Kim Cardone provided this post. It is full of valuable advice about coping with anxiety, and offers many specific actions you can take to make life more enjoyable.

Confession time. I am an anxious person. When did this began you might ask? I’m guessing I came out of the womb anxious and have dealt with it ever since. Of course, a child’s anxiety is a bit different from an adult’s, but it is still the same in that you FEEL “anxious,” often and for no reason.

I remember talking with my Gram about this and she would say, “One secret to dealing with being anxious is to keep ‘good busy.’” To which I replied, “Well, is there a keeping ‘bad busy’?” And she replied, “There sure is. There sure is.”

She was a wise woman. To this day, I have tried very hard to keep “good busy”…and it does help. If I may offer some keeping “good busy” suggestions, it would be these:

—-Call family or friends. Or text family or friends….hear their loving voices or read their calm and rational texts. It does help.

—-Read a book, magazine, textbook, instruction manual, etc.

—-Volunteer. Where? Anywhere!!!! Help is needed everywhere and in every community.

—-Take up a hobby.

—-Go for a walk. Walk the dog…good for both of you.

—-Go to your place of worship.

—-Meditate. Exercise. Sing. Dance.

—-Watch a favorite TV show or movie. Mine are always comedies or rom-com’s. They take me to my happy place.

—-Enjoy a good meal or a good snack or a good glass of vino or a favorite beverage. Key word is ENJOY.

—-And finally, breathe. Just breathe.

We may have been “born alone” but we are not alone. Not truly. Look around; there are lots of us on this planet, all shapes and sizes and colors and creeds and orientations. Reach out. Being an anxious person is no fun, I will freely admit to that. But dealing with being an anxious person has made me so very grateful for every good person who has ever helped me along the way and for every good thing in my life that has happened in spite of being so very anxious. To that end, thank you to all of my many support systems.  You rock!!!

Remember, keep “good busy.” Even if you are not an anxious person, keeping ”good busy” will help you cope on so many levels and at so many points in your daily life.



Years ago the typical early morning family scene in America involved hubby heading out for work, leaving his honey behind to get the kids off to school and prepare for a day of domestic chores. Today it is much more common for both husband and wife not only to be involved parents, but also to have active careers. When mom’s career involves leaving home daily for the workplace, childcare can become an important family issue. Child psychology teaches us that early human development is greatly influenced by the quality of the early child-caregiver attachment, especially with the primary caregiver. In American society that primary role typically falls to mom, so when she must leave her kids for the workplace, she often worries whether having others care for her children will harm the quality of her bond with them. If you are one of these moms you may suffer some guilt and anxiety every weekday morning. What a way to start the day!

Well, mom, let yourself off the hook. Be assured that it is the quality of time with your kids that matters, not necessarily the amount of time. You can provide rich quality time with both partner and kids after work. You should also realize that women who work are often better off psychologically than women who don’t. We should not take that statement as criticism of stay-at-home moms. Many such moms are perfectly happy, and some working moms are miserable. The problem is that society seems to see the working mom in a pressure-cooker work environment who is too tired at the end of the day to devote quality time to her children. That picture just doesn’t capture the reality of the working mom’s world, but it fosters nagging guilt in her.

As a working mom you have no need to fear playing multiple roles in your kids’ lives. Your comfort level is the key. In fact, heading home on Friday for a weekend with the toddlers after a particularly tough work week can be very pleasant and invigorating; by the same token, heading to work on Monday after a weekend of dealing with diapers, tantrums, and crying might be equally pleasant and invigorating!

If you are having some guilt about work causing separation from your children, here are some things to consider. They’re pretty obvious and simple things, but the actions that can help you cope effectively usually are obvious and simple.

—-Remember that working is not the issue. The things you do with your kids after work is the issue.

—-Involve the kids in dinner preparation, even if this involvement simply means removing take-out from boxes.

—-Help your kids with their homework every evening. If they’re not yet in school, do some learning activities with them that are appropriate for their level of cognitive development.

—-Do physical activities with them, again appropriate to their developmental level. If they are involved in formal school activities like sports, plays, band, etc., support these activities and attend events.

