Violence And The Mentally Ill

Violence And The Mentally Ill

Many people believe that all violent, sadistic and dangerous people in our society are mentally ill, thus coming to the conclusion that mentally ill people are dangerous.

The truth is, people with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Only about 3% to 5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals with a serious mental illness.

Many movies depict violent characters as being mentally ill and often the news continuously replays stories of the rare occurrences when someone with a mental illness acted out in violence. We start to associate mental illness with violence.

One of society’s biggest fears are acts of violence that are senseless, random, unprovoked and unpredictable and thanks to the media, we often associate this with mental illness. We somehow take more comfort in knowing a man was stabbed to death walking down the street during a robbery than if he was stabbed to death walking down the street for no apparent reason.

This stigmatization is just one of many things people with a mental illness face. I have often heard people say they were afraid of a suicidal individual or someone who self-injured themselves: “If they would do that to themselves, what do you think they would do to me?” The fact is, most suicidal and self-harming individuals would rather hurt themselves before they would hurt anyone else.

While it is rare, people with mental illnesses, just like anyone else in the general population, can act out in violence. Individuals who have a substance abuse disorder alone are much more likely to become violent than the general public, including those individuals who have a mental illness alone or an associated substance abuse disorder.

However, when it comes to dealing with mental illness, individuals who abuse substances, have a co-occurring mental disorder and are non-compliant with their medication are at higher risk of committing violence.

Even with the combination of substance abuse and non-medication compliance, the general public are not at high risk of being attacked by someone with a mental illness. People who are in close relationship with these individuals such as family and friends, especially if they have troubled relationships and/or are financial dependence are more likely to become victims of violence.

Some of the most predictive variables for violence untreated psychotic symptoms to include suspicion/paranoia, hostility, severe hallucinations and poor insight into their delusions and the overall mental illness.

A Tragic Example

I recently spoke to a young man who appears to have had his first psychotic episode, at-least as far as he knows. He’s in his early twenties and at the prime age for the onset of many psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia.

One day last week he was home watching YouTube videos and became paranoid that someone was going to come and rape his mother. Alarmed and frightened, he armed himself, first with a shotgun, but discovering the shot gun was not operational, he armed himself with a handgun. He proceeded to guard the house from what he thought were real threats to his mother, some mysterious intruder/rapist. What happened next rocked the whole community.

At some point, his mother came downstairs and he shot her twice in the head. He then shot their dog twice in the head as well before setting the house on fire and rowing a boat across a lake. According to the people who were at that house, he came out of the boat shirtless, walking slowly and looking like Jason from Friday the 13th.  He was chased away by the homeowner and ran off into the woods. Soon after he turned himself into authorities and the totality of his behavior was brought to light. When the authorities went to his burned down home they found the charred body of his mother and their dog.

I have worked with a lot of individuals who were experiencing their first psychotic episodes, but I have never spoken to someone so young that went from apparently “normal” to acting out so violently in response to paranoid delusions and hallucinations.

Most individuals, who develop a psychotic disorder or any mental illness for the most part, start off with small signs and symptoms that if left untreated, can lead to worsening symptoms and rarely horrible things like suicide or violence. Usually this takes several months to years to decompensate to this level. It’s very rare for someone’s first psychotic episode to turn out so violent, causing death and destruction.

Thankfully, situations like that are extremely rare.

Warning Signs

Some warning signs to look out for when dealing with anyone, not just someone with a mental illness include:

  • Pacing
  • Psychomotor Agitation (i.e., leg bouncing rapidly)
  • Combative posturing (i.e., fist balled up)
  • Paranoid or threatening remarks
  • Irritability
  • Talking to self in language that includes violence or paranoia

If you see these behaviors, it may or may not mean that the person has a mental illness, but these are signs that someone is possibly in a volatile state. Stay calm, give them space, avoid intimidating eye contact.

If you have to deal with the person because they are a friend, family member or even a customer in your place of business, use a calm/soothing voice, helpful attitude, avoid loud noises, remove potentially dangerous objects and attempt to give positive reinforcement until you can either get help or get out of the situation.

We all probably know someone with a mental health problem and many of us don’t even know it because most individuals with mental health problems are productive members of our community.

When we destigmatize the violence associated with being mentally ill, we make it easier for those individuals to seek treatment and to talk about it with their family and friends instead of hiding it out of fear or shame.

Overcoming Suffering While Incarcerated

Overcoming Suffering While Incarcerated

Working in a correctional setting, I often find myself reciting my favorite quote by Viktor Frankl; “To live is to suffer. To survive is to find meaning in the suffering.” The reason this quote appears to have such relevance when dealing with incarcerated people is that many of them see themselves as suffering. They are imprisoned, away from their families and often facing uncertain futures. Many become depressed, anxious, hopeless and unfortunately, suicidal.

