Field Notes From Newtown: Reflections on What Constitutes Good Care in a Time of Crisis

December 19th, 2012

As published in The Huffington Post:


On Saturday morning, the feelings along the streets of Newtown, Conn. were conflicted — there was sadness and love, fear and pride, uncertainty and pride. It was a testament to the complicated emotions of being human. There to help, to witness and report, I was quickly moved myself. As I made my way in from the outskirts of town, I spotted the Sandy Hook signpost and a bouquet of flowers someone had placed at its bottom. I thought: “Nice touch.”

But then again, they looked awfully lonely — at once sweet, lovely and sad. I suddenly felt a sense of fear: fear of the emotions that I sensed would soon envelop me. Moments later, joining up with the larger community of people all working together to try to make quick sense of what had happened to this picture-perfect town just the day before, I was struck by what a phenomenal sense of community really means in action. It was immediately and viscerally evident, powerful, and had a life force all its own — all in the face of the media glare and the invisible eye of the world tuning in. There was a pulse, a vitality, a strength, and a will to endure. There was a sense that no one need feel alone in Newtown on Saturday. As President Obama said to the nation and the world from Newtown last night: “You are not alone.” I imagine he felt that in the fabric of the Newtown spirit. And he was right about that.

When a shockingly-unfathomable loss of still unimaginable proportion strikes, our natural response can be to say or think: “This is too much. I cannot comprehend this. I’m going to fall apart. I’m going to die.” This reaction — that we all have to some extent — may be initially lessened by the adaptive use of denial and minimization. “This can’t be,” we tell ourselves. Inevitably, as we have come to expect, the greater outcry, the greater noise we are subjected to is intense and difficult to avoid. It is a very big tent under which we need to identify the strong emotions that ultimately help us navigate human experience. We went to bed devastated Friday night and woke up on Saturday angry and afraid. We want answers and solutions, and we want to believe that somehow there is a way to move forward. But how? The start is by avoiding the urge to isolate, focusing on reestablishing a sense of safety.

Over the course of last Saturday in Newtown, I was over by two houses of worship, inside a diner, in the lobby of the middle school, where disaster relief counseling was underway, and alongside a park. I saw the familiar smiling and extraordinary comforting way everyone treated one another. It was with such grace, such courtesy and respect, with a genuine effort to understand and with a deep desire to help.

Being open to receive this form of loving kindness is the first step of the healing process. Continuing to remain open is the next step, the ongoing challenge. Whatever helps us is the right way to go. Be it the connection with family or friends, religion or counseling, what matters most is to continue to return to being present and open to what is a very natural process that — make no mistake about this — is built in to our very essence. We have a gift: We are capable of recovering from overwhelming loss. We are capable of grieving. It is sometimes a very long process, but it does lead to a healing, a resolution. We mourn, we grieve and in the end, we are able to carry on and find meaning in our lives — we are able to experience the full range of human emotions without feeling dominated by a single horrific and once overwhelming atrocity, though, of course, nothing will ever be the same as it once was.

In my psychiatry practice, I see and treat suffering of this order all too often. It is a great privilege, and it can take a great deal out of me personally. I have to be mindful to take good care of myself as well — to remain open to receiving loving kindness, to maintain a healthy routine, and to stay in contact with sources of support and understanding. Returning home early Sunday morning after such a long and draining day, I made time to stay up and talk with my wife and a few friends, despite the very late hour. I was very moved by what I had seen and heard and experienced: I needed to share. Then, I took to bed and surprised myself by really sleeping in — for more than 12 hours. Everybody must take good care.

On the Verge of the Vernal Equinox

March 18th, 2012

As Published in Psychology Today

From: The Emotional Calendar


We are only days away from the Vernal Equinox with the sun center on the equatorial plane and the days and nights of equal length. Interesting astronomy aside, this means spring is just about here!


