We are all so different…but so similar in some of our patterns. Especially the limiting  or negative ones.

Psychiatric personality diagnosis tries to provide some order, but sometimes alienates people. Who wants to have a “disorder”?  Must be something deeply wrong with me. But it’s easy to  think of our personality ‘issues’ (in olden days: “neuroses”) with much more compassion and understanding.

As young people growing up in the world of our family, our schools, neighbourhoods, with all their challenges, we face certain common, human problems. Like: how will I be accepted? How can I get recognition and love? How can I get attention for what I need? How can I belong? How can I assert my independence? What do I have to do to feel safe? Where can I express myself?

Depending on the world we are in, along with the basic temperament and body we’re born with, it can be pretty tough, but not solving these problems is not an option. So we do the best we can with our little bodies and developing minds. And it is not surprising that we come up with some similar solutions to these similar problems. We try out lots of things. We’ll be good –  OK, that didn’t work, we’ll be bad. Hmm, that didn’t work, we’ll be cute. No? Beautiful? How about smart?  Stoned? Funny? Needy? Withdrawn? Strong? Tough? Aha! Recognition. Success.  Partial solution to an otherwise insolvable problem. Now I can get the love/recognition/safety/freedom etc I need.

We try the solution out over and over. Eventually, we become it, we live it. It’s gone beyond being a strategy, now it’s a way of life, of thinking, perceiving things, of feeling. Who we are. We’ve figured out to go down a path others have followed too. So it starts to look like, even though we are unique, we share personality traits in common with others. It’s not too surprising that we came up with similar solutions to similar kinds of problems.

As we grow up, we may gradually, dimly realize that we pay a price for the early solutions. As a Nobel laureate commented (I forget the source), “what I really wanted was love, but I accepted a Nobel prize”. Work…worked. But it was only a partial solution. Or, in the case of addiction, Dr. Gabor Mate suggests addicts try to fill “a God-shaped hole in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing” (Blaise Pascal) with a substance. Leaving it unfilled is not an option, even at a huge price.

Our partial solutions were absolutely the best we could come up with at the time to solve an otherwise unsolvable set of problems.  Some would call this pathology, neurosis, personality disorder, “issues”. I prefer to see the glass half full. Let’s recognize what a challenge it is to grow up and be someone, and appreciate the struggles, and acknowledge the efforts made along the way to solve these crucial and otherwise unsolvable  problems.  Then we can gently and therapeutically begin to find more creative, fulfilling (and adult) alternatives.

Brian Grady, Ph.D. R.Psych

The Society for Research in Child Development issued the following news

Why are some young victims of domestic violence resilient?

More than 10 million U.S. children witness domestic violence yearly,
resulting in a range of emotional and behavioral problems.

A new study suggests that the reason some of these children are
resilient is because of their easy temperaments and because they have
mentally healthy moms.

The longitudinal study, conducted by researchers at Michigan State
University, is published in the March/April 2009 issue of the journal
Child Development.

The researchers looked at more than 100 American children who had
witnessed violent acts against their mothers when the children were 2,
3, and 4 years old. They also looked at more than 70 children who hadn’t
witnessed violence against their mothers.

Children exposed to violence were almost four times more likely than
others to develop emotional or behavioral problems.


The many faces of perfectionism

The need for perfection comes in different flavors, each associated with its own set of problems, researchers say.

Monitor staff

Paul Hewitt, PhD, does not have much patience with researchers who argue that perfectionism–the need to be or appear perfect–can sometimes serve as a healthy motivation for reaching ambitious goals. “I don’t think needing to be perfect is in any way adaptive,” he says.

Hewitt should know. In more than 20 years of research, he and his colleagues–particularly psychologist Gordon Flett, PhD–have found that perfectionism correlates with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health problems. This summer, several new studies were published that help explain how perfectionism can contribute to psychopathology.

“In the literature right now–this astounds me–people have said that self-oriented perfectionism is adaptive,” says Hewitt, a practicing psychologist and professor at the University of British Columbia. “People will make that claim, and they’ll just ignore the fairly large literature that says that it’s a vulnerability factor for unipolar depression, anorexia and suicide.”

The question of adaptiveness

Since the early 1990s, Hewitt and Flett, a professor of psychology at York University in Toronto have championed the idea that perfectionism comes in different flavors, each associated with different kinds of problems. Some of those problems may be less severe than others, they argue, but no form of perfectionism is completely problem-free.

