June 27, 2013

The Social Context of Mental Illness and a video on "Human Nature"

On Human Nature: Robert Sapolsky, Gabor Mate, James Gilligan, & Richard Wilkinson
(32:54 minutes)

This video captures many of the things we talk about in discussing the etiology of personality disorders.   It seems we never tire of the Nature versus Nurture debate, most of us allowing for a little bit of either. Very thought-provoking comments in this video by some rather famous people. Well, famous if you're interested in pathology, addiction, attachment, violence, competition, genes, child abuse, empathy, reciprocity, and Social Darwinism. Human Needs. 

I also want to bring the following class to everyone's attention because I took it in January and it has continued to influence and inform my thinking. And also, taking this class broadens one's view of the social responsibility we bear for the healthy OR unhealthy communities we create.

taught by Dr. Charmaine Williams

Coursera is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).  I started taking Coursera classes last January and my first pick was "The Social Context of Mental Illness", a biopsychosocial approach to understanding  mental illness. Professor Charmaine Williams of the University of Toronto is teaching the class again. This online class started June 24, 2013 and lasts six weeks but it's not too late to sign up! 

Expect to spend 5-7 hours per week listening to lectures and completing homework assignments. (I spent at least double that amount of time reading optional articles and books.) The beauty of a MOOC is that you can determine how much time you can spend learning about a particular topic and you can do it at your own speed. There are deadlines if you want a Certificate of Completion but you do not  have to take the tests, or do the homework, if  you only have time to watch the lectures.  

For those who are interested in psychology and/or supporting people with mental illnesses, you'll appreciate the global discussions boards (35,000+ students worldwide) and the material Dr. Williams presents on the history of mental illness, from insane asylums to mental health care hospitals. Dr. Williams is pro-family and very understanding of the challenges families face supporting family members with mental illnesses. 

"Mental health and mental illness used to be something that people didn't talk about, but now it seems every time we open a newspaper we are hearing about the importance of mental health, or the consequences of mental illness. At this point in our history we understand mental illness and mental health to be largely influenced by biological factors, specifically, workings of the brain. At the same time, we have always known that social factors play a very strong role in promoting mental health and can make big differences in who gets mentally ill, who gets treated for mental illness, and how people can achieve good quality of life after a mental health diagnosis.  
This course is an opportunity to explore how social practices and ideas contribute to the ways in which society, families and individuals are affected by mental health and mental illness. We will look at issues like why some people think mental illness is a myth, how people think about mental health and illness in different cultures, who gets mentally ill and why, how families are affected by mental illness and what interventions are available to treat mental illness and promote mental health." ~Coursera.org

p.s. If you decide to take this class, I'd love hearing from you! 



  1. Hi CZ, this comment is not directed towards your post, but I am looking for a post you wrote on Women and Religions, or Women and Cults?? I have trolled your website all weekend and can't find it. I need to read it!

    A friend of 18 years (Bahai) is very pissed off at me because I raised some questions about this faith. IN fact, she is suffering heart issues because of the 'stress' she felt when I raised these questions. I believe it is the end of our long term friendship. However, I have come to realize that some of the same behavior with people in cults, some religions, etc. are the same as with narcissists: they are bullies and don't want to be questioned on anything.

    It was pretty cutting, her email to me this morning, but I reserve the right and obligation to question any religion, cult or not. When someone tells me that they are sorry I went online to read about the Bahai faith, that just doesn't cut it with me. I rely on the internet for much research,for my own work and to get a more balanced view of many things. I have had a lot of wool pulled over my eyes by religious zealots for years, and it has driven me away from God. Now? I realize so many 'opinions' are nothing but power and control issues. And I have learned it from therapy (extensive) and this blog.

    So, do you remember a post/thread you started on Women and Religious Cults??

    Thank you, CZ.

    Lady Nyo

    1. Hi Lady Nyo,

      We went away for the weekend...our family insists on leaving the house for a few days to 'wean' us from our devices and vices maybe. ha!

      I may have written about cults and abusive relationships but I think what you're remembering is a video on my sidebar. Scroll way down towards the bottom of my page and you'll see it on the right side. Or you can watch it here:


      This is an older book so you may need to purchase a used copy. "Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships," by Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich.