Think of in how many ways you appreciate this.  We’ll look outside in a moment, but first let’s look inwardly. Do you already notice the upsurge of restive energy that heralds spring? There is an increase in metabolism and turnover of brain neurotransmitters. That revving up is the basis of spring fever, which is happening even on a cellular level. In The Emotional Calendar, I explain in considerable detail how we can expect and harness the energy that comes along with spring. Start by asking what or where spring has brought you in the past. Ask yourself: what have I come to expect from springtime? Here we are on the verge of something big – the season of renewal. Let’s take stock of what we can look forward to.


There haven’t been too many big holidays or built-in causes to celebrate for a while. Things quite down after the start of the New Year usually. We move on through the winter doing the best we can. Hopefully you found your way and made the best of what it has had to offer, whether you are a winter enthusiast or not. So spring should be all-good, you might hope or expect. But beware. Outside, its getting warmer and there is indeed more daylight. There is also more and more pollen. For some the real itch of spring is not that inner restiveness, but rather seasonal allergies, which can be truly daunting. Counter-intuitively, some people feel really overwhelmed with all the increased energy and life force that comes with this season. As a striking example of this, suicides peak in April. Beware. Seek support and counseling if you feel out of sync with the season’s positive offering.


Me? I used to look forward to spring break from school and I become conditioned to expect a ritual trip to someplace really sunny and fun. I am still geared up for my rite of spring, even though I don’t get it anymore as I used to. Now I have to plan carefully and coordinate my professional schedule with the family schedule. Last year I had travel plans all set and could hardly go last minute. I found a nice compromise — even though it wasn’t half as relaxing as I wanted. This year, no can do at all, but I am making other plans and staying focused on the good parts of what’s happening for me rather than lamenting what I used to do but can’t. As a colleague reminded me: “the only thing constant, John, is change.” I know this. We all do. The issue is that we are conditioned by earlier experiences with springtime. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures of this spring cue us to remember and relive aspects of springs past. I say, know this, expect this, and prepare for this. Then make a plan and do the best you can. That will lead to something you can feel good about, certainly



So, be realistic about what the spring offers and find a way to harness the rise in available energy and put it to good use. Now — right now — is a great time to list a few spring intentions. What could you do to improve your springtime? Will it involve a whole transformation or just a few choice adjustments? I recommend at least two spring spruce ups in your personal environment, and at least one spring commitment in your personal routine, attitude or outlook. Give it some thought. This is absolutely the most natural time of year to renew, rejuvenate, refresh, recommit – all for the sake of making yourself happier, more fulfilled, and in control of your life!


It’s a beautiful warm sunny day right now. I’d better stop blogging and go get me down to the river.


Chardon Shooting: Was Bullying a Factor?

March 4th, 2012

By: Deborah Brauser

February 28, 2012 — In the wake of the tragedy at a high school in Chardon, Ohio, a multitude of questions remain, including whether bullying and domestic violence were 2 of the main triggers that caused a teenage boy to embark on a shooting rampage.

According to eyewitness accounts, a 17-year-old boy took out a gun in the school’s cafeteria yesterday morning and without speaking began shooting his peers. By the time the rampage was over, 5 teenagers were seriously injured, including 3 who have now died. Of the other gunshot victims, 1 is currently in serious condition and the other is listed as “stable.”

Chardon High School, site of a recent shooting. REUTERS/Ron Kuntz

ABC News reported that the suspected shooter told police after his capture that he was the victim of bullying. According to other news reports and students at the high school, he was also described as an “outsider and outcast,” although he had “some friends.” He also reportedly had a rocky home life.

Although classmates offered differing opinions to reporters about whether the suspected shooter was a victim of school bullying, the general consensus was that the boy was relatively isolated in the community.

“Bullying isn’t simple name calling. It’s more intense, more severe, and more protracted. And the victim feels more and more isolated and hopeless,” adolescent and adult psychiatrist John Sharp, MD, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, told Medscape Medical News.

“Sometimes, there’s a desire there to turn the tables and to, in fact, become the aggressor. And it happens when everything piling up just feels like it’s too much.”

