World of Psychology Dr. John Grohol's daily update on all things in psychology and mental health. Since 1999. 2016-09-29T14:20:14Z Rachel Lee <![CDATA[A Simple Idea to Save Your Marriage]]> 2016-09-13T21:26:56Z 2016-09-29T14:20:14Z a simple idea to save your marriageDo you feel like every argument you have with your partner sounds exactly like the last? Do you fight about the same things all the time and often feel like nothing ever gets resolved?

Many couples get caught up in what is known as “circular arguing.” Once it becomes a habit, it can be hard to know how to break it.

Sex, money, division of household chores and differing views on childrearing are the main topics about which couples fight. Every topic has its gray areas. When neither partner is willing to compromise or see the other’s point of view, the same arguments can drag on for years, eroding trust and whatever affection they once had for each other. The mere mention of a certain topic can lead to yet another full-scale argument. When the relationship has reached this point, there often is little chance of breaking the deadlock. However, there is another way. All it takes is a willingness to leave the script behind.

Therapist and author Harville Hendrix has over forty years’ experience helping couples to save their marriages. In his book Receiving the Love You Want, he offers this sage advice to couples whose marriages are in trouble: ‘It only takes one person to change the dynamic of the relationship.’

Think about that for a moment. Isn’t that an empowering thought? By adjusting your attitude and the way you engage with your partner, you have the power to steer the relationship back on course. So how can you turn a sinking ship back into the love boat? Here are some tips:

  • Change the script.

    When it comes to recurring arguments, couples tend to go on autopilot without realizing it. Each partner argues their side, often using the same words and phrases as the last time the topic came up. The result is the same. Both partners feel attacked, while at the same time refusing to listen to their partner’s point of view.

    When we focus solely on getting our own way, compromise becomes impossible. So the next time your partner raises the issue, surprise them. Instead of becoming defensive and launching into your spiel, stop and take a deep breath. Ask them why they feel the way they do. Ask them what they see as being the solution to the problem. Actively listen and refrain from interrupting. After they have finished explaining, repeat what they have told you, perhaps by saying: ‘So what you’re saying is….’

    This shows that you were listening. Asking for clarification eliminates any misunderstandings. After you have heard them out, thank them for sharing their thoughts with you and leave it at that. Resist the urge to state your own position for the time being. And give yourself a pat on the back. You have just taken the first step in breaking the cycle.

  • Building trust again.

    When you have been fighting like cats and dogs for longer than you can remember, it can really take a toll on the relationship. Show through your actions that you no longer want to argue with your partner about the same old things. Initially, they may not believe you as fighting has become such an ingrained part of your relationship, but by staying calm and looking at the situation objectively, you are showing them you are making a concerted effort to have more positive relations with them. However, don’t expect the dynamic between you to improve overnight. It may take months or even years for genuine trust to return.

  • Healthy couples compromise.

    As the Rolling Stones once put it so eloquently: ‘You can’t always get what you want.’ This is true of relationships as well as life. Sometimes the compromises we are forced to make may seem blatantly unfair. But if you and your partner cannot seem to agree on how a situation can be resolved, maybe it’s because for the time being, there is no satisfying solution.

    For example, many partners admit that in the early years when a couple is starting their family, the majority of the workload often unfairly falls on one person — usually the woman. However, this may balance out in later years when the children are older and she finds herself with more free time. In emotionally healthy and mature relationships, both partners take it in turns to put their partner’s needs first.

So what changes can you make in order to create a more loving relationship between you and your partner? Even if you think there is no way back, if you are willing to invest the time and effort, you will begin to see positive changes. It can be hard to break the “circular argument” cycle once this becomes the typical way of dealing with problems within the relationship. But neither partner is truly powerless to fix a relationship that seems irreparable. If one person begins to change his or her behavior and makes an effort to show their partner more kindness and compassion, it is almost guaranteed the other person will notice and begin to respond in kind.


John Amodeo, PhD <![CDATA[How Mindful Living Creates Lasting Intimacy]]> 2016-09-13T21:18:10Z 2016-09-29T10:30:10Z mindful living creates lasting intimacyWe often understand mindfulness as a practice that helps reduce stress or moves us toward spiritual awakening. But there is another benefit to being mindful that doesn’t receive much attention. Mindfulness is an essential foundation for fulfilling and lasting intimate relationships.

Being present means noticing what we’re actually experiencing inside. In his popular book Wherever You Go, There You Are Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness.”

Being aware of what is happening in the present moment creates the climate for intimacy that often eludes us. Love and connection cannot be cannot be forced or manipulated; it cannot be forged through an act of will. The only power we have is to create a climate where love and intimacy are more likely to arise. Such a climate is fostered by being present to what we’re experiencing inside and taking courageous, intelligent risks to share that experience with people we want to be close to.

Love and intimacy are byproducts of being with another person in the present moment. Connections with others flow more easily as we stay connected with ourselves—being present to the full range of human emotions and desires that arise as a result of being alive. As they saying goes, “We can’t stop the waves, but we can learn how to surf.” We can make room for our fears, hurts, shame, and anger—as well as our joy and gratitude—and reveal these feelings as we notice them arising inside of us.

Cultivating such mindfulness allows us to feel closer to those we love.

Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (EFT), which has been primarily developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, is one such path toward uncovering and revealing our authentic, primary feelings. Deeper connections happen as couples slow down and allow themselves to feel what is more vulnerably alive inside them.

Oftentimes, our longing for love is so frustrated that we resort to shaming our partner or launching hurtful attacks. We may be angry that our needs aren’t being met, but don’t know how to best communicate what we really want (it’s usually something more vulnerable). This “attachment protest” is intended to pull our partner toward us, but it usually has the reverse effect of pushing them further away, which leaves both of us feeling frustrated, angry, or hopeless.

