Emotional Vampires

Have you ever met someone who drained you emotionally? Someone who took advantage of you or left you questioning your own sanity? Or even someone who defied all your niceties and norms of social intelligence? Unfortunately, most people answer yes to these questions and admit they were the victim of an Emotional Vampire. Emotional vampires are people that don’t suck your blood but rather suck out your emotional energy. I remember interacting with an individual in college who made me want to pull my hair out – many nights I laid awake wondering if I had done something wrong and how I could protect myself from being drained. My wife actually led me to this topic by suggesting the book Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry by Albert Bernstein, Ph.D.

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Emotional Vampires are all around us, and they materialize as spouses, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers. Like the mythical Vampires in the movies, Emotional Vampires cannot see there own reflection in the mirror – oblivious to their blood-sucking personalities. These individuals do not have full-fledged personality disorders which are diagnosable; they do however have attributes which provide fangs for their emotional draining: antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid vampires are the most common. I like to think of Emotional Vampires like food sensitivities. People with peanut allergies have a diagnosed problem which could kill them; people with peanut sensitivities are bothered by peanuts, but they are not hospitalized if exposed. Using this same line of thought, a person with diagnosed Antisocial behavior needs medication and treatment. An Antisocial Vampire has “sensitivities” in comparison to the clinical diagnosis, but they still behave similarly in some degree.

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Bernstein provides several techniques for identifying and dealing with Emotional Vampires. You may know a Vampire if he or she thinks their needs are more important than yours, that the rules don’t apply to them, that it is never their fault, that they don’t need to wait for anything, and that they can get their way through throwing tantrums. This list identifies adults who are primarily toddlers when it comes to certain undesirable circumstances.  Let’s use the example of Ted and Nancy – a married couple who most of the time get along. Nancy is an OCD Vampire who continually needs order and control in her life. One weekend, Ted decided to clean the entire house and surprise Nancy with a night off from her regular routine of cleaning. Upon entering the home, Nancy says nothing and goes to the kitchen. Ted assuming that she didn’t notice – is about to bring up his hard work – when Nancy passively makes a comment about the dishes having dried on food. Ted kicks himself for not scrubbing them better and is about to bring up all the other things he cleaned when Nancy looks over at the garbage and tells Ted to take it out. Ted is frustrated at his mistakes and takes the trash to the curb; upon reentering the house he sees Nancy busily recleaning the dishes –  she grudgingly accepts Ted’s hug, but she internally scorns him as he desparingly slumps into the sofa to watch TV. 

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Emotional Vampires show their fangs when things are not going their way – which ultimately disguises their sharp weapons from most victims. The best way to combat these bloodsuckers is to not reward their bad behavior. Say you have a boyfriend who is a Paranoid Vampire. You go out for an afternoon with a friend and come home to a warm embrace. All is well until you begin to get drilled with questions as if you were hiding some malevolent secret. Paranoid Vampires will cross-examine their victims – ad infinitum – unless a firm stop is made early in the relationship. Most Vampires will stop in their tracts if you prevent yourself from becoming emotional and approach the situation with a rational mind. Vampires love fights – whether passive or aggressive – and no progress will be made if you mirror their well-practiced behaviors. The best thing to do is to take a “time-out” and compose yourself for a more productive-future conversation. Emotional Vampires are not “bad” people, and many are famous figures who run the world. The traits of a Vampire can be a blessing or a curse depending on the situation and objective – think of the success of a narcissist or the creativity of a histrionic. What’s most important though is to know when to spot a Vampire and to understand how to approach their off-putting behavior – the first step, however, is the hardest – a long look in the mirror.

Want to Join a Cult?

What does it take to start a cult? What does it take to join a cult? Both of these questions are extremely interesting because they try to get at the heart of human behavior. We are social creatures who crave acceptance – sometimes this acceptance leads people to believe in bizarre things. For example, take the Mormon cult leader Warren Jeff who controls a group of fundamentalists from prison – even after being charged with sexually assaulting children and having 70 wives.