Psychosis Not Common

Dr. Sharp added that a violent incident does not usually occur because someone “snapped” but is actually an event that is planned, as appeared to be the case in the Chardon shootings.

“This person came in with a loaded gun and, with intention, committed this terrible crime. Obviously this was something he had thought about and planned in advance,” said Dr. Sharp. He added that psychosis is not usually part of the equation.

“In surveys, it’s been shown that someone who snaps is psychotic about 15% to 20% of the time. That’s a lot, but the majority of the time, it’s not psychosis. It’s just a state of desperation,” said Dr. Sharp.

We all have our limits…[and there’s] only so much that we can take. When something becomes intolerable, the only way to move on productively is to successfully reach out for help.
“We all have our limits, [and there’s] only so much that we can take. At that point, when something becomes intolerable, the only way to move on productively is to successfully reach out for help.”

According to an article published in 2011 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and reported at the time by Medscape Medical News, 15.6% of high school students have been victims of bullying, and 6.5% were both bullying victims and perpetrators.

The same report showed that victims of bullying were 3 times more likely to report being physically hurt by a family member and witnessing family violence than students not involved in school bullying.

Domestic Violence

With a population of about 5400, the town of Chardon, which is just outside of Cleveland, was described yesterday as the type of community “where everyone knows everyone else.”

Reportedly, the suspected shooter would catch a bus from Chardon High School to another school that specializes in at-risk kids. He was also living with his grandmother; his father reportedly had a history of violence against women, including violence against the shooter’s mother, according to the Cleveland newspaper The Plain Dealer .

In addition, CNN reports that both the boy’s mother and father had been arrested for domestic violence in the past.

Although it may seem that these types of events are occurring more and more often, they are actually still relatively rare, said Dr. Sharp.

Such events leave people searching for easy answers so that they can be prevented in the future. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.
Nevertheless, notes Robert Findling, MD, director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospital Case Medical Center and professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, such events leave people searching for “easy answers so that they can be prevented in the future. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.”

“One cannot definitively identify where and when such things can occur. That’s the bad news. The good news is, one, the seriousness of bullying is now better recognized, and two, these catastrophes are newsworthy because they remain uncommon. ”

Ominous Signs

Why do some victims of bullying and violence turn their frustrations inward, seeking solace through alcohol or other substances or attempt/commit suicide, whereas others project outward?

Officials and investigators confer outside of Chardon High School. REUTERS/Ron Kuntz

“This is a vital question, the answer to which is unknown,” answered Dr. Findling.

Echoing Dr. Sharp, he added that most teenage victims of bullies do not seem to be psychotic.

“It should be pointed out that psychotic disorders are conditions in which a teenager’s perceptions and thought processes are affected. Fortunately, most youngsters with psychotic illnesses, like schizophrenia, are not violent,” said Dr. Findling.

Dr. Sharp noted that an important protective barrier against these types of tragedies is supportive primary relationships with at least 1 parent-like figure. “That can really make all the difference,” he said.

In addition, he noted that social media can also often provide clues or warnings about potentially dangerous behaviors. In this case, the suspected shooter supposedly uploaded photos on Facebook of himself with guns and in December posted a poem that included the phrases, “now feel death not just mocking you…feel small beneath my might.” The poem ended with, “Die, all of you.”

“That’s pretty dark,” said Dr. Sharp. “A lot of times, we see people writing dark things, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to become violent. But is this something new? Are these behaviors changing and getting darker and darker? Maybe that’s a clue to a process that’s going on.”

He reported that some of his colleagues are starting to advocate for a system that can monitor social media for these types of “warning clues” by minors.

“Maybe it’s protective to try to consider some sort of intervention. Maybe some sort of outreach after the social media postings could have made a difference in Chardon. I don’t know.”

However, he noted that no single sign necessarily means an adolescent will do something dangerous.

