The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
June 2000, No. 1, Sect. 1
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Heads Up: Media Exposure, AOL/Digital City Chat and WebMD Q & A:
Fortifying the Wounded SELF with Hostile Relatives Shrink Rap: Readers'
Submissions: Thoughts... Sect 2: Main Essay: Excessive Arousal - Activation:
Phobia-Panic Readers' Submissions: WOW!
1. Media Exposure: a) Just a little absurdity from the Stress Doc. When you
are standing at the checkout line, thumb through this month's issue of
Cosmopolitan Magazine, July, page 207 (and it's already on the shelves). In an
article titled, "Crisis Control: Cosmo Solves Your Worst Life Woes,"
(with some most glamorously distraught visuals), look for the Copper-colored
Sidebar: "Four Ways to Wallop Your Worries," by Gina Zucker. I provide
the top three walloping psychobabble quotes, titled: 1) Use pal as reality
check, 2) Watch "The Simpsons" and 3) Sweat it out. And I even said
most of what they attributed to me. ;-)
And they did mention the website and my upcoming book, Practice Safe Stress
with the Stress Doc (subtitled: "The Art of Managing Stress, Burnout &
Depression"), by AdviceZone.com (due out by Labor Day). Please email if
interested in more details.
And if you make it to National, Dulles or BWI airports, check out the July
issue of the free Washington Flyer magazine. There's a feature on my uncommon
online/offline entrepreneurial path with pic. (I'm holding my breath; the
photographer went for the humor: for example, me sporting my Shrink Rap
paraphernalia - Blues Brother's Hat, black sunglasses and tambourine - while
sitting in a lotus position. (Or as lotus as I could get.) Anyway, hopefully the
shot they select is not too outlandish.
To more absurdist (yet much appreciated) promotions and adventures.
b) And this came out June 15th on Fox News Online. Reporter Andy Pasick did a
great job. Enjoy. It's an article about Sex and Humor:
Click here: Bawdy in
or the URL: www.foxnews.com/health/s_file/index.sml
2. Chat Groups: a) Stop by my AOL/Digital City "Shrink Rap (TM) and
Group Chat," Tuesdays, 9:30-11pm EDT aol://2719:3-4759-DC%20Support%20Chat">DC
Support Chat. It's a dynamic, lively, at times witty and always warm,
thoughtful and supportive problem-solving group. We raise questions and share
our ideas, hopes and experiences with each other.
b) The Stress Doc Teams with WebMD.com
The Stress Doc leads his lively, monthly mutually supportive one hour
"Practice Safe Stress" Internet Support Group for WebMD.
Next "Shrink Rap/Chat": June 28th at 2pm PT and 5pm ET.
Questions? Email Jon Roig at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 503.943.3279
Ask the Stress Doc Love and Relationships Q & A
1) Fortifying a Wound SELF with Hostile Relatives
Q. hi there
thanx for all your newsletters
could u address verbal abuse
I tell u after all these years I still have such a hard time dealing
with family members that are so hostile
more my extended family
for all ur assistance and have a pleasant shabbos.
A. Hostile family members: "You cant live with them, you cant be
alive without them." Dealing with consistently hostile relatives, that is,
immature, invasive and potentially injurious individuals in a healthy manner
means: 1) not hiding from or pridefully denying the pain when attacked, 2)
having the conviction of facing the hurtful and humiliating feelings evoked, as
opposed to saying you were provoked. (By judging the feelings as being
"provoked," then it becomes easy to blame the other party for making
you feel a certain way.), 3) recognizing the importance of and learning to
establish psychological and interpersonal boundaries ("You cant live
with them") and 4) viewing hostile antagonists as a spur to developing
integrity and realizing a capacity for courage ("You cant be alive
without them"). Each time you constructively stand up or consciously choose
to walk away or "let go" in the face of dysfunctional family dynamics,
you are building emotional stamina, emotional muscle and your own psychological
Integrity and courage means confronting pain both from without and
within. And certainly, engaging hostile family members in a non-dysfunctional
manner can be scary, because you are choosing to be real, open and vulnerable.