The elusive intimacy we seek doesn’t congeal through the knee jerk reaction of criticizing and attacking our loved ones. It ensues as we pause, drop down into our body, and be mindfully present with the unpleasant and uncomfortable emotions that are bouncing around inside us.

The research by Eugene Gendlin at the University of Chicago found that those who made progress in psychotherapy were slowing down their speech and connecting with their bodily felt sense of whatever was happening in their lives. These naturally gifted clients weren’t stuck in their heads analyzing themselves or others. They were mindfully present in this moment—opening to the ever-changing feelings that were coursing through them.

In a similar vein, connecting more intimately with others happens as we stay in the present moment with our authentic experience and find the inner resources to share that experience with trusted others. Revealing our tender and vulnerable feelings and longings enables them to see us and understand us, which may prompt them to respond in a more empathic way. People can feel us more as we take the risk to show them how we’re being affected by them and touched by life.

Interactional mindfulness creates a foundation for feeling each other more tangibly. For example, I notice I’m feeling sadness, fear, or a longing for more time together. I express these feelings to you. You then pause, go inside, and notice how my experience affects you. Does it touch a similar longing? Or perhaps there’s sadness in you to hear my pain. Or maybe a sense of shame that you’re not being a good partner, which might be a trigger for getting angry and defensive instead of hearing my feelings.

Living more mindfully has not only health and spiritual benefits. It can also be a hidden path toward the satisfying connections we seek. It takes much courage to give ourselves permission to feel whatever we happen to be feeling without judging ourselves. And it takes even more courage to allow ourselves to be vulnerably transparent with others.

Such risks pay dividends when others respond positively. Or if they don’t, we can feel good knowing we found the strength and integrity to take the risk to be authentic.


Dr. Meghan Owenz <![CDATA[What ‘Stranger Things’ Can Teach Us about Parenting]]> 2016-09-21T22:19:54Z 2016-09-28T22:35:47Z what "stranger things" can teach us about parentingIf you are one of the few out there who have not seen it: Stranger Things is a science fiction series that is very reminiscent of “The Goonies.” The story takes place in 1983 and the central plot line follows a group of four boys. In the first episode, one of the four boys goes missing. The three remaining best friends do their best to find and rescue their friend. They do so independent of adults. They work together as a team (mostly) and it all involves a lot of bike-riding. We all love the nostalgia in this throw-back drama. As an instructor of college courses in Infant and Child Development, I was immediately hooked on how the show depicted the preadolescent gang of boys.

Prior to the disappearance of their friend, the main characters spend their free-time riding bikes and playing Dungeons and Dragons, a table-top role-playing game. After the disappearance, they use the skills learned through years of friendship and freedom to participate in their own mystery man-hunt. If these kids survive what they are up against, every major CEO would want to hire them. They are smart, creative, team-players who are confident in their abilities to solve problems.

I feel a tinge of sadness that this type of childhood is unlikely for most kids growing up America today. And, it’s not because monsters and “upside down” worlds don’t exist. There has been a cultural shift in parenting that makes this type of independent group problem-solving very unlikely. I point to two primary culprits: (1) screens taking up an increasingly large percentage of children’s time and (2) our over-focus on supervision and safety of children.

If this show took place in 2013 instead of 1983, the children would not be riding bikes to each other’s houses and playing Dungeons and Dragons. If they were the average child, they may be dropped off by their parents for a scheduled “play date.” More likely, they would be playing video games and using social media in their homes, perhaps connecting to others via the screen. However, Dungeons and Dragons is a far superior “toy” than a screen, as it requires a great deal of planning, team work and actual face-to-face interaction. The complex role-playing game and unstructured outdoor time portrayed in the show both contribute positively to natural development and the children’s self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a child’s confidence in their own ability to control their behavior in order to be successful in their environment.

Because the problems with screens, including how much time children spend on screens and why it can be so bad are discussed elsewhere, I will focus on our cultural obsession with safety and supervision.

Recent research from the University of California, Irvine suggests that as a culture, we have become increasingly focused on supervising children… all the time. The new study finds that, as a culture, we now consider leaving children unsupervised to be “morally” wrong, regardless of how much risk the alone-time presents to children. And, we base the risk on how morally wrong we consider the lack of supervision to be. The researchers provided vignettes of children left alone for a variety of reasons: parent working, volunteering, relaxing or unexpectedly injured. The participants provided moral judgments of the parents and assessed risk to the child. The researchers found that the risk followed the moral judgments. If participants thought the parent was in the moral “wrong,” they deemed more risk to the child.

The researchers were motivated by several recent instances of parents facing criminal charges for leaving their children unsupervised in relatively low-risk situations. The examples are endless and increasingly ridiculous but here are few: a 9-year-old who played at a busy public park while her mom was working, a mother who left her son in the car for five minutes while picking something up, social worker involvement for a mom who allowed her children to independently play in her fenced backyard and continued police involvement in a family that allowed their children to walk 1 mile home from the park independently.

What’s interesting is that this is a recent cultural shift and one that is not based in any factual evidence. It does, however, coincide with the advent of the constant news cycle and media hype of stranger abductions. Crime statistics show that violent crime has decreased steadily and quite dramatically since the 1970’s. Yet, perception of crime has increased. What is important to note about these cases is that parents are being charged without regard to evidence of identifiable risk to the child.

Allowing a child to play independently or complete developmentally appropriate tasks by themselves is now a fad parenting style called: free-range parenting. However, having the freedom to solve problems without an adult’s micromanagement and the ability to play outside without rules and a coach is also called something else: healthy, normative child development. The ages at which it is developmentally appropriate will always be debated. And, it is true that the individual child’s temperament plays a large role in when it is appropriate for him or her to be granted certain freedoms.