“You can’t just point to a person becoming more introverted or suddenly wearing black or can’t account for their time. I think the people who can tell what are and are not warning signs are therapists who work with this population, [plus] coaches, teachers — people who are around these situations every day,” said Dr. Sharp.

The problem is that people who are getting bullied and feeling desperate and maybe preparing to either withdraw or explode have changes that can be subtle. So it can take a little while to notice these sometimes small changes over time.
“The problem is that people who are getting bullied and feeling desperate and maybe preparing to either withdraw or explode have changes that can be subtle. So it can take a little while to notice these sometimes small changes over time.”

Important Questions

Dr. Sharp also recommended that clinicians who treat children and adolescents should always ask whether they are being bullied.

“Ask open-ended questions and really explore what’s going on with these kids at each visit and then pay attention to the changes that are occurring,” he said.

Examples of questions to ask a child who reports being bullied include the following:

How do the kids who are doing the bullying act?
How do you react to the situation?
How do you make yourself feel better afterwards?
How long does it take to get into a better mood?
What happens when you go home?
Do you tell your parents about what is going on?
If so, what do they do that makes things better or worse for you?
What are you writing about?
How do other kids react to you?
“You ask all these questions of a specific nature to try to make it easier for an adolescent who has a private life to try to share that with you,” said Dr. Sharp.

Bullying Is Serious

Dr. Findling noted that there are currently no definitive methods to stop bullying, although several models have been studied.

The seriousness of bullying is now better appreciated than in the past. It is with that knowledge that definitive prevention methods might be developed in the future.
“That is the bad news. The good news is that bullying is now not just written off as something that is not important. The seriousness of bullying is now better appreciated than in the past. It is with that knowledge that definitive prevention methods might be developed in the future,” he said.

“It is important to note that such programs are likely to need tailoring to suit the age of the child, the setting in which the bullying might take place, and the severity of the bullying that might be occurring. So, one size is not likely to fit all.”

After a violent incident, such as a shooting, has occurred, children and adolescents in the affected community should be closely monitored by their parents, and they should be aware that counseling is available if they want to talk about their experiences.

“Acknowledgement is good, as is providing stability. Chardon is shutting down the schools for a bit, but you want them to reopen soon and normalize things in a way that acknowledges what happened,” said Dr. Sharp.

“For clinicians treating this population, it’s important to elicit what their biggest concerns are and then address that. Partnership, empathy, respect for what someone has gone through, and legitimization are all part of the bedrock of treatment here.”

Making this Season Right for You

December 18th, 2011

As Published in Psychology Today

From: The Emotional Calendar

I’m tired of believing that “it is what it is.” I don’t actually exactly even know what this means.

Let’s consider the realm of our experience and let’s consider the season. In this season – what I’d term the waning fall or early winter – we are, as is the case in all seasons, being affected by multiple determining forces. As I explain in detail in The Emotional Calendar, we simply must start by understanding what is influencing our moods in order to right away empower ourselves to find ways to make changes in our planning — external maneuvers or problem-based coping – as well as in our attitude and expectations — internal maneuvers or emotion-based coping.

So it pays to ask first: how has this season typically been in the past? And then: how is it going so far? Try to figure out whether physical factors like light or temperature are having a big effect. Next, consider man-made cultural expectations of the season. Are these significant and in what way? Try to be as sensitive and specific as possible. Finally, how about some significant event in the past that happened to occur in this season? To what extent are there sensory triggers sounds, smells, tastes that are reminding you of how you felt at this time of year sometime ago? These three dimensions – the physical, man-made cultural, and past personal experiential – will allow you to locate “where you are” with your own emotional calendar.

When all is taken into account, it’s pretty clear that our personal calendar is likely to be both similar to, and quite possibly almost completely different from, the emotional calendar of others. While it is completely understandable how someone might feel given the relevant forces that contribute to their waning fall/ early winter, this may be distinct from how you or another person is lined up to feel.

