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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

November 1999, 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

Announcements: AOL Chat Group and Q & A Links/Archives Q & A: Overcoming Burnout After Breaking Up with an Abusive Spouse Shrink Rap: Wild Encounters -- West and East Reader's Submission: Useful One Liners for Many Situations Sect 2: Main Essay: "Going Postal": Part IIIc -- Reducing Workplace Violence

News Flash: Alas, only for AOL members, stop by my online "Shrink Rap (TM) and Group Chat," Tuesdays, 9-10:45pm EST.  Chat with the Stress Doc: 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.

News Flash: Alas, only for AOL members, stop by my online "Shrink Rap (TM) and Group Chat," Tuesdays, 9-10:45pm EST.  Chat with the Stress Doc: 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.

Announcements: 1) For all cyberspace travelers, there's the new Ask the Stress Doc Q & A -- Work Stress Digital City - Washington, DC - Ask the Stres... and Love and Relationships Digital City - Washington, DC - Relations . Also, check the Doc's Q & A Archives: Stress Doc's Q&A and Q&A: Love and Relationships .

Ask the Stress Doc Q & A/Digital City--Washington, DC Love and Relationships

1) Overcoming Post-Traumatic Burnout After Breaking Up with an Abusive Spouse

Q. Is it possible to suffer post-traumatic burnout after you split up with a spouse? For 8 years I worked so hard trying to make this man happy. I turned myself inside out and backwards! Now he has walked out on me saying he wants to be a bachelor again. I feel used and abused! He was emotionally and verbally abusive during our marriage. During this marriage I also have been working hard to build my own buiness. So I feel DOUBLY exhausted! I feel like I am swimming in a rough ocean with weights tied to me! Family Physician has given me Zoloft, but so far it does not seem to be helping. I must be in a depression. I have lost all my energy, drive, optimism. I was with this man 12 years (married 8). All that time I was building my life around him. He was a very moody personality, almost bipolar...very tough to live with. I guess I feel so burned out because I worked at the marriage SO HARD, and he didn't appreciate me or anything I did. Now I am faced with needing energy and strength.

A. Let's begin with my definition of burnout: "A gradual process by which a person detaches from work and other significant roles and relationships in response to excessive and prolonged stress and physical, mental and emotional strain. The result is lowered productivity, cynicism and confusion; a feeling of being drained...having nothing more to give!"

Clearly, the answer to your opening question is yes. And your closing realization -- feeling "so burned out because I worked SO HARD" without any appreciation -- also deserves confirmation. Consider "The Vital Lesson of the Four 'R's": If no matter what you say or what you do, Results, Rewards, Recognition and Relief are not forthcoming, and you can't say "NO" or won't let go...trouble awaits. The groundwork is being laid for apathy, callousness and despair. Ugh! (For more on the classic, "The Four Stages of Burnout," email stressdoc@aol.com .)

So he had you and you had yourself coming and going. I'll fairly quickly dispatch with your antagonist and then scrutinize your honorable, culturally understandable yet, ultimately, self-defeating assumptions and intentions.


A bipolar diagnosis for your ex is a distinct possibility. I say this up front as one can imagine his mid-life freedom protest: a compelling need to find his real self, his true passion. And he likely added insult to injury by claiming that your nagging, your faultfinding, your guilt inducing and too preoccupied with your business ways -- whether successful or not successful enough -- finally pushed him out. (More likely, he felt threatened by your autonomy and business achievement.)

People who have untreated cyclothymic or bipolar tendencies minimize their dysfunctional disorder. Or if they acknowledge a short fuse, then others have invariably provoked their outbursts. Such folks are often walled off from their genuine emotions and have learned to use belligerent tactics to intimidate, to push others away, to keep you in the dark. The last thing this individual wants is to expose his true nature. He does not want to acknowledge his biological or "mental" condition. Underneath the stony silence and fiery eruptions is much long-standing rage, humiliation and emptiness. Silent or blustery tantrums are directly proportional to his shame at being "damaged goods" and a lurking sense of being "crazy." And he may well be upholding a family of origin tradition of secrecy and shame, addiction and denial regarding mental illness. (Doesn't it sometimes bug you that you're the one on the antidepressants!)


Now for your contribution to this burnout-inducing, "crazy-making" scenario. For too long women have been and, alas, sometimes still are socialized to not just "stand by your man" but to "build my life around him." Especially with a partner with so much biological and psychological baggage and in rigid denial, your self-sacrificing and heroic efforts are bound to fail. Ladies and gentlemen assume the role of savior at your own considerable risk. No matter the passion and perseverance, some prospective partners are irreversibly toxic. Like a pack of cigarettes, they should come with a warning label. Of course, too many will still be unable to resist the rush or the hit.

So for you the basic questions are: Beyond youthful indiscretion or cluelessness, why did you choose such a partner? And what allowed you to tolerate the fairly chronic abuse and his cold-hearted ways?

