful.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments. I’ll answer as best I can. Also, if you have discovered something in particular that works for you, please share.

And I have a new release in my Kate Huntington Mysteries, Police Protection. To celebrate, I’ve put Anxiety Attack, the book before this new one, on sale for just 99 cents (through 5/24/19).

Anxiety Attack, in part, explores the experience of someone with social anxiety.

Kate Huntington’s P.I. husband had doubts from the beginning about this case, a complicated one of top secret projects and industrial espionage. Now one of his best operatives is in the hospital fighting for his life, and Kate believes the alleged shooter the police arrested—one of her psychotherapy clients who suffers from social anxiety—is innocent.

Tensions build between the couple, until a suspicious suicide brings the case to a head. Is the spy/killer 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.

JUST $0.99 ~ THRU 5/24/19

AMAZON ~ NOOK ~ APPLE ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

And Book #10, the last in the series, is here!! Just $2.99 during PREORDER and until after its release on 5/24 (goes up to $4.99 after that)

POLICE PROTECTION, A Kate Huntington Mystery

A story ripped from real-life headlines.

A police detective is found in an alley, standing over the body of an unarmed African-American boy. Groggy from a concussion, he has no memory of what happened, and he is literally holding the smoking gun.

To the Baltimore County Internal Affairs division, it’s a slam-dunk. But various forces push psychotherapist Kate Huntington and her P.I. husband to investigate behind the scenes, and what they find doesn’t add up. Why did the boy’s oldest brother disappear on the same day? And did the third brother, who’s on the autism spectrum and nonverbal, witness something relevant?

When seemingly unrelated events emerge as a pattern of intentional obstruction and diversion, it becomes apparent that what happened in that alley was more than just a bad shoot by a stressed-out cop. And for Kate, the case has become personal as she’s connected with the grieving mother, whose dead son was the same age as her Billy.

The answers may come from unexpected sources, but she and Skip better find them soon… before another life is lost.

AMAZON ~ NOOK ~ APPLE ~ KOBO ~ GOOGLE PLAY

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 about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

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“Off” Week Goodies for You

A couple little goodies for you today—two posts aimed at writers, but they have a lot of good stuff in them for everyone. One is by me and the other is by a writing coach and teacher, Lisa Hall-Wilson.

Her excellent discussion on shame, what it is and how to write about it, is on the blog, Writers in the Storm. Check it out: The 3-Act Emotional Arc for Showing Shame in Fiction.

The other post, by me, is about using writing to heal emotional wounds. One doesn’t have to be a fiction writer to do this. Blogging, journaling, writing bad poetry, etc. can be useful in facilitating the healing process.

Here’s the beginning of that post, and the link to read more if you like:

Writing To Heal

Writing to heal was what got me truly started as a fiction author.

Oh, I’ve always loved to write. I’d written quite a few stories through the years, plus some bad poetry, and I’d started more than one novel. But the inspiration for the first one that I actually finished, the one that would eventually become Book 1 in my first mystery series, occurred when a friendship ended abruptly.

The friend was a male lawyer with whom I’d shared a few cases—situations where one of my psychotherapy clients was dealing with some legal mess, such as a divorce. And over time, he and I had become friends.

And then we weren’t, and I realized I had seriously misjudged his level of mental health. After the friendship imploded, I thought, “Darn it! If I can’t have a healthy platonic friendship in real life, I’m going to create one.”

So I started writing the story, Multiple Motives, in which a female psychotherapist and a male lawyer are good friends, and someone has a murderous grudge against both of them. (That last part didn’t happen in real life. 🙂 ) Another thing that didn’t happen in real life, but does in the book, is that the bad things that occur in the characters’ lives make their friendship stronger, rather than destroying it.

Writing that novel helped me heal from the painful ending of that friendship. It fulfilled several of the purposes of writing to heal:

● Clarifying and venting feelings.
● Telling one’s story – being heard.
● Creating a different outcome.
● Finding meaning in the pain.
● Paying it forward – helping others struggling with similar issues and inspiring hope.

Clarifying and Venting Emotions—Why Is That Important?

In Multiple Motives, my character Kate realizes just how important her friend is to her, and then when he is in danger, she realizes what a black hole his loss would create in her life. As I was writing this story, as she was feeling those intense ups and downs, I was right there with her. It was quite cathartic.

But why is it that we feel better when we vent a negative feeling? READ MORE over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University.

And a slight adjustment in the blogging schedule. K.B. Owen will be posting next week as she releases her newest Concordia Wells historical cozy. I’ve read it and it is great!

