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New from HCI: The Power and Grace Between Nasty or Nice: Replacing Entitlement, Narcissism, and Incivility with Knowledge, Caring, and Genuine Self-Esteem

April 30, 2012 at 9:52 am

 INTERVIEW with

John C. Friel, Ph.D., and Linda D. Olund Friel, M.A.

Minnesota Licensed Psychologists

1.  What is “limbic resonance” and why is it so important for human survival?

          When you hold a puppy in your arms and he wiggles and wags his tail and licks you in the face, you are experiencing limbic resonance. When two people falling in love gaze into each other’s eyes and feel as if they have known each other for centuries, that is limbic resonance. When a mother holds her infant and the two of them seem to be in a “dance of intimate connection” as they respond to each other, that is limbic resonance. Limbic resonance is what happens between two mammals—two human beings, a human and a dog, a dog and a dolphin, etc.—when they “connect up” or “map each other’s minds.”

Higher feelings—e.g., loneliness, safety, shame, guilt—are only experienced by mammals. When I was in first and second grade, my friend and I collected snakes and lizard in the coastal mountains just north of San Francisco. When we left for school in the morning, the snakes in the terrarium never got distressed, and when we came home from school, they never got excited. But the dog did!

People who have learned to ignore or suppress their feelings as they were growing up are simply incapable of having a very intimate relationship with another human being, and they repeatedly make huge mistakes when picking a life partner. Feelings are absolutely crucial in making good decisions.

2.  Do you think that the Self-Esteem Movement has been a bad thing?

          Struggle is a good thing. Way too many American parents are afraid to let their kids struggle, and are crippling them as a result.

The self-esteem movement began as a very positive and caring response to the emotional and physical abuse of children at home and in the classroom. By the late 1970s, it had morphed into one of the most destructive forces in American society, and in our estimation, is responsible for a dramatic increase in personality disorders—especially narcissistic personality disorder—among twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, and even forty-somethings.

          Kids who were raised with constant praise, and whose parents hovered over them and removed all of the struggles from their paths, grow up, try to leave home after high school or college, and fall flat on their faces because all of a sudden, LIFE IS TOO HARD! It’s a terrible problem in the United States.

3. You say that “the opposite of dysfunctional is dysfunctional.” Can you give an example of that?

          People who are needy, clingy, and helpless clearly have dependency problems. So do people who are overly independent, deny their needs, and come across as need-less. That is why people who are too independent usually find themselves in intimate relationships with others who are alcoholic, sexually addicted, needy and clingy, or manipulative. Being overly independent is just as “little,” as my wife, Linda puts it, as someone who is clingy and helpless on the outside. Their outside “shell” just looks different—inside, they’re the same.

4.  You begin this book with the plight of Neanderthals and the  evolutionary biology of human survival. What’s your point?

          Homo sapiens has been around for 200,000 years—half as long as the 400,000 years that Neanderthals were around. There is a very strong theory that suggests that those of us who care for one another—even to the point of not reproducing ourselves by having our own children if need be—are more apt to protect our gene pool than those who are selfish, self-centered, and only care about ourselves. By 2042 the United States will be composed entirely of minorities. It is imperative that we learn to cooperate and tolerate if we plan to survive on this planet for very long. About 4% of the DNA of many modern humans is from Neanderthals—that’s as much as Neanderthals were able to pass on to us.

5.  What happens to human beings who do not have a solid support system that includes people with whom they can share their deepest, darkest secrets and fears?

          There is an exciting new scientific field called “interpersonal neurobiology.” We now know that people who have a good social support system live longer, are better able to fight off diseases, feel less stressed, and are less prone to depression. The specific findings are stunning (give examples).

          We are pack animals. We did not evolve to be excessively individualistic, like reptiles. We do best when we have others upon whom we can depend, and who depend on us.

6.  On the back cover of your book, you state that the term “American Exceptionalism” was actually coined by Soviet Communist Party Leader Joseph Stalin. Why is that in your book.

