Life lessons from a pandemic
CT MIRROR VIEWPOINTS -- opinions from around Connecticut
Life lessons from a pandemic
A psychologist sees more worry, more depression, but some positive changes, too, in our daily lives
With the onset of the coronavirus,to say life has changed dramatically is an understatement. In our small communities, we all know someone who has been exposed to the virus or has contracted the illness, some mildly and others life-threatening. How we live, work, think, behave and even breathe is now radically different. We are living in a new time –one we were not prepared for or even equipped to adequately handle. To watch the news and see how this virus is spreading worldwide, and even more so in our own backyard, is beyond belief.
Like Noah from the Bible, we are all cooped up in our homes, isolated, socially deprived, praying for a sign of hope, be it a dove, a rise in our 401k, a job offer, schools reopening, a plateau of the pandemic curve or even a politician willing to tell the truth. How can we not feel frustrated and helpless, when we hear the medical experts say “the virus dictates how we live and react not the other way around.” How can you feel nothing but despair when we are told the pandemic is going to get exponentially worse before it gets better.
As a clinical psychologist who practices in Fairfield county, many of my patients are traumatized by how their lives have changed so quickly. We are no longer going in to work, our kids are now being home schooled, our food is delivered, we are home alone with our immediate families, socially isolated, financially insecure, and emotionally drained to the point of being numb. If we see neighbors it is from a distance, at best a walk together on opposite sides of the street. Nothing is the same. Nothing is normal. Even Amazon’s two-day delivery, something we have all taken for granted, is now a distant memory. Time seems to have changed. We are not moving as fast, a day home schooling or going food shopping can feels like an eternity. Each week that passes now feels more like a year than seven days.
The psychological profession has also adapted to this new reality. Like most other occupations, we are working remotely, doing video conference sessions from our homes, wearing the new business causal, a dress shirt with pajama bottoms. While at first slightly awkward, video sessions over time begin to feel natural. My patients are glad to talk, have someone there they can count on each week to listen and provide insight and understanding — perhaps a normal hour routine is much appreciated in the midst of uncertainty and worldwide angst.
There is no question, the people I talk with are having a difficult time. Our sense of normality, our everyday routines, the feeling of being in control of our actions and surroundings, which we have all taken for granted, is no longer present. The anxious are more anxious, the depressed are more depressed, the lonely never felt more isolated. In the midst of all the the tragic stories and emotional suffering I have witnessed as a result of this deadly virus, there are surprisingly some positive psychological changes that I have noticed listening to my patients. While people cannot go to work or the supermarket, go out to dinner, socialize with a friend, or even workout at the gym, they are spending a lot more quality time with their immediate families. Parents are playing with their kids, spouses are cooking dinner together, children are thinking about the well-being of their older parents and elderly neighbors. Even Democrats and Republicans are pulling together to pass necessary humanitarian aid across the global to help others.
Maybe there is a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps the world was moving a bit too fast. Maybe there was too much divisiveness and intolerance in the world. Have we been taking things for granted, not appreciating the preciousness of our daily existence and the vulnerability associated with our own finitude? Have we forgot the principles of the Golden Rule? Have we not made time to smell the roses, let alone spend an evening playing a game or watching a movie with your kids? Perhaps isolation and solitude is not such a bad thing. Maybe it is time we all reflect upon the story of Noah and the Ark and look forward to the passage of 40 days and 40 nights, the passing over of this plague, and the signs of spring, rebirth and new beginnings.
When I was a college student I remember reading Carlos Castaneda’s books about his spiritual teacher, a Mexican Indian named Don Juan. Don Juan taught Carlos that he should remember “death is always over your left shoulder.” Perhaps this pandemic can teach us all a lesson of how important it is to remember our humanity and the importance of each moment when faced with one’s own temporal and fragile existence.
Martin H. Klein is a clinical psychologist who practices in Fairfield and Westport.
Stock Market Fluctuations: Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Mood Swings
As a clinical psychologist, with offices in Fairfield and Westport, I work with many individuals who are heavily invested in the stock market. A significant portion of my clientele, in fact, work for financial institutions; and their bonuses are directly tied to the performance of the markets. With so much at stake, it is no wonder that the stock market can affect how they experience their own sense of financial stability and well-being.
For some, who may have lost their job or been wiped out by margin calls, a negative change in mood is understandable. For others, however, whose losses are just on paper, their sense of despair can become grossly exaggerated to the point of irrational fears about current and future prospects. These people suffer from what I call “Dow Affective Disorder.”
A person with “Dow Affective Disorder” experiences bipolar swings in mood as the market moves up and down. In a bull market they feel elated and invincible. They may spend freely, even to the point of living beyond their means. Some may even use leverage or credit to achieve a persona of grandeur. In a bear market, however, these individual may fall into a deep depression; and feel stressed out to the point of irrational panic. They fear the worst— financial apocalypse. Their self-esteem goes from good to bad. They feel like a failure and their excess spending grinds to a halt. They become overwhelmed with regret. “I should have sold before it crashed, what was I thinking, how can I be so dumb.” Just as they beat themselves for not being fully invested when the market is in an uptrend, they now torture themselves for not being smart enough to divest before the downturn occurred. They fail to see their losses as temporary and fall into despair.