While we are focused on our witch hunt, we are ignoring a major, identifiable risk to child development: the lack of time and space to develop characteristics associated with long-term success and mental stability: independence and self-efficacy. We are willing to rage about all the risks of safety and liability, but nothing is said of the risks of constant supervision and little is done about the risks of excessive screen time and sedentary, isolated behavior.

Of the research study, author Ashley Thomas says, “I think that developmental psychologists need to start talking about the costs of never allowing children to take a risk. People seem to make this calculation where they say: “Well, even though the chances of anything bad happening are small, there’s no harm in keeping an eye on the kids.” I think what developmental psychologists can say is: That’s mistaken — there is real harm in keeping an eye on the kids, if you’re keeping an eye on them every minute of every day.”

That is what Stranger Things nailed about child development: children are capable beings. Allowing them to exercise their capabilities within social groups without parent involvement is healthy (and missing from today’s childhood).


Tarik Shaheen, MD <![CDATA[Why I Prescribe Pokemon Go for My Patients]]> 2016-09-13T20:54:02Z 2016-09-28T18:30:14Z why I prescribe Pokemon GoThis week, the parent of one of my patients asked me about Pokémon Go. She was concerned with her child’s obsession and felt like this could lead to social or emotional problems.

Electronics, as with most things, are good in moderation — but Pokémon Go isn’t your average video game. Unlike games that keep people glued to the couch, Pokémon Go requires people to get up, move around, and interact with others. What that means to me as a child psychiatrist is that it comes with a variety of health benefits. Exercise is as good for the brain as it is for the rest of the body. I’ve seen people walking, riding their bikes, and finding more excuses to get outside because of Pokémon Go.

It’s providing a segue for people to connect. Some of my patients find it easier to meet with people by using technology as an icebreaker, and Pokémon Go has created a way for them to mesh the virtual world and the real world. It’s providing a positive way for them to be more social, which is a big booster for your mental health. The world of Pokémon Go involves teams working together to achieve a common goal — all while getting Vitamin D, fresh air, and exercise.

Pokémon Go shares many similarities to recommendations that psychiatrists and therapists employ to help our patients improve their mental wellness. Behavioral activation is a type of therapy based on B.F. Skinner’s initial psychological studies and is grounded in the idea that our behaviors and thoughts are intimately linked.

For example, in depression there is a negatively reinforcing cycle between our thoughts (such as “Everything is awful” and “I couldn’t do that even if I tried”) and our behaviors (such as isolating ourselves and staying inside all day). The goal in behavioral activation is to try and break this negatively reinforcing cycle. I know this is an oversimplification (and I’m sure to get some critical e-mails from psychologists for this one), but the theory behind behavioral activation is pretty much “If you go out and be active with friends and have fun, you’ll feel better.” Pokémon Go encourages people to do just that.

Pokémon Go is also a great example of how to put a positive spin on the obsession society has with screens. Most people focus on the negative impact technology can have on young people: constant texting, Netflix binge-watching, and being consumed by social media. These behaviors come at the expense of focusing inward and losing a more intimate connection with peers and families. However, Pokémon Go encourages people to come together and interact in a genuine and fun way that is conducive to building healthy relationships.

Of course, this article wouldn’t be complete without your typical doctor warning. Please pay attention to your surroundings while playing Pokemon Go! Seriously, there are no respawns or potions in real life. Be mindful of traffic and your environment at all times.

In summary, Pokémon Go can bring people together and break down boundaries. It can also serve as a healthy way to improve your mood and get some exercise. If you are curious, I encourage you to get together with some of your friends and family and give it a try. If you pass someone else who is exploring our beautiful world and trying to catch them all, stop and wave hi — the Pokémon community tends to be a friendly and welcoming bunch. And when you get back home and are recounting tales of the legendary Pokémon that just barely got away, you can be the judge of whether you feel a little bit better from the experience.


Lynn Margolies, PhD <![CDATA[When Perseverance Costs You Success]]> 2016-09-13T20:58:01Z 2016-09-28T14:20:15Z when perseverance costs you successMost of us know that persevering — staying the course and not giving up despite difficulties and setbacks — is an important part of what it takes to be successful in many areas of life. Intelligence, or talent, alone isn’t enough if you cannot persevere and weather frustration and challenges.

But perseverance, like other intrinsically healthy behaviors, can be taken too far and actually work against moving forward. When this happens, what may look like constructive perseverance functions behind the scenes as an unconscious attempt to avoid loss or avoid the positive risks required to progress to the next chapter. Another issue masquerading as perseverance, particularly with bright, driven people who are used to getting it right, is the compulsive need to prove themselves or restore a feeling of omnipotence.

When operating as a defense or compensation, perseverance is rote — hijacking perspective and the ability to flexibly respond and change course when needed in a particular situation. Being stuck can be rationalized by idealizing endurance — leaving people oblivious to the cause of their discontent, or fooled into futile hope of a different outcome.

There are two basic categories of maladaptive perseverance:

1) The case of the good soldier.

Good soldiers typically accomplish the task but are left feeling bored, stagnant, or unfulfilled. They are often bright, used to succeeding, and instinctively meet demands and expectations. They may get stuck in a dead end because they lack the confidence, or ability, to set limits or make an exit. They may undervalue themselves, or be afraid of taking a risk, such as giving up an old situation to open up new opportunity.

Often they are not aware of their feelings and may not know, or consider, what they want or even be fully aware there is a choice to make. They may need to remind themselves that just because they can endure or achieve something doesn’t mean they have to.

Difficulty with cognitive flexibility and transition can also be a factor here — making it less likely that they will shift what they are doing and change their situation.

2) The case of refusing to give up the fight.

The die hards try over and over to impact a difficult person, situation, or something not within their control — hoping for a different outcome. They are unable to relent or let go despite being caught in a losing battle with proven low prospects of getting the intended result, or requiring too much effort relative to the payoff. In this case, refusing to give up protects people from facing their own limitations, feeling helpless and defeated, and/or having to confront sadness and loss regarding relationships or situations they can’t change. Letting go can also be mistakenly seen as a sign of weakness or personal failure, though in fact may be the harder, wiser, and more courageous thing to do.

