Lise Schiffer, LCSW | Blog
Domestic Violence
Domestic violence can be defined as any physical, psychological, economic, or emotional abuse used to intimidate, control or harm another person. Women are the most frequent victims of domestic violence but sometimes women are the abusers. Domestic violence is against the law and both men and women can be arrested for it. Often victims don't report the abuse for fear of being further harmed, or even killed by the abuser. But domestic violence gets WORSE over time (more frequent and more deadly) and must be stopped. Often the abuser blames the victim for causing the abuse, saying that it was her behavior that "made" him hit her. But no one can make anyone choose violence to deal with anger. The perpetrator may attempt to make the victim believe that she deserves the violent or controlling behavior. But no one DESERVES abuse. If you or someone you know are suffering domestic violence, I urge you to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You can make a confidential report and learn of the many resources available, such as orders of protection, shelters, safety plans and counseling. An abuser will always promise that "it will never happen again". It always will.
Why Suicide Is a Bad Idea
There is an old saying; "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem". But when you feel like life is unbearable, you lose awareness that your feelings will change. One of the most horrible things about being depressed, and many suicidal people are, is that there is a pervasive sense of hopelessness and despair that nothing you can imagine will relieve. Every thought you have takes you to a dark place, all roads lead to hell.

Whatever the reason is for planning a suicide, here is why it is a terrible idea:

First of all, EVERYTHING changes. Feelings, like the weather, are transient states of being; the clouds roll in and the clouds roll out. We are tremendously fortunate to live in a time where most emotional and mental illness can be successfully treated. It is easy to lose this perspective when emotional pain seems overwhelming. With therapy, time and sometimes medication, life will start to feel livable again.

Another thing to consider when contemplating suicide is that YOUR LIFE IS NOT YOUR OWN TO TAKE. What I mean by this is that suicide leaves devastation in its wake. Most of us are someone's child, parent, spouse, sibling, friend. The survivors of a loved one's suicide will never be the same. When people are in the depths of misery, they can convince themselves that their loved one's are "better off" without them. Trust me, this is never the case.
There are many misconceptions about depression and most people don't realize that it is a serious medical issue. Feelings of hopelessness, despair, anxiety, and inappropriate guilt and shame can and do contribute to substance abuse, overeating, oversleeping, and sometimes suicidal thoughts and actions. Sometimes people are told to "snap out of it" but that is no more possible than "snapping out of" cancer. Whether triggered by an event or by one's own biochemistry, depression involves changes in the brain's neurotransmitter system. If you have ever had your mood altered by a drug, you know that how you feel is not simply a state of mind. When the brain's chemistry is malfunctioning, it can have a profound effect on how you feel and experience life. But there is good news. Depression is highly treatable. Studies show that a combination of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy is the best prescription.

One very common misconception about depression is that it feels like mere sadness. Sadness is only a part of it. It is very difficult to describe the pain of depression; I always say it's like trying to describe blue to a blind person. If you've never experienced the monster that is depression, there is really no way for you to grasp its horrors. One of the things that makes depression so insidious is that it distorts one's self-perception and causes the belief that the sufferer is morally flawed or weak or bad. What other medical illness does that?

If you are depressed, please have compassion for yourself. Get help. If you love someone who is depressed, the most helpful thing is to acknowledge their pain, reassure them they're not to blame, and DO NOT try to "cheer them up"; you will only make them feel worse.
Stop Obsessing!
When I was going through a divorce some years ago, I found myself ruminating about the many ways I felt mistreated by my not yet ex-husband. The more I thought about him and his behavior, the more angry, betrayed, and injured I felt. One day, I went out to walk my dogs. It was a gorgeous day, we were entering a beautiful park and all I could think about was what a bastard my husband was being. Then it hit me: WAIT! These thoughts are like taking poison and expecting someone else to die! I'M the one whose suffering and ruining what could be a perfectly lovely walk. Why am I doing this?

Why do people obsess about painful things they cannot control? Why is doing something so excruciating and unproductive so utterly compelling? The image that came to mind was of a moth inexorably drawn to a flame which will burn it alive. The answer, it seemed to me, was that on some level, I was trying to solve a problem. In other words, I misguidedly believed that thinking obsessively about an injustice would somehow ameliorate the hurt and give me control over it. This thought had never been conscious before and now that it was, I saw how utterly irrational I was being.

So I decided to deliberately and actively THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE. I forced myself to notice the spring flowers, how happy and cute my dogs were, running around with each other, what I would make for dinner.....anything that wasn't about my divorce. At first, I felt the pull of the distressing thoughts, but I persisted in directing my attention to other pleasant or neutral things. And guess what happened? At the end of the walk, I noticed that I'd had a really good time! If I had persisted in my ruminations, I would now have felt miserable. I felt a huge sense of relief knowing that what caused me so much unnecessary pain could be avoided if I CHOSE not to engage with it. What I could not control (his behavior) need not torture me if I shifted my thoughts away from the subject.

This is an example of a cognitive-behavioral intervention. What that means is that a person becomes conscious of the irrationality of their thinking and then does something different. Sounds simple? Well, it is and it isn't. The hard part is the persistence it takes to successfully distract your thinking away from the troubling material. But persevere, and you will be amazed at how much needless misery you can avoid.
Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is a normal and universal human experience. Everyone feels the stomach butterflies and quickened pulse when they are doing something risky, where the stakes are high and the outcome uncertain (taking a test, trying out for a team, asking someone out, etc.). But there are people who feel anxiety, sometimes in the extreme, in the absence of any risk, about things they know are irrational to fear. These people suffer from anxiety disorders. There are different kinds of anxiety disorders: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Social Phobia, etc. While their symptoms vary significantly and are too numerous to discuss here, they all have in common a crippling fear which interferes with normal functioning. If this sounds familiar to you, I urge you to consult with a mental health professional. The good news is, most of these conditions are quite treatable, usually with a combination of therapy and medication.