In many instances their depressed mood causes a myopia and colors how they function and relate to others. They tend to withdraw from their families and friends and their focus narrows to only events related to the market. Rather than be with their children or complete work assignments, they are glued to the television watching a financial channel. They engage in self-defeating behaviors that intensify their sense of failure. For example, they panic and sell their holdings at a loss, which further confirms their sense of doom. They forget about the good times and feel as if their future will never be bright again. Their whole life style takes a dramatic shift — they feel poor, tighten their budget and radically reduce spending.
For most people, a stock portfolio performance signifies nothing more than the monetary value of an investment vehicle at a current moment in time. These people tend not to pay attention to the daily fluctuations in the market and perhaps only glance at their investment statements on a monthly or quarterly basis.
For those who suffer from Dow Affective Disorder, however, there is an irrational compulsive attachment to the stock market. They are hyper-vigilant to the split second movements of the market. They are glued to their phones and are watching the market throughout the day in real time. They are aware of how much they lost each day and continually think about their net worth. If the market spikes up they get a temporary rush, only to be crushed again when the rally dissipates later in the day.
For these individuals, the stock market has become more than a financial vehicle; it is an all encompassing obsession that controls all aspects of their lives. Their perspective of the stock market has become detached from reality and at time can resemble a delusion. Their portfolios no longer just signify the value of money, but rather it now also signifies how they value themselves as a person. How they do in the market becomes more of a symbolical signifier of self-worth and less about how they will meet their financial obligations. The signifier and the signified has become displaced and the stock market has now attached to an imaginary internalized scoreboard by which one’s sense of self- worth is judged. If the stocks they own are worthless then they as individuals are worthless is the kind of distorted thinking that leads to generalized despair.
The psychological pain associated with this disorder can have long term psychological effects. Like most depressive disorders, it can lead to symptoms such as gastrointestinal distress, back or neck pain, insomnia, change in appetite, decrease in libido, poor concentration and even suicidal ideations. It can destroy families and careers.
To ask for help is not easy for a person plagued by hopelessness and low self-esteem. However, it is essential for a person suffering from these issues to seek professional treatment and learn more adaptive ways of being. Nobody likes losing money, but cycles of severe emotional ups and downs are harmful both to one’s pocketbook and long term health.
The content of this blog was recently featured in Barron's Magazine as well as published in the CT Post.
Dr. Klein is a clinical psychologist who practices in Fairfield and Westport CT. In addition to being a psychologist, he is also an executive coach who specializes in working with people in the finance industry.
When I was growing up I had a black and white television set with two antennae ears. At the tips of the antennae we wrapped tinfoil to extend the ears in order to improve reception. While the TV set was big and bulky, the screen itself was small. It kind of resembled the face of the robot on the television program Lost In Space, which was a TV series that was popular during my childhood. It had three manual knobs, one to adjust the sound, a second to change the channel and a third to control the picture so it stayed still and did not vertically roll up and down the screen. In those days, watching TV was a physical feat — it required getting up and having to adjust the different apparatuses on the set, including the rabbit ears. Growing up in New York City in the 1960s I was privileged to get seven channels – 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13. There always seemed like there were many options to watch.
Each night, at six o’clock sharp, my family would sit around the television set to watch the news hour. In those days, the evening news was an hour of serious public affairs coverage. Many historians describe the three network news hours on channels 2, 4, and 7 as the Golden Age of Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley. My family was dedicated to watching the CBS network channel with the news anchor Walter Cronkite. Back then, there was no doubt that Cronkite was reporting the news in an object manner. He spoke with an authoritative tone and no one questioned the facts of his stories. Cronkite ended each program with the saying: “And that’s the way it was.”
In the 1960s, the news was broadcast in black and white, both literally and figuratively. It was about fact and was not allowed to be colored by ratings. The networks’ missions were to keep the news hour separate from the rest of their commercial broadcasting. This was due both to the image they wanted to present to the public as well as government regulations. The news hour was seen as a public service, and not a revenue base for the network.
As a child, I remember sitting with my family in front of the television, watching the news clips from the Vietnam war, each night seeing the number of casualties presented across the screen. The news was serious business. In the 1960s, the networks still had a code of ethics and sense of moral responsibly. Public figures were always protected by the media, their flaws and indiscretions were hidden from the public. The day John Kennedy was assassinated, the principal came into our classroom to tell us the sad news, and each student experienced his death as a personal loss. The nation grieved as if a family member had died on that day. John F. Kennedy was idolized as an iconic leader and his family’s life style set the cultural trends for the country.