Anyway, with a broader awareness comes the power to effect changes that can make a very big difference going forward. You can change how you are affected by changing what you are exposed to. Don’t like late December and early January? You can make this season much more amicable by introducing new routines and elements that will make you have a different experience. Then, as long as you remember to change your expectations going forward, you will be able to look ahead to a better looking — improved — emotional calendar in order to feel happier, more fulfilled and in control of your life.

Yes, this is easier said than done. But making a series of small changes in the right direction will combine to make a big difference. I have found this to be true through years of clinical practice helping patients. I promise this will all help. That’s why I don’t buy the “it is what it is” thing. I say, “It is what you make it.”

So, happy Decembering, and happy Winter Solstice this week. As a patient of mine who “hates” winter because of her extreme sensitivity to the relative lack of sunlight once told me: “You know, nonetheless December 22nd is my favorite day of the year.” “Why?” I asked her. “Because its one minute longer that that day before, and finally I can look forward to the longer days again!”

Figure out what’s working on you, and what actually will work for you. Maybe find a “winter mentor” – someone who seems to be able to bear up to and enjoy the season in a way that you’d like to be able to as well. Be a winter mentor to someone else. Try to embrace what’s good or what could be good about the season. It is what you make it, after all.

Madoff Family Lessons in Suicide

October 31st, 2011

As Published in Psychology Today

The Madoff family very recently discussed their experiences with suicide. As a psychiatrist in the field of suicide prevention, let me take this opportunity to illustrate and discuss the two most important considerations in clinical staging, firstly, the progression of suicidal thinking — distinguishing between suicidal ideation, intention, and plan, and secondly, the lethality of suicide attempts — distinguishing between low versus high lethality circumstances.

Suicidal thinking may be either passing or ruminative. Ruminative thoughts are naturally worse as they eventually do tend to lead toward developing true intent. It is much like the saying: “you become what you think about most of the time.” Yet, thoughts alone do not necessarily mean the development of action. Psychiatrists, other mental health professionals, as well as all other concerned persons worry most about suicidal intent – the harboring of an enduring notion that suicide is a reality that needs to be carried out or, in some way, achieved. When true intent is coupled with planning, the risk multiplies further. A plan that has been considered carefully, detailed, provided for in terms of means, and rehearsed is the most deadly.

Mental health professionals further assess suicidal planning in two dimensions: inherent risk and likelihood of rescue. Visualize a two by two chart separating low from high risk on one dimension and low form high rescueability on the other. There are four possibilities.

Low Risk High Risk
Low Rescue Most Lethal
High Rescue Least Lethal

Mark Madoff hung himself on the anniversary of his father’s crimes coming to light. This was certainly a powerful and ultimately overwhelming day on his emotional calendar. He ended his life at home alone after his two-year old son was sound asleep. This suggests intention, planning, and awareness of lethal means. This combined high likelihood of completion and low likelihood of rescue – the most deadly combination.

Yesterday and today, Ruth Madoff discussed the circumstances of her overdose at home together with her husband Bernard Madoff. Evidently, they were suffering intense emotional pain; she said as much. An “impulsive” decision was made to take an overdose of pills. Ruth cannot remember much that happened, probably due to the anterograde amnestic effects of one of her medications – Ambien. Apparently, Bernie related that he took his other medications as well, and that they went to bed with their clothes on, planning on being found dead in bed in the morning. Yet somewhat earlier, Andrew Madoff had received a package containing some of his mother’s jewelry. He later made sense of this a part of her suicidal preparations – giving precious, sentimental belongings away in advance of the act itself. This makes their — or at least her — impulsivity that night seem otherwise, prepared for and not unforeseen. Perhaps it was partly planned and partly spur-of-the-moment. Either way, taking a relatively small amount of non-lethal medication in a place where they would presumably be found in a matter of hours illustrates the opposite of their son Mark’s attempt – low likelihood of completion and high likelihood of rescue.