Perseverance is not always the healthy choice, or the one that leads to success. Sticking with things can be overemphasized especially with kids even when it’s not the concern at hand- randomly taking center stage over more salient, far-reaching considerations.

Alex, 15, did not fit in to his new school. He was a diligent, strong-minded but compliant boy who valued applying himself and being challenged. Though he had always made friends, this time he found himself alone and unhappy. His feelings of isolation escalated into depression — leading to a negative spiral socially as it became increasingly difficult to engage with classmates. During the summer, his depression lifted, but the thought of returning in the fall filled him with dread, as did telling his parents he needed to go to another school.

Alex’s parents, both highly accomplished academics, were in fact disappointed with him and unreceptive to the idea of him “quitting.” They felt that that “rescuing” him in this way would not serve him in the future and that he needed to persevere in the face of obstacles to be successful.

In this example, Alex’s parents got caught up in arbitrarily glorifying perseverance, which obscured what their son needed at that time. Alex, a disciplined child who was already hard on himself, didn’t need to practice working harder at things or braving adversity. Though he learned ways to cope at school, the benefit was outweighed by feeling depleted and demoralized.

In order to accomplish things, learn, and grow, it is essential to develop the capacity to stick with difficult tasks, tolerate struggle, overcome obstacles, and be resilient in the face of mistakes. But perseverance itself, when actually a symptom in disguise, represents a breakdown in learning that is self-perpetuating. Such defensive perseverance not only fails to lead to success, but actually blocks new opportunity and fuels frustration and stagnation.

Disclaimer: The characters from these vignettes are fictitious. They were derived from a composite of people and events for the purpose of representing real-life situations and psychological dilemmas that occur in families.


Melody Wilding, LMSW <![CDATA[4 Ways To Stop Overthinking Your Mistakes]]> 2016-09-29T02:29:27Z 2016-09-28T10:30:00Z You know how when you trip walking down the street, it feels like the entire cityscape of people is staring at you in amusement? Or when you’ve worn the same pair of pants three times in one week, you’re completely paranoid your colleagues are judging […]]]>

splitshire-1270-1You know how when you trip walking down the street, it feels like the entire cityscape of people is staring at you in amusement? Or when you’ve worn the same pair of pants three times in one week, you’re completely paranoid your colleagues are judging you for your lack of fashion sense (or cleanliness)? What about when you fumble over your words in a presentation, and then can’t stop thinking about how every person in the room now thinks you’re a terrible speaker?

As human beings with egos and an innate self-awareness of our own feelings, actions and thoughts, we tend to notice and greatly exaggerate our flaws while assuming everyone around us has a microscope focused on our faults, mistakes and slip-ups. In truth, other people don’t notice them nearly as much as we assume. Why? Because they’re too busy noticing and greatly exaggerating their own flaws!

This strange phenomenon is what’s known in psychology circles as the spotlight effect. You’re the center of your own world, and everyone else is the center of his or her’s. If you’re someone who sets high standards for yourself, your errors probably feel really difficult to move past. You might play your mistake on an endless internal feedback loop like a cinematographer in the editing room. Or maybe you talk through every facet of it with your significant other, best friend, or a colleague — over and over until you’re making them crazy.

Why exactly are we so, literally, self-centered? In part, it’s due to something called anchoring and adjustment. We’re anchored in the world by our own experiences, and so we have trouble adjusting far enough away from those experiences to accurately assess how much others are paying attention to us.

Think of it this way: when the ship is anchored in port, it’s difficult to gauge the enormity of the rest of the ocean. Similarly, when you spill toothpaste on your shirt but are too late for work to change your outfit, you may go through the rest of your day so anchored in your personal experience of wearing a stained shirt that you can’t adjust to truly consider whether it registers in the viewpoint of others. In reality, people are consumed with their own lives and so far away from caring that you have a spot on your shirt.

The illusion of transparency is another cognitive phenomenon that contributes to the spotlight effect. We all have a tendency to overestimate the degree to which our own mental state is known by others. On the flip side, we also overestimate how well we know other people’s mental states. Because of the illusion of transparency, we assume that whenever we do something we think is dumb and cringe internally we believe that everyone around us can tell. We think we can gauge accurately what they’re thinking—that what we just did was dumb. Ergo: the spotlight effect.

Ok, so all the psych jargon aside, how do you squash feelings of self-consciousness or social anxiety brought on by the spotlight effect? Try these tried-and-true methods:

Apply The “So What?” Test

So what if the guy next to you on the subway is staring at your book cover in horror? So what if you’ve been walking around with your shirt buttoned one-button-off for an entire day? Think about it: what is honestly, really truly going to happen? What will it mean a few days, a week or a year from now? Nothing of consequence. You’ll survive!

Shift Your Focus From Internal Cues To External Cues

When the spotlight effect affects you most saliently, it’s because you’re convinced your internal cues of anxiety—sweaty palms, elevated heart rate, feeling of doom or dread—are noticeable to others and that they’ll therefore judge you even more harshly. It’s helpful to learn to slowly shift from thinking about internal cues to external ones. For example, are the faces of your colleagues really agape in horror when you screw up a line in your presentation? Is everyone in the park actually laughing at you when you take an awkward trip wearing a new pair of heels? Turn your attention to the physical evidence around you. You’ll find little to none that indicates the situation is as embarrassing as you think it is.

Put Yourself In Uncomfortable Situations

Another tactic to consider in learning to overcome the spotlight effect is placing yourself in purposely uncomfortable scenarios, like randomly requesting a percentage off your lunch order from a café. The more secure you become in awkward social situations and master your behavior in them, the more you’ll be able to resist the emotional impact of the spotlight effect and realize how little others fixate on you. For example, if you feel self-conscious asking the waiter for special changes to a dish, you may be afraid he’ll laugh at your request, decline, or at worst mock you. But he also may be more than happy to grant your request with no questions asked– and give you props for requesting. Either way, you’ll be surprised at how little he and your lunch buddies judge you for it and how quickly they move past it.