In the 1970s, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) began to deregulate the broadcasting networks, paving the way to the elimination of the divide between news and entertainment. Tabloid news shows, like Current Affair, blended news and entertainment. By the end of the 1970s, tabloid news programming became a significant revenue source for the networks. The more dramatic and colorful the tabloids became, the greater its ratings and profit. Around this time, the networks began to upgrade their picture transmissions from black and white to color. With the demise of black and white television, the clear distinction between fact and fiction also began to narrow.
With the televised impeachment of Richard Nixon, a certain innocence was lost. We were no longer living in “Camelot.” I vividly remember watching the president resign on television and being shaken by the feeling of uncertainty and disbelief. How can the president of the United States do something so out of character of the highest office? I thought this event was so significant, I decided to tape the president’s resignation speech with my cassette recorder. Interestingly, on the flip side of the same tape, I recorded a standup comedy routine from George Carlin. Looking back, the idea that I placed Richard Nixon and George Carlin on the same tape, perhaps signifies the sense of cynicism that I was beginning to experience by the end of the 1970s.
By the 1980s televisions were now hooked up to cable boxes. TVs began to look more like the digital computers on Star Trek than the clunky robot on Lost in Space. With remotes in our hands, we now had access to hundreds of channels bidding for our attention. We didn’t ever need to leave our seats to make adjustments. With cable television came the creation of CNN, a news station driven by ratings. CNN was the first network to bring you 24-hour live coverage. CNN not only reported the news, it became an interactive force that shaped and created the news in real time. With the replacement of the anchor person with “commentators” and “hosts,” the news no longer was grounded in fact, and the divide between truth and fiction began to blur further.
When Ronald Reagan, a Hollywood actor, was elected president, a sense of what was real and what was theater was further called into question. I remember watching an episode of Saturday Night Live where they did a skit on Ronald Regan. In the skit he was portrayed as a tyrant to his staff, yet playing the character role of the goofy grandfather to an audience of children who were visiting the White House.
The 1990s saw the rise of several different 24-hour news channels. Each station tried to find its own niche in order to gain market share. For example, Fox News viewed the world from the political right, MSN and CNN more from the left. Networks no longer presented different perspectives of one reality, but different realities, based upon the political orientation of the channel you watched. The age of positivism — where we all shared a common black and white existence — has disintegrated into negative relativism — where different realities were strategic constructs devised by the networks to promote ideological agendas.
The networks no longer just presented the news, they now told you how you should think about the news. News now was less about facts and more about opinions. To quote Bill Moyers: “When you mix fiction and news, you diminish the distinction between truth and fiction, and you wear down the audience’s own discriminating power.”
The 2000s saw the arrival of social media. With the invention of the smart phone, individuals were now able to construct personalized realities and send them out on the World Wide Web. With a little bit of tech savvy, operatives were able to have their agendas go “viral” and target mass audiences. While social media has many positive applications, it also has a dark side in terms of its vulnerability to construct devious realities of lies and untruths. The internet’s ability to spread anti-social propaganda as well as harmful and infectious viruses has reached epidemic proportions. The news was no longer at home on your television, but it was now connected at all times and it followed you where ever you went. The news was 24/7, streaming in real time and in the palm of our hands.
By the year 2007, social media became a powerful controlling force, where in an instant a text or tweet was able to put thoughts directly into your head. Social media was like the Wild West, no regulations, ideas flying around from who knows where, with no sense of authenticity or legitimacy. Anybody can make news; even my friend Carla, letting the world know on Facebook that she had meatloaf for dinner.
Fake news has always been around. In previous times, it was referred to as propaganda.
Many people did not take Donald Trump very seriously during the 2016 election. They viewed him like one views an acting out child, not taking his antics with grave concern. I was in shock and disbelief when I woke up the morning after the election and discovered he won. During the campaign, I though he was just seeking attention and publicity, and did not actually want to be president. To many, it is still unclear whether Donald Trump is out of touch with reality, a calculative evil genius, or something in between.
While Trump was not a seasoned politician, at least by historical standards, he was in fact an accomplished Reality TV celebrity. He was well-schooled in the art of self-promotion and social media. For Donald Trump, what is right or wrong does not matter, what counts is how many clicks, and how much attention you get from your targeted audience. Trump created a unique message that resonated with a large enough disenfranchised population that enabled him to win the electoral college vote, despite not having the support of the majority of the population.
It was Donald Trump who invented the concept of “fake news.” Contrary to what the names implies, fake news does not signify news that is disingenuous. Rather it is a political tool utilized by a politician to destroy and suppress their opponent’s viewpoint, regardless of the validity of their arguments. Fake news is not the opposite of real news, but rather, the rewriting of history to promote one’s own personal agenda. In Reality TV, truth is not determined by facts, but rather, “the art of persuasion.” What is right or true has become replaced with who can shout or name-call the loudest, fastest and most often. In the world of social media, what mattered is no longer the content of your message, but rather how many eyeballs followed your tweet or “liked” your link so it can go viral or move up to the front page of a search engine.
Fake news has always been around. In previous times, it was referred to as propaganda. What makes fake news unique and different this time around, is the existence of social media — the internet’s ability to quickly spread propaganda worldwide in nanoseconds.