Other researchers, however, have suggested that some forms of perfectionism–particularly those that involve high personal standards–can be adaptive. World-class athletes, they argue, have extraordinarily high standards; they shouldn’t be labeled pathological just because they aim high.

That’s an oversimplification, says Hewitt, one that conflates two very different things: the desire to excel and the desire to be perfect.


Boston University issued the following news release:

Researchers identify personality traits

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine’s (BUSM) New
England Centenarian Study have noted specific personality traits
associated with healthy aging and longevity amongst the children of
centenarians. The work was conducted in collaboration with scientists
from the National Institute on Aging. These findings currently appear on-
line in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Previous research on siblings and offspring of centenarians have
documented that exceptional longevity runs strongly in families. Studies
of the offspring of centenarians showed that their mortality is 120
percent lower than other members of their birth cohort and that they
also have markedly lower prevalence rates and delayed onsets of
cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus. Because
personality traits have been shown to have substantial heritable
components, the researchers hypothesized that certain personality
features may be important to the healthy aging observed in the offspring
of centenarians.

Using the NEO-Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) questionnaire, measures of
the personality traits for neuroticism, extraversion, openness,
agreeableness, and conscientiousness were obtained from 246 (125 women
and 121 men) unrelated offspring of centenarians with an average age of 75.

Both the male and female offspring of centenarians scored in the low
range of published norms for neuroticism and in the high range for
extraversion. The women also scored comparatively high in agreeableness.
Otherwise, both sexes scored within normal range for conscientiousness
and openness, and the men scored within normal range for agreeableness.

According to the researchers, personality traits in the offspring of
centenarians appear to have distinctive characteristics that may have
important implications for their longevity. “Interestingly, whereas men
and women generally differ substantially in their personality
characteristics, the male and female offspring tended to be similar,
which speaks to the importance of these traits, irrespective of gender,
for health aging and longevity.

It’s likely that the low neuroticism and higher extraversion will confer
health benefits for these subjects,” said senior author Thomas Perls,
MD, MPH, director of the New England Centenarian Study. “For example,
people who are lower in neuroticism are able to manage or regulate
stressful situations more effectively than those with higher neuroticism
levels. Similarly, high extraversion levels have been associated with
establishing friendships and looking after yourself,” he said.

Perl’s added, “These findings suggest that personality is an important
characteristic to include in studies that assess genetic and
environmental determinants of longevity. Such studies are currently underway.”

This study was supported in part by grants from the National Institute
on Aging (NIA): K-24, AG025727 (TP), K23 AG026754 (Paul Beeson Physician
Faculty Scholar in Aging Award, DT), and the Intramural Research Program
of the NIA.


Of course, this makes one wonder how much we can either a) modify extraversion and neuroticism, or b) find other ways to get the benefits that these traits bring us. Maybe introverts can further develop close and abiding friendships and the joy and fun that comes with these whether you are extravert or not. And people who are prone to anxiety and distress (neuroticism) can learn to find their center?    BG

Do optimists live longer?
By Coco Ballantyne in 60-Second Science Blog Scientific American

A perennial grump? Always see the glass as half empty instead of half full? Might want to brighten up a bit – if, that is, you’d like to live longer. A new study says that the optimists among us may have a lower risk of heart disease and early death.

Researchers led by Hilary Tindle, an internist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, analyzed eight years of data on 97,253 women, age 50 and over, participating in the Women’s Health Initiative, a 15-year study launched in 1991 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their findings, released this week at a conference of the American Psychosomatic Society in Chicago: the women who were most cheery were 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease and 14 percent less likely than their pessimistic peers to die from all causes during the study period. The results were even more striking among black women; the optimists among them were 38 percent less likely to die of heart disease and 33 percent less likely to die from all causes.

The researchers caution that their findings only show a link, not a cause-and-effect relationship, between optimism and health outcomes. So what is it about Pollyannas that may make them live longer? It could be that optimistic people tend to be healthier in general; they are more likely to be slim and physically active and less likely to smoke, Tindle says.

“Optimistic people seem to seek medical advice and follow it,” she says, citing research showing that optimists are inclined to stick with diet programs prescribed by their docs. “They [also] have good social networks and strong social relationships,” which could help them cope with chronic stress, a risk factor for heart disease.

So are pessimists doomed to die early? Not necessarily, Tindle says. This is just one study, and more research is needed to get to the bottom of that question.