—-Schedule a special “talking with mom” time each evening. This is their time with you and let them determine the direction of conversation.

We bet you could add lots of actions to this list. They’re simple, aren’t they? But remember, effective coping actions do not have to be complex. Other problems tend to develop when we complicate issues, so focus on the obvious and keep things simple.

One final note — although we directed our comments at moms, they obviously apply to dads. More and more men serve as primary or co-primary caregivers, either as single dads or as working dads whose wife is also working. We didn’t mean to leave you out guys, so consider our effective coping actions as also applying to you.







We have been noticing more and more current issues bearing on gender bias and challenges women face in the 21st century. Just a sampling: In 2014 the radical Nigerian group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls; Malala Yousafzai attained fame in 2009 at the age of 11 when she wrote critically of the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls, and she went on to win the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17; The gender issues raised during the 2016 American Presidential election do not need repeating; Pope Francis recently said the Catholic Church ban on female priests would likely last forever; in November 2016 over 300 American gymnasts lodged complaints of sexual harassment by coaches and other training personnel spanning over 20 years.

These issues and others triggered some reflections on the role of women in the establishment of the psychology in America, and the lessons about coping they represent. Some of the facts are surprising. For instance, American women did not receive the right to vote until 1920 when the 19th amendment to the Constitution was ratified. Twenty-eight years before that the American Psychological Association (APA) was founded in 1892. In its second year of existence, 26 years before women received the vote, the men of the APA elected two women to full membership: Mary Calkins and Christine Ladd-Franklin. In 1905, Calkins was elected President of the APA and the first woman to serve in that office. In 1921, Margaret Washburn became the second woman elected to the position.

The stories of Calkins, Ladd-Franklin, and Washburn are models of coping because during their formative educational years, these gifted women faced obstacles from prestigious American universities that discriminated against women. Despite the obstacles, they all went on to become influential theorists and researchers in psychology.

Christine Ladd (1847-1930) graduated from Vassar in 1869 with a major in Mathematics. She applied to Johns Hopkins University for graduate work under the name C. Ladd and was accepted. Once officials discovered she was a woman they were not pleased. Only after intervention by a world-class mathematician was she admitted, but with restrictions that basically made her less than a fully-matriculated student.

Ladd completed all the requirements for the Ph.D. degree in 1882 but the University would not grant her the degree because of her gender. It was not until 1926, as part of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Johns Hopkins, that the University corrected the 1882 decision and awarded Christine Ladd-Franklin the doctorate she had earned 44 years earlier. She was 78 years old.

Shortly after her graduate studies, Ladd faced what she termed “the cruel choice.” She wanted to pursue an academic career as a college professor, but she was also in love with Fabian Franklin, a mathematician. In those times, full-time formal faculty status was seldom granted to married women; thus her cruel choice. She chose her heart and married Franklin, adopting the professional name Christine Ladd-Franklin. (This marriage bias is not limited to college-faculty employment. One of us remembers talking with a student in the mid-1970s about her upcoming job interview with a manufacturing company. She said she planned to remove her engagement ring for the interview. Biases die hard!)

Professionally, Ladd-Franklin went on to develop an influential theory of color vision. In 1893, she joined Mary Calkins as the first women elected to the APA. That year she was also named in American Men of Science. One organization not open to her as a woman was the prestigious Society of Experimentalists. Not only was she ineligible for membership on the basis of her gender, she also was barred from attending meetings when papers were presented. She waged regular “battles” with the Society’s founder, Edward Titchener, over his exclusionary policy.

Mary Calkins (1863-1926) also experienced academic challenges because of her gender. She sought graduate study at Harvard, but the institution did not admit women. Under some pressure from other academicians, the Harvard President gave in a bit and allowed Calkins to sit in on classes, but not as a registered student. She also took classes at the adjoining Harvard Annex, which later became Radcliffe College, a women’s college with strong ties to Harvard.