Despite other accomplishments, when historians look back upon Donald Trump’s legacy, it is his use of the term “fake news” that will likely be remembered as his most significant contribution to society. How he decisively divided the country into civil war — this time however, with tweets rather than ammunition.
As I sit on the couch in front of the TV with my iPad in my lap and the remote in my hand, I find myself surfing multiple sites in desperation to hear someone say “and that is the way it was,” rather than, this is the way I want you to think it is.
Dr. Martin H. Klein is a clinical psychologist who practices in Fairfield and Westport CT.
This article was originally published on January 15, 2020 in the CTMIRROR. A shorter version of the article was published in the CT Post and New Haven Register on January 25, 2020. Click on the buttons below to see articles.
And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself,
well...How did I get here?
From an early age we are taught to follow the rules of society very seriously. We are thrown into a predetermined set of familial, and more broadly, cultural norms that drive and define us. For most of our waken time, we act and do what we are told without question. We follow in our parent's foot steps and when we astray we are redirected back to the norm by modeling and conditioning.
As children we learn about ethics and morals. We learn to internalize what is right and what is wrong and how we should act, think and behave in different situations. Even before we are born, we have a name, a demarcation that already has significance and affects who we will become. We fear making a mistake; be it getting a "D" in school, not getting into the right college, choosing the right spouse, finding the right profession, raising your kids properly or saving enough in your 401k.
We live our lives propelled forward -- looking backwards only to remember where we came from, who we are, and the the ideals that guide us to who we become. Fredrick Nietzsche called it the "Herd," Martin Heidegger called it the "They," Sigmund Freud called it the "Super Ego," and Jacque Lacan called it the "the Symbolic." While these thinkers might not agree on all aspects of their philosophical presuppositions, their basic premise share a similar significance.
We are born into a historical world, with a language, ideology and common sensibility. Like in a familiar game or sport, we learn the rules so well, we are able to play our assigned roles so naturally, without even a moment of hesitation. Be it the language we speak, the activities we do, the popular styles or fashion we follow, how we communicate, feel or related to others. This human "belongingness" to a collective symbolic order is best illustrated in today's obsession with social media. In today's world, the toddler, before she can master walking, knows how to surf the World Wide Web. We live in a society where we communicate by text, are always "connected" and are absorbed in 24/7 media and news. Ask any parent about the panic that occurs when you try to take a child's I Phone away. The 'Internet Of Things" has become the the iconic symbol of our generation's alienation from our own subjectivity -- a constant connectivity to avoid self-reflection. This avoidance to be with one's own self has reached epidemic proportions in our current society; as manifested in the abundance of obsessions, compulsions and addictions to drugs, social media, video games and internet pornography.
For many of us, we are so absorbed living our lives we have no time to think about or question the very nature of our existence. It is only when we are jolted by a specific event or perhaps a developmental crisis, we find ourselves thrown into self reflection and ridden with existential doubt and anxiety. For many this existential crisis manifests in the form of psychological symptoms, be it panic attacks, insomnia, obsessions or compulsions, feelings of helplessness, a sense of directionless, lack of pleasure or molase. For many it is arises in the form of a mid-life crisis" or confronted by an illness or older age.
In my practice, I often here people say: it felt as if one day I awoken out of a deep sleep and found myself entangled into a strange life, surrounded by people I don't know and working a meaningless job I don't like. How did I get here? is a question many people ask when we meet for the first time in my office. Why did we turn out way we did? What were the underlining reasons that caused us to be who we are? How did our lives end up the way it did? How did things turn out so different from one's expectations?
Be it the 75 year old man who does not recognize his own reflection in the mirror. Where did the time go? When he looked in the mirror, the image looked more like his father than he. How about the couple who met in high school and fell in love at first sight. They were soulmates, best friends and always had each other's back. Now they find themselves married twenty years with two kids and they can barely look at each other without a conflict. A man who dreamt of fame an fortunate as a child, now counts the days to retirement and his government pension. How could a man with such promise end up working such a personally meaningless job? How does a child of the sixties, who fought for freedom and equality, find herself working for a hedge fund helping the top one percent become even wealthier? Or, the man faced with illness, question the purpose of his very existence.
How did we get here? is the question that arises when the self takes a step back and reflects upon its own historical relevance. What is the purpose of my life? It is also the question that unhingers the deeper existential questions of self-identity, free will, meaninglessness and personal finitude.
There is such a contradiction to the human condition. We take ourselves very seriously. Who we are, how we want to be perceived, the importance and consequence of our actions, what we look like, what we achieved, our physical health, our relationships, who we want to become. Yet, when we sit back and reflect upon the greater existential questions, our sense of self-importance can shrink to utter confusion and meaninglessness. Are we not all "bipolar" -- faced with one's own finitude, we race to achieve what we were meant to be, yet why bother, if in the grand scheme of thing, what we do does not matter.