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How about one of the most famous cult leaders of all time – Jim Jones. Jones led a group of over 900 people to Guayana, South America to start their own socialist colony. This socialist experiment in Jonestown quickly turned into a horror movie after Jones convinced everyone to commit mass suicide. I am amazed at the ability of cult leaders to have total power over their followers; I barely can keep my chihuahua from peeing on the carpet. To better understand the birth, growth, and death of Jim Jones, I read The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn. This book is exceptional and really helps the reader understand the evil of Jim Jones. Jones was a charismatic leader who never backed down and desired complete control. Unfortunately, these traits were mixed with just enough moral ambiguity that followers thought they were being led to the promised land rather than their gravesite.

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Jim Jones was born on May 31, 1931, in a small Indiana town. He was raised by an eccentric mother who defied conservative social norms with her independent attitude, beliefs in reincarnation, and prickly personality. Jones’ father was a WWI vet who could not work because of his disabilities and who had no energy to raise an energetic boy. Jones was a loner and soon began to stand out from the other boys with his religiousness. On any given Sunday, he would go to several services, not to praise God, but to understand what preaching style worked best to energize congregants. By the time he finished high school, Jones was working at a hospital where he would eventually meet his future wife, Marceline Baldwin (not pictured below).

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Jones and his wife would quickly move to Indianapolis where Jones attended some college and preached at evangelical-tent events. Jones would eventually establish the Peoples Temple in the mid-1950s – a church that trumpeted racial integration, socialism, and community action. It was at the Peoples Temple that Jones discovered the power of deception by performing false healings and false prophecy; he would many times walk around the congregation with rotted chicken offal claiming it was cancer just removed from a member. Jones quickly gained followers from all walks of life who appreciated his message of social equality and marveled at his God-like abilities. Jones would eventually move this congregation to Northern California using the tool of fear – he claimed that there would be a nuclear holocaust in the Mid-West and that they were no longer safe.

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It was in Northern California that the Peoples Temple morphed from an eccentric Christian church to a full-blown cult. Jone’s began to have his members live communally and give large portions of their paychecks to the “socialist” cause. With greater wealth, Jone’s was able to expand his ministry and garner even more membership. Jone’s quickly began to stretch himself too thin and eventually, he began to take painkillers and amphetamines. His drug use made him more erratic and power-hungry – he would gradually start asking for sex from his female congregants. This sex was supposedly meant to lift up the women, and few members resisted; he would even have sex with several male members asking some if they wanted to be “fucked in the ass” after church meetings. This “uplifting” sex gave Jones greater control which eventually expanded to increased paranoia. Staged assassination attempts led his followers to believe that the FBI, CIA, and Fascists were after their happy community.

[Jim Jones, Peoples Temple Church Services]

The Peoples Temple morphed into a military compound with several members patrolling the grounds with firearms. This paranoia and the fear of nuclear holocaust led Jones to found Jonestown in Guayana. Jonestown was meant to be a sanctuary, but it actually represented the apex of Jone’s control over his members. In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan went to investigate Jonestown which led to him being attacked by a Temple member – Ryan escaped with 15 of Jone’s followers. Jones, in all his paranoia, told his members that the government would soon come to torture them and convert the children to fascism – to prevent this from happening everyone had to commit suicide. 909 people, including Jones and his wife, died from cyanide in the mass suicide – 304 were children.

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So how did Jone’s get 909 people to commit suicide? It began with his ability to twist the truth so that the majority of his followers believed he had special powers – all while an elite inner circle assisted with these deceptions. Why did the inner circle help him? Because they often believed in his message of social change and felt powerful being in the graces of such an influential leader. Most of the congregation was made up of poor-uneducated members who were entirely dependent on Jones for their jobs, housing, and food.

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It was hard to leave the cult because Jone’s would actively prevent dissenters and it was easy to rationalize that he was telling the truth – “If there are lawyers, teachers, and businessmen following him, then he must be the real deal.” Finally, Jones was an expert at fear which he used as a tool to further separate followers from leaving the Temple. All these things mixed to create a twisted peer pressure that propagated infidelity, drug use, bullying, harassment, corrupt morals, and eventually death. We need to study these things because there are cults today and leaders who use the same principles. Be wary of half-truths and always seek knowledge so that this particular past will never be repeated.