      I have never found it helpful in any way, shape or form, to question other people's beliefs. Only mine. Only mine. You can think about it this way: people create or adopt beliefs that support what they want to believe. When someone is overly reliant on her faith to give her life meaning or to make her feel safe, accepted, maybe even hold her steady, we do them no favors when we rip off their overcoat and a hailstorm arrive. If they do not want to question their belief/faith, then what happens is the YOU make them feel threatened. YOU make them feel very unsafe and so they eliminate you and life is better again.

      In my life, even suggesting someone had irrational beliefs that were 'destructive' to him/her, alienated us from one another.

      When Lalich and Tobias made the connection between Cults and Abusive Relationships, my whole life story fell into place cuz I am a questioner, especially of my own beliefs. It's just like telling a woman her marriage is abusive. If she is prepared and able to hear your concern, it could be the beginning of a new and safer life for her (and her children). If she is not prepared to hear the truth or even allow you to express you concerns, she will cut you out of her life.

      That's been my experience. Having lived all over the world and USA, I have known many people from a variety of beliefs including atheism and rare it was that someone was willing to engage in critical thought about their beliefs. They might be willing to talk about their private sex life, their bankruptcies, their most embarrassing experience, yet talking about their religion created a rift between us. I ruined more than one relationship doing that. :-(


  2. Dear CZ...you are probably right: raising questions about a particular religion didn't do anything good here. And she relies totally on her religion to fashion something of security for herself, I have come to believe. For 17-18 years I never said boo...but when I did raise my concern about two issues,(infallibility of religious leaders and NWO) it was the end.

    Ah...live and learn. I came from a family that was agnostic at best, and then my brothers became fundamentalist holy rollers. I can understand why, this was something they gave shape and meaning to a NM in the center of the nest, but it didn't catch me. I have spent my life trying to understand these religious questions. Since I didn't believe in the shape and structure of their religion, I was shunned as 'lost'. I was never lost, just wanting to know more deeply the spiritual issues that I had. This takes time for many of us...sometimes a lifetime of searching.

    I understand what you are saying, CZ, and I see the results of my queries. But I also know for some of us, critical thinking is absolutely necessary on these religious issues. Having been in a cult before, for 12 years...perhaps I am burned once and don't want to be burned again.

    Thank you, sweetheart. I will get that book today. I LOVE Amazon.com and usually can find what I want for pennies. That book sounds excellent. And thanks, CZ, for your kind words.

    Lady Nyo....who is also sick of computers,TV, etc.

    1. (This comment will be in two parts since blogger won't accept my notorious rambling).

      The same 'thought reform' tactics used by cults are also used by narcissists and control freaks HIDING their true agenda behind 'meaningful words'. Words they know carry spiritual significance for other people. The sick and twisted result is that people like myself are cluelessly manipulable, never recognizing the controller’s intent (power over, financial gain, the sheer joy of 'fooling' people).

      I have a tender place in my heart for narcissists trapped in a pathology that ruins whatever they seek: intimacy, security, and love. However, there are predatory narcissists for whom 'control and power over others' is not an unconscious drive. They are aware of their damaging impact, but never question their part in creating an unbalanced relationship: disempowering others and empowering themselves. Critical thinking is not only disallowed by such religious leaders, it's punished through the employment of familiar methods religious people have used to keep one another in line (ostracism, demonization, shunning...)

      A persistently questioning person may inadvertently shake someone’s faith beyond their level of tolerance. So the leader doesn't have to be cruel or overbearing. S/he gets everyone else to do the dirty work instead; and if those people "NEED" to wrap themselves in certainty, they will BETRAY the principles they portend to value! Their united aggression is terrifying to questioners who haven’t "undone" their own childhood conditioning. I've experienced ridiculous fears shaking me in my boots as a result of my critical inquiry. "Will God strike me dead because I disagree with church policy on X, Y, Z?"

      F.E.A.R. = Fantacized Events Appearing Real

      That’s why I have compassionate insight into how people are feeling when their MIND yearns for liberation and yet their F.E.A.R.s have been so inculcated they haven't yet unearthed the dogma.

      I also have sympathy for religious people's desire for certainty---insecurity feels intolerable when the ground drops beneath our feet. When I am nervous about whatever my psyche has unearthed, this quote stabilizes me: "The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity." ~Erich Fromm

      I think most people underestimate the significance of Fromm's words because our constructed beliefs about life, human nature, the "way things are", REALITY, have developed over years of conditioning. Then someone comes like Lady Nyo says, "Hey. What you perceive to be reality may not be. Wanna go for coffee now?"

