Archive for ‘Child Abuse’

February 15, 2013

The DISH Method: Develop Your Life Skills

by Dave P.

TrainingWheelsThe DISH Method was originally developed to help people overcome public speaking anxiety, but it also works to help people thrive in life.


You need certain skills to be successful in life. The most basic is relationships skills. Without them, you’re probably not going to be happy.

Your relationships skills actually begin while you’re still developing in your mother’s womb. If your mother experienced a lot of stress during pregnancy, her body had high levels of cortisol — the stress hormone. Cortisol has the ability to permeate the embryonic sac and affect prenatal brain development. You would have been born with emotional and cognitive problems, which would have had a big impact on your ability to succeed and be happy.

During the first few years of your life, you experienced a tremendous amount of neurological development. During that time, the parts of the brain that were exercised, grew, and the parts that weren’t used were “pruned.” If you weren’t attuned to your mother and father, your endorphin receptors were not developed sufficiently, which affected your ability to experience pleasure later in life. You probably experience less pleasure from relationships than most people and are less happy.

Child abuse affects a person’s confidence, self-esteem, cognitive skills, and ability to have healthy relationships. That’s too big of a topic to go into here, so I’ll cover it more in upcoming posts.

You develop many of your relationship skills while in school. How well you interact with your peers sets the tone for the rest of your life. If you had good friends and didn’t experience much rejection during that time, you built a sense of confidence in your ability to form and maintain close, personal relationships. But if you felt ostracized in school, it probably affected your self-esteem and your personal relationship self-efficacy — confidence in your ability to form healthy, close, personal relationships.

The good news is, your brain is plastic; it continuously changes throughout the lifespan — even into old age. No matter what your emotional or cognitive skill deficiencies, they can be overcome, but it takes work. Contrary to what many doctors would have you believe, there are no pill solutions. While certain medications can help in some cases, it takes hard work to develop your skills.


Unless you live in a socialized country, you need skills in order to be able to earn a living. Your best bet is higher education. While tuition costs have soared during the past 10 or 15 years, the cost of not having an education is much higher. University degrees open the doors to career opportunities.


Thousands of years ago, people attributed the things they couldn’t understand to supernatural forces. Today, science has unlocked many of the mysteries of nature. Through understanding of the world around us, we gain wisdom. Fear of the unknown has caused a great amount of suffering. Through study and understanding, we can rid ourselves of those fears.

Skills development is a never ending process

People who continue to learn throughout their lives are less prone to dementia. We can build and maintain our self-esteem by doing our best at everything. Self-growth provides meaning and pleasure in life. Never stop learning and growing.

February 3, 2013

Path to the present: Find meaning in life

by Dave P.

Do you suffer from existential nausea? What you may need is some Existential Alka-Seltzer — a pill the size of an automobile hubcap that, when dissolved in water, takes away the queasy feeling induced by too much awareness of life. You may also find it helpful after eating Mexican food.
~ Adapted from Woody Allen’s The Condemned

How much time do you waste ruminating about your past or worrying about your future? Do you spend a lot of time daydreaming?

People are happiest when they’re absorbed in what they’re doing, but events from the past can interrupt or prevent a state of ‘flow.’ You may have been abused as a child, which damaged your self-esteem. You may have been bullied at school or work, which damaged your sense of confidence. You may have a learning disability, which affected your self-efficacy. Any of those things can give you social anxiety, which affects your ability to form close relationships.

One of the keys to living in the present is finding meaning in life. Meaning can come from a variety of sources, but most comes from a desire to improve the world in some way, whether it’s helping people overcome their problems, teaching, political activism, environmental causes, or even self-improvement.

When you have strong meaning in life, the small, negative things don’t bother you. You don’t spend a lot of time ruminating or worrying because you’re content in the present working towards a goal. Meaning pulls you toward a specific destination. When we’re not living in the present, we need to be pushed. We need to be pushed out of bed, pushed to clean up the house, pushed to go to work, pushed to do most everything. When you have a strong pull towards something positive, you have strong, natural motivation.