This is the human dilemma. Faced with a life crisis, getting older and an awareness of one's finitude, cracks begin to form in the foundation of one's everyday identity, purpose and significance. Panic sets in unleashing powerful waves of existential doubt and anxiety. Reflecting upon one's personal history, like a literary critic analyzing a narrative, the individual begins the process of self discovery and understanding the thematic motives upon which their lives and self identity were constructed.
Personal freedom can be both a blessing and a curse. While you are free to choose your own destiny, this freedom comes with a price, an awareness of the ultimate groundlesssness of your existence. To face death, is both freeing in terms of the anxiety associated with stress of everyday decisions and concerns, yet existentially wounding and anxiety provoking when confronted with one's temporality and ultimate lack of permanency and significance.
Perhaps the question "How did we get here?" naturally leads us to the question "How do we get out of here? I will let Bob Dylan have the final words.
"There must be some way out of here" said the joker to the thief
"There's too much confusion", I can't get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.
"No reason to get excited", the thief he kindly spoke
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late".
Dr. Martin H. Klein is a psychologist with offices in Fairfield and Westport CT
Copyright, Feb. 2017, Martin Klein, Ph.D
It’s not that easy being green;
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves.
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold-
or something much more colorful like that.
It's not easy being green.
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're not standing out
like flashy sparkles in the water- or stars in the sky.
Life can be hard. We are born into the world so helpless and dependent on others. As we get older we are faced with many challenges and unknowns. Learning to walk is no easy feat. The act of separation is painful. The first day away from your parents is traumatic and anxiety provoking. School is a challenge and requires more and more work as we advance. When school does finally end, we are faced with the anxiety of finding a good job and preparing to grind through the hoops of advancement. While there are many wonderful things about having a family, child rearing is much more difficult than anyone can imagine. Raising a family is beyond a full-time responsibility. The required sacrifice of one's freedom for the good of the family at times can be exhausting and not so personally rewarding.
Yet we continue to tightly grasp onto our dreams. Many of the ideals that motivate us we digested even before we knew how to speak. We learn from our parents, teachers, and the many forms of social media who we should be, think, and become. We are told we can be outstanding. We want to "be all we can be." We believe we can become our idols if we dress or talk like them or buy their products. Even the child believes the commercials that the toy inside the box is the real thing, or that they can become the action figure or build a fighter jet just like perfect representation on the box top. We enter the socialization process and strive to be a good person, be responsible, have a good job, support our families and the community.
When you are young time seems to go so slow. A ten year old dreams of being a teenager, a teenager dream of being a college student, a college student dreams of being an adult. However, as we get older, our sense of temporality seems to change -- time seems to quickly speed up.
With a blink of an eye, you find yourself middle aged. When you look in the mirror you don't recognize yourself. You now look more like your own parent than your internal image of yourself. Your body is beginning to slow down and the wear and tear of aging results in aches and pains. For the first time, you are faced with the limitations of both your aging body and ability to live out your dreams and childhood aspirations.
Like Wile E. Coyote, from the Road Runner cartoon, you realize, perhaps for the first time, you are hanging onto a fragile branch that in time will crack and fall into the abyss.
You start to question the very premise of your existence. The metaphysical questions of the great philosophers no longer seem abstract and irrelevant. Who am I? What is my purpose? Can I ever feel whole or complete? Does my life actually matter? Am I a coherent self or a loose collection of fragment streams of thoughts and ideas? If I am going to die, does anything I try to accomplish count for anything in the larger scheme of things? Shakespeare's quote "to be or not to be that is the question" shakes your existential core.
To face one's own death can be frightening. Much of what we do in our lives is about losing ourselves in the everyday busyness — to avoid, deny and repress our own limitation. One of my clients coined the term "ego cowardice" to describe this failure to face reality and continue living a life based upon false hopes, oneiric ideals and deceptions.”
To face one's finitude takes courage. It might even feel a bit like bungee jumping without the cord. But the truth is that the cord was cut a long time ago.
Perhaps Rose, in the movie Moonstruck, said it best when she finds out her middle aged husband is cheating on her with a younger woman: "I just want you to know Cosmo, no matter what you do, you're gonna die, just like everybody else."
To accept one's existence might only be liberating for a moment. But in life -- a moment in time is all we have. Why not make the most of it.
Dr. Martin Klein is a clinical psychologist who specializes in insight oriented existential psychotherapy. He works with people dealing with issues related to life transitions, identity, intimacy, relationships, careers, spirituality, grief, aging, illness, loneliness and meaningfulness. He has offices in Westport and Branford CT
The most important men in town would come to fawn on me.
They would ask me to advise them, like Solomon the Wise.
Posing problems that would cross a rabbi's eye!
And it won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.
When you're rich, they think you really know!
Tevye -- Fiddler on the Roof
Money plays a significant role in how we live our lifes. While money is usually considered an asset, how we relate to money has significant psychological consequences.
The utilization of money as a means to trade goods has been around for thousands of years, be it a shell, a coin, a piece of paper or electronic payment. Money is valuable because we know everyone else will accept it as a form of currency. The coin or piece of paper independent of what it represents, however, is worthless. Money only has value as a symbol of what it signifies -- I.e, an elaborate barter system where you exchange services and goods.