Double Your Efforts

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, sometimes it helps to actually be more grandiose rather than timid in your behavior when it comes to drawing less attention to yourself. Take a cue from acting coaches: the key to a convincing stage performance is to double everything from facial expressions to gestures to reactions. The effect is one of confidence and security, rather than the bald self-consciousness communicated by small, meek actions.

It’s normal to have moments of self-doubt. But thanks to the spotlight effect, our blunders often feel way more severe than they are in reality.  Next time you’re struggling to move past a mistake, stop and remind yourself of the spotlight effect.

Get the FREE toolkit thousands of people use to better describe & manage their emotions at

Lindsay Dupuis <![CDATA[To Be Average Is to Be Happy: A Lesson from the Danes]]> 2016-09-28T02:40:21Z 2016-09-27T22:25:34Z to be average is to be happy: a lesson from the DanesAh, Denmark: the little Scandinavian country that is home to tall, beautiful blondes, tastefully designed homes, students who get paid to go to university — and some of the world’s happiest people.

For a country that seems to have it all, the Danes have an unusual way of remianing humble about their good fortune. Sure, it could be their extremely high taxes, dark and dreary winter weather, or that they’ve lost more wars in history than possibly any other country, that keeps them grounded, but many suspect it’s an unusual little law known as the Jante Law that keeps the Danes’ heads on straight. (Many Danes claim that Jante Law isn’t all that serious, and some are even embarrassed by it, but it continues to play a role in defining Danish culture and values.)

Developed by Danish-Norwegian author Axel Sandemose in his 1933 novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, Jante Law is a set of rules:

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

Ouch. Pretty harsh, isn’t it? Or is it?

On the surface, while Jante Law appears to be pretty brutal, it’s widely theorized that these ten little rules might actually be grounds for not just the Danes’ very humble ways, but also (and, perhaps, quite ironically) for their very happy ways.

If you’re consistently told that you’re no better or any worse than anyone else, then you’re essentially being told that you’re a very average person. You’ll probably set your sights on living a very average life. With such a mentality, you’re likely to be quite content when life hands you very average things. On the other hand, if life happens to hand you something above and beyond average, you’ll likely feel pleasantly surprised, and in most cases, pretty darn happy.

Compare this to the United States, where people are raised to shoot for the stars and beyond, and to put their blood, sweat, and tears into living the American Dream: ”You deserve the absolute best in life, and anything else is simply unacceptable.”

Of course, some good may come from this mentality, but generally, big dreams often are just that. With expectations set so high, the attainment of anything less is viewed as nothing short of a disappointment, and depression soon sets in.

Interestingly, in 2014, neuroscientist Robb Rutledge and colleagues of University College in London put this theory of expectations and happiness to the test and determined that happiness is, indeed, relative to how well we’re doing compared to how we expect we should be doing (Rutledge, Skandali, Dayan & Dolan, 2014). In other words, if performance matches or exceeds expectations, happiness ensues. On the other hand, if performance falls short of expectations, unhappiness ensues. With this being said, we can see why the Danes have the upper hand when it comes to levels of happiness.

The next time someone tells you to “set your sights high,” perhaps you ought to question them a little, and even refuse to set them high (or, at least, not set them too high). When it comes to our happiness, maybe we ought to learn from Rutledge, and of course, from the Danes. But try not to strive too hard in doing so; otherwise, you are simply bound to be disappointed.


Rutledge, R. B., Skandali, N., Dayan, P. & Dolan, R. J. (2014). A computational and neural model or momentary subjective well-being. PNAS, 111(33), 12252-12257.

Sandemose, A. (1933). En flykning krydser sitt spor (A fugitive crosses his tracks). Aschehoug Tradisjon.


Rachel Lee <![CDATA[6 Tips for Cutting Off Contact with Narcissistic Family Members]]> 2016-09-13T00:46:24Z 2016-09-27T18:30:41Z cutting off contact with narcissistic family membersOur family has the ability to frustrate us like no one else can. But what can you do when the family you were born into is not only frustrating, but cruel, condescending and downright abusive?

We all have our limits and if you were raised in a household where abuse or mental illness was part of everyday life for you, your willingness to tolerate your family’s bad behavior may be higher than most people’s.

But sooner or later, many adult children of narcissistic families realize that they don’t want to put up with the abuse anymore. And that’s when many decide that the only way they can live a normal, healthy life is to cut themselves off from their family’s destructive behaviors.

Psychologists refer to this as going ‘no contact’ and the name means just that. It means that you no longer speak to, email or have any contact with those members of your family who have hurt you. And you make it clear to them that you would prefer it if they don’t contact you either.

If you are seriously considering going no contact with your family or already have, here are a few things to watch out for:

  1. Don’t assume that they will respect your decision.

    If your family were capable of respecting your boundaries, you wouldn’t have to resort to going no contact. However, they don’t see it that way. They see you as an extension of themselves and the idea that you may want something different to them is impossible for them to grasp.

    Also be aware that narcissists love trampling boundaries. Even if you tell them firmly but politely that you don’t want them to contact you, be prepared for them to call you up constantly, asking why you won’t speak to them. When it comes to respecting other people’s boundaries, they just don’t get it.

  2. Be prepared for an all-out smear campaign.

    Your narcissistic family probably has been managing smear campaigns about you behind your back for years. But once you go no contact, the gloves will come off. Even if you have done nothing wrong, you may find yourself being accused of things you never said or did by relatives you thought were on your side. This is a common tactic used by narcissists to discredit their victim.