Pull is sometimes negative. When you’re in pain, you seek out pain relief, so you might be pulled towards alcohol, drugs, pornography, promiscuous sex, cutting, or other sources of pain relief. Those types of activities might relieve the pain for a little while, but afterwards, they leave you feeling even worse. They’re like the Sirens’s song, luring you in with a promise of ecstasy, but then leaving you shipwrecked on the rocky cost of life.

January 31, 2013

Leslie Morgan Steiner: Why domestic violence victims don’t leave

by Dave P.
January 29, 2013

Respect yourself (Part 1)

by Dave P.

“If you don’t respect yourself ain’t nobody gonna give a good cahoot.”
~ The Staple Singers (written by Luther Ingram and Mack Rice)

Often, when we feel sad, depressed, angry, or anxious, we do things we would not ordinarily do. Rather than show appreciation for the people in our lives, we take out our frustrations on them. A factory worker who was chewed out at work might go home and abuse his wife. A sales person who didn’t make his or her quota might go out to the bar and drink too much, and then drive home drunk. When we should be relying on our social support network to help us manage life’s stressors, we often do things to hurt them. We don’t want pity. When people feel sorry for you, they lose respect for you. No, we want to be strong, and strong people deal with stress by being aggressive towards others or by drinking. Or so goes the common attitude.

Our self-respect can be damaged in a number of ways. The most common is promising to do something and not following through. Obviously, if you do that at work, there will be repercussions. But people do that all the time outside of work. I’ve had many people sign up for my workshops and then just not show up. I could usually get a pretty good estimate of the number of people who would show up by dividing the number who signed up in half.

Many of my workshops were for people who suffered from anxiety. Anxiety depletes the dopamine levels in the brain, and dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for motivation. That explains why people didn’t show up. If I could have offered a pill to help them with their social anxiety or fear of public speaking, those numbers would have been a lot higher. But overcoming those issues requires work, self-discipline, and confronting your fears head-on. You have to really want to overcome your problems in order to put yourself through that, and sometimes we’d rather just play it safe. Sometimes our desire to avoid pain is stronger than one of experiencing joy.

People often mean well but don’t follow through. They might volunteer to help out at the local home owners association with the best intentions and then realize they don’t want to be inconvenienced. Or they volunteered because they thought others would respect them or like them more because of their offer. By not adhering to their promises and obligations, they’ve lost the respect of others, but more importantly, they’ve lost self-respect.

I was out for an evening walk with our dog last summer when I heard muffled screams. I looked ahead and saw a car moving slowly down the street. People were having a fight inside. I walked quickly towards the commotion and they sped up and turned the corner. Some ten minutes later, the car re-appeared — the screams more intense. The car pulled over to the curb and the passenger side door flew open. A woman fell out of the car, screaming and crying. I ran towards her and could see a large man pushing her away. I yelled, “Hey! What the hell’s going on there!” as I ran towards them. He saw me, gunned the engine, and drove away, leaving the woman laying in the road, sobbing.

She was okay, but shoe-less, without a phone, and without anywhere to go. Her face was battered from the fight. I told her I was going to call the police, but she pleaded with me not to. Instead, she asked to use my phone to call a friend. I walked her down to a corner store where she could wait safely until her friend arrived. I told the clerk to keep an eye on her and to call the police if her assailant came looking for her. She hugged me after I told her to give me a call if she needed anything.

I could have easily just ignored the woman’s cries and gone home, but I would have had to live with that. I would have lost faith in my own eyes of the man I aspire to be. Sure, we all screw up once in a while and don’t do what’s right. The only way to restore our self-respect is by acting in ways that reinforce it. The question we should ask ourselves is, “What would you want others to do if you were in that situation?” The cost for not acting is far greater than any inconvenience you may experience.

In Buddhism, the forth element of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right Action, which is to act ethically in all situations. Our actions have consequences or karma. Not helping those in need has negative karma. Helping those, or at least trying to help, has positive karma. The Buddha called that Right Intention. Sometimes we try to do what’s right but fail and sometimes even cause the situation to become worse. When we have Right View, which involves an accurate understanding of the situation, the risk that we will cause harm is minimized.

Most of you have probably heard of the Golden Rule. In Christianity and many other religions, the golden rule states that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. The problem with that is, people sometimes feel that if they do some good things, the bad things they do don’t matter. The negative form of the Golden Rule is that one should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated, which is the Jewish form. If we combine the two, we get self-respect.