Sometimes symbols can become over ridden with personal meanings. Like many symbols, money can detach from its originally intention and take on a totally different meaning with a life on its own. For example, money can be associated with freedom, power, personal identity, self-worth, or even immortality to name a few.
Money with all its symbolism and psycho-social significance can play a major role in people's life. Money can affect one's mental health, marriage, families, friendships, job, and even political viewpoints. It is no wonder that money is one of the top concerns people have when seeking out psychological services.
I see many individuals in my practice where money has become a symbol attached to one's sense of identity and self-worth. I saw one gentleman who was obsessed with how much he lost in the stock market 17 years ago. It still keeps him up at night. While he does well financially and lives a very comfortable life, he still looks back and beats himself up with "should have could haves" about his past investment strategies. No matter how good a person he is, his identity and self worth is dependent upon what he did with his money many years ago. He still owned this one stock that he lost a lot of money in. Each day he watches the stock market to see if this stock went up or down. If it goes up he feels good about himself, if it goes down, he has a bad week. He has a true case, of what I call "Dow Affective Disorder" -- an emotional roller coaster associated with perceived self worth based upon the paper value of an investment. You often hear that you should not be emotionally attached to investments, but to many, investments are the pillar upon which to value one's sense of worth. Is having a lot of money true wealth if you are still unhappy? Perhaps Benjamin Franklin had they right interpretation for this gentleman: "Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it."
I once saw a young man in his early thirties who was so successful in his career that he could retire. He did not seem to have much interest in the possessions that money could buy. However, he had no other interests than working and when he was not working he would become overwhelmed with anxiety. It was this anxiety that brought him to see me. Why did he continue to work so hard at making money and why did he get so anxious when he tried to relax? What was he getting out of the work that was so compelling? What he did for a living was about out-smarting others. Making the good deal and beating out his opponent is what made him feel good about himself -- gave him a sense of self worth. As I got to know him better, the connection to his childhood experience with his younger brother became apparent. He and his brother were always in competition, yet no matter how much he achieved, his parents always viewed his brother as being smarter and more successful. When he was winning the deal he felt good, but the moment he was not engaged in the game, he was once again overwhelmed with fears of being a failure.
I often hear stories of aunts or uncles who were thought to be poor, but died with millions of dollars in the bank. Why would a person live like a pauper, live so frugally to the degree of deprivation, yet die with so much money in the bank? What purpose did the money serve? Did it actually give them a sense of security or safety net from the unknown? Did they believe they could take it with them? Ironically, the distant relative that inherits the money often has a different sense of meaning attached to the money. Rather than deprivation for security, they see the money as something for nothing and freedom to spend. To quote Dire Straits: "Oh that ain't workin' that's the way you do it. Get your money for nothin' get your chicks for free."
Money is one of the top issues that comes up in marital therapy as a presenting stressor. What happens when two individuals, raised with very different financial values, become a family? What if he is a believer in saving and she believes in spending? What if one person comes to the marriage with much more money than the other person or has a significantly higher income? While the concept of two individuals become one under the eyes of God makes sense from a spiritual and emotional perspective, the merging of two bank accounts is far more complex and not so easy to work out. When you get married, should you keep separate accounts, have a joint account or have a little of both? How a couples handles their money can say a lot about a relationship. I often see couples in my practice, where one of the partners insists on having a separate account in his or own name. While under the law all wealth is communal, this separate stash gave this person a symbolic sense of control -- "without a separate bank account, I feel like I am vunerable and lose my sense of independence."
In premartial counseling the question of a prenup often comes up. The idea of a prenup by its very nature calls into the question the sancity of marriage. How can two people make a vow to be together forever if they they have a written contract prepared just in case it does not workout? I often hear, "I just don't find the idea of a prenup to be very romantic." Money can become a symbolic wall that protects individual interests yet keeps a wedge between couples.
Money clearly plays a significant role in how we relate to ourselves and others. At times, our real underlying concerns with money has to do with deeper issues such as identity, self-sufficiency, self-esteem, self-worth, freedom, stability, fear of loss, the battle for control and power and how one relates to mortality.
Perhaps there is more to wealth than money and more to money than wealth. Maybe Henry David Thoreau was right when he said: "Wealth is the ability to fully experience life."
Copyright Nov. 2016, Martin Klein, Ph.D.
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
Major depression is a disabling condition that can last for long periods of time. Without treatment, a major depressive episode can last months, years and even a lifetime. While the condition can worsen during the holiday season or winter months, it is most often triggered by a personal loss or negative situational event. MDD can run in families. In many cases, the mood disorder can be biologically or socially based or a combination of both. How one was raised as a child is an important contributing factor in MDD. Individuals who suffer from dysthymia, a low-grade continuous depression, are most vulnerable to bouts of major depressive episodes.