    After years of suffering emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of your narcissistic family, should you dare to speak out about it, they will go into damage control and do everything they can to rewrite family history. Before your very eyes, they will have cast themselves as The Brady Bunch and you as Wednesday Addams.

  3. Beware of ‘flying monkeys.’

    When it becomes apparent that badgering you to contact them and assassinating your character to everyone they can think of hasn’t gotten them what they want, they will call in the flying monkeys. Psychologists use this term to refer to the people your family recruits to try to guilt you into resuming contact with them.

    The flying monkey may be a sibling or a family friend. They may initially sympathize with you, but you get the feeling they are not really interested in hearing your version of events. The flying monkey can be relentless in trying to get you to see ‘what you’re doing to your poor parents.’ Regardless of whether they realize it, the flying monkey is being used as a pawn to do your family’s bidding.

  4. Be firm and don’t give in if you know that nothing has really changed.

    Once you have made up your mind to go no contact, you will endure every narcissistic trick in the book. They will try to make you feel guilty. They will deny your feelings. They will send you pleading emails, begging you to contact them. They will do a very good impression of behaving like an emotionally healthy family if they think it will make you change your mind. The one thing they won’t do, however, is take an honest look at themselves and their behavior.

  5. Surround yourself with a good support network.

    Going no contact can be one of the hardest things for anyone to do. It’s even harder if you have to do it without any emotional support. It’s essential to have people in your life who understand what you have gone through and support you 100 percent. Talk to understanding friends about it. Join a support group for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents or start one of your own. And be careful who you tell. People who haven’t been raised by narcissists may see your decision as cruel or an overreaction. You don’t need to deal with other’s judgments of you, particularly if they can’t relate personally to what you have experienced.

  6. Be kind to yourself.

    It may take years for you to heal from having spent your life dealing with narcissistic family members. You will have days when you hardly think about it and other days when you are so filled with rage you can barely speak. But the longer you are away from them, the better the chances of your finally having a healthy, chaos-free life. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty about that.


Laura C Meyer <![CDATA[Your Life: Are You Winning or Losing?]]> 2016-09-28T01:10:18Z 2016-09-27T14:20:32Z your life: are you winning or losing?Many of us have given up on ourselves. We’ve given up on our ability to manage who we want to be and how we want to live. Modern life comes with a plethora of distractions. Abandoning the potential of our own lives has become the new normal.

I’d like to offer another way: viewing life as a poker game, with mindfulness as your poker face. One of the goals of mindfulness is to redirect us into the game of our own lives. Mindfulness can also help us be a little more playful when we’ve been dealt what we perceive to be a bad hand.

Life is like a constant game of poker; the game never stops. You can stop playing; you can give up; but the game keeps going. And life generously tries to keep us in the game by offering us different cards every day.

Life can get messy when we don’t play because the ruleson giving up on ourselves aren’t clear. And our society is getting filled with more people trying to make up their own rules.

We are trying to make new rules of escape from playing the game to our full potential. Some of these include medication, drugs, alcohol, addiction (work, sex, food, technology, television), excuses, and labels. Not all these are inherently harmful, but they are if we cling to them as a way to escape any real depth, meaning, and purpose in our lives. We’ve become good at seeking anything to keep from noticing that we stepped away from the table of our potential.

Why are we so reluctant to stay at the table? Because we will have to look at the cards we’ve been dealt (face truth), have to think, and open ourselves to change or the risk of losing the current hand.

Interestingly, there is no other option. If we choose to not play, we are guaranteed to lose. The only way we won’t lose is if we are authentically ignorant, and most of us aren’t. We aren’t ignorant to what we are capable of doing and becoming. We are smart enough to know that we have given up on ourselves, and with that knowledge, we will always lose. A guaranteed win is the minute we jump back in the game.

Here are five mindful ways to win the game of life:

  1. Acceptance  Play what’s in your hand. Trying to mentally play what you imagine your hand should be is wasted time and energy. This seems ridiculous to do with cards, but we do it with our lives. It doesn’t work. You are guaranteed to lose. Nor do we try to play someone else’s hand at the card table, but we try to live someone else’s life. We try forcing ourselves in someone else’s body, and we are always looking over our neighbor’s fence to see what they have. If you play cards (your life) this way, you will lose. Accept your life as it is, and play what’s in your hand. Stay on your side of the fence, stay in your body. Then and only then can you choose, and move forward with the potential in front of you.
  2. Patience  Play your best card for the best possible outcome. That’s how we play cards, and that’s the best way to play life. In poker, we are allowed time to assess our best strategy (patience). We don’t always like what’s in our hand, and we can grunt and fuss, but we stay in the game. Every day, life only asks us to play our best, not someone else’s best.
  3. Observe  Once you’ve played your best card, watch and observe what other players are going to play. Learning to observe how people respond, what worked and didn’t, is part of the game. Ignoring what is happening around us makes us a poor sport, unskillful, and increases our chances of losing. In a very real way, we are all playing off each other every day.
  4. Stay  After all the cards are on the table, you find out if you win or lose. Either way, you don’t walk away. You stay. You stay because you still have cards in your hand. And you get the chance to pick another card. Life is just like this. Every day, every minute, you get the chance to play a new card. It’s an amazing game!
  5. Repeat. Accept. Be patient. Observe. Stay.  You will always struggle outside the game because there is no playbook on how not to play the game of your own potential.
Brandi-Ann Uyemura, M.A. <![CDATA[Best of Our Blogs: September 27, 2016]]> 2016-09-26T23:27:59Z 2016-09-27T10:30:38Z Pause Or Break Time Hand Gesture, On White BackgroundAre you busy and overscheduled? Too much things on your plate may be a symptom of something deeper going on. If you’re always busy, you might be avoiding the thing you think you don’t have time for-pause.