And then I’ll be back on the 14th with Part II of my When Anxiety Is a Bad Thing series, talking about what can be done about anxiety disorders. (And I may have a new release to announce by then as well.)

So stay tuned, folks!

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

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.


When Anxiety Is a Bad Thing, Part I

by Kassandra Lamb

Last month, I posted about how a controllable amount of anxiety can be a good thing when performing. It can keep us on our toes and animate our performance. But what happens when it’s not controllable? Then, anxiety is a bad thing.

when anixety is a bad thing
Street art on the island of Uto, Finland (Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash)

Basically, this happens when our survival mechanisms go awry. One of these survival mechanism is our fight or flight response.

When we perceive a threat in our environment, our brains and bodies take over. We automatically experience a long list of reactions intended to prepare us to run away from that threat or stand and fight it off—our hearts race to pump blood to our muscles faster, our breathing becomes more rapid to suck in more oxygen, our muscles tense, our pupils dilate to see better, etc.

But what if something biological, a malfunction in our bodies or brains, triggers our fight or flight response, rather than a true threat from the environment?

Biologically Triggered Panic

You’re going about your business, perfectly calm and safe, and suddenly your heart starts thundering in your chest and you’re breathing fast and furious.

You look around, your eyes wide with fright, desperately trying to find the threat. But there is none. Yet, your mind knows that if the fight or flight response has been triggered there must be some threat out there. Right?

This is what people with certain anxiety disorders suffer through on a regular basis, sometimes several times a day.

And they cannot control it!

During a panic attack, their bodies are freaking out on them, without their mental permission. And the sense of impending doom, that is associated with that physiological freaking out, can be quite overwhelming.

Which brings us to the other survival mechanism that can go awry.

Learned Associations

One of the other ways that our brains keep us alive is by making a myriad of associations between certain situations and our emotions. This thing made us feel good in the past (like eating tasty food), so do more of it. That thing was scary and/or hurt us in the past, so avoid it.

We smell food cooking and our stomachs automatically growl, because we’ve learned to associate that smell with something good to eat. We see a snake on the path in front of us in the woods, and we jump back and our hearts start racing. We were not born with the knowledge that cooking smells mean food or that a snake is potentially harmful, and yet these reactions are automatic.

That’s because these are conditioned associations, a different kind of learning than when we intellectually process something and commit it to memory. At some point in the past, we felt the emotion (fear) while in the presence of something (a snake, or an image of a snake on TV, doing something scary) and our minds linked the two together. So now the snake is a “conditioned stimulus” for the “conditioned response” of fear.

For most of us, the fear response can be controlled, once we have assessed the situation. From a safe distance, we take a harder look at the snake and realize it’s just a harmless black snake. So we get a stick, shoo it out of our path and go on about our business.

Cerebellum Images are generated by Life Science Databases (LSDB) ~ CC BY-SA 2.1 jp Wikimedia Commons

But sometimes, these conditioned associations reach phobic levels. As a child, you’re chased and bitten by a dog, and now you are terrified of all dogs.

So why can’t we control that phobic fear?

Because conditioned associations are stored in a different part of our brain (the cerebellum) from where our thinking occurs (the cerebral cortex).

(In the swirling image to the left, the cerebellum is highlighted in red, while the cerebral cortex is the tan part.)

So you see a dog, even a small harmless-looking one, and you are running away, even as your logical brain is saying, “This is stupid, That dog isn’t going to hurt me.”

When These Two Mechanisms Interact

People with biologically-based anxiety disorders (panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, etc.) often get a double whammy from these mechanisms. Their fear response is being triggered when nothing scary is happening, but the mind still associates the fear with whatever is going on at the moment.

So the person can develop a phobic-type response to a variety of stimuli. They have a panic attack while at the grocery store, so they can’t grocery shop anymore without freaking out. Then they have one while at the post office and they can’t go there anymore. Then while driving, so they can’t drive anymore. Then while getting their mail at the end of their driveway…

In its worst form, this can become agoraphobia, in which the person is afraid to leave their home.

And none of this is under their conscious control!

What Can Be Done?

For those who suffer from anxiety disorders, the answer to this question is a long one. I’m going to do a separate post on that on May 14th. So please stay tuned.

For those of us who care about someone with an anxiety disorder, we need to be patient and understanding. Chastising the person for letting anxiety control their lives is not helpful.

They are most likely already beating themselves up, on a daily basis.