At Harvard, Calkins actually completed all course work and her doctoral dissertation, which was published and recognized as ground-breaking in the field of verbal learning. The Department of Philosophy and Psychology said her work was sufficient to be awarded the Ph.D. degree, and they recommended this action to the University. The University President, however, supported by the Board, identified Calkins as a “guest” and refused to grant her the doctorate, solely on the basis of gender. Harvard Professor William James, generally considered the father of modern American psychology, was astounded, noting that Calkins’ doctoral examination and dissertation were brilliant.

In 1902, Radcliffe College offered to grant the Ph.D. to Calkins and three other women who had completed their studies at Harvard. Calkins alone refused. In a demonstration of character and integrity, she refused to justify a situation that occurred because of discrimination made solely on the basis of gender.

In her autobiography Calkins related other instances of gender discrimination she experienced while completing her studies. She did so without bitterness, however, and expressed her gratitude to the many men who were supportive, collegial, and friendly toward her, and who helped make her accomplishments possible.

Margaret Floy Washburn (1871-1939) did not have the level of difficulties with colleges that plagued Ladd-Franklin and Calkins, probably due to different circumstances and different choices she made with respect to where she pursued her advanced study in psychology. Washburn earned her doctorate in psychology from Vassar College in 1894, and became the first woman to receive a doctorate in psychology. She was elected to membership in the APA, joining Ladd-Franklin and Calkins who had been elected the previous year. After Titchener’s death in 1927 (yes, the same Titchener who waged battle with Ladd-Franklin over membership in The Society of Experimentalists), Washburn and June Etta Downey became the first women elected to that society. In 1921, Washburn was elected the 30th President of the American Psychological Association, and in 1932 she was the first woman psychologist and the second woman to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Washburn’s contribution to the new discipline of American psychology was substantial. In 1908 she published The Animal Mind, generally accepted as the first textbook on Comparative Psychology, and for 25 years the standard text in that area.

What coping lessons can we take from these abbreviated biographies of Ladd-Franklin, Calkins, and Washburn? The answers are probably obvious to readers of this blog, but good lessons are always worth repeating:

You will never improve if you avoid challenges.

Never fear hard work. Most worthwhile things require it.

Actions trump thinking.

Pursue those actions that bring you a sense of satisfaction

and productivity

Learn from your failures.

Do not be defined by your fears.

Live by your personal rules with integrity and honor.

Finally, do not define yourself, and do not let others define you, by circumstances of nature like gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Instead, define yourself by your actions, accomplishments, and values. In the final analysis, Ladd-Franklin, Calkins, and Washburn were judged by most of their colleagues and peers by the quality of their work as psychologists, researchers, and teachers who happened to be women; they were not judged as women who happened to be psychologists.



An acquaintance was recently bemoaning the fact that her gym would soon see hordes of “resolutions nuts” descending upon her and other gym regulars. “These jokers don’t know the first thing about gym etiquette and they’re just a royal pain. The only good thing is that by the end of February most of them will be gone. They dump those resolutions in a hurry.”

Bingo! Resolutions don’t last. That just about says it all. The fact is, these resolutions are a lousy way to cope with things bothering you, whether it’s being too heavy, smoking, lack of exercise, being inattentive to family, etc., etc., etc.

Why don’t resolutions work? For one thing, the very fact that you pick a specific date to begin your transformation into a better person shows that you are procrastinating, and are really not motivated. Picking that date is so artificial, and just means you’re kicking the can down the road.

For another thing, many folks use resolutions to motivate them. Well, that’s just putting the cart before the horse. Resolutions must be the result of motivation to do something, not the catalyst for generating motivation.

Also, resolutions are often unrealistic. You make grandiose, unattainable resolutions (“be able to run a marathon by Spring,” “lose 30 lbs by February,”) and you also believe that you’re going to be involved in reinventing yourself, creating a new you. That’s unrealistic thinking.

To have any chance of success, a resolution must involve specific goals involving specific actions: “I will eat a piece of fruit, an apple or a pear, for lunch instead of a sandwich. I will do a workout at the gym 3 days a week. I will walk my neighborhood (or my treadmill) for 45 minutes every day. Every Monday I will weigh less than, or at least the same as, the previous Monday.”