Self-respect also involves our dignity. It’s about not allowing people to take advantage of us. Have you ever gotten a call from an acquaintance who all of a sudden became friendly because he or she wanted you to help them move? Or maybe someone decided your home would be a good place for a party, even though you’re not close to anyone who will be attending. Or maybe someone just is using you to get a ride somewhere. We have a right to say no when someone is trying to use us. Those kinds of friendships are toxic. We don’t need them in our lives.

But what about if you’re lonely and don’t have any close relationships? Fear of being alone is sometimes greater than the strength needed to keep toxic people at a distance. If that’s the situation you’re in, only self-improvement can get you out of that rut. Self-improvement is important for everyone, whether you’re a dishwasher at the corner diner or the CEO of a major corporation. Successful people continually work to improve themselves. Happy people generally do the same. Self-improvement gives our lives meaning, and meaning is one of the five elements of happiness as defined by positive psychologist Martin Seligman.

You shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave
~Dave Mason

Self-respect involves working to make the world a better place. That doesn’t have to involve something like saving the whales or eliminating hunger in Africa. We make the world a better place by smiling at someone who looks like she might be having a bad day. It might be helping the clumsy kid at school pick up his books. It could be letting someone into your lane in rush-hour traffic. It’s also about offering something of value when speaking to people. Offer a little humor, an interesting story, or just an interest in what the other person has to say.

Depression is believed to be learned helplessness. It’s about not having a feeling of control over your life. It’s about feeling like you’re a victim. When you have that victim mentality, you lose your self-respect.

Many social scientists believe that welfare and affirmative action generate a victim mentality. The entitlements were originally designed to provide a safety-net for, when, though no fault of your own, you run on hard times. It became a way of life for too many people and created a continuous cycle of dependency on government rather than personal responsibility. The reform of the 1990s eliminated many of the problems.

End of part 1

August 31, 2011

Anxiety Can Hinder Friendship Development

by Dave P.

A new study looks at children who are socially withdrawn — kids who want to interact with their peers but are afraid to do so — and how the shyness affects their emotional stability.

Experts know that as children move toward adolescence, they rely increasingly on close relationships with peers. However, socially withdrawn children, who have less contact with peers, may miss out on the support that friendships provide.

Socially withdrawn children who are classified as anxious-solitary are believed to experience competing motivations—they want to interact with peers, but the prospect of doing so causes anxiety that interferes with such interactions.

Anxious-solitary children were found to be more emotionally sensitive and more likely to be excluded and victimized by their peers. They’re also less likely to have friends, and when they do have friends, to have fewer than their peers and to lose friendships over time.

Researchers believe anxious-solitary children have a difficult time in forming and maintaining friendships – primarily because of their anxiety.

The study also found that having stable friendships protects children from being victimized by peers—and that both withdrawn and non-withdrawn children benefit from friendships in this way.

Read more…

August 8, 2011

Bullying May Contribute to Lower Test Scores

by Dave P.

ScienceDaily (Aug. 7, 2011) — High schools in Virginia where students reported a high rate of bullying had significantly lower scores on standardized tests that students must pass to graduate, according to research presented at the 119th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

“Our study suggests that a bullying climate may play an important role in student test performance,” said Dewey Cornell, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor of education at the University of Virginia. “This research underscores the importance of treating bullying as a schoolwide problem rather than just an individual problem.”

Read more…

June 26, 2011

The Misunderstanding of Social Anxiety

by Dave P.

The following article appeared in today’s N.Y. Times.

A BEAUTIFUL woman lowers her eyes demurely beneath a hat. In an earlier era, her gaze might have signaled a mysterious allure. But this is a 2003 advertisement for Zoloft, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (S.S.R.I.) approved by the F.D.A. to treat social anxiety disorder. “Is she just shy? Or is it Social Anxiety Disorder?” reads the caption, suggesting that the young woman is not alluring at all. She is sick.

But is she?

It is possible that the lovely young woman has a life-wrecking form of social anxiety. There are people too afraid of disapproval to venture out for a job interview, a date or even a meal in public. Despite the risk of serious side effects — nausea, loss of sex drive, seizures — drugs like Zoloft can be a godsend for this group.