My mother-in-law had generalized anxiety disorder. The best definition of this disorder is being a worry-wart on steroids. People with GAD worry about everything all the time, and they cannot control this! GAD is partly biologically based, and partly a learned pattern of coping that becomes ingrained early in life.

When anixety is a bad thing, it can be overwhelming.
Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash

When my MIL was in her seventies, her eye doctor told her she had cataracts and she needed surgery or she would go blind.

She would not do it. After a while, she wouldn’t even talk about it anymore.

I got it, and tried to explain it to my husband and family members. Any surgery, but especially eye surgery, is scary for all of us. But most of us can manage the fear. Not, however, if you have severe GAD as she did.

When she considered such surgery, the anxiety was overwhelming. And the more the family tried to get her to “see reason,” the more anxious she became, until even thinking or talking about it became overwhelming.

Finally everyone gave up, and she lived out the rest of her years slowly going blind, but with her daily anxiety much more manageable.

I’m not saying that I thought her choice was correct, but I understood where she was coming from, in light of the disorder she had.

When we keep pushing someone with an anxiety disorder to do something they feel they can’t do because of the anxiety, we are only driving a wedge between ourselves and them, and pushing them farther into the unnecessary and unhelpful shame they are probably already feeling about their disorder.

Then, anxiety is a bad thing indeed!

It is more helpful to say something like, “I understand. The anxiety is too much. Let’s see if you and I can figure out a way around it.”

Stay tuned for next time, when we’ll talk some more about those work-arounds and other ways to reduce the anxiety and/or cope with it.

In the meantime, I’m happy to answer questions. Have you or a loved one had to struggle with an anxiety disorder?

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 about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

When Anxiety Is a Good Thing

by Kassandra Lamb

Say what? Anxiety is a good thing?!? It can be, up to a point.

This past weekend, I did my first public reading from one of my books. (Yes, I’ve been at this writing/publishing gig for 7+ years, but until recently my marketing has mainly been online.)

In the days leading up to the reading, I was terrified.

I’ve done plenty of presenting in my time, at professional conferences when I was a psychotherapist and in front of a college classroom for 17 years. I enjoy presenting/teaching, and normally I’m only mildly to moderately anxious beforehand.

And that is when anxiety is a good thing. On a practical level, it motivates me to be well prepared, to put in the work to make sure I’m ready. Because I know from experience that confidence is key to keeping the anxiety under control.

And emotionally, at the time of the presentation mild to moderate anxiety makes my brain sharper, and it stimulates me, animates my personality. When that happens, I am an enthusiastic speaker and the audience responds well. I can even get up the nerve to try to be funny, and sometimes I’m actually successful. 😀

Quite a bit of research has been done on the “optimal level of arousal” that will enhance one’s ability to accomplish tasks. I have mastered that optimal level when it comes to presenting.

But somehow “performing” my own creative work… it falls into a different category.

Anxiety is defined as distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune; a state of apprehension and psychic tension. If that “apprehension” is too intense, it can keep us awake at night, make us stutter, blush, freeze up or otherwise embarrass ourselves in certain situations.

For me, “performing” is such a situation. And anticipating performing tends to move me from helpful arousal to unhelpful distress to disabling ruminating and worry pretty darn fast.

Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.*

(*This quote has been attributed to Erma Bombeck and at least a dozen other people. But whoever said it first, they nailed it!)

The first time I “performed,” it was in a second-grade play. I was George Washington’s wife. I don’t remember much past walking through the classroom door in my Martha Washington costume. But I do remember laughter.

It wasn’t supposed to be a funny skit.

In high school, I tried out for several plays with the drama department. I never got a part. The stumbling and blushing might have had something to do with that.

Ever since, I’ve frozen up whenever I was required to “perform.” And yet I can “present.” The latter is more about sharing my expertise. I have much more confidence in that expertise than I do in my performing ability.

So here I was last week, facing this reading.

While I was being introduced… I only look mildly terrified!

I’ve been to some where the author just “read.” And that’s okay. I’d originally intended to do that. But as I went through my first practice round, my words sounded so flat. I decided I didn’t want to just read. I wanted to show emotions through inflection, produce the required deeper timbre for male voices, use accents when called for, etc.

In other words, perform. Aaack!!

The day before the reading, I was way past my optimal level of arousal. I needed to do a little emergency therapy on myself.

I asked myself what helped me control the anxiety when I was presenting, and realized there were four things I now automatically do before a presentation:

1. Acknowledge the anxiety.

I don’t try to stuff it down or ignore it. That doesn’t make it go away. If anything, it gives it more energy. For “presenting” nerves, a short pep talk is usually sufficient, along the lines of—Of course you’re nervous. That’s a good thing. It will keep you on your toes.