Every day countless persons suffer from pain, guilt, anxiety, shame, hopelessness, despair, and isolation – all independent risk factors for suicide. A suicide is attempted every seventeen minutes in the USA. Clinical depression is a treatable and significant complicating factor. Two thirds of all persons who attempt suicide are depressed. Women attempt suicide four times as often as men, although men are twice as likely to complete the act. Protective factors usually include family support, and the feeling of love and concern from one’s community. Alert caring professionals can respond and intercede to prevent needless death.

It is one thing to worry, feel hopeless, anxious, and temporarily unable to carry on with life. In such a seemingly foreclosed place, thoughts of suicide are not uncommon. Reaching out for help is what makes the critical difference. The majority of times, individuals feeling isolated and despairing who want help do reach out at least once. I serve on the board of CrisisLink, an exemplary suicide prevention and intervention service in the metropolitan Washington DC area. We save lives everyday by responding when someone calls in despair. Be aware of the resources in your own community, reach out to a health professional, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if suicide is on your mind. Get help. There is much good that can be accomplished with your life. Suicide is a regrettable act.

This Columbus Day

October 10th, 2011

From: The Emotional Calendar
As published in Psychology Today

Happy Columbus Day again. I continue to offer you advice to embrace this easy, lazy, nothing-you-have-to-do in particular holiday. The lack of drama is what is so good. You can take a day off, have yourself a long-weekend, enjoy the break in your usual routine. If you have plans already, make sure you like the way they look today. If you are just considering what you might like to be doing, I say consider how you want to be today. Embrace the feeling you want to be feeling today and make plans accordingly. If you want to be lazy, don’t make too many plans. If you want to be off on your own, maybe take a meandering walk, or a long run, or bike ride. If you want to feel closely connected to those especially important in your life, remember the close connections that exist for you. Whether you reach out on line [good] or by phone [better] or in person [best], you can enjoy a personal day feeling the mutuality and interdependency that life requires. Enjoy it.

What does this all have to do with Christopher Columbus? Not too much, really. Born Domenico Columbo from Genoa, and eventually financed by the Queen of Spain, he led the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria in search of a new trading route to Asia came upon the Bahamas Archipeligo in 1492. The natives he described as people who live in god “en dios.” Indios in English — Indians. Some of us are bothered by history, finding this holiday more than a little disingenuous. C.C. discovered an already populated land, and didn’t even know where he landed, etc… But by the look of the Twitter trends today, most of us are spontaneously just into taking advantage of a nice day off, one way or another.

I say let’s step back and put this holiday into healthy perspective. As I encouraged last year at this time, please consider the following from The Emotional Calendar: “Unlike the momentous, grand-slam holiday weekends Memorial Day and Labor Day, Columbus Day is easy, and that’s precisely what’s so very nice about it. No big demands. This is the early fall, and it’s already underway. We’ve already put the work in to accomplish the transition from summer. New schedule, new look, new palate of colors and tastes – done. We’ve done the hard part. Now, Columbus Day provides just the right occasion to quietly celebrate rediscovering what we can and do enjoy about the season.”

This Year — Your Fall Fix

September 24th, 2011

How to align your fall season with what you need

From: The Emotional Calendar
As published in Psychology Today

Everybody knows the story of fall. It’s this season of industry, purposefulness, and accomplishment. As I described in my book, The Emotional Calendar, it is a time when energies align. Generally, it is a really good season to get up and get going. But while fall can be a time of great energy and change, it is also a bracing dose of sobriety for most of us from the sense of unstructured summertime. Whether we enjoy it or can’t wait for it to end, autumn is a return to reality: back to work, back to school, back to the routine whatever it might be.

Your fall season ought to feel very much like you are used to having it feel. So I say, stop and practice a little more self-awareness. In so doing, take a look at what you are experiencing now, as well as at what’s just ahead. How do you expect your fall to be? Consider each of the two possibilities — that this season is in fact looking to be very predictable based on past experiences, and conversely that this season is looking really quite surprisingly different. Ultimately, you will be able to grant yourself the opportunity to make changes for the better, if you so desire. One big lesson from understanding The Emotional Calendar is that we all are in fact able to make strategic changes in our outlook and adjust/regulate our involvement with the seasons in order to lead a happier, more fulfilled, and in control life. That certainly is the fix.

