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Left Coast / Right Coast: Psychobabble

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Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Scott Brown.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Scott Brown.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

I guess I’ve been interested in psychology ever since I took a basic course as an undergraduate. Over the years I’ve both read and experienced, first hand, the science of psychology. Following are a few remembrances of these experiences.

Let me start with the old joke about psychologists. The joke is that when a pretty woman walks into a room, the psychologist looks at the other men and not the woman. (Note, not to be accused of being sexist, I have assumed that the psychologist is a man hence the somewhat unexpected behavior.) I think this summarizes my over-view of psychology today.

Let me also be clear. Properly applied, psychology (or psychiatry) is a very useful tool. However, there are some things that simply do not necessarily require professional treatment.

For example, let’s say you were almost involved in a traffic accident because the driver in front of you did something stupid. Only your quick reflexes avoided a nasty accident. Now some people might get out of their car and start to scream at the “offending” driver. In a very few cases, that confrontation might result in violence of some sort. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that this driver has some sort of problem/issue. Perhaps he is a rageaholic. They simply do not tolerate irritations of any magnitude.

There is a great episode of Seinfeld that deals with this: "Rageaholics." George Costanza (who some people are convinced is a thinly disguised version of Larry David – the co-creator of the series) clearly has a rage problem.

At any rate, when you study psychology you learn that when you get mad at someone else, in fact what you are doing is allowing yourself to get mad. In other words, the other person is not making you mad, you are allowing yourself to get mad.

The theory is that by accepting responsibility for your own behavior, you can overcome this behavior. But no matter how much one accepts this theory, one would have to have the patience of Job to not allow yourself to get mad at the stupid or insensitive actions of another towards you.

Another important lesson from psychology is that people who may be depressed are actually just internalizing another form of rage. It is a well-understood tenet of psychology that rage turned inwards can cause depression.

There are literally hundreds of courses out there, some costing hundreds of dollars, to teach you how to handle your feelings. How to “not allow oneself to get mad,” how to "not over-eat or over-drink," as a way of coping with life’s stresses.

In most self-help books, they always attempt to teach you that how you internalize external stresses is a key secret to being a happy well-adjusted adult.

In closing, I’d like to relate a Sensitivity Training course I attended 30 or so years ago. My company sent me to this course as a reward for being a “valued” worker. The course was deliberately held in a somewhat remote place, the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec province in Canada, so that way we could focus on these behavior modification techniques without distraction.

The first exercise in the first session was to have each person in the group (about 25 of us) relate some experience that would help the group (and the professionals observing us) understand what issues, if any, all of us had.

The very first person who got up said: “I’m hanging off a cliff by my fingernails. I am barely hanging on. And someone is stomping on my fingers.”

After hearing this story, that night I double locked my room door and put a chair up against the doorknob. This could have been the introduction to a Stephen King horror novel.

Whether this person was simply “stressed out” by events at work, or whether there was some actual paranoia at work was never determined. But it reminds me of the old joke:

In a baseball game, when the catcher goes out to the mound to speak to the pitcher, the definition of paranoia is a guy in the third base stands who thinks they are talking about him. The only thing missing from this scene would be the guy standing up and shouting out to the players, “Hey, I know you’re talking about me. Stop speaking about me or there’s going to be trouble!”

Unfortunately, I can say that I’ve met people who resemble this scenario. That’s why I still double lock my house door at night.

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