But the ad’s insinuation aside, it’s also possible the young woman is “just shy,” or introverted — traits our society disfavors. One way we manifest this bias is by encouraging perfectly healthy shy people to see themselves as ill. Read more…

Research shows that some people are born outgoing and some people are introverts. That’s true of many animals. If you’ve ever observed a liter of puppies, some are rambunctious and some are shy. It’s part of the brain chemistry.

But the author uses social anxiety and shyness interchangeably throughout the article, despite making the initial distinction. She also calls them “sitters.” There is not a fine line between SAD and shyness, as the author states. Social anxiety is where your anxiety interferes with your enjoyment of life. Simple as that. While public speaking anxiety is an aspect, that is a small part of the problem.

When anxiety blocks a person’s ability to form close, satisfying relations, that is a serious problem, and sometimes medication is necessary. People who suffer from SAD often self-medicate – either to allow them to overcome their anxiety, or simply to ease the pain of loneliness. They often become alcoholics or become addicted to illegal drugs. Prescription drugs, while not a perfect solution, do allow many of these people to lead much happier and productive lives.

April 26, 2011

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

by Dave P.

Increasing public awareness of the need to ensure the safety and welfare of children led to the passage of the first Federal child protection legislation, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), in 1974. While CAPTA has been amended many times over the years, most recently with the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010, the purpose of the original legislation remains intact. Today, the Children’s Bureau, within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the Federal agency charged with supporting States, Tribes, and communities in providing programs and services to protect children and strengthen families.

In the early 1980s, Congress made a further commitment to identifying and implementing solutions to end child abuse. Recognizing the alarming rate at which children continued to be abused and neglected and the need for innovative programs to prevent child abuse and assist parents and families affected by maltreatment, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives resolved that the week of June 6-12, 1982, should be designated as the first National Child Abuse Prevention Week. Members of Congress requested the President issue a proclamation calling upon Government agencies and the public to observe the week with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities promoting the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

The following year, in 1983, April was proclaimed the first National Child Abuse Prevention Month. As a result, child abuse and neglect awareness activities are promoted across the country during April of each year. The Office on Child Abuse and Neglect (OCAN) within the Children’s Bureau coordinates Child Abuse Prevention Month activities at the Federal level, providing information and releasing updated national statistics about child abuse and neglect. Many governors also issue proclamations to encourage initiatives and events in their States.

Read more…

April 25, 2011

How child abuse and neglect damage the brain

by Dave P.

For 7 -year-old Zachary Risotti, feeling safe and cared about is a new experience.

At 2, Zachary was taken to the emergency room because of a suspicious cigarette burn under his left eye. Six months later, he was back in the hospital with a burn on his right forearm. Suspecting abuse, the state Department of Social Services removed him from his home, but he bounced around three foster homes before he was finally adopted in July 2000.

By then, Zachary already bore psychological scars of child abuse. At 3, he had the communication skills typical of a toddler half his age. He avoided eye contact, fidgeted constantly and expressed his frustration by sitting in a corner and crying.

But intensive mental health and support services as well as a loving family have given Zachary a second lease on life. ”Today he’s happy, very sociable and doing well in school,” said his adoptive mother, Kathryn Risotti of Marlborough.

Until recently, mental health clinicians could only speculate on the ways that abuse and neglect damage a child’s developing brain. But a series of ground-breaking studies in neuroscience conducted over the last decade are allowing researchers to pinpoint the actual changes in children’s brains caused by traumatic experience.

These new neurobiological findings show that trauma – physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect – dramatically affects both the structure and chemistry of the developing brain, thus causing the behavioral and learning problems that plague about three-quarters of the children mired in the child welfare system. But the good news is that these brain changes aren’t necessarily permanent. In fact, timely interventions – as in the case of Zachary – can help rewire the brain and put psychological development back on track. As Department of Social Services Commissioner Harry Spence put it: ”Neuroscience has helped to clarify our mission. We must do more than just protect children after the brain damage has been done. We must also provide loving environments because they are fundamental to healing on a physiological level.”

Read more