As I reflect on my blindly marching to emotionally abusive relationships, three factors stand out: 1) a diminished sense of confidence and competence, especially around dealing with anger; I both feared my own rage and was intimidated by other's aggression, including bullying peers -- circling sharks to a wounded, floundering porpoise. This helplessness was a byproduct of childhood fear of reprisal for expressing strong feelings and needs as well as unconsciously internalizing unspoken family panic and rage, 2) a chronic state of biochemical and situational depression, too frequently denied and dysfunctionally covered up, and 3) struggling to carve out a professional/career identity despite long-standing feelings of inferiority that would enable me to experience creative challenge, a sense of achievement and some personal acceptance.

Gaps in these areas translate into codependent relating. As captured in lines from my country codependency lyric, The Love Trade:

I was hoping for salvation At least numb my bleeding wrath But you'd retreat behind that door Float away in your bubble bath.

In this codependency state not only do we deny our needs, but we blind ourselves to the realities of the other. The partner is often idolized (identification with the powerful aggressor) or demonized (victimization by the powerful aggressor). Coming to grips with the complex individual you were with -- from when you started dating to your current departing -- is vital for both present rejuvenation and the, hopefully, "never again" process. (Or, at least, never as bad or as long. Hey, for a former client, a third marriage was the charm.)

But for healing to proceed and progress some interventions must be in place: 1. Have a Psychiatric Evaluation. Because the erosive spiral of burnout can too readily descend into the complex black hole of depression, it's vital to have a diagnostic and psychopharmacological evaluation from a psychiatrist. Taking Zoloft from a Family Physician is a questionable procedure. Unlike the psychiatrist, this family specialist is not the trained expert in mood medications. A psychiatrist will also help you better understand your ex's mood disorder. 2. Find the Right Therapist. Find a psychotherapist with expertise in burnout, depression and post-traumatic relationship abuse. A battered spouse support group would also likely prove therapeutic. You have some significant grieving to do over the next few months. Remember, burnout may be less a sign of failure (in a marriage or in a job) and more that we gave ourselves away. 3. Practice Burnout Recovery Steps. As the appropriate meds and therapeutic grieving begin to place a floor under your free fall and slowly enable you to crawl out of "the bottom of a deep, dark barrel" (to paraphrase a client) consider "The Four 'R's of Burnout Recovery": a) Running -- gradually begin a regular exercise program; 30 minutes, three - five times/week. The Endorphins released are natural mood enhancers; and when I brisk walk or jog my 2-3 miles, even if everything else is up in the air, I'm grounded. There's a tangible sense of accomplishment and control. b) Reading -- consider a variety of humor sources -- books, films, videos, even TV sitcoms...Anything to start flexing those atrophied laughter muscles. As a psychiatrist and author Ernst Kris noted: "What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at." And as the Stress Doc inverted: "What was once feared and is laughed at is no longer a master." c) Retreating -- take time to sort out, as indicated above, how you got into the burnout-exhaustion-depression trap and what you need to learn from this dark night of the soul journey. In a future relationship, what do you need and want from a partner? Heck, do you know what it means to engage in a healthy and loving give and take? (More thoughts upcoming soon on this existential conundrum.) d) Writing -- try capturing your thoughts and emotions in words, using both an analytic and subjective, feeling perspective. You'd be surprised at both the psychologically cathartic and integrative (being more comfortable sitting with a range of feelings) effect. Prose or poetry will definitely expedite the grieving and healing process. 4. Refocus Energy and Commitment. Gradually rechannel new found energy in your business. Clearly, you are a woman with definite strengths. Sometimes those who are naturally strong or who have been caretaking since childhood don't realize the extra heavy load they feel obligated to carry. Or worse, they are clueless to "The Basic Law of Safe Stress": Do Know Your Limits and Don't Limit Your "No"s!

As you unshackle those weights and no longer feel like you are going under, test out the familiar shore. If you still retain a sense of purpose, passion and pride for your business, embrace your creation. Infuse your business with some of the new found self-nurturing and healing energy. Rebuild your sense of autonomy and there's greater potential for intimacy on a future horizon. So, to good adventures and a profound commitment to...Practice Safe Stress!

Shrink Rap™: Wild Encounters -- East and West

While the piercing cry of bull elk -- awherurwurrr...awherurwurrr -- is not quite a distant memory, six days and six different towns -- Red Lodge (60 miles from Yellowstone National Park) then Livingston, Montana (my writer's haven), the Oregon Coast town of Manzanita, Portland, Washington, DC and Albany, NY -- is cause for some disorientation. Finally crawled home to Dupont Circle. I must reflect on a subtle truth: this on the run adventure revealed both "the call" and "the calling of the wild."