          The term “American Exceptionalism” has been dusted off and used in recent political battles in an attempt to re-affirm that we are the greatest nation that ever existed. The same people who are using the term are also trying to diminish, some would say even destroy, the American Middle Class by continuing to bolster the richest 1% of the population while gutting unions and keeping wages flat, or worse, as they have been since George W. Bush took office. In 1929, the American Communist Party told Stalin that America was not ripe for a revolution because capitalism was strong, we had an expanding middle class, and our economy was still good. The Depression had not hit yet. Stalin became angry and wrote to the head of the American Communist Party, referring to this “heresy of American exceptionalism.” The irony is that current Ultra-Right-Wing attempts to take down the middle class in America will create the very conditions that Stalin knew would make us ripe for a revolution. In fact, it is what the Right loosely labels “socialism” that actually makes America strong—unions, healthcare, a good educational system, and tax policies that are fair to everyone, not just the wealthy.

7.  On the back cover, you state that the divorce rate is highest in Southern states that do not allow gay marriage, and lowest in Northeastern states that do allow gay marriage. What is the significance of this?

          It’s really simple. The common variable is education. The more highly educated, the lower the divorce rate, and the more tolerant people are of others’ differences.

          According to the Wall Street Journal, 50% of all Silicon Valley startups are initiated by non-citizens, and 70% of all Ph.D.s in electrical engineering in the U.S. are earned by immigrants. Dr. Richard Florida maintains that cities or regions in the U.S. that have high quality educational systems, are tolerant and flexible—especially about gays and immigrants—and who appreciate the brainpower contributed by immigrants, will be where the most high-tech startups occur, and where the strongest economies, overall (there are always exceptions), will be.

8. You say that in marriage, people always pair up with a partner who is equally healthy and equally dysfunctional as themselves. How can that be true? Can you give an example?

          I could give you a few thousand examples. One was a 45-year-old attorney and his 43-year-old wife, who was a chronic alcoholic and had been to inpatient treatment at Hazelden in Minnesota 3 times. They came to see me for marital counseling. I got her to go to her 4th inpatient treatment, and I talked him into my men’s therapy group. He must have trusted something about me, because he stayed in group for over 2 years. A little over 1 year into the group, he came in, smiling, and said that he had “hated my guts” since our first session when I suggested that they were equally healthy and dysfunctional. He was working 50 hours a week, taking the kids to all of their hockey practices and band concerts. She was a great mom and wife when she was sober, but she wasn’t sober very often. He laughed and then told me that it had “hit him like a ton of bricks” on the way to my office this day, for group, that he was just as dysfunctional as her, and he proceeded to count on his fingers 6 major ways that that was true.

          Linda and I take a systems approach to all of the therapy that we do, so while there is no way to know for sure, I find it very interesting that this balancing of the system that came with his acknowledging his own part instead of just blaming her, was followed by her getting sober two months later, and staying sober for the next 15 years. And she is sober to this day.

9.  You suggest that cutting off all contact from certain family members is never a good strategy, and that it invariably results in harm to everyone, including the person who has cut off contact. You have two very powerful examples in your book. Is there ever a time to completely cut off contact?

          We can’t think of one. A parent, or parents, may be so abusive and/or scary that you need to limit your contact to something as simple as a birthday card, a holiday card, and perhaps one or two phone calls a year. But you might be amazed at how many families have been able to heal even the most terrible of wounds.

10.  You say that conflict is a good thing, and that it makes people grow, and strengthens relationships. How can this be?

          Conflict is a normal, necessary, and constant part of life WHETHER YOU ARE WILLING OR ABLE TO ADMIT IT OR NOT. Examples? Thermostat up, thermostat down. Being on time, being late. Being messy, being neat. Being on the top, or being on the bottom. Where to go on vacation. Whether or not to go to a movie tonight. People who say they don’t have conflict? They do. They just have a hidden way of resolving it, which is sometimes good, and sometimes not so good.

          If one person always defers to the other, the one who always defers will eventually begin to “disappear” and lose his/her identity. If one always gets his/her way, he’ll eventually feel lonely or dissatisfied because unless there is resistance in a relationship, THERE IS NO RELATIONSHIP.

          All couples have the same fight—structurally—for the entire length of their relationship. The structure or style might be that when uncomfortable, he backs away or “exits,” and she moves in, confronts, and may even become “too confrontive and critical.” This becomes their life-long dance. Couples who get better and better at doing their “fight” have the best relationships. In other words, the more she can soothe herself and back off but still stay connected to him, and the more he stays put and stays connected rather than backing away, the more intimate their relationship becomes.

          Healthy conflict makes people grow. Psychologist David Schnarch wrote, “Sexual conflict in marriage is not just inevitable—it’s important…because it…makes both people grow up.”

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