If you want to change something about yourself, don’t wait until some future date to begin; start now. Keep a daily record of relevant actions and outcomes; there are tremendous intrinsic rewards in seeing yourself perform your required activities and in seeing progress. There’s a sense of personal empowerment that spurs you on!

In a previous blog (7.16.16) we discussed some things that are relevant to increasing success when it comes to resolutions. Remember that there is a huge disconnect between “will” and “want.” You may indeed “want” to change your behavior, but you can’t quite muster the “will” to make a step towards that new end. Smoking, weight loss, exercise, and getting in shape all fit this distinction quite well. You may “want” to be able to fit in your clothes better, but you also “want” to sit on the couch and watch Netflix. There is a real push (get off your duff!) vs. pull (I need to take it easy!) inside you, and unfortunately the pull (in this case Netflix) generally wins. So how do you move from focusing on the push rather than the pull?

Connect your New Year’s resolution to a specific motivator and place it squarely in front of you. “Warm weather will be here soon and I want to be able to look decent at the pool”; “That wedding I’m in is only a few weeks away and I need to look sharp”; “The boss invited me to join in a jog last week and I nearly died of exhaustion. That’s no way to get a promotion. I have to be able to keep up.”

Also, your resolution must involve your values as well as your actions. You may need to confront values-oriented thinking that is inconsistent with your actions: You put off investigating diets (an action) that may work for you even though you say, “I care about my health” (your value); you put off joining a gym (an action) even though you say, “I want to get in shape” (your value); you put off spending more time with your kids and spouse (an action), even though you say, “I value family” (your value); you put off signing up for a course at the local community college (an action), even though you say, “I want to become more educated” (your value).

Use a resolution to connect your actions and your values. Identify those things that you really value, the things that are important to you. Then resolve to coordinate those things you value with specific actions that are compatible with those values. Once you identify constructive actions and begin engaging in them, they will tend to become a part of your routine; they will become automatic and it won’t take much effort to maintain them, making your resolutions successful. And definitely resolve not to wait until January 1st to put them into action!


It’s the most wonderful time of the year… except when it’s not.

The holidays usually mean the coming together of family members. Ordinarily this is a welcome time of festive gatherings, exchanging of presents, and special memories made near a roaring fireplace. For some, however, this Norman Rockwell image is drastically different from reality, particularly when the recent loss of a loved one is involved. Let’s note that “loss” is not limited to death; it can also include divorce, hospitalization, incarceration, active duty without a holiday leave, or a family member who moved away.

Recently, I (Carlea) attended the funeral for my great aunt. Though Marge was 93 and in failing health, her death hit our family rather hard, especially her daughters and sister (my grandmother, who is now the only one left of the original 11 siblings). The sermon during the church service (paraphrased herein) highlighted how this first holiday is going to be different: You’ll notice the quiet. You’ll notice the missing [specialty food]. You’ll notice the missing chair at the table.

While I was at the repast, a good friend of mine (still Carlea) texted to say that her parents are getting divorced after more than thirty years of marriage. This news was unexpected and rendered her numb. She just kept asking how it could be real and why, if it had to happen, it had to come so close to Hanukkah. This was supposed to be the first time she would be hosting her family and now everything was changing.

How do you cope with the holiday season in the “next normal” or “new normal”? How do you hold on to a sense of control when things are clearly out of your control?

The most important thing to do, as we have discussed in other blog posts, is to recognize what is in your circle of power. My grandmother can’t bring her sister back. My friend can’t convince her parents to stay together. So we try to do what we can: accept what it is and move forward from that point. Yes, that’s easier typed than done.