For “performing” nerves, I needed to go a little farther. I told a few people close to me how scared I was. It wasn’t to get their reassurance (although they were, of course, reassuring); it was to acknowledge the anxiety and bleed off some of its charge.

2. Draw confidence from past successes.

To Kill A Labrador cover
The book I read from.

I remind myself that I have done many presentations before, and I have always done a decent to downright great job.

Also, I remind myself that the anxiety always goes down once I get started. That’s a biggie!

This time, I had to add to this pep talk that presenting was not as different from performing as I have made it out to be. And the book I was reading from has lots of good reviews. The words were proven to be good, and my ability to “present” them has been proven to be good. So I would be fine. (In psychology lingo, that’s called a reframe. 🙂 )

3. Practice but not over practice.

I’ve learned that two to three complete run-throughs, out loud, is about right for a presentation. Enough practice to smooth out the rough spots and give me confidence. Not so much that the presentation becomes stale.

The second time through my reading practice, the inflections were mostly in the wrong places, my male voice sounded like I had a bad cold, and my Southern accent…well, let’s just say I don’t do accents well.

By the third time, I had the inflections in the right places, my male voice was pretty good, and my accents didn’t totally suck. I did one more run-through, for good measure, and felt a good bit more confident when all of the above still happened.

4. Remind myself that I do not have to be perfect.

And in this case, remind the audience as well. I added these words to my introductory remarks: Now before I start, I’d like to put this caveat out there—I don’t do accents well.

Ahhh, the pressure was off. Now if my accents were sucky, well, I’d said up front that I wasn’t perfect.

And the reality is that most people in an audience aren’t expecting perfection. Indeed, they may find it endearing when we make the occasional mistake. It’s makes us more human and relatable. In this case, my audience knew that I’m a writer, not an actor. They weren’t expecting perfection and I shouldn’t either.

So the moment arrives…

Definitely when anxiety is a good thing...when it lets up! Me, after the reading.
I look happy here because I’m almost to the end of the reading. Yay!

I’ve been introduced, and I give my little opening spiel (no problem, this is presenting after all). I’m borderline, maybe just past my optimal level of anxiety. Okay, definitely past optimal, but still manageable.

I start to read. And thank you Lord, my anxiety level goes down. (Did I mention praying? That always helps too.)

It was still higher than usual, but definitely quite manageable.

So I make it to the question-and-answer period and I’m downright exhilarated. It’s over! I can do Q&A standing on my head (which would make it more interesting, for sure).

And now that I have a successful reading under my belt, I can look back on that the next time and use it to bolster my confidence, to get my nervousness down to the level where anxiety is a good thing!

How about you? Have you discovered your “optimal level of arousal” for most things? What situations tend to push your anxiety over the top?

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 about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

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Dreaming of Being a Mid-List Author

by Kassandra Lamb

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of posting on the blog of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). I posted on the topic of goals, and how it’s okay to not aim for the top of one’s chosen field or endeavor. Not everyone can be “the best.” There’s really only one spot there at the very top.

I liked the post so much I decided to share it with you all. It fits well with the theme of last month’s post about New Year’s resolutions and goals. So here it is:

Dreaming of Being a Mid-List Author

woman at laptop, not aiming for the top
This isn’t me but it could be, especially with the cup of tea. (photo by Dai Ke on Unsplash)

I’m working on my fourth career in my lifespan—that of a fiction author. I love being a writer, but I also loved many aspects of my other careers. I have few regrets, and none regarding what I consider to be my “main” career, that of psychotherapist.

I spent twenty years listening to a lot of people talk about how their middle-of-the-road dreams had gone awry, often due to circumstances that were not completely within their control. Their stories gave me a real appreciation for how it is okay to aspire for moderate success, for a goal that meets one’s needs, whatever they may be, without necessarily bringing one fame and fortune.

The United States is such a competitive society. We are taught that we should aspire to being the best we can be, to win prizes for being the best at what we do.

Why?

Defining Success

I consider my career as a therapist a huge success, even though the profession doesn’t pay all that well and I was never a “big” name in the field. But I helped most of the people who walked through my office door. In a fair number of cases, I helped turn their lives around. And in a few, I saved their lives. I tried to be the best therapist I could be, but I didn’t particularly feel the need to be the best among all therapists.

I’d always dreamed of writing fiction. I loved to write. As a college professor (my third career), I even enjoyed writing tests! I had plucked away at a novel—about a psychotherapist, of course—during most of those years while I was pursuing other careers.