When  I speak with inmates who see themselves and their situation as depressing and bleak, I remind them that yes, they may feel like they are suffering, but that is life. A large part of life for most people includes a great deal of suffering. There is joy, and there is pain. I remind them that they are not the only ones suffering. They are incarcerated with hundreds of other individuals going through similar situations and millions of people around the world who are going through their own struggles.

I encourage them to accept the reality of it. Learn from it. Figure out how to use this suffering to become a better, stronger person instead of dwelling on it and allowing it to punish you even more.

There is a popular saying in prisons that goes, “Do time, don’t let time do you”, which means to use your time incarcerated to better yourself, to live life even in the bleakest circumstances and to not just be miserable and unhappy counting down the months, years or even decades until you are released (if ever). Have something to look forward to and remember that suffering doesn’t have to last forever. This situation doesn’t have to be permanent. People find ways to live good, happy lives even while imprisoned for life.

I ask every inmate I evaluate, “What do you have to live for? What are you looking forward to?”  I want to know what will motivate them to not only survive the stressful environment of being in incarcerated, but also what will give them something to hold on to when they start struggling with depressing and negative thoughts.

Many will say they have kids to live for, or they’re young and have their whole lives ahead of them, or their family or goals they want to accomplish. These individuals tend to be much less likely to both get in more trouble while incarcerated as well as are less likely to attempt suicide compared to those who struggle with or can’t find a reason to live.

Lastly, I also try to help inmates to stop seeing themselves as victims. Many inmates think that they are being punished unjustly, or they keep getting arrested because they have bad luck. They blame the system, their friends, society. These inmates are more likely to deal with depression, suicidal thoughts and to become repeat offenders.

Instead, I try to help them see that things happen for them, not to them. Yes they got arrested and it sucks, but maybe this is going to save their lives by getting them off drugs, stop them from associated with that criminal element, teach them that they really do need anger management classes or that they really need to take their psychotropic medications. Hopefully this experience will help them reexamine their lives and make better choices.

When people see things as happening for them, instead of to them, they do time better, easier and even happier. They become inmate workers, earn GEDs and even college degrees while incarcerated. They tend not to look like the typical depressed, angry, bitter inmates that I encounter far to often.

The things I try to teach these inmates are invaluable to helping them survive being incarcerated and they can use it when they are released to hopefully live better lives and to not come back. It can also help all of us understand that we’re not special, things happen, life sometimes sucks, don’t take it personal, don’t dwell on it, learn from it and grow from it. It’s when we get stuck feeling down, victimized, hopeless, worthless and negative that we stop fully living life and start suffering though life. That’s when we start living in a prison of our own construction regardless of if we are incarcerated or not.

Get In To The Habit Of Asking Yourself: “Does This Support The Life I’m Trying To Create?”

Get In To The Habit Of Asking Yourself: “Does This Support The Life I’m Trying To Create?”

We create the lives we want by the things we think, the things we do, how we spend our time and the people we spend our time with.

The problem is, many of us mindlessly do things and spend time with people that do not support the life we are trying to create. We say we want to raise our standards and make positive changes in our lives, but our habits show otherwise.

This is a very common theme with the inmates I work with in the jail. I see some of the same inmates re-incarcerated over and over again. Many of them are generally good, caring and intelligent individuals who could do anything they set their minds to.

They have goals and dreams that don’t include being behind bars, yet when they get released from jail they tend to go back to the same neighborhood, hang around the same people and end up doing the same things that landed them in jail to begin with.

They are holding themselves back, just as many of us are holding ourselves back by wasting time and energy doing things and associating with people who are not going to get us to the lives we want for ourselves.

We may be in relationships with partners who don’t believe in us, don’t support our goals and dreams or worst, attempt to sabotage our goals rather it be weight-loss goals, financial goals or our happiness.

We may be at jobs that don’t offer room to grow, that doesn’t offer training courses for professional improvement and career advancement or simply requires so much of our time and energy that at the end of the day we have none left for much of anything else, let alone to pursue our passions and talents.

There are countless ways we can be in situations that are not supportive of what we are trying to create for ourselves. It’s real easy to get stuck situations and habits without thinking much about it, which is why I think it’s important for us to take a step back from time to time and become mindful about what we are doing and to remember what is it we really want.

So get into the habit of asking yourself, especially when you get that gut feeling or you know deep down you shouldn’t be doing something (i.e., going out drinking when you should be home studying): “Does this support the life I’m trying to create”.