Let me suggest some ways to make all this easier. Try answering these questions first. “The main reason I really like/dislike the fall is __________.” “To me, more than anything else, the fall means __________. “In contrast to my “summer attitude”, my “fall attitude” is much less __________, and much more __________.” Then ask: What would “being strong” in the fall actually mean for you? How would that work exactly? Now take a good look at what you have revealed for yourself. Get in touch with a sense of positivity. Think of a few small adjustments to your fall routine that could make a big difference for you. What support would help you put these into the works? Set an intention to proceed in fall 2011 in an importantly, even slightly different way. And tell your plans to someone who cares about you. I’m pretty sure this will all encourage the fall season to turn out better, and hopefully well. I’ll be rooting for you certainly.

A little later on we’ll be remembering to turn our clocks back an hour. You remember, “fall back etc…” Even in so doing, keep in mind that we are moving forward. We can align better our fall season this year what we know we want and need.

Summertime’s Great Fourth of July

July 4th, 2011

From: The Emotional Calendar
As published in Psychology Today

This is the Fourth of July. In America, we go big. We let it all hang out, as we gather to celebrate Independence Day and being American. The red, white, and blue, the fireworks, barbequed hot dogs, corn on the cob, maybe even some apple pie. There is a lot of flag waving, especially so in the smaller towns it seems, maybe your town even has a parade When I am in Boston, a pretty seasonal town, I make sure to enjoy the free-spirited, campy Americana leading up to the big Pops concert. I like wandering early on through the gathering picnickers who’ve staked out their spots along the Esplanade, camping out at dawn until the massive fireworks display, much later tonight. There’s a rehearsal concert the night before which started off a much smaller affair. I used to be able to wander right in during the evening performance and sit down to watch for a while. Now that too has become really popular and a bit too crowded. I can still skirt around the grassy edges though, or just walk right up and down Storrow Drive that is closed to cars for this occasion.

To me, what’s also significant about our Fourth of July is that it marks mid-summer very, very clearly, with a big American flag staked in the sand. For those of us who keep a close eye on these things, on The Emotional Calendar, there’s the worry that after the Fourth of July, before we’re ready, comes the feeling that summer’s already speeding on by. You know what I mean, like Yogi Berra remarked, “it gets late early around here.” It’s the early deep phase of the season…

Now I say: hold on a minute. You can be in charge of how you feel about this. Technically, summertime continues on for a good long while. If you consider that summertime officially started June 21st and goes until Sept 21st, then you’re golden. Even if you consider Memorial Day the kick-off to summer as I do, and Labor Day the end, you still have more to look forward to than has passed already. So stretch it out in your mind. Push spring way back to the left and fall way, way ahead to the right. There’s a lot of room for summer right now. You make sure of that.

Ask yourself: where have you been on this day in years past? What stands out in your mind? What is the collective experience with which you are left, the amalgam of vague recollections, all stacked together? Remember the influences upon you – the physical effects of light, temperature and humidity, the cultural and societal influences and expectations, and your family and personal experiences, event anniversaries from years past. Ask yourself: how do you feel about this holiday, and then find out some more about how come.

Now, turn your attention forward. Remember this about your Emotional Calendar after all, and you can do something about it. Consider how would you like your Fourth to be. If it’s not too late for this year, review your plans and decide how to make the best of them. Can you shade anything a little differently that would work out more pleasingly? How about getting a little more, or less, involved with what’s going on right now? Maybe dive in headfirst and come up with a smile on, or sit down with a smile on and just watch the parade. This is a happy time holiday. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Me? I’m going up to the roof deck.