    2. I know you LOVE breaking through your illusions and you are willing to endure the uncertainty. I have a trail of broken relationships with people based completely on MY GOOD INTENTIONS. What liberated me, I assumed would be "freeing" for them and we would achieve Peace of Mind and sing Holy Hosannas to our ability to think OUTSIDE the box. Until we realized we were still in a box--a little bigger with greater variety than before; but we've still conformed to certain beliefs we have determined, at that point, to be true. I don't figure people who are inclined towards critical thinking, ever stop opening boxes.

      Religion creates order, a way to determine who's bad and who's good, simplifying a complex/uncertain existence. What I realized is that someone who is cloaked in a religion may use that belief system to know they are "good". Calling their beliefs into question is destabilizing.

      For example: as long as my X was heavily involved in our religious faith, his narcissism had a counter control. Male authorities. Once we separated from religion, nothing held his arrogance in check. He had lost his 'grounding'. Someone with a solid identity isn't shaken to the same degree! The funny thing about narcissism is that people are not inclined to see the narcissist as having 'identity issues'. He could deliver a sermon better than I but he didn't understand a word of it. ha!

      I have come to peace with being the "Questioner". The one who consistently questioned "reality". At first, I felt quilty about opening Pandora's Box. Now that I better understand the value of religious beliefs, I'm not as inclined to question anyone else's beliefs. (depending on the situation of course. I don't mind expressing my disgruntlement with the Law of Attraction). But with a friend, I'm hesitant---probably due to past experiences. I also believe our criticism REINFORCES other people’s blind faith, due to 'cognitive dissonance.'

      You unleashed a torrent of thoughts, Lady Nyo. I have a few blogs/websites listed below that you might find helpful: Overcoming Botkin Syndrome, Under Much Grace, No Longer Quivering, etc.

      I will write a new post about this topic and would be delighted to hear from critical thinkers who are KIND at HEART. Those kind-at-heart folks beat themselves to a pulp, regretting their well-intended criticism of someone else's beliefs.

      For now though, I must get myself to the hairdresser since I believe I look much better with brown hair, not gray. *grin*


  3. Dear CZ: when you quoted the words of Fromm, I put my head down on the desk and cried. Great gulps of tears. I had forgotten this, along with the Canadian philosopher, John Ralston Saul: "Embrace doubt."

    I guess I mourn not only the losing a friend (I am used more to friends who will argue me up and down and we don't have meltdowns because of it...nor do we accuse each other of creating deadly heart conditions because of our views..) but that I have little peace in the world. Mostly. I have sat on the bench with many religions, from Buddhism to UUs, to Episcopalian to Quakers, to Mennonites. I just had to open my mouth, and yes, I beat myself to a pulp...and I isolate myself from the flow of humanity because of the above. Especially in the South.

    And...I do recognize some of the same issues of religion and narcissism. For years I thought that my brother who was a fundamentalist preacher, and now has disrupted an Episcopal church that was founded in the 1720's...because 'they don't preach the Gospel(to his agreement) and they tolerate a gay bishop (somewhere up in New Hampshire) well, this kind of intolerance goes against what I hope is the measure of God and the better of humanity. But further, what I started to realize years ago, and only in the recent past, realized that his narcissism was a component that was very much a part of his religious views. Ugh. There was no taking one part and ignoring the other. It was bound up teeth and gums.

    I have always been a Seeker. When this event happened I called an old Quaker friend, another poet. She knew me over the course of 23 years and knew my pain. She also knew what a bumbler I was! I think that we don't make the best diplomats. I certainly am not.

    But! I have come to realize (for myself) that what I was questioning was true. That cults abound, and religious cults certainly are in favor today. And yes, the underlings carry out the mindcontrol, with shunning, calling members "Covenant Breakers" (for raising questions...etc) and also attempt to break up marriages where one has the balls to ask some troubling questions. I could have spared myself the abuse and insults by just researching a bit more and keeping my mouth closed. I knew the truth of it all. I've been there before.

    I have gone through the power and control issues with my family for decades. I am shunned because I question. So I have a lot of fear about religions. But at the same time, I am not different from any other Seeker: I want community, I want to belong, and I want to retain my intelligence and abilities to ask questions. Critical thinking is what got me out of a very dangerous place with the famial narcissists and critical thinking has kept me alive.