At least once a week, get into the habit of taking a quick inventory of your life. It doesn’t have to take a long time or be complicated, but check in with yourself:

  1. How is my life going? (take a quick look at all the important areas of your life and how satisfied you are in those areas)
  2. Make a note of the areas that need adjustment (areas where you are not so satisfied) and then commit to making changes in those areas.
  3.  Get to work making changes in those areas and repeat this check in again in a week or so. Little adjustments add up to big changes and you will realize you’ll start living more mindfully and intentional in creating the life you want and deserve.

Do women absorb the DNA of every man they have unprotected sex with?

Do women absorb the DNA of every man they have unprotected sex with?

I’ve been asked many times, mostly by worried pregnant mothers or potential baby fathers if a fetus’s DNA can be changed or effected by either another man’s semen while she is pregnant or from her sexual activities with previous partners.

The short answer is no.

There is a false belief that women absorb and retain the DNA of every man they have unprotected sex with. This belief has been spread through some articles, but stems from a 2012 research project that showed that the brains of some autopsied women had male DNA.  Some who heard this quickly jumped to the conclusion that they must have received this male DNA through sperm.

The truth is, this is called microchimerism and the explanation for the male Y chromosome being found in some female brains is not really that complex.

Pregnancy

When women become pregnant, they play host to another human with its own set of DNA. Some of this DNA gets absorbed through the placenta and remains with the woman for the rest of her life. If she has any male children then she will absorb some male DNA which explains why some of the women autopsied (aged 32 to 101) had male DNA in their brains even decades later.

The DNA a mother inherits from her child is often up to 10% of the free floating DNA in her blood stream. Often call foetal origin cells, they have also been found in the mothers skin and all major organ including the heart.

Blood Transfusions and Organ Transplants

When we receive blood transfusions or organ transplants, we are also receive some DNA from the donor. This is known as medical chimerism and is something the medical world has been aware of for a long time. If a woman receives a transfusion or transplant from a male, it is likely she will also absorb some male DNA.

Having an Older Male Sibling

If a woman has an older brother, the chances are her mother has absorbed some male DNA from him during her pregnancy and also passed it along to her daughter. This explains why some of the women autopsied who did not have any male children, blood transfusions or transplants, still had the presence male DNA.

Effects

Research suggests that having male DNA passed on to these women doesn’t affect them as far as femininity goes, but that it could have several beneficial effects:

  • Lower risk of some cancers
  • Longer life span
  • Better tolerance of successive pregnancies
  • Decrease risk of Alzheimer’s
  • Diminished symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

So while many women have the presence of male DNA, it’s not because they were having unprotected sex. They do not carry the DNA of ex-lovers and thankfully are not bonded to them for life, however, they will be bonded even on a cellular level with their children til death.

Why Being Ghosted Hurts

Why Being Ghosted Hurts

The term “ghosting” refers to when someone you believe cares about or is at least interested in you, suddenly stops contacting you or responding to your efforts to reach out to them. It could be someone you’ve been on a few dates with, talked to everyday for the last couple of weeks through texting or even someone you considered to be a potential serious partner.

Ghosting can happen gradually, such as messages and phone calls becoming less and less frequent, or most commonly ghosting can happen suddenly with the person appearing to have simply dropped off the face of the Earth and vanished as the term implies.

Although the term may be new, ghosting itself is definitely not. People have been getting ghosted probably since the beginning of time, but with more people meeting and connecting online, it’s become easier to ghost other people, therefore, increasing the odds that you will get ghosted.

With more people meeting online and more people caring out a large part of their relationships online and through messaging, ghosting people today doesn’t have the same social consequences it used to have. If you ghost someone today, it’s less likely that you share a lot of the same friends and social connections, so disappearing on them doesn’t impact other parts of your world.

Being Ghosted Usually Isn’t About you

When have invested your time, energy and emotions into another person and then they suddenly drop out of your life, it can be very puzzling and even devastating, especially to those who already have self-esteem problems.

However, people tend to ghost other people because of their own emotional discomfort, lack of emotional intelligence and inability to communicate. They rarely think about how it will make the other person feel which is why ghosting can come off as a very selfish, cold and narcissistic act.

People often ghost when they don’t know how to say what they want so they just disappear because to them that is easier than having the conversation. Many times people get scared in a relationship so they leave or they may not think it is that serious so they don’t feel like they owe the other person anything, especially an explanation to why they are no longer interested. Definitely as I stated before, the online dating culture where we have less real life social connections, makes it easier to just stop communicating without giving any type of closure to the other person.

