Saturday, June 24, 2006

Desperate for Friends?

There was an interesting article today in the Knoxville News Sentinel entitled Personal Bonds about a study at Duke University showing how "socially isolated" Americans are today as compared to 1985:

Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades ago, and a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline of social ties in the United States.

A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two...

Compared with 1985, nearly 50 percent more people in 2004 reported that their spouse is the only person they can confide in. But if people face trouble in that relationship, or if a spouse falls sick, that means these people have no one to turn to for help, Smith-Lovin said.

The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties - once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits - are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people appear to suffer alone.

Smith-Lovin said increased professional responsibilities, including working two or more jobs to make ends meet, and long commutes leave many people too exhausted to seek social - as well as family - connections: "Maybe sitting around watching 'Desperate Housewives' ... is what counts for family interaction."

I wonder what this "friendless" society means in terms of people's behavior? For example, do disturbed people commit more mass murder in the US because they are so isolated and when pushed to the limit, feel they have nowhere to turn and no one to talk to? Is this study even correct--do people really stay away from others because they are so exhausted from work and long commutes, or is Desperate Housewives just more entertaining than exchanging verbal pleasantries with the neighbors? Finally, what is a friend and how do you define one? Frankly, I have people other than family I could count on to help out in certain situations and vice versa but I am not sure I would call them friends.

What do readers think--do you have any friends and if so, who do you consider a friend? If you don't have any friends, why not?

Update: Thanks to all the commenters so far who have written in to describe their desire or lack of desire for friends. As with most psychological characteristics, I think the need for friends spans a wide spectrum with some of us being outside the "norm" (whatever that means) in either direction. I will take the liberty of using some of the comments on friendship to clarify the spectrum of responses to closeness to other human beings.

Take for example, this commenter who describes friendship as so important that he puts in the effort even after moving:

"This entire thread is alien to me. I'm 60 years old and I have many friends. I'm still in contact with some of my friends from high school and college, even though I've lived in five different states since then and have never moved back "home". I've kept in contact with some people I've worked with, worked for and who worked for me. This took effort over the years."

Another commenter also prefers to "run like a pack":

I come from an "old world" culture where one's tight circle of friends - no more than half a dozen plus their significant others - was the be all and end all of one's world. One's family, essentially. Talk all the time, hang out all the time, go on trips together, essentially run like a pack; then co-raise one another's children and grow old together.

Yet at the other end, commenters describe being alone as a positive condition:

"Anon 5:40 says 'I'm a loner by nature and very happy that way.' Me too! I have a life-long friend, but I've not talked to him in 2-3 years and haven't seen him in close to 10. I haven't called him and he hasn't called me, but eventually when one of us does we'll pick up like we talked yesterday. Then go back into hibernation mode. I've always liked the line in the movie 'Heat' where the girl with a large family asks the DeNiro character with no family who lives alone, whether he's lonely. He replies, 'I live alone, but I'm not lonely.' Sums it up nicely, though a fictional bank robber as an example may not make a viable point!"

Some of us want friends but don't know how to get them:

"I try to think of myself as a 'lone wolf' but I am not. I am just the mangy pack member circling the group, trying to figure out where I might fit in, even only for a while."

'Friendships are a mystery to me. I'm 37, and still not sure how to 'make friends.'"

I think the lesson here is that friendship means different things to different people. Our threshold for human contact differs--some of us enjoy being alone, some are alone because they have no idea about how to make friends and others revel in numerous friendships and get joy from them. People affect people differently--if you are energized by people and feel pleasure in being with others (a typical extrovert), then friendships can be postive, but if you tend towards introversion, then people can sometimes exhaust you and make you feel blue instead of energized--perhaps more boundaries are needed to maintain your emotional health.

However, even an introvert may need other people--even one person who you can talk with and share some of yourself in ways that feel safe. I don't want to get into too many cliches such as 'if you want a friend, be a friend' but it is probably true. In addition, even if you do not have close friendships in your life, I think it is important to be willing to help others in times of need. I personally may not want to sit on my back porch chatting with a neighbor, but I would be happy to help them if they needed a hand (finding a lost dog, borrowing a tool, watching their house while they are on vacation etc.). If we could keep ourselves open to reaching out to others in times of need, yet still realize that we may need boundaries in our interactions with others, our lives would be greatly improved.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Carnival of Homeschooling

The 25th Carnival of Homeschooling is up at

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Why Dads Matter.