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The Island of Dr. Moreau

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As I am writing this post, a Chihuahua is barking between my legs at a fly which is buzzing around the living room. My dog is far from the sharpest tool in the shed, and most would compare his intelligence with a goldfish; I swear he has selective memory – half the time I am Osama Bin Laden and the other half I am his best friend. For some reason Max loves to bark at my parent’s dog, Pebbles; Pebbles is a wiener dog who has the demeanor of Jack Nicholson after his lobotomy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A typical scenario with these two dogs involves Max smelling Pebbles butt and barking while Pebbles goes in and out of sleep while standing up.

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I only mention the behavior of these two beasts because my most recent classic was The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. The Island of Dr. Moreau was one of the first science fiction books, and it details one man’s remarkable encounter with the mad-scientist Dr. Moreau. Dr. Moreau is a combination of Dr. Doolittle and Dr. Frankenstein – he turns animals into human-like beasts for the sake of scientific discovery. The island in this book is home to dozens of Moreau’s creatures, and like most mad-science stories, the experiments backfire. The creatures – which once behaved like humans- regress back to their animal instincts – eventually killing their creator. What makes this book a masterpiece is the “reason” behind these unfortunate metamorphoses.

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The creatures were able to speak, forage, and form their own society. This society was held together by certain laws which were created by Dr. Moreau. These laws aimed to prevent the hybrids from partaking in their worst animalistic urges: walking on all fours, tasting blood, and slopping water among many others. The group regularly chanted the “Law,” and everyone was reminded that punishments and blessings rained down from the almighty Dr. Moreau…

‘His is the House of Pain.’ ‘His is the Hand that makes.’ ‘His is the Hand that wounds.’ ‘His is the Hand that heals.’

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There was a main “Sayer of the Law” who organized the group and regularly reminded the members of their duties. As long as these creatures kept the law, their animal anatomy and behavior did not materialize. This system only worked because the beasts believed Moreau to be supernatural – all was destroyed when Dr. Moreau died. The animals lost the law and lost their rituals which prevented their primal desires. As soon as the law was gone, humanity was gone. In a sense, mankind is no different than these creatures; we have the capability to be animals, and we have the capability to be civilized. Morality is what makes us human, and God gives us the tools to practice “humanistic” behaviors. Religion is never perfect, but it is our society’s bedrock; experiments in pure secularism never end well; remember Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, and Social Darwinism? Wisdom needs to be anchored by a higher power…just don’t make it Dr. Moreau’s.

Don’t forget to check out my newest book Tackle the Library – The French Revolution 😉

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I may sound like a broken record but I am going to say it again, “news is crap.” Most news is just gossip that does nothing for our life except waste our time or make us more depressed. For example, I turned the nightly news on and it was all about a murder that had taken place the previous night. How do I benefit from knowing about this murder? Am I going to change my habits? Should I buy a gun? Should I refrain from drug deals at 3:00 AM? The only thing that will change is my equanimity – from peaceful to paranoid. I don’t listen to the news and I know very little about current events. Does this make me ignorant? Yes and No. I am oblivious to trivial matters but if the news is important enough – the word will eventually reach me; but when I do hear about it, I have a breadth of knowledge to contribute which the news could never provide. I am ignorant about Donald Trump’s myriad mishaps but I am not ignorant about the mishaps of the French Revolution. I am ignorant of the most recent natural disaster but I am not ignorant about Plato’s philosophy on human suffering. It is better to study the past so that you have a foundation to understand the present. This point is best illustrated by a toddler who is told by an older brother that an evil clown lives in his closet. With no background information or knowledge of clown behavior, the kid pees himself for the next month.