    I'll read this week those blog entries you have mentioned: Overcoming Botkin Syndrome, Under Much Grace, No Longer Quivering, etc. I need fortification because right now I am feeling very shaky. Not that my head is quaking, but my heart is mourning the loss of a friend.

    And write that blog entry, CZ. You will do more help than you already have, and that is without borders.

    Lady Nyo

    1. There's a greater polarization in our society due to religion's political involvement. Do you see it the same way? Now people are less reticent to say, "I'm a blahbedyblah!" because they have voter back-up.

      We didn't flaunt our religious faith in front of other people back when I was young---nor did we use our interpretation of God to justify 'ungodly' behavior (not that I'm making a judgment or anything, ha!).

      While pondering people's drive towards cults in the 21st century, Eric Fromm's quote carries significant meaning. Times are unstable; jobs are scarce; nobody's making money on the money they saved for retirement; people are stingy, scared, blaming; wars are still being fought; we're estranged from community because we LACK tolerance for difference. With this kind of instability and uncertainty, people are in desperate need of answers to reduce their anxiety, alienation, fear. It's not surprising that people are drawn into 'cult-like' organizations when our lives are this unstable, our futures apparently bleak.

      I am a bit overly-sensitive to any thought system smacking of mind-control or thought reform. Even as a fairly liberal person politically, I don't subscribe to the "We Are All One" fantasy either. I'm a mess.

      And like you, I miss my very CURIOUS friends in California where we lived among different cultures in every neighborhood. I watch for groupthink as a dangerous devil and catch myself in the act as soon as possible. But because I have suffered at the hands of those Moral High-Grounders, I remain skittish which can be another problem to work through, too.

      I am slightly hesitant to write about 'cults' because gosh...because I like my head and don't want it chopped off and hung on a flagpole. Had I lived in 1600, there's no doubt my neighborhood woulda strung me up by now and lit me on fire. But if that were to happen, you'd probably be tied up next to me and we could keep one another company. ha!

      Okay...I'll go work on a post but you'd better come back and say, "Wowsers! Fantastic article! Good Job, CZ!" (Even if you think it's kinda crummy or shallow.)


  4. You know I will, and you also know that I will be flapping my gums.

    I think we are tolerant of intolerance. It's a moral failing because people are hurt by our mob-think.

    Personally? I think we need to go against the tide. Ain't easy, either.

    I was in a political cult from 1968-1980. First it was SDS, (bet many here don't know what that was....) and later? Revolutionary Communist Party. I was always a grunt. I went from my NM arm's to the arms of a seriously dangerous and a cult run by pathologicals.

    Also, only in the past 5 years could I recognize the 'leaders' both men and women (and Diane Oughten who blew her self up in a brownstone making bombs was a fellow traveller)as full blown pathological narcissists. That was the way they kept control on the rank and file: through power and threats. Hell, the police were more humane.

    Cults, in any form....religious or political are fraunt with narcissists. Look at the Oregon cult of some Indian guru in the early 8o's. The second in command was an Indian woman who plotted to poison the general water supply to disrupt the town. The second to her poisoned homeless with barbituates to get them to vote their way.

    Ok, these are EXTREME narcissists and probably more overly criminal than the garden variety we come across or marry....but dangerous nonetheless.

    Yes, political and religious cults depend upon our instability economically, spiritually, etc. They build upon it. They give forth a reality that is just a fantasy. One particular religion I know of says that God is Unknowable...except to their particular prophets.
    The rest of us are spinning our wheels. This is something I refuse to accept, but this is also my pet peeve concerning religion.

    Ok, you can delete anything I write here, CZ because you and I will be swinging from the lampposts together passing back and forth that cloth bag of gun powder that they will give us IF they feel merciful when they light the faggots.

    But write the blog entry. A mind is a terrible thing to waste and it applies to many parts of society. Not just drugs. But maybe mind control IS the ultimate drug.

    Lady Nyo

  5. Dear CZ: in expectation of your wonderful writing on cults...I keep checking back here and on the right top, I see: "This month's obsession: Cults".

    But where and when? It's not clickable. At least to me. So.....

    Since we are going to be lamppost swingers...together....where do I read?