Some feel consoled leaving a place at the table for the absent person, but many others would find that much more discomforting because it is a visual reminder of the vacancy. You may, therefore, choose to remember the person in a smaller way. I (Carlea again) have made ornaments with pictures of departed relatives, reminding me of times we spent together. Every year for Thanksgiving, my mother makes her aunt’s stuffing (though Aunt Petronella called it “dressing”). My mother-in-law has a picture of her mother as the angel for her crèche. A friend video-chats with her husband who is stationed overseas. For the past 14 years, my father brings homemade goodies to the staff at the nursing home where his parents finished their earthly stories. A colleague mentioned that she has a “moment of reflection” during which everyone present shares a memory, story, or image of those who cannot be with them — one even sings a favorite song! These simple gestures became meaningful traditions that do not overwhelm us with intense feelings of loss. Rather, they celebrate the lives and connections we had to those who left.

Other coping suggestions include planning a totally new activity that literally takes you away from the familiar reminders of the absent one. Go on a mini-vacation. Celebrate with a different group of people. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter. Keep your mind and body distracted – not to the point where you are ignoring, denying, or detaching from the loss, but to keep you focused on something productive instead of painful.

No matter what options you are comfortable choosing, you must give yourself permission to feel. There will be moments when you want to do nothing but sit in silence. Other times you will want to do nothing but scream. You might even find yourself smiling or laughing and then feel guilty because how dare you be happy when you are missing someone?! Have “the big, snotty cry” if that is what you want to do. Let yourself feel. Take the time you need. As we said in another post, it’s okay to say “no” to invitations; just be sure you don’t let your mourning stop you from living.

There was a message of comfort in the sermon for my aunt (again paraphrased): Marge lives on in your hearts and memories. If you listen in the quiet, you can hear her. If you feel in the still, you can sense her. Remembering means no one ever leaves.

You might not feel better today. You might not feel better tomorrow. But at some point, you will feel that you have moved to the next normal and that will be the next best thing.


As the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941 approaches, I (CB) find myself reflecting on a couple of things blog-related. One is a chance encounter I had with an old WWII vet about 10 years ago; the other is what Psychology tells us about coping with grief.

The chance encounter happened in the waiting room of a car dealership while I was waiting for service on my car to be finished. I was waiting with one other gent, a considerably older guy, maybe 80. We were doing the usual guy small-talk stuff about the weather, cars, sports, when I mentioned the upcoming Army-Navy game. The old guy commented that he always rooted for Navy, and I asked him if he had served in the Navy.

“Marines,” he said.

“Did you ever see any combat?”

After a long pause he said, “Yeh, Pacific, in the big war.”

Pacific in the big war? Suddenly a train of associations entered my head and I asked, with a tone of absolute awe in my voice, “Did you island hop in the second world war?”

I was sitting just to his right, and now he looked straight ahead, and it seemed to me that he had gone off with some faraway memory. His eyes began to tear up as he nodded and said softly, “Yeh.” There was a long pause before he added, “Lost a lot of friends back there.”

I was totally speechless because I felt I was in the presence of greatness. If you don’t know about the Pacific island-hopping campaign Google it. There were thousands upon thousands of American combat casualties as they went from island to island invading and rooting out the entrenched Japanese soldiers from their bunkers and caves. Iwo Jima was one (over 6,000 US deaths), as was Okinawa (over 12,000 US deaths), and Tarawa (1,000 US deaths in a matter of hours).

The old guy and I just sat there in silence. Now I was horrified that I had awakened these painful memories for him. Mercifully, probably a minute later, which seemed like an eternity to me, the shop manager came in and called my name. I got up and extended my hand to this hero and said, “Thank you for saving our country.” He just smiled and nodded, still looking off into that world from long ago.

Other than that decade-old memory for me, the other thing I find myself thinking about these days is coping with grief. I guess the old guy is an example, maybe even a case of PTSD. One thing for sure, he showed me the staying power of trauma on someone. December 7, 1941 is a testament to the American spirit of meeting challenges through great effort and sacrifice, but it is also a grief-filled day in American history. And grief is something each of us must confront and deal with, sometimes over quite a long time.

We, your blog hosts, have had people tell us, “I wish I could avoid the grief I’m feeling. Losing _____ has just been devastating to me and I am having such a hard time keeping the grief from getting to me.”