People who have never experienced major depression might not understand the depth or severity of the syndrome. There can be nothing more frustrating to a depressed person than someone telling them they should just “snap out of it,” “you have no reason to be unhappy,” or “you just need to pull yourself up with your own boot straps.” Major depression is not something that tends to go away on its own without professional intervention.
When you are clinically depressed you can feel totally helpless and have little hope that you will ever feel better. You tend to forget what it feels like not to be depressed. If someone tries to remind you of past times when you were happy, you quickly view their opinions as ill informed and agitating. You feel depressed and exhausted all the time. Your mind is occupied with negative obsessions, self-deprecating thoughts, and low self-esteem.
There is a melancholia to your mood. You might feel sad, overwhelmed and psychologically paralyzed. You might feel that your life has no purpose or meaning. You have a hard time falling asleep and if you do fall asleep you tend to wake in the middle of the night worried and frightened . You cannot shut off your mind. You thoughts are racing with irrational fears and anxiety provoking self doubts. When you are depressed you can become easily agitated and angry. Even the smallest gesture by another person can be misinterpreted and set off a tirade. Some people become so frustrated that their anger rises to the level of rage, whereby they become capable when provoked of doing bodily harm to themselves or others.
Depression can cause difficulties in focusing and concentration as well as deficits in abstract reasoning and memory. Being productive at school, work or at home can be difficult, if not impossible. In severe cases, a person might not have enough energy to get out of bed, care about their appearance or perform basic activities of daily living. Suicidal thoughts or actual attempts are not out of the question.
If you or someone you know suffers from clinical depression, it is important that seek professional help as soon as possible. Clinical psychologist are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of mood disorders. Depression is treatable. Utilizing a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), insight oriented psychotherapy and sometimes medication, the clinical psychologist can come up with an action plan to alleviate your symptoms and make changes to how you think, behave, relate to others, and experience yourself and the world around you.
Dr. Martin Klein is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of depression. He has offices in Westport and Branford CT.
A man says to his wife:
"Listen honey, whoever dies first,
I want to make sure it is okay that I remarry."
Jerry Seinfield on Choosing a Psychotherapist
Bob Newhart on Brief Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Woody Allen on Long Term Psychoanalysis
Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) on Hypnosis
Ray Ramano on Martial and Family Issues
Robin Williams on Alcohol Dependence
Jackie Mason on Self-Identity and Psychiatry
Stephen Wright on Early Childhood Memories
Jim Parsons (Sheldon) on Facing Your Fears
Bill Murray on Hypochondriasis
Richard Lewis on Psychotherapy and Termination
A psychiatric diagnosis is a cluster of psychological and behavioral conditions as defined by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Over the years, there has been numerous revisions of this manual. With each revision, there tends to be significant changes to the different menus of diagnoses and how each diagnosis is defined. For example, in the most current manual the diagnosis of "Asperger's disorder" has been removed and is now considered as a part of the class of "Autistic Spectrum disorders." In one of the earliest manuals there was diagnoses termed "Neurotic disorder." The term " neurosis" is no longer considered a proper diagnostic disorder and it has been eliminated from the manual.
So what happens to an individual who has a diagnosis that the American Psychiatric Association decides no longer should exist? What happens to the child I work with who has been labelled "Aspergers" for the past several years and now has a new diagnosis? What about poor Woody Allen? If he can no longer be considered a "Neurotic" can he still make movies?
As several of the great existential thinkers have pointed out, psychiatric diagnoses are not objective disorders, but rather are social constructs that change over time (i.e., Szasz, Lang, Foucault).
When I worked in a psychiatric hospital 25 years ago, the most popular diagnosis was "Schizoaffective Disorder." What did that diagnosis mean? Basically the person was having problems with his or her thought process (schizo) and well as his or her mood (affective). I remember doing an inpatient group with 10 individuals, all diagnosed with "Schizoffective Disorder". All of the people in group did have something in common -- they were not thinking clearly and had mood issues. However, the similarities stopped there. Each person was unique. Each had a different reason for being in the hospital as well as different backgrounds and issues. In fact, at the time, I remember thinking to myself, I would not be thinking clearly or be in a very good mood if I was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital against my will either.
Today the new popular diagnosis is "Bipolar." Almost everyone coming out of a psychiatric hospital comes out with a diagnosis of "Bipolar." If you are not thinking clearly or having mood issue you are now identified with this now popular disorder. The other widely popular modern day diagnosis is "Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD)". So many kids these days are being put on speed to improve their attention. Does speed improve one's attention, most definitely. Should all children who have focusing issue be diagnosed with "ADHD" and put on speed? I personally feel it is a significant social problem.
Psychiatric diagnoses are clusters of symptoms. They change over time dependent upon what is popular in the current culture; and more specifically the psychiatric community. Diagnoses are tools people in the field of mental health use to describe a cluster of symptoms and behaviors. There are many theories as to what causes a person to be and act a certain way, but these theories also change over time and are historically dependent on the culture and trends in the psychiatric field.