Standing atop Mammoth Hot Springs, the vast limestone terraces the backdrop for frozen ice blue-green sculpture, cascading falls and bubbling, mesmerizing pools of kaleidoscopic color and design...And suddenly, a distant sound that somehow vibrates under your skin -- the bugling, rutting eruption of a bull elk echoing between the snow-covered mountains. And only one other human being is nearby; she heard it too. We aren't hallucinating. Yes, this is the big primal picture.

Later, in a golden hued valley, spying a lone coyote fifty yards off the road searching for prey. The sandy blond creature so naturally blends with the surroundings. A small sleek figure with a graceful gait on this massive landscape. And the sudden thought: on some basic level despite all our social and cyber networks we are still existentially alone -- whether conscious or not -- trying to make sense of our true habitat; to find our niche, whether spiritual homeland or pure mindscape. (Maybe a former artist girl friend was on to something when she nicknamed me "The Wolf." She also liked "Wolfie"; a big fan of Mozart.)

The madcap journey -- from the sublime and sensual to the improbably technical -- closed with a workshop at the New York State Counselors Association Annual Conference. My topic -- "From Technophobia to Cybermania: On Becoming an Internet Entrepreneur." (Email stressdoc@aol.com for the same named article.) Being scheduled on the last day of the conference (starting at 8:30am no less) kept the numbers down. But before we were through, it was if we had created a band of apostles ready to follow that Stress Doc maxim: "Go web young cyberite!" (My cyberwolf pack!)

And the highlight of being back in DC -- bristling at my new editor's email gambit for structuring my book in progress. Having a flashback to the year mostly wasted with a previous editor and house, I warned my current collaborator of my PTED: Post Traumatic Editor Disorder. Fortunately, with tact and humility she acknowledge taking a risk putting out her ideas before we had talked. Her step back was a breath of fresh air. And with one phone call we were off and dialoguing, if not dancing. (It's so nice when you draw a line in the sand and the other doesn't kick the same in your face. This person has an understanding and respect for boundaries)

If hopelessness is an inability to imagine a tolerable or achievable future (to paraphrase the psychiatrist, Jerome Frank) then I'm feeling far from bereft. As a PR buddy in New Orleans had prominently displayed on her business stationery: "Hype Springs Eternal!"

From hyperactivity to hype, challenges abound. And while only cursorily mentioned, the horizon off the Oregon Coast -- looking both westward and eastward -- seems very inviting. Perhaps a kindred creature to wander with a wary wolf.

Are there laser beams dancing with moon vision Two fireballs blazing their own path Buddha Blues in the face of confusion Kindred cats eyes when of when you coming back?

And when risking anew, practicng "the art of designing disorder," cultivating mystery over history, well, of course...Practice Safe Stress!

Reader's "Higher Power of Humor" Section


Well, this day was a total waste of makeup. I just want revenge. Is that so wrong? Make yourself at home; clean the kitchen. I like cats, too. Let's exchange recipes. If I want to hear the pitter patter of little feet, I'll put shoes on mycat. Chaos, panic, & disorder - my work here is done. An erection doesn't count as personal growth. Does this condom make me look fat? It ain't the size, it's...Um...no, it's the size. I started out with nothing & still have most of it left. Practice random acts of intelligence & senseless acts of self-control. Friendly checkout clerk. Thanks for keeping me that way. Does your train of thought have a caboose? Let me show you how the guards used to do it. And just how may I screw you over today? And your crybaby, whiny-assed opinion would be...? If you'd use your powers for good instead of evil... A PBS mind in a MTV world. Allow me to in introduce my selves. Whisper my favorite words: "I'll buy it for you." Whatever kind of look you're going for, you missed. Suburbia: where they tear out the trees & then name streets after them. Adult Child of Alien Invaders. I'm not your type; I'm not inflatable. I'm not crazy, I've just been in a very bad mood for 30 years. I'm not tense, just terribly, terribly alert. I can't remember if I'm the good twin or the evil one. I'm trying to imagine you with a personality. How many times do I need to flush before you go away? I have a computer, a vibrator, & pizza delivery. Why should I leave the house? I have to work very hard to justify being this poor. A cubicle is just a padded cell without a door. Everyone thinks I'm psychotic, except my friends deep inside the earth. You say I'm a bitch like's that's a bad thing. Macho Law forbids me from admitting I'm wrong. Too many freaks, not enough circuses A woman's favorite position is CEO. Ambivalent? Well, yes and no. Is it time for your medication or mine? Aw. Did I step on your poor little ego? I refuse to star in your psychodrama. How do I set a laser printer to stun? Meandering to a different drummer. I am majored in liberal arts. Will that be for here or to go? When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you. Gene Police! Get out of the pool! Earth is full. Go home. Do they ever shut up on your planet? Better Living Through Denial. . Bottomless Pit of Needs & Wants.

 Seek the Higher Power of Humor: May the Farce Be with You!

(c) Mark Gorkin 1999 Shrink Rap™ Productions