And then I retired and finally had the time to pursue my writing in earnest. When I finished the novel that I’d been writing for years, I suffered from a common ailment of new writers—the write-it-and-they-will-buy-it syndrome.

I imagined that readers would scarf up my new gem by the droves. But I wasn’t dreaming of huge profits or the New York Times bestseller list.

I was imagining hundreds of people READING my book.

Perhaps my retired status gives me the luxury of not caring so much about how big my profits are. But I just can’t get all that excited about things like rankings or bestseller lists or writing awards.

I Can See Clearly Now

In retrospect, I can see my goals more clearly than I did at the time when I published that first book. Here they are, in order of importance:

  • I wanted to experience the joy of having people read my work and tell me they were moved by it.
  • I wanted my characters to come to life for readers who cared about them.
  • I wanted the recognition that I was a good writer (not necessarily great, but good enough to entertain people with my stories).
  • It would be nice to have some extra money from my writing.

Does this make me a hobbyist writer? No.

I take my writing business seriously. It is truly my fourth career. I work almost every day on business-related tasks and/or writing.

What I’m getting at here is that it is okay to have modest goals. We don’t all have to aim for the top of the heap. There isn’t room for all of us up there anyway!

Back when I was a psychotherapist wishing I had more time for writing, I never truly believed I would be where I am today—a successful mid-list author whose writing provides a satisfying supplement to my retirement income.

But here I am, fat and happy in the middle of the pile of fellow writers.

So what do you think? Do we all have to strive to be the best?

NOTE: If you’re an indie author, I can highly recommend the Alliance of Independent Authors; it’s an international professional organization with lots of benefits for joining.

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 about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

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6 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

by Kassandra Lamb

Happy New Year image
(image by Nevit Dilmen CC-SA-BY 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? (Or perhaps you call them goals.) Do you find they have flown out the window by the end of February, and then you feel like a failure?

The problem may be with how you are wording the resolutions/goals. Or perhaps they aren’t quite the right ones for you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself that get at the most common reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail.

1.  Is the goal/resolution too abstract?

I will be the best person possible sounds good, but it is doomed for failure as soon as you make your first mistake of the new year. Instead, ask yourself what traits or behaviors you would like to improve and make the goal more concrete and specific.

I will strive not to interrupt people during conversations is much more doable.

2.  Is it too big?

Chunk it down into more manageable sub-goals. These can be celebrated as they are achieved, versus only looking at the big goal that feels so far away and difficult.

I will write and publish my first novel this year feels overwhelmingly hard. But if you chunk it down into:

  • I will finish the first draft by June.
  • I will strive to do two self-edits by September.
  • I will send it to a professional editor by October 1st.
  • I will investigate what is involved in getting my book published.
  •  I will set the publication process in motion by the end of the year.

3.  Is it something within your control?

When I was a novice psychotherapist, I foolishly thought that I could readily help people lose weight. I had studied hypnosis and figured it would be a great tool to get people to eat less and exercise more.

And the hypnotic suggestions usually did work, but I soon discovered that weight management was much more complicated than that. Even when people did everything they should do, they didn’t always lose weight. Sometimes there were physical issues—slow metabolism, medications, genetics, etc.—and sometimes there were psychological barriers. And sometimes it was a plain old mystery why the pounds weren’t coming off.

Note that I’m calling it “weight management,” not “weight control” as it is more often labeled. The reality is that we cannot directly control certain things, and our weight is one of them.

Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.

― Epictetus (Greek Stoic philosopher, circa 55-135 AD)

So look at your resolutions and ask yourself if the end goal is totally within your control.

I will research and establish healthier eating patterns and increase my activity level is more realistic than I will lose thirty pounds.

4.  Are you “shoulding” on yourself?

Is this a goal you really want or are you setting it because you believe it is something you should be doing?

Does I will find a better-paying job get shifted from one year’s resolution list to the next? Maybe you really like your job, but it just doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet. Are there other alternatives, such as asking for a raise or looking for a second-income source?

Maybe, after asking these questions, you realize you really should pursue the goal, even though you don’t particularly want to, but being clearer about why you are doing it may help you get there.

So the resolution may become I will look hard at my finances and try to find a way to ease them, which may require changing jobs.

5.  Is your measurement criteria accurate? Or to putting it another way, are you judging success based on the right aspect of the goal?

I won’t get angry at my kids may not be all that realistic, since everyone gets angry and kids can be irritating at times. Maybe I will control my temper better and not yell at my kids when I’m angry is more doable.