Father’s Day Cares

June 19th, 2011

From: The Emotional Calendar
As published in Psychology Today

Happy Father’s Day, everyone. That’s right — everyone. Whether you have had a close or distant relationship with your own father, whether you are, or aren’t, a particularly good father yourself, whether you care a lot about acknowledging this day, or really couldn’t care less, let this day be at least a momentary acknowledgement of what paternity may, in fact, mean to you.

Here is a day that typifies the “Hallmark” holiday. When was this actually invented? Was the idea really to sell greeting cards? In America Father’s Day originated in the early twentieth century, and has been tended to by numerous US Presidents, becoming a permanent national holiday in 1972. We are living in a culture that acknowledges and reminds us of potentially important dates in the calendar for myriad reasons. The key question is whether Father’s Day is an important day on The Emotional Calendar for you, on your emotional calendar? Just ask yourself, please — why or why not?

My Father’s Day reflection takes me all the way from my maternal grandfather to my own children (who are old enough to have children of their own, which would make me a grandfather, which, mercifully, neither they nor I are emotionally ready for, as yet). So my own father, whom I called this morning as soon as I woke up, factors in importantly — although in a broader context. When I reflect upon Father’s Day, I am reflecting on understanding, longing, and on what it really means to “man up.” In this life, where we sometimes have to wander so far to find answers that are most often right there in our heart, I am often looking for inspiration. What does a father do? How does a father decide? What does it mean to be a great Dad? Can one be a pretty great Dad, or even a good enough Dad, and still be a real human being, flawed as we all are and far from perfect?

In striving to be a great Dad myself, I have found that being emotionally present, fair, clear, and careful matter most, along with the love, of course, which comes so naturally. Keeping a sense of humor, accepting that I am not perfect, and learning as I go have proven remarkably useful. Do I need to reflect so much on all of this? I say: yes. Not necessarily today. But why not? Father’s Day provides just that occasion. Now it’s time to fire up the barbeque, and wait for my kids to call.

How to Understand What Sexting Represents For The Representative

June 11th, 2011

Weiner Lessons, with help from The Emotional Calendar
As published in Psychology Today

There’s really no proper place on The Emotional Calendar for a person in a committed relationship to sext unless an explicit consensual arrangement has been struck up. This can happen, even though it still requires — demands really — an understanding of what the behavior is all about. What the behavior is all about, what the underlying drive reveals and how the whatever-it-is urge is handled (pun intended) is determining – defining really – of character.

In any 2-person relationship actually three entities exist – the one, the other, and the relationship between the two. All three exist and all three must strive to thrive. The trick is first to realize this, and, second, to figure out how to act so as to gratify and nourish all three, or as many as possible. Certainly, the idea is to not cause harm, like the first great admonishment in medicine by Hippocrates — primum non nocere – first of all do no harm.

So, unless Representative Weiner and Huma Abedin had an understanding (implausible) that he could sexualize the interest of internet friends and followers and exchange sexually provocative and explicit words and pictures, these actions which he may have thought were good for him were a betrayal and clearly bad for the relationship. Actually, in the light of day, they can plainly be seen as bad for him and bad for Ms Abedin too.

It is really difficult to understand how he thought this course of action could have ended other than badly. Even just with respect to his own personal entity, instituting sexually charged relationships with women he haven’t met, and therefore couldn’t know anything about for sure, who may likely not be who they represented themselves to be, is hardly consensual, and is evidence of such poor judgment that colleagues and constituents must think again about his character.

Therapy would help. I think we may all need a little — or a lot of therapy now and then to make better sense of our actions, of how we are feeling, of what drives us, and of what allows us at times very dangerous entree into a “consequence free zone” that is pure fiction and very damaging to all three entities.

As we know from The Emotional Calendar, things happen for reasons that are knowable, if not already known. We may be triggered by present forces as well as by forces from the past. We can work in therapy to increase our understanding in order to gain insight into our motivations, and control over our behaviors. Insight-oriented psychotherapy, support and guidance is what this doctor would order stat for the Representative.