    Further, I have been thinking about cults...They are so prevelant in our society, at least where I am. In the South...and go far beyond religion, but they also start there.

    So....I am waiting. Patiently. Mostly.

    Lady Nyo

    1. I know! I know! I keep getting sidetracked. Like today. I was just reading your blog a few minutes ago---such beautiful writing, Lady Nyo. Then I went to Amazon to check out your book and stuck it in my Wish List which I will purchase one day, that's a promise.

      I'm not sure how wonderful my writing will be about cults but I HAVE watched some fantastic lectures and read several good websites about 'cults'. Then I decided to buy Margaret Singer's book , "Cults in our Midst" which is very readable and informative. She passed away in 2003 leaving a remarkable body of work that has been the foundation of psychological knowledge about cults, cult personalities, and our human vulnerability to cults. I have not finished her book yet.

      I put that widget at the top of my blog, fully intending to post this week and voila. Now I'm headed to my parent's home again this week-end!

      BUT, I watched an old movie about cults which I can pass on to you today, if you like 1980's films. Maybe I'll stick it on the WoN cinema so I don't lose it. You should see my desktop. It looks like Pandora's closet. In other words, "DON'T OPEN THE FOLDERS!"

      Ticket to Heaven 1981: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoavV7D74BU

      I'll be back soon!


  6. Ok...I'll be here waiting.
    And thank you for visiting my blog....I have been posting for a few weeks, this zany "Devil's Revenge" (a novel) and I wanted to change the theme (and the taste in my mouth...) so I posted a wee-bit of a manuscript that I am trying to work on....it should go into "The Nightingale's Song" but that isn't until I have to be serious about it all...in October, when Nick Nicholson (a friend and now collaborator) is coming from Canberra, AU to take the ms back with him for publishing. I swear to God that I would never publish a thing IF left to my own devices. I get very stupid when I have to do this....

    One thing I have been thinking of...I am slow to stupid at times summing up narcissistic presentation...comes with the genes I think. But!Just using my NM for a lab....I remember taking her years ago into the beautiful Westwood Cemetary here in SW Atlanta. It'a a historical park of great Celtic crosses, and beautifuly tombs and masoleums. (I don't have spell check on...can't find the button). As I drove through this beautiful area, trying to 'connect' with the old bat....she sunk down deep in the seat and murmured : "Get me out of here. Get me out of here." Kinda reminded me of the Extortist. I will never forget the look on her face. Rather demonic.

    She was smiling (but not a smile we would recognize...)but the lights weren't on. Actually scary.

    She was freaked. I wondered for years until the light went on in me head: This particular narcissist is very much an agnostic. Actually, she curses God, the nuns, etc...anything to do with religion. I would say more that she is an atheist. No problem with that for many of us...but with a pathological narcissist? I think part of the syndrome here is this: PNs truly believe that there is no one Higher than them in the Universe. In part, they have taken the role of God to heart. Them. What I have seen in a few very extreme cases is that they really believe they are judge and executioner. Well, this has been my personal experience, and when you believe that there is no one...nothing....for youractions to be accountable to...well, can you see what I am so clumbsily trying to say here? Their authority can't be trumped in their own minds. They take offense (and ignore) common human standards.

    The more I read about the heads of cults, the more true this seems to be. They have to answer to no one. They are the Ultimate.

    Lady Nyo...and thanks for that video...Will watch it this weekend.

    1. For some reason, your story about taking your mother through the cemetery popped into my head and I had the darnedest time remembering where I'd read it. Then finally, connections connected and here it is!

      I was thinking about Alexander Lowen's comment in his book, "Narcissism: Denial of the True Self." He suggested narcissists had a couple of fears leading to strange behavior: fear of mental illness; fear of death. Death is the ultimate authority over which humans have no power. No wonder your mother crouched in her seat and insisted to drive away. That might be an additional motivation for leaving the cemetery--the Reality Factor. I enjoyed your explanation about your mother taking God's role to heart, as judge and executioner.

      You know, that your mother is so damn old and still hard as a rock, is kinda frightening. We expect older people to soften up, to be kinder, wiser, and more grateful. She's no role model, that's for sure.

      I also wanted to return to this thread and let you know that even though I posted about a different topic today, I'm still working on a post about cults. I've been watching movies, documentaries, reading books and thoroughly entertaining myself. The parallels between cults and narcissistic relationships is illuminating.



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