One of the frustrations I encountered when working with clients on weight management issues was their obsession with the scale. The reality is that the number of pounds we weigh is not always the best measure of our health or even our appearance.

After a while, I started asking clients to put their scales up in their attics and use a measuring tape instead to keep track of how many inches they were losing as they lost fat and toned muscles (which get denser and heavier when they are toned). Going down three clothing sizes was a better indicator of success than how many pounds they had lost!

6.  Is your resolution related to a goal or dream that you have lost interest in or one that you don’t care enough about to put in the effort required?

This can be a very subtle reason why New Year’s resolutions fail. Sometimes things we used to be gung-ho about aren’t so important anymore, and sometimes a goal turns out to be too damn difficult to be worth the bother.

It’s also sometimes hard to admit this to ourselves.

So ask this question, when you find yourself feeling lackluster about a resolution/goal: Are you giving up due to lack of confidence but you really do want it? (In which case, figure out what you need to improve your skills and confidence and push yourself to get there.)

OR are you not willing to make it happen because it’s just not important enough anymore?

There’s no shame in this. And it doesn’t mean the goal was stupid to begin with—things change over time, including our enthusiasm and willingness to commit resources to something. And it may be a goal that becomes important again down the road, when the resources are more readily available. 

My first novel, 17 years in the making.

I started writing my first novel fifteen years before it was finished and seventeen years before it was published. For the first five of those years, I will finish my novel was on my New Year’s resolution list.

And every year, I would fool around with it some—change the opening, add a scene or two—but then I would get discouraged and put it away again.

I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t willing to put in the effort to get it published once it was written. This was back in the days when traditional publishing was the only viable alternative.

I knew getting a publisher would be difficult, involving many factors I couldn’t control, and I HATE not being in control of my own destiny.

At that point, I stopped putting it on my resolutions list and told myself I would pursue my writing dream once I was retired and had more time and energy. The story languished in my hard drive, all but forgotten, for years.

But after I retired, I decided to finish writing it, even if it never got published. In retirement, I could justify “wasting time” on something that might never pay off. I sat down and finished the first draft in six weeks. 🙂

Hopefully these tips will help you modify your resolutions/goals this year, so that they are less likely to end up on the trash heap. Can you think of other reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail?

Fireworks!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!! (Photo by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

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 about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

12 Ways to Get Cozy During the 12 Days of Christmas

by Kirsten Weiss and Kassandra Lamb

ideas to get cozy
photo by Alisa Anton, from Unsplash.com

At misterio press, we write a lot of cozy mysteries. And one of the most common questions we get is, Why are they called cozy?

The easy answer is because these mystery novels typically include a lot of coziness – including the joy of snuggling down with a good book.

Yes, a frequent cozy trope is… books! Cozy mysteries are often set in bookstores, in libraries, in book clubs, they may feature book lovers… You get the idea.

Maybe these common cozy mystery scenes and tropes will inspire you to get cozy as the temperature falls and Christmas approaches.

Twelve ways to get cozy…

1.  (Kirsten’s fave) Build a fire and enjoy it with friends — real people or the “friends” inside the pages of your favorite book.

 2.  (Kass’s fave) Eat chocolate and put as much time into savoring it as your favorite cozy mystery writer does describing the sensation of chocolate melting on the tongue. 

3.  Knit a scarf or mittens for someone for Christmas (knitting mysteries are big), maybe while sitting in front of that fire in #1.

4.  Snuggle with your pet – most cozy mysteries feature a dog or cat, and these animals usually have a heavy dose of character.

5.  Watch an old movie – preferably something romantic and/or mysterious!

6.  (Kass’s second fave) Drink wine and see above re: savoring (or hot chocolate, hot toddies, Irish coffee, whatever winter drink you like to snuggle up with.)

7.  Light fall-scented candles, dim the lights, and enjoy the mysterious dance of shadows on the walls.

8.  Bake cookies. Or scones. Or pie. And the scent of the baking as it fills the house… Num!  (Baked goods and other sweets are another favorite cozy mystery trope.)

9.  Take a long bath, and bring your paperback!

10.  Make a scrapbook (scrapbooking — another cozy trope) or photo album as a present for someone special. I (Kass) made one about his grandmother’s life for my grown son one year. I savored the process of making it as much as he enjoyed receiving it.

11.  Get super soft sheets and blankets for your bed. What a great place to snuggle up with a book! Or if you have a favorite chair or couch where you read, make sure it is equipped with a soft, warm throw.

12.  Bundle up and go for a walk in a small town. Most cozy mysteries are set in quaint towns and villages for a reason – they’re cozy!