Men are notorious for ghosting, but it happens to us to. The more someone has been ghosted, the more likely they are to ghost someone in return. I’ve been ghosted a couple of times and it has always taken me by surprise because I thought the other person and I had a relationship where we would at least be friends, and then they were gone.

How Does it Feel To Be Ghosted?

If you have never been ghosted before, and I hope you never will be, I can tell you from my experience that it initially left me in shock and disbelief. I was angry because I felt like I had a great connection with someone. It was as if they had died, but they hadn’t. It was very painful and made me feel disrespected as if I wasn’t even good enough to have the conversation with. It made me feel disposable, especially the second time it happened. I feel like I could never just disappear on a person I supposedly cared about, so it made me question how could people do that to me? What was it about me that made me not worth even giving closure to? It felt like torture, being unsure of exactly what happened to both the relationship and the person. Of course you get over it and move on, but only after you gather yourself up off the floor.

Why Does Being Ghosted Hurt So Bad?

For some people, being ghosted may not hurt very much. They may be able to let go and move on easier than other people. They may understand that in this day and age, people tend to be less attached and see ghosting as a byproduct of dating.

For most people, being ghosting hurts. It feels disrespectful and creates questions and doubts about themselves and relationships.

Ghosting hurts because it’s a form of social rejection that triggers emotional pain. It hurts because it’s the ultimate silent treatment and in relationships, the silent treatment is considered emotional abuse. It hurts because it’s a passive-aggressive act that is psychologically and emotionally cruel. It hurts because we typically don’t see it common. It’s as if the rug were pulled from under our feet.

As I said in the beginning of this post, being ghosted has nothing to do with you. What it tells you is that the other person is too immature to have a mature healthy relationship and that they don’t know how to deal with their own emotions, or yours… or even worse, are too narcissistic, immature or selfish to care about your feelings. In any case, they are not someone you want to be in a relationship with. Do not allow being ghosted to make you question your worthiness or become jaded when it comes to relationships.It’s not about you, no matter how personal it may feel.

Parenting Your Inner Child

Parenting Your Inner Child

Most of us think we are adults because we have reach a certain chronological age, but psychologically , we are often pseudo adults. We are children in adult bodies, trying to do adult things. I think this may in part be where the term “adulting” comes from. We may be 35 physically, but deep inside of us is a five year old trying to navigate through adult life, attempting to maintain relationships and cope with adult stress. Every now and then the pressure becomes too much and our inner child is forced to make their needs and fears known.

What Is An Inner Child?

Inside of all of us there is a part that is frozen in time, stuck in the past. As therapists, especially those of us who deal with trauma, we call that part of us our inner child. Everyone has an inner child (at least one), but we experience our inner child in different ways.

Some of us have an inner child that is relatively well-behaved and quiet. He or she may be barely noticeable and only make their needs, concerns and fears known subtly and infrequently. It could be the anxiety we feel whenever we are talking to our boss, or the explainable way we suddenly feel small and unsure of ourselves when we have to give a presentation.

Others have an inner child that is more boisterous. He or she may make themselves known often and show up as a temper tantrum when we are frustrated with our partner (sometimes complete with yelling and throwing things), shutting down when we can’t find the words to express ourselves or a panic attack at the thought of being alone if our relationship fails.

Many of the destructive behaviors we have in our adult lives from infantile neediness, fear of abandonment and dependency to self-sabotaging behaviors, impulsivity and irresponsibility can be attributed to our inner child.

Why We Ignore Our Inner Child

Society tells us that when we become adults, we put away childish things. We are forced to ignore our inner child, the good and the bad. Our inner child not only holds our childhood hurts, traumas, fears and angers, but it also holds our innocence, awe, playfulness, sensitivity and wonder.

Remember the things you loved in childhood, the things that made you happy? When adults would ask you what you wanted to grow up to be maybe you said a pilot or an artist. As we grow up, most of us end up going into jobs and careers that have nothing to do with what made us happy or what we wanted to do as children, in large part because many of us were told that those dreams were childish and we needed realistic, more “adult” goals.

One way or another, we were taught to ignore our inner child almost completely which is why most adults are unaware of this unconscious part of them that sometimes throws their lives off balance seemingly out of the blue.

Because most adults are unaware of this inner child, they do not know how to meet his or her needs. This unawareness is what allows the inner child to take over and sometimes ruin relationships or cause us to act in ways that as adults, we know we shouldn’t.

In order to address our inner child and meet their needs appropriately, we have to first acknowledge and accept that he or she exist, and then take responsibility for parenting and loving our inner child.