The secret to a longer life? Being conscientious

EXECUTIVES who build successful companies, Olympic athletes and even some US presidents are all likely to live longer than the average Joe – because they are more conscientious. The life-prolonging benefits of a scrupulous life have come to light from a comparison of 20 previous studies which together rated 8900 people for consclentiousness using a standard psychological survey, and also recorded the age they died. Howard Friedman and Margaret Kern at the University of California at Riverside found that people who were less conscientious were 50 per cent more likely to die at any given age, on average, than those of the same age who scored highly (Health Psychology, DOI: 10.1037/0278-6133.27.5.505). This exceeds the effects of socioeconomic status and intelligence, which are also known to increase longevity. Friedman and Kern then divided the most conscientious study subjects into subgroups, and found that high achievers were most likely to live the longest. “These are individuals who are hard-working, resourceful, confident and ambitious,” says Kern. Second in line were orderly people. Finally, traits of responsibility and reliability were also significant. “These are people who are often seen as respectable members of the community, who contribute time and energy to society, cooperate with colleagues and neighbours, and are trustworthy,” says Kern. Friedman say conscientious people do not live longer simply because they are boring or cautious, but admits they tend to “live lives that are more stable and less stressful”. “0ne of the studies we included looked at American presidents,” says Kern. The first US president, George Washington, lived to be 67, double the life expectancy there at the time. “Washington was very conscientious, yet he certainly didn’t live a boring life.” For starters, he led his army to victory over Britain in the American revolutionary war. Andy Coghlan – New Scientist Oct 24-31 2008 pg 10

This morning’s *New York Times* includes an article: “Addiction Doesn’t
Discriminate? Wrong” by Sally Satel, M.D.

The author note states:  “Sally Satel is a psychiatrist and a resident
scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.”

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

We’ve heard it before. “Drug abuse is an equal opportunity destroyer.”
“Drug addiction is a bipartisan illness.” “Addiction does not
discriminate; it doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, famous or
unknown, a man or woman, or even a child.”

The phrase “addiction doesn’t care” is not meant to remind us that
addiction casts a long shadow — everyone knows that. Rather, it is
supposed to suggest that any individual, no matter who, is vulnerable to
the ravages of drugs and alcohol.

The same rhetoric has been applied to other problems, including child
abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism — even suicide. Don’t stigmatize
the afflicted, it cautions; you could be next. Be kind, don’t judge.


We Are Many

Of the many men whom I am, whom we are,
I cannot settle on a single one.
They are lost to me under the cover of clothing
They have departed for another city.

When everything seems to be set
to show me off as a man of intelligence,
the fool I keep concealed on my person
takes over my talk and occupies my mouth.

On other occasions, I am dozing in the midst
of people of some distinction,
and when I summon my courageous self,
a coward completely unknown to me
swaddles my poor skeleton
in a thousand tiny reservations.

When a stately home bursts into flames,
instead of the fireman I summon,
an arsonist bursts on the scene,
and he is I. There is nothing I can do.
What must I do to distinguish myself?
How can I put myself together?

All the books I read
lionize dazzling hero figures,
brimming with self-assurance.
I die with envy of them;
and, in films where bullets fly on the wind,
I am left in envy of the cowboys,
left admiring even the horses.

But when I call upon my DASHING BEING,
out comes the same OLD LAZY SELF,
and so I never know just WHO I AM,
nor how many I am, nor WHO WE WILL BE BEING.
I would like to be able to touch a bell
and call up my real self, the truly me,
because if I really need my proper self,
I must not allow myself to disappear.

While I am writing, I am far away;
and when I come back, I have already left.
I should like to see if the same thing happens
to other people as it does to me,
to see if as many people are as I am,
and if they seem the same way to themselves.
When this problem has been thoroughly explored,
I am going to school myself so well in things
that, when I try to explain my problems,
I shall speak, not of self, but of geography.

Pablo Neruda

*Boston Globe* 1/30/2008 includes an article: “Study: Personality,
breast cancer not linked” by Will Dunham.

Here’s the article:

The idea that a woman’s personality traits can make her more prone to
get breast cancer appears to be nothing more than a myth, according to a
Dutch study that tested the notion.

Women who were unemotional, depressed, or anxious were no more or less
likely to get breast cancer than any other women, the study found; nor
were women who were optimistic, angry, or understanding, or had any
combination of personality traits.