I bring this topic up because my 5th classic, Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, is a satire on the news business and how the news “supposedly” educates the public. Scoop was written in 1938 and is acclaimed for its portrayal of the Fleet Street culture in London. Fleet Street was the mecca of England newspapers and there was a lot of money to be made from constant news. The problem in Scoop is that there is a lack of stories happening in the world and the bigwigs are anxious to keep the printing press hot. They end up sending, by mistake, a part-time columnist to an obscure country to report on a potential war; the dilemma is that there is no real turmoil to report on. Journalists keep flooding the small nation in search of a “scoop” – in the end a story has to be partly falsified and exaggerated in order to sell papers. Scoop is actually pretty funny and is a critique on the deplorable state of new’s media and their incessant need for sensationalism – seemingly stamping “news” on everything. This book parallels our current media’s incessant need for material and the subsequent decline in reporting. Not even speaking of “fake” news, the “real” news is rarely ever worth a second glance; like a Shepard eternally crying wolf! Waugh could never have imagined the internet age but his novel is more applicable today than when it was published. Instead of chasing our tails, let’s spend more time in well researched books and periodicals which are respected. Don’t take the bait and believe your brother – “Breaking News: Killer Clown Discovered to be Vacuum Cleaner!”

“‘You know, you’ve got a lot to learn about journalism. Look at it this way. News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead. We’re paid to supply news. If someone else has sent a story before us, our story isn’t news. Of course there’s colour. Colour is just a lot of bulls’-eyes about nothing.'”
-Evelyn Waugh Scoop

 

 

 

The Strengths of Autism

It has been some time since my last post and I can honestly admit that I felt unmotivated to blog because my book club was a complete failure. The book club was an experiment and it may come back in the future if their seems to be some interest from my readers. In honor of my crappy book club, I finished the voted upon book, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum by Temple Grandin. This book was good but unless you are really interested in autism this blog post will suffice. Grandin is a high-functioning autistic who has many social and sensory quirks which have limited her in the past. She is now very well adapted at dealing with her specific symptoms and has a successful career. A person labeled with autism by the DSM-5 must meet the following criteria found at this website; essentially a person must have social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive behaviors. These criteria are what doctors use to diagnose an individual with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome  which is essentially very high functioning autism. The problem with these definitions is that almost everyone has some sort of social communication impairment. Does that shy-nerdy kid who likes math have Asperger Syndrome? Or maybe that lady who loves cats who smells funny and can’t look anyone in the eye? Well, they may or may not be on the autistic spectrum and in my opinion it is best they never find out. What the heck Jon! Shouldn’t people know what they have and get help! Slow down for a second and let me tell you a little more about severe autistic individuals. A person with severe autism has difficulty processing stimuli that they receive from the environment. Stimulation can come from sounds, visuals, smells, textures, internal thoughts, and various combinations the later. Now here is the thing, no one autistic person has the same issues when it comes to over stimulation. One person may not be able to read because the contrast of the black and white font is too much for his sight while another person may not be able to be around crowds because of how sound effects their mood. It is all over the place and this is why I don’t think it is good to be labeled under the broad spectrum of “Autism.” The label is inherently limited because everyone has unique symptoms which require individualized treatment. Think of it this way, if we labeled everyone “Unhealthy” would that really help the people with that label to get healthy. No because you could be unhealthy in a thousand different ways. Furthermore, labels usually limit people and make people dwell on strengths rather then weaknesses. For example, if a kid gets diagnosed with Asperger’s he may feel that there is no point trying to work on social skills and it is alright if he doesn’t interact appropriately with other people. Flipping the label example, an autistic individual is not hired by an employer because they have preconceived notions about what it means to be “autistic.” In this day of advanced medicine we need to focus on symptoms and not labels because we have the technology finally to pinpoint issues and truly help people. Treating symptoms will exponentially help people more physically and mentally because the focus won’t be on “a disability” and will instead be “lets’s work on these symptoms and figure out your strengths.” People with autism may have social difficulties and some may be completely unable to function without assistance, but each and every person has strengths. These strengths could be math, art, organizing, problem-solving, or just bringing a smile to someone’s face. In my personal experience, people with disabilities are the most pleasant, caring, and uplifting people I have ever met with much more strengths then supposedly “normal” people.