Life is filled with both hills and valleys. Most of us scramble to fill up our lives so we don’t ever have to rest in the valleys. Why? When nothing’s going on, we hear our inner voices loud and clear. It tells us things like, “You need to stop eating that stuff. Do you think that person is toxic? And maybe you should find a new job.” Because dealing with it isn’t the most fun thing to do, we distract, overschedule and keep busy.

It’s great that you’re here taking time to reflect. This week’s post on codependency, self-compassion and trauma may not instantly solve your problems, but sit with it for awhile and you may actually hear the calling of your inner voice to rest, seek help or develop self-kindness.

Three Amazing Ways You Can Re-Parent Yourself
(Childhood Emotional Neglect) – This is the reason why you can’t tolerate mistakes. While you can’t live life perfectly, you can learn to stop blaming yourself.

9 Reasons Trauma Is So Hard To Understand
(Caregivers, Family & Friends) – If you think trauma is a bad experience that is easily treated with talk therapy, you should read this.

Comparing Narcissism to Antisocial Personality Disorder
(The Recovery Expert) – Deciphering between diagnoses can be difficult. Here are a few things to look out for when determining whether a client has narcissistic personality traits or antisocial personality disorder.

What Causes Codependency?
(Happily Imperfect) – You’ve spent your life struggling with codependent relationships, but don’t know why. This explains where it came from.

The Unwanted Child: Feeling a Unique Kind of Hurt
(Knotted) – Mothers do all kind of damage to their children. This is true especially if they were “unwanted” in the first place.

Matthew Loeb <![CDATA[A Perfectionist’s Creed: When Perfect Is Far from It]]> 2016-09-11T20:04:17Z 2016-09-26T22:35:53Z A Perfectionist's CreedI am a perfectionist. Hunched over my laptop, my body tenses up. I am searching my mind’s deep labyrinths for the perfect word.

The problem: the perfect word doesn’t exist. And my frenzied search is more exhausting than empowering.

As perfectionists, we strive for the perfect word, perfect relationship, and perfect life. But our quest for perfection is inexorable. Crumpling under the weight of our internal expectations, perfectionism can degenerate into sputtering relationships and self-flagellation.

I have witnessed this in my own life. Growing up, I would sprint home from school. Why? So I could confess to Mom that I received a B+ on a paper. In college, I would spent hours searching for the perfect study spot. In law school, I would try to memorize every case detail.

As a self-admitted — and recovering — perfectionist, there was a comforting rigidity to my relentless perfectionism. I may be disheveled and defeated but, hey, at least I read every last word of the Williams case.

Among our closet perfectionists, is there a faint smile creasing your lips? You know exactly what I am talking about.

Life feels like a monotonous slog. You grind to the Friday finish line. And the payoff for your inexorable trudge? Obsessing about your imperfect weekend plans.

Perfectionism robs you of that burst of spontaneity, that incurable zest for life. Joylessness is your Monday morning and, sadly, Saturday afternoon.

And, really, who wants to live like that? Count me out.

Here are strategies to manage your perfectionist tendencies:

The world is imperfect. Accidents happen. We make mistakes. As perfectionists, we want the world to bend to our indomitable will. And when it doesn’t, our reaction can range from counter-productive to downright harmful.

Try pretty good. Nothing in life is perfect. Your car? It is a couple years old. Your job? The boss is condescending. But let’s take a more measured approach. Sure your car is a couple years old but Big Blue does beat a trusty bus pass. Your boss? Sure she can be demeaning but she did support you when you asked to switch division. In the perfectionist playbook, black and white thinking predominates. The problem: life is 50 shades of grey.

Focus on what you do have. In life, we are constantly obsessing about what we don’t have — the lofty title, the corner office, the beatific spouse. For those caught in perfectionism’s throes, the wants outnumber the needs. We crave more; hungrily asking what’s next. Next represents the starry future; the possibility for perfection.

But as the perfectionist lusts after next, it is a struggle to remain present in the moment. I know I struggle — ruminating about past slights and future goals. Perfectionism is unattainable; there will always be a next. My credo: enjoy the moment and everything you do — and don’t — have.

Perfectionism is an endless chase. As you are sprinting to next — the next title, next career, next obligation, you are, in reality, running in place.


Laura Yeager <![CDATA[Waiting for an Autism Diagnosis]]> 2016-09-11T20:04:43Z 2016-09-26T18:35:09Z watch-828848_640Tommy was having trouble growing up.

He wasn’t talking at age 2. We waited it out for a bit, but, at 3, when he was still barely communicating, we sought out professional speech therapy. We found a great therapist at our local children’s hospital. With help, Tommy began to communicate more. The therapist worked on his vocabulary and eventually on one-step commands.

So he was learning to follow directions, but his conversation skills were practically nonexistent, and he seemed a bit antisocial. Consequently, when he turned 4, we took him to a doctor to see what was wrong. We suspected autism.

Tommy was observed and tested, but no autism diagnosis was made; in fact, no diagnosis at all was made. We were confused. In my heart and mind, I just decided that I had a “difficult” kid. We enrolled Tommy in a public, special-needs preschool.

As Tommy grew, he developed pronounced fears of many things. At ages 5 and 6, he was terribly afraid of (among other things) toys that made noise, any new situation such as going to a new restaurant, and public bathroom hand dryers. (Every time I took him into a public bathroom, I prayed for paper towels.)

When he was 6, we took Tommy to another doctor, the autism guru in our Midwestern town. It was this doctor’s opinion that our son didn’t have autism; he had anxiety disorder. We were told that the two maladies “looked a lot alike,” which meant that they shared many of the same symptoms.

So no autism diagnosis. But the teachers and practically everyone who knew Tommy and knew something about autism said, “Tommy is autistic.”

We suffered through ages 6 to 9. When Tommy turned 9, we decided we needed to get a third opinion. We took our boy to a famous autism expert in the big city near our town. This guy spent about an hour observing him and talking to him, and at the end of the session, said, “He doesn’t feel autistic.” That was his word — “feel.”