Theres no denying the potential for rejection and retaliation further
insult to injury.
The first step in healthy confrontation, of course, is doing a
self-inventory. To take on a hostile family member first embrace and challenge
these four dimensions of your own "Wounded SELF": Sensitivity, Envy
Loyalty and Fairness.
1. Sensitivity. Those most reactive to a venomous sting often are folks with
an acutely tender skin. This tenderness is often a product of both a genetic
predisposition to sensitivity and of life experiences that left one feeling
injured or devalued and invisible or misunderstood. Perhaps this is why creative
types frequently have so much source material and raw material to work with.
Having a sensitive nature is definitely double-edged. Such a person, for
example, often is attuned to both verbal and non-verbal messages laced with
attacking or passive-aggressive elements. And, equally likely, the sender of
such barbs claims unawareness or denies such hostile intentions. (Which of
course can be infuriating for the wounded party. Then again, remember, theres
more than one wounded party here.) So a sensitive individual has a harder time
overlooking the breadth and depth of the communication: Message sent is often
not message received, and not simply because of distortion on the receiving end.
Reflecting this double-edged reality, a more sensitive psychic antennae is
frequently paired with a less hard and less well-defended psychic shell. The
snake bite may have toxicity and the venom has struck a hot-reactor host. Once
stung, such a person may as quickly implode, that is, become hurt and depressed,
or ashamed and suffer in silence as to explode in rage, that is, to cover up the
hurt and perceived humiliation.
2. Envy. Another person susceptible to others hostile ways is the
individual quick to feel envious of others for achievements and financial
class to good looks or winning personality. (Of course, societal blocks to
opportunity whether because of racism, sexism or ageism, etc., need to
generate less envy and more vital anger and individual/social activism.) And
when an envious person is also envied by hostile others, the torment may be
doubled and be doubly confusing.
Not surprisingly, a person who must compulsively and indiscriminately compare
himself or herself with others is often not able to recognize or value his or
her own distinct attributes and aptitudes.. This person may well have had to
bottle up or cover up genuine energy and essence from an early age. Not only
does this diminish confidence, but the envious person is often impaired when
dealing with conflict. He does not know how to stand up to antagonists in a
non-dysfunctional manner. He too urgently needs their approval. In general, he
is too focused on others or preoccupied with what others do to him, i.e., how
others make him feel. This fairly tortured soul is not able to or is afraid to
connect with his or her own genuine emotions and real sense of self the
good, the bad and the ugly. Of course, being genuine usually means connecting to
the often murky, if not unspeakable, pain of early childhood interaction.
3. Loyalty. Speaking of dysfunction, this is one of the most overused and
abused concepts on the family battlefield. Too often family members equate
loyalty with conforming to and promoting an image and story of family strengths
(one big happy clan) while disguising or denying harsh realities (spousal or
child abuse, mental illness, financial status, etc.). Theres often a poor
sense of physical or psychological boundaries; individuality and loyalty are
contradiction in terms. Ah yes, an opportunity to use one of my favorite
psychobabble terms: the family is an "undifferentiated ego mass"!
(Boy, if that doesnt revolt and motivate a person caught in this big muddy
These families or, at least, the "powerful" members are often quick
to feel humiliated or abandoned when their belief system, intentions or actions
are questioned. Might and/or fright makes right. (I recall a bayou grandma, the
matriarch, and her method of controlling extended family behavior, especially
any individual attempts at real emotional and physical emancipation. Her tools
of destruction: guilt-inducing threats and bouts of depression, that is, taking
to bed for extended periods.)