How about you? What’s your favorite way to get cozy this time of year? (Keep it clean, folks, we are talking cozy mysteries here…LOL)

And Kirsten has another fun Christmas goodie for you!  She is celebrating the traditional 12 Days of Christmas with a new Doyle Witch cozy mystery on Instagram and Facebook! The episodes will start on Christmas Day and run through January 6th. And though a cozy witch mystery might seem odd for the holidays, it actually fits the 12 Days of Christmas theme.

According to folklore, the 12 Days of Christmas, the period between two major Christian celebrations (Christmas and Epiphany) and the switch between two calendar years, is thought to be a dangerous in-between time. Maybe this was part of the reason for the Victorian tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve.

So follow Kirsten on Instagram @KirstenWeissAuthor or on her Facebook page to read this episodic holiday mystery!

Gargoyle Chronicles cover

And don’t forget her new, quirky collection of short stories and a novella, The Gargoyle Chronicles, starring Brigitte, metaphysical detective Riga Hayworth’s gargoyle sidekick.

Kirsten Weiss has never met a dessert she didn’t like, and her guilty pleasures are watching Ghost Whisperer re-runs and drinking red wine. The latter gives her heartburn, but she drinks it anyway.

Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes genre-blending cozy mystery, supernatural and steampunk suspense, mixing her experiences and imagination to create vivid worlds of fun and enchantment.

If you like funny cozy mysteries, check out her Pie Town, Paranormal Museum and Wits’ End books. If you’re looking for some magic with your mystery, give the Witches of Doyle, Riga Hayworth and Rocky Bridges books a try. And if you like steampunk, the Sensibility Grey series might be for you.

Kassandra Lamb 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 about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please sign up via email (upper right sidebar) to 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

8 Do’s and Don’ts When Portraying Psychopaths and Narcissists (Plus a New Release)

by Kassandra Lamb

This week, I’m hanging out again over at Jami Gold’s place with a follow-up to last week’s post—Psychopaths, Sociopaths and Other Bad Guys and Gals—in which I described psychopaths and narcissists.

Today’s post is aimed at writers, but I think readers will find it interesting as well. It will help you know, while reading a book, whether the author actually did their research, or are they just going along with the common myths and misconceptions about these disturbed individuals.

Plus we have a new release, a collection of short stories (with a  bonus novella) from Kirsten Weiss.

8 Do’s and Don’ts When Portraying Psychopaths and Narcissists

In last week’s post, I talked about various motivations that “normal” people might have for becoming villains, and also described psychopaths and narcissists—how they tend to act and what circumstances create them.

Today, I want to address some of the common mistakes I see some authors making when presenting their antagonists.

So here are some do’s and don’t’s (and a couple of can’s and should’s 🙂 ).

1. Whatever you do, don’t portray a psychopath, or even a narcissist, as having a “normal” childhood. Normal childhoods do not produce adults that are this messed up.

They might contend that their childhood was just fine, but this is either denial on their part, or a lack of understanding of what “normal” really is.

A psychopathic character may very likely have a psychopath for a parent, and that parent, or perhaps both parents, also would likely be abusive. Or one parent may be harsh and overbearing, while the other is weaker and more dependent. There are other possibilities for back stories as well, but keep in mind the two main factors: someone handed down the psychopathic genes (could be a grandparent; the genes can skip a generation) and some seriously bad stuff happened in childhood. (For more on the origins of this disorder, see The Making of a Psychopath.)

2. Don’t have a full-blown psychopath suddenly develop remorse and empathy because they fall in love. First of all, a full-blown psychopath is not capable of love as most people experience it. They may latch onto someone and believe that they love them, but it will be a self-centered, need-based attachment, with little or no concern for the partner’s feelings or needs…READ MORE

And to lighten the mood a bit, here’s Kirsten Weiss’s new release, starring her metaphysical detective’s sidekick, a sentient gargoyle with a French accent!

The Gargoyle Chronicles: A Riga Hayworth Mystery (Riga Hayworth Paranormal Mystery Book 8)

Gargoyle Chronicles book cover

Brigitte is Nevada’s bravest and most brilliant gargoyle – and there’s no better sidekick for metaphysical detective, Riga Hayworth, when it comes to solving supernatural crimes.

In this quirky collection of urban fantasy short stories, Kirsten Weiss takes Brigitte and Riga on a series of twisting adventures and brings readers behind the scenes of the Riga Hayworth paranormal mystery novels.

These thirteen stories include the new Riga Hayworth novella, The Chaotic Detective!