Grief is one of those emotions that holds the temptation of avoidance in front of us. As we see again and again in the posts on this blog, avoidance is a major obstacle to coping with life’s challenges. Grief is no different, and when we are confronted with it we must expend a lot of emotional effort to work through it and not work around it.

Grief is often associated with both depression and anxiety. You must realize, however, that grief from loss is often a sign of the strengths your lost loved one has given you. Thus, grief must not be dreaded, denied, covered up, or avoided; to do so would dishonor the memory of the one now gone. Instead of avoidance, you can direct your grief into the coping skills taught to you by your lost loved one; in this way you deal with your grief by using the strengths the person gave you, and by doing so you honor the person.

One of our students was having a difficult time coping with the death of his father. He was feeling depressed and anxious because he felt alone and deserted. One of us responded to an email about his issues:

“For a man, there are few things in life that rival the impact of losing a dad. My own dad died in 1988 and to this day I still ‘chat’ with him about things. But there’s an irony to the intensity of our grief and despair when we lose our father. The more intensely we feel the loss, it seems the better our dad has prepared us for the moment. He has been our mentor, our anchor, our guide through life, and now that he is gone we wonder how we can go on. But think about it — we’re pained by his death precisely because he has taught us so much about coping with life. Our despair at his death is in direct proportion to how much of an influence he has had on us. So what better way to cope with his death than to honor his life and legacy by using the very strength he gave us?”

Someone also once told us, “While I was grieving over the loss of my child, a friend said to me, ‘Wouldn’t it be a better life if we just never had to endure any grief?’ I said no, it would not be better. Having no grief would mean that there was never any love, and I would hate to have a life without love.”

What do we recommend to those grieving over the loss of a loved one?

—-Accept that grief is a sign of the immense strengths the one you have lost has given you.

—-Your grief means that you have loved. Work through your grief by cherishing the love you experienced with the one you have lost.

—-Grief must not be denied, or avoided; to do so would dishonor the memory of the one now gone. Embrace your grief as a tribute to the loved one.

—-Channel your grief into the coping skills taught to you, and thus re-define the grief into effective coping behavior. You will always miss your loved one; but you will also treasure the memories of this person who so effectively taught you to meet the challenges now facing you.

—-Remember that the deeper your grief, the stronger your love for the lost one, and the better you are able to cope. Move forward positively, and work through your grief, not around it by denial or avoidance. Complete the tasks and challenges that face you to honor your lost one.



At first glance, Jack’s case may seem similar to the guest posting from October 8. In each case the principal figure is afflicted with cancer. A close look at these cases, however, reveals that when it comes to coping strategies, cases could not be more dissimilar. Our guest contributor chose a direct confrontational strategy that, while not one everyone would choose, nevertheless illustrates appropriate and effective coping. Jack’s case, however, shows the dire consequences that come from a lifetime of poor coping strategies involving chronic avoidance and denial.


From childhood into adulthood, Jack consistently avoided openly expressing any negative emotions and actions (such as anger, jealousy, aggression, etc.), and from accepting responsibility. The older of two children, Jack came from a working-class family. He was always a physically large, overweight boy, and the other kids typically made fun of him. Consequently, he never developed much self-confidence and had pretty low self-esteem. He protected his fragile ego by “hibernating” and went through the motions of life below the radar screen as much as possible.

Jack’s family never had much money and his early family and home life was short on warmth and love. In fact, the primary source of acceptance, praise, and “love” in Jack’s family seemed to be food. There was always lots to eat, and the parents rewarded their kids for “eating well,” which really meant overeating. Whenever the kids came home from school, Mom was in the kitchen cooking, ready to welcome them with all sorts of treats.

Jack’s father, on the other hand, was a domineering, cold, and harsh parent. In fact, other kids and their parents who knew him called him, “Khrushchev” (Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, considered by many to be quite ruthless). His wife suspected he physically abused Jack when she was not around, but she had no direct evidence. In any event, dad was an intimidating figure and Jack decided very early in life that the best strategy was to stay out of his way as much as possible. Thus were planted the seeds of his avoidance forest.