These loyalty driven families often ignore two communication axioms:
a) "Difference and Disagreement =/= Disapproval and Disloyalty" and
b) The difference between "acknowledgment" (letting a sender know that
his or her message has been received) and "agreement" (affirming
points of connection, understanding and mutual solidarity). And, of course, in
healthy families, members can agree to disagree. Let me close this section with
the Stress Docs "Loyalty Catch": Those who never want you to answer
back always want you to back their answer!"
4. Fairness. Alas, being raised in a rigidly loyal or "theres one
right way" family doesnt only produce rebels or social deviants. More
likely, it yields a person for whom fairness is the "11th
Commandment." Often when anger expression is automatically labeled as
"mad or bad," there are few role models regarding the healthy
communication of anger and working through of conflict. This can lead to
overresponsible, self-sacrificing individuals who dont genuinely state their
needs and wishes or concerns and frustrations. In turn, these "too
good," too responsible doing everything for everybody family
members often feel injured and enraged when others dont take note of or
appreciate all their altruism and sacrifice. "After all Ive done for
" or "you selfish
") is the
overt or covert battle cry. Life is black and white, right and wrong, good and
bad and these caretakers, if not martyrs, extol playing by sacred rules. And,
ironically, these rules often are not clearly articulated. Talk about being
"unfair," you wind up discovering the rules after being chastised for
As my brother likes to say, "Ive given up having any expectations (of
people) and Im still usually disappointed." Beyond the cynical humor,
there can be a silently judgmental point of view that can too easily bypass
raising questions and negotiating expectations.
Hopefully, with a better understanding of "The Wounded SELF"
both of your antagonists wounds and your own wounds within you can
overcome being mystified by another persons outrageous behavior and can learn
to set swift and sure limits on rage and hostility. By accepting vulnerability
you also affirm integrity. Consider "The Stress Docs Four Steps for
Disarming a Hostile Encounter":
1. Get Real. The immediate task is to confront your disorientation, if not
shock: "How can anyone be so insensitive or hostile?" Get over it.
Some folks are cruel, other folks just dont have a clue. These types are
either emotionally shallow, extremely self-absorbed or empathetically-deprived.
(And please forgive any redundancy.) Others have become bullies by habit and
success: they intimidate both to get their way and in order not to be intimate
or open with their own anxieties or other vulnerable feelings. (Hmmm, I just
noticed that if you remove the "id" from intimidate you get intimate.)
Whether your hostile antagonist evokes shock, fear or outrage getting
cognitively clear and emotionally centered is critical for planning your
strategic, boundary setting response.
2. Stay Silent, Go Deep. For an adult response to provocation as opposed to a
childish reaction, you must get centered and current. This means doing an inner
survey: are any prior hurtful encounters with antagonists exaggerating the
readings on your psychic Richter Scale? For example, not withstanding
Shakespeares admonition about lawyers, a former client, a law firm
administrator, when dealing with those aggravating "Type A"s (in DC,
"A" is for attorney) had to dig deeper to explain his hair trigger
reactivity. This manager had to gut that years of verbal and emotional taunting
by his father too often reflexively triggered hyperreactive mode in the face of
word to word combat. And gutting literally meant reexperiencing in his gut the
shame, fear and rage of his childhood and adolescence.
With practice sitting quietly and sorting out the historic from the immediate
hurt and hostility, you will dramatically shorten this tuning in, integration
and constructive assertion process. Sometimes you need to call a time out to
space out to do the requisite head work, heart work and homework. Or you may
need to check in with a stress buddy or stress coach for emotional
Of course, its frustrating when you cant come back with the perfect
parry to some hostile remark. Dont worry
Youll be able to nail the bozo
later. No, just kidding. ;-) But French author, Andre Gides psychic salve
(for a wounded ego) and salvo (for deflating the same) comes in handy: "One
must allow others to be right
it consoles them for not being anything
3. Defuse "You"s with Wise "I"s. Frequently, hostile
communicators attack with "acc-you-sations": "Whats
wrong with you?," "Youre making me crazy," or "You
screwed up!" Is it a one time mishap? Of course not. "You screwed up
once again." Or, even better: "You always screw up" and "You
never do what youre supposed to."