In “Brigitte and the Gambler,” Brigitte must protect the unluckiest man in Nevada. In “Riga and the Spirit of the Cemetery,” the pair stake out a cemetery to catch a serial killer. And in “A Tarot Tale,” we learn Brigitte’s secret history. Traveling through time and the world’s darkest corners, from the bottom of Lake Tahoe to a sinister Vegas theater, there’s no scene too strange for the indefatigable metaphysical detective and her familiar, Brigitte the Gargoyle.

If you like kick-butt heroines, you’ll love Brigitte and Riga!

AMAZON    APPLE    NOOK    KOBO

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kass is a retired psychotherapist 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 about twice a month, 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. 🙂 )

To see our Privacy Policy click HERE.

Psychopaths, Sociopaths and Other Bad Guys and Gals

by Kassandra Lamb

By far, the most popular posts on our site are those discussing psychopaths:  What Is a Psychopath?, Are Psychopaths Born or Made?, and Can Psychopaths Be Cured?

Why are we humans so fascinated by these people who are essentially evil incarnate? I don’t have a good answer for that, but I don’t think it means we like that evil. Perhaps we are so intrigued because it is hard to fathom how some people can end up that way.

Today, I’m hanging out over at Jami Gold’s cyber-home, talking about psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists and other kinds of villains. What are the differences between these labels? How do the people who merit these labels behave? And what causes these pathological patterns of behavior?

Psychopaths, Sociopaths and Other Bad Guys and Gals

One of the toughest tasks we authors face is deciding how to portray our bad guys and gals. Will we make them out to be misguided and conflicted souls, or totally evil psychopaths, or somewhere in between? And exactly what is a psychopath anyway?

Legend of Sleepy Mayfair coverThis question came up for me recently as I finished up a Halloween story in my cozy mystery series. I was tempted to go the conflicted soul route and have my antagonist be at least partially redeemed at the end, but some of the things this antagonist was destined to do, it would take a full-blown psychopath to go there. So that’s the direction I had to take.

Sometimes, like in this case, the plot dictates how evil and lacking in remorse the antagonist must be, but other times, most times really, we may want to have at least some positive traits in our bad guys.

So how to do that and still be true to human nature? (As it really is, not how it is portrayed all too often in movies and TV shows.)

What Is a Psychopath Anyway?

First, let me clarify our terminology. Sociopath and psychopath are essentially the same thing. They are two different words, coined at different points in the history of the mental health field, but referring to the same people … and neither is still officially used in the field today.

The official terminology is now antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), and members of the mental health field will rarely use the terms sociopath or psychopath in any official capacity.

But saying “a person with antisocial personality disorder” is a bit cumbersome, so mental health professionals, especially in conversations with lay people, may unofficially use the word psychopath.

I will come back to the concept of sociopath in a bit.

So again, what is a psychopath exactly, i.e., someone with ASPD? They are noted for several personality traits, the most troublesome being a lack of remorse and inability to feel empathy for others. They engage in antisocial behaviors, such as aggression, stealing, lying, etc., with no concern for who they are harming. Indeed, they often get off on the sense of power that harming others gives them. They also tend to be thrill-seeking and impulsive.

What is a psychopath? A man who smiles for his mugshot.

This psychopath has just been arrested for multiple murders. He is smiling for the mugshot.

They have a very high threshold for stimulation, a fancy way of saying that it takes a lot to make them feel anything. So normal life, that would make most of us quite happy, feels incredibly boring to them. Thus the thrill-seeking. Also, their high threshold for stimulation keeps them from feeling fear in situations that most of us would find quite scary (like being arrested).

This means they will do some pretty outrageous things, either ignoring or rationalizing away the potential negative consequences for themselves. The really smart ones, however, may meticulously plan out their evil deeds, but this lack of fear can often be their downfall.

Antisocial Personality Disorder is caused by a combination of genetics and a harsh, abusive environment growing up. More on this in a moment.

Other Bad Guys and Gals

Sometimes we will want our antagonists to be basically good people who find themselves in bad situations. Maybe something pointed them down the wrong road—an event where they did something bad accidentally, or in self defense, and are now tortured by guilt about it. Maybe something extremely important to them is at risk and therefore they are willing to violate their moral code in order to protect it.

These bad guys and gals will feel guilt regarding their behavior, but they will push it aside as best they can and/or rationalize it, sometimes via displaced anger … READ MORE

And stay tuned. Next week, I will delve further into how authors develop the villains in their stories.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kass is a retired psychotherapist 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.

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