Update: The commenters in this post as well as previous ones seem to enjoy conversing with our prolific commenter on this blog, Greg Kuperberg. Greg now has his own blog where you can comment directly to him at The Quantum Group blog.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Walking on Eggshells: Dealing with the Borderline in Your Life

Many times, patients or others ask me for a recommendation for a book or help for dealing with an angry, destructive person who is ruining their emotional health. My recomendation for a self-help book when coping with the aftermath of the borderline personality is Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder. But first of all, what is a borderline and how do know if that is what you are dealing with?

Certainly, one cannot diagnose someone without evaluating them, but many times, the descriptions people give me of their significant other, parent, child, or friend leads me to wonder if the advice seeker is dealing with a borderline. The DSM-IV describes the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder as:

1. frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. (not including suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5)

2. a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.

3. identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.

4. impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating; [not including] suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5).

5. recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior

6. affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)

7. chronic feelings of emptiness.

8.inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).

9. transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.

There are even books on how to divorce a Borderline or Narcissistic Personality that give strategies to reduce the damage done to a person during the process. In a book entitled, "Splitting," one section looks at how a borderline can convince your own lawyer that they are right and turn the lawyer against you--I believe it and have seen it happen. I have worked in places where people believe that a borderline must be right because they are "intelligent." Intelligence and craziness are not separate traits--sometimes, someone who is intelligent can be even more emotionally damaging because they are smart enough to carry out manipulations that others can only dream about. So what do you do when encountering the borderline in your life?

Here are some tips from "Stop Walking on Eggshells" (page 140) with some of my own advice thrown in--for brevity's sake, I will list just a few, but if you want more detail-- get the book or go to BPD Central.

1) Stop "sponging" and start "mirroring"--that is, some of those involved with borderlines tend to soak up the borderline's pain and rage and think this is helpful, but in reality, it is like filling up a black hole of emptiness and nothing is good enough. You can try to placate the borderline and work hard to give them love, care etc. but it is never enough. Instead--reflect the painful feelings of the borderline back where they belong--with the borderline.

2) Stay focused and observe your limits. Show by your actions that you have the bottom line. Communicate the limits clearly and act on them consistently. Protect yourself and your children by removing them and yourself from the situation. For example, if a borderline flies into a rage and starts accusing you of things you did not do, tell him or her that you will be taking the kids out until they calm down and you can talk later.

3) Ask the borderline for change. Figure out your personal limits (get help from a therapist if needed) and communicate these to the borderline in a clear manner. However, ask for changes in behavior, not necessarily for changes in feelings--that is, you can ask them to change the behavior of yelling at you, but don't tell them not to be angry.

Finally, the best advice for those who are not yet involved legally with a borderline is a statement I heard from a colleague recently, "Borderlines make great girlfriends (or boyfriends) but you wouldn't want to marry one."

That, I think, sums it up in a nutshell--no offense, but the damage I have seen on victims of those who have borderline personality is not something to be taken lightly. People say that those with BPD can change but often times, they wreck havoc on their spouses, children and/or parents and the abuse lasts a lifetime. Children of those with BPD have trouble in future relationships by seeking out the love of the BPD that they could never get or by avoiding people in the future for fear of more emotional blackmail. Spouses of the BPD seem devastated and often end up with lives of quiet desperation or in the throes of accusations in court and parents end up believing that they are inadequate and incompetent. None of it sounds promising.

Have any readers been involved with a borderline personality disorder--either married to one, or have a parent, child or friend with this disorder-and if so, how did you cope?

Update: Some readers have emailed or asked for more information on a promising treatment for BPD called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Take a look at for answers about DBT.

Carnival of the Insanities

The Carnival of the Insanities is up at Dr. Sanity's place.

Happy Father's Day

Hope all my readers who are dads are having a great day!