So what is my point? You should not define yourself by your psychiatric diagnosis. Diagnoses are helpful in understanding psychological symptoms and patterns of behavior. They can be a great tool for the clinician or the psychiatrist in determining the best treatment or medication. A person diagnosed as "Bipolar" is an individual who is possibly struggling with his or thought process or mood. Therapy and medication can help. However, having these cluster of symptoms, thought or behavioral patterns, do not define who you are as an individual with unique personal issues and struggles.
Dr. Klein is a clinical psychologist who practices in Westport CT. He specializes in psychiatric assessment and psychological treatment from a humanistic existential orientation.
Copyright April 2016, Martin Klein, Ph.D.
I often see patients who want to know why they do certain activities that on the surface do not seem to make sense. From a practical perspective, these odd behaviors seem out of character or of a compulsive nature. "I cannot stop doing the action, even though it seems irrational and a waste of time."
In the therapeutic process, the reasons whey we do certain things or act out in a particular fashion is not always transparent and may take awhile to figure out. It is a wonderful part of the psychology process -- an "aha moment" -- when the person and his or her psychologist discovers the meaning of an action.
Many people want a quick fix -- they want the negative behavior or the painful symptom to go away quickly and effortlessly. In some cases this makes sense. But sometimes, it does not. To use an analogy, does it make sense to turn off the fire alarm while there still is a fire burning or a lack of understanding as to the cause of the fire?
I once had a patient with a unique presenting problem. For dinner he would eat the same thing every night -- steak, string beans and creamy mashed potatoes. He would eat the steak first, then the string beans and then finally the creamy mashed potatoes. He would always save the creamy mashed potatoes for last, it was his favorite. However, each night, by the time he finished the steak and string beans, the creamy mashed potatoes were cold. That is right, his presenting problem was cold creamy mashed potatoes. Now if I was a "practical type of psychotherapist", the fix would be easy -- after you finish the steak and string beans, stick the creamy mash potatoes in the microwave and warm them up. But to follow-up with my fire analogy, it is my view that such an action would be like shutting off the fire alarm and not dealing with the real burning issue. For this gentleman, this compulsive pattern was symbolic of a greater issue that in fact affected the very core of how he lived his life. I would call it the "you cannot win syndrome." In his life, he felt like he works very hard, but the reward that he expects for his hard work never comes or when it does finally come, it is cold lumpy and does not taste good. The creamy mash potatoes was symbolic of personal freedom -- the "easy life" -- the effortless melting in your mouth -- an experience this person never seemed to get to.
As many of the great existential thinkers have taught us, human beings are symbolic creatures and think, act and behave with in the realm of the symbolic (Freud, Jung, Eliade, Ricouer). Many of our activities have deep symbolic significance. While these symbolic actions resonates with our sense of well being, their meanings tend to stay hidden.
The most obviously place where the symbolic realm can be most seen is in the world of games. What is the attraction of tennis? Is tennis a working through of some deeper issue? I often talk about tennis when I am doing marital therapy. Isn't tennis a game about relationships -- who is left with the ball in their court --who is at fault? -- are we equally at fault? -- ah then we have "love."
Why do we love to watch football so much -- the great American obsession? What is the symbolic meaning of the game? What is the goal of football, if not to get the ball, which is shaped like a egg -- the symbol of perfection -- to the goal post without it falling and cracking. Why do they pile on the player who is already down with the ball? Why is it so important to make sure the other team does not get back up?
Why are our kids so addicted to video games? Are the themes of these games resonating with our children's needs or desires on a symbolic level? In 1980s, when I was working as a school psychologist, I was fascinated with adolescents' obsession with "Pac-Man." This was before computers, and kids would spend endless hours after school at the arcades. In 1984, I published an article entitled "The Bite of Pac-man" where I explored the symbolic allure of the game. Why did the theme of the "Pac-Man"game resonate so much with adolescents? As I discussed in the article " The themes and strategies of the game perfectly accommodate the adolescent's relation to the world. The Pac-man creature, which the player controls and symbolically becomes, is all mouth and is referred to as "Jaws." "Jaws" spends his time and energy running from the engulfing monsters. There are four different types of monsters, each with its own personality: "Shadow" always follows you; "Bashful" will run away when you turn around; "Ambition" is always willing to attack you; and "Speedy" is fast and will run over you.... If the player engulfs enough monsters before they engulf him, he becomes a winner." While the game of "Pac-Man" might be a safe place to work out issues of separation and individuation, it is still a game -- a feel good fantasy -- not an achievement of personal maturity and a true reflection of one's ability to survive in the world.
What are some of the symbolic things you do or participate in as you live your life? Do you have activities or compulsions that you are addicted to and are not sure why?
Symbolism and everyday actions, it is something to think about.
Dr. Klein is a clinical psychologist who practices in Westport CT. He specializes in life transitions, relationship issues, identity, personal growth and self understanding. He is trained in both clinical psychology and existential philosophy.
Dr. Martin Klein is a clinical psychologist who practices in Westport and Fairfield CT. He works with children, adults and couples.