Diagnosis of autism is not an exact science. We had no other choice but to continue to plug along.

When Tommy was 10, we decided to get him into a social group because he still desperately needed to work on communication and conversation skills. We took him to a local university psychology department that was hosting social groups primarily for autistic kids. We were told that although Tommy did not have the autism diagnosis, he could still theoretically join the group. But before they would officially let him in, they had to “audition” him — to interview and test him. Long story short, he did not pass their tests. We were told he was not “group ready.” We couldn’t even get our kid into a social group because he wasn’t “social” enough. Talk about a catch-22. They told us to get Tommy weekly therapy (to try to “iron out his quirks” is how I explained it to myself.)

So the summer of 2015, when Tommy was 10, we took him to yet another doctor, another expert. But, miraculously, very early into Tommy’s treatment, this guy, a psychologist, said, “Your child has autism. I’m convinced of it.” This doctor would later tell us that his initial hunch that Tommy had this malady was because of Tommy’s constant “scripting” behavior. Tommy loved to recite scripts from movies and television shows, a common feature of autistic children.

Finally, finally, a doctor who believed that Tommy was autistic. I had mixed emotions. It was nice to have a probable explanation for why my son was the way he was. But it was also painful that Tommy did indeed have (the dreaded) autism diagnosis.

Doctor no. 4 did actual autism tests on Tommy. The first one was composed of special games, which Tommy had to play with the doctor; and of formulated questions, which Tommy had to answer. The second test (which wasn’t really a test per se, but a diagnostic instrument) was a set of intensive questionnaires which both Tommy’s teachers and we, his parents, had to answer. And I have to say, Tommy “passed” the tests with flying colors. He did, indeed, have autism.

So then, what happened?

Things got a little easier. Finally, with a diagnosis, the school (and everyone we knew) became more understanding of our kid. Tommy still had the anxiety disorder diagnosis, but now, the powers that be could better wrap their minds around Tommy’s condition.

The autism label is more helpful in the society in which we’re living. The label brings with it (among other things) extra assistance at school; funds for medical services, therapies and medication; and a little more compassion for your child.

So parents, if you’re in a situation similar to ours, do not give up in your quest to find out what’s distressing your child. Eventually, you will find the answer. Whatever it may be.

Tracy Kocsis <![CDATA[Moving on from Dysfunctional Relationships]]> 2016-09-11T19:59:30Z 2016-09-26T14:20:09Z moving on from dysfunctional relationshipsNot so long ago, I joined a Facebook group for abuse survivors, in hopes of finding support and encouragement. While I was encouraged and supported in the best way an anonymous person on the Internet could be, I felt there was too much reliance on the word “narcissist.” As I tried to find intelligent solace in reading members’ posts, I discovered many people playing the martyr. (I had observed that behavior in my own mother). Many of these people seeking and offering advice probably suffered from some mental or personality disorder as well.

I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I have also been told I have low self-esteem. Despite my plethora of issues, I am still able to see myself and others through a clear lens.

Though I was certain that my husband was a narcissist, I was unconvinced that this label could be applied to my mother. I suspect she suffers from borderline personality disorder (BPD). The two disorders have similar, even overlapping, traits. They often are distinguished by emotional instability and a distorted perception of one’s identity. Narcissists such as my ex-husband often exhibit arrogant behavior and a high sense of self-importance. He often told me he “could easily get somebody else” but insisted nobody would want me.

Despite the decline I saw in his mind from the many years of alcohol abuse, he believed he had superior intelligence. Much of his time was devoted to sharing his great mental prowess through esoteric online forums. He referred to his excessive use of time as “studying.” The lack of involvement with family affairs paled in comparison to the fury that was inflicted upon the home when he abused alcohol. On weekends, I used to pray that he wouldn’t come home until it was time for him to go to work. My prayers were frequently answered.

Narcissists do not feel empathy for others, whereas individuals with BPD display fleeting moments of empathy. As a child, I longed for the moments when my mother was experiencing one of these fleeting pangs of empathy toward others. It meant I would not get backhanded. It also meant I would not be called one of the litany of names she had reserved for me. She was very creative in devising new insults and had a dramatic flair. Those living with people who suffer from BPD usually feel like they are walking on eggshells.

Though it may be difficult for some people to live with narcissists or BPD individuals, many victims have the resources to deal with the trauma they may experience. Some families are strong and supportive and make it easier to love people with personality disorders. Unfortunately, many lack the ability to maintain a relationship with such people, either by lack of social supports (extended family, friends, and mentors) or by the choice of their loved ones.

With my narcissist, I was unable to care for myself and my young children when faced with verbal and emotional abuse. I suffered from depression and became impaired by the mental breakdowns I experienced with the narcissist in my life. He refused to work and pay the utilities, though he always had money for a pint of liquor. When I tried to obtain a job, I depended on him to care for our kids, but he would drink, pass out, and leave the children on their own. I wasn’t able to stay in this situation.

The BPD family member in my life, my mother, showed empathy and compassion toward me at this juncture in my life. However, when she invited me to move into her home, things became explosive. I couldn’t tolerate such abuse now that I had two children to raise. I had to flee once she started cursing at me in front of my children.

I hadn’t expected our relationship to be unsalvageable, however. When I tried to reconnect with her, she literally slammed the door in my face. She spread vicious stories about me to my sister and aunts, all the while playing the part of the victim. If and when I managed to bump into her at family functions, she tearfully and dramatically exited, letting everyone know how disturbed she was by my mere presence. She told my sister, as well as my ex-husband, that she wanted nothing to do with me. She had disowned me.

Real or perceived abandonment is one of the most feared things by people with BPD. I suspect that my swift departure was construed as abandonment by my mother. I wished that I had realized that she suffers from a