When we are inattentive or neglectful to our inner child, we may find ourselves in situations where we are unconsciously looking to fill his or her needs through other people. We are basically asking someone else to parent our inner child and that can come in the form of dependency, toxic relationships and even substance abuse.

Our inner child most likely is looking for something he or she felt neglected of when we were children and as adults we can’t expect our parents or anyone else to go back and fix that. We have to do it. We have to attend to the needs of our inner child through love and support as well as set up boundaries and structure just like a parent would with a physical child.

Having a symbiotic relationship with our inner child will allow us to meet their needs in ways that are mutually beneficial to our adult side as well, instead of meeting their needs through ways that are inappropriate, impulsive and childish.

Explore your inner-child. Get to know them. Listen to them and find out what he or she needs.

Don’t Be Afraid of Being a Beginner

Don’t Be Afraid of Being a Beginner

Many people I know allow the fear of looking awkward or silly prevent them from trying something new. It could be anything from karaoke to going to their first yoga class. Just the thought of failing or looking like they have no clue what they are doing is enough to prevent them from ever trying things they have dreamt about doing.

Remember when you first learned to walk or ride a bike? You probably don’t because it’s quite natural to you now, but if you see any old videos of yourself you would see how unbalanced you were and how many times you fell, but never gave up. That’s what it is like trying something new. We can’t let the fear of looking stupid, like we don’t know what we are doing or even failing, rob us of the joy mastering (or at least being competent) in that area will bring.

Recently I started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and one of the hardest things I have done so far was to walk through that door and start my first class. I had so much anxiety about it and most of my anxieties revolved around how silly I would look attempting to perform exercises and maneuvers I had never performed In my life.

I was worried about my conditioning because while I consider myself to be in somewhat decent shape, I knew I was not in the type of shape I thought I needed to be in for Jiu Jitsu. I was mostly worried about my conditioning (or lack thereof). I go to the gym often and lift weights, but I rarely do aerobic activity. I also knew that I could find a thousand excuses to keep putting off starting the class if I didn’t push myself to go despite those anxieties.

During my first few classes, I was really self-conscious and compared myself to the rest of the class. Most of the other guys were in better shape, quicker and more coordinated. I did feel like an awkward gorilla when we did many of the warm up exercises that required flexibility I didn’t have and left me sucking in air before the class even really begun. All of that started pushing doubt and excuses in my mind. “You’re too out of shape”, my inner critic said, “You’re too old, too tired, too busy” it added.

I live in my head, which isn’t always a good thing if you can’t master it. I had to quickly get out of my head. I did this by reminding myself that I was a beginner and it was okay to look and feel like a beginner.

I had to tell myself that it was okay if I looked and felt awkward during the exercises, if I couldn’t perform some moves right, if at all. I told myself that it was okay if I got gassed during class and had to take a break. I was a beginner, and if there is ever a time to look awkward while trying your best, it’s when you’re a beginner.

Instead of being worried about being a beginner take advantage of it, embrace it.

When I started focusing more on myself and not on the other people in class things became easier. I had taken the pressure off of myself to be better than I reasonably could be. I pushed myself of course, but took breaks when I needed to and learned to be unapologetic about it (by the way, no one ever made me feel bad about having to take a breather). I modified moves I couldn’t do until I could do them instead of getting upset, hurting myself or giving up out of frustration.

I worked on not caring about other people’s opinions.

So what if other guys in the class made fun of me or snickered about how this middle aged, muscular but uncoordinated guy flopped around class like a fish out of water. They weren’t paying for my classes, I was. They weren’t in my shoes. We all have different lives and different goals. While some guys were there to someday compete for medals, I was there to get in shape and learn a martial art I had been curious about for over a decade. While some guys live to train, I have a full-time, stressful job, commute 144 miles to and from work each day and have a family to divide my time with. Our goals and drives are completely different, and that’s okay.

Once I got out of my own head, allowed myself to be a beginner and stopped being concerned about what other people may think about me, things became fun! It helps that most people who train Jiu Jitsu seem to be non-judgmental and encouraging. You’ll hear them say, “We all started at the same point, don’t give up, just keep showing up”.

I don’t think anyone ever looked at me and thought about how awkward I looked or how much my conditioning sucked. It was all in my head. Once I got out of my head and really focused on being mindful and present in the moment, I quickly realized I very rarely even thought about my weight, my clumsiness or my fitness level that much. As a matter of fact, Jiu Jitsu class became one of the few places I didn’t think too much about those things or other life problems at all. It became a stress reliever.

I’m still extremely new in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and in every class I am learning something new and attempting to perform it for the first time. I am still a beginner and I allow myself to be a beginner, unapologetic ally.