Sometimes its an intrusive or invasive comment that needs to be stopped at
your self-integrity border to prevent any significant toxic impact. For example,
with my five year younger brother, I recently mentioned being a bit down. The
demands of syndication and too much work/not enough play syndrome were
contributing factors. Larry, an analytic type, suddenly opined, "Maybe you
should up your Prozac dosage." Startled, I blurted out, "No." He
then cooly stated, "It sounds like a Yes." (That is, he implied
my "No" was defensive thus providing further evidence of a need to
consider meds readjustment.
Initially, I told him, "I found the comment flip." He disagreed.
After a temporary nonverbal cessation of sibling thrusts and parries, I returned
to our unfinished engagement. First, I acknowledged that he didnt feel he was
being "flip." I also emphasized my sensitivity and our different
styles of communication. (Hes cerebral, Im definitely more emotional.) I
also affirmed that on a complex and very personal subject like depression and
medication, Id prefer him to ask questions than just shoot from the lip.
Actually, I said, "When you just throw out an answer, it sure feels flip to
me. And Im not getting the support that I need." And maybe a little
breakthrough in mutual understanding was achieved.
So being able to affirm: a) who you are, b) what does or doesnt feel
comfortable, functional or healthy, and c) what you want, need or prefer enables
you to set boundaries and enhances the chance for a negotiated settlement.
4. Take a Risk. Based on a history of some emotionally charged sibling
encounters, I felt somewhat vulnerable being open with Larry. My fear was that
if I shared my sensitivity, my feelings of being attacked or devalued he would
deny it. Even worse, Larry could make fun of me or make some clever,
self-gratifying retort. (Historically, wit has been his frequently unsheathed
So while a bit apprehensive, I took strength from using those "I"
messages what felt comfortable or hurtful for me. The key, perhaps, is not
feeling so ashamed to acknowledge that his comments could sting. Another
critical step was not needing him to agree with my perception and belief. It
wasnt essential he recognize our interactional dynamics or what motivates his
behavior. Yet, when he did stop and consider what I was saying (acknowledging my
own "sensitivity" appeared to be a face-saving "quid pro
quo") I expressed my appreciation.
As outlined, dealing with hostility requires setting boundaries and affirming
integrity. First, you must tend to a "Wounded SELF." Psychological and
interpersonal dynamics around "Sensitivity," "Envy,
"Loyalty" and "Fairness" if not effectively managed can lead
to a range of dysfunctional behavior from passively tearful to the
righteously vengeful. Then put these problem-solving steps into action: 1) Get
Real, 2) Stay Silent, Run Deep, 3) Defuse "Yous" with Wise "I"s
and 4) Take a Risk. Now you are in position to both disarm an antagonist and
affirm a commitment to
Practice Safe Stress!
Reader's "Higher Power of Humor" Section
Thoughts From: SWells1835@ao.,com
Only Adam had no mother-in-law. That's how we know he lived in paradise. ~
Old Yiddish Saying ~
A problem not worth praying about is not worth worrying about.
A backslider suddenly began attending church faithfully on Sunday mornings
instead of going fishing. The pastor was highly gratified and told him,
"How wonderful it makes me feel to see you at services with your good
wife!" "Well, Preacher," said the fisherman, "it's a matter
of choice. I'd rather hear your sermon than hers."
Bright eyes indicate curiosity. Black eyes indicate too much curiosity.
For many generations a family had raised cotton in a lush southern valley.
Unfortunately, the boll weevil came to call and for three seasons their crop was
wiped out. The younger members of the family urged their patriarch to leave the
cursed valley which was driving them to ruin but he refused, saying,
"Though I live in the valley in the shadow of debt, I will fear no
If you're too open minded, your brains will fall out.
Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.
A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.
Seek the Higher Power of Humor: May the Farce Be with You!
(c) Mark Gorkin 2000 Shrink Rap Productions