In high school and college Jack was not popular, but he usually had a small group of peers to hang out with, although not as close buddies. For the most part, these were quiet years; Jack got acceptable grades, stayed out of trouble, kept mostly to himself, and stayed below the radar screen, just as he had done with Dad. He plugged along, but always avoided challenge and confrontation. He quietly did his work and stayed out of trouble.

After graduation from college Jack got a job, met a girl, got married, and began a family. Unfortunately, he continued to avoid facing the increasing challenges of his life. His wife, Brenda, ran the household and made most of the decisions, both domestic and financial. When children came along, Brenda became the disciplinarian and primary caretaker. Jack pretty much stayed in the background when it came to guiding and raising his kids. He seemed to love the kids, but getting too close was psychologically threatening to his fragile self-esteem.  His relationship with his kids mirrored his relationship with his father (not at all unusual): He could not get too close because he feared rejection and abandonment.

In his early work years Jack’s employment record was spotty. He was unsuccessful in a couple of jobs and had a failed business venture, but he eventually found a job that gave him some success and financial security. In spite of this success, however, he began turning to alcohol more and more. He spent long hours away from home socializing and drinking while Brenda was home managing the kids and the home. When she confronted him about his need to take on more responsibility and be more involved, he refused to discuss the situation. Many friends and work colleagues saw these same patterns of behavior. As Brenda recalls it, Jack worked very hard to avoid stress or confrontation with her or with anyone else; he would simply “bottle up” his feelings and retreat into silence or even leave the house and go to the local bar. The seeds of his childhood had sprouted into what psychologists call an “avoidant personality.”

Jack developed some health problems in his early forties, but he kept his symptoms to himself. He chose not to tell Brenda about his pains and not to get checked out by his physician. Once again, he avoided taking action, even though such avoidance could potentially threaten his very survival. Eventually, however, the cause of his pain, cancer, became obvious: He developed open, bleeding sores on his skin, and he needed Brenda’s help in caring for them. Brenda pleaded with him to go to the doctor but he stubbornly refused, even as his condition worsened. His denial and avoidant tendencies had reached irrational and life-threatening levels. Brenda took extreme action and had him involuntarily committed to a medical facility for diagnosis and treatment. Her actions, unfortunately, came too late. The physicians said his cancer was too advanced and he had only months to live, a prediction fulfilled in a few weeks.

Following Jack’s death, Brenda struggled both financially and psychologically. Looking back at Jack’s last years, Brenda said he showed very little compassion for himself or his family. He had become self-preoccupied, disconnected from other people, and basically had no sense of purpose or life goals. He did not care about his own life and took no steps to help himself in spite of pleas from Brenda, friends, and colleagues. Nothing seemed to matter to him except avoiding stress at all costs. He avoided basic responsibilities and negative emotions, especially ones that could produce confrontation with others. Jack’s lifetime of avoidance had led him into a black hole. And to top it all off, he didn’t give a damn!

Jack’s behavior had dire effects on others, especially his family. Brenda was left with little money and a mountain of bills. After Jack’s death, she struggled to support her kids and to come to grips with her own psychological issues. For the most part she was successful in both areas, although the personal area became more complicated because one of her boys developed Jack’s avoidant patterns, which only served to awaken lots of unresolved conflicts in Brenda. Eventually she voluntarily sought psychiatric hospitalization. Both inpatient and outpatient counseling helped her greatly, and she began to take effective control of her life.

Jack’s case illustrates a primary element inherent in ineffective coping: His life was devoted to avoidance of any sort of conflict. Such a strategy is doomed to fail because life involves conflict and pain, and continuous efforts to avoid cannot work in the long run if we are to thrive. Confronting and dealing with emotions and psychological pain are necessary steps if we are to become psychologically strong and healthy. Jack, however, refused to confront the demons that began to control him when he was very young. He was overly sensitive to rejection, criticism, embarrassment, and disapproval. Consequently, he chose to avoid conflict that put him at great psychological risk. Unfortunately, when we avoid conflict, problems grow stronger and become more complex, eventually taking us in a downward spiral from which it becomes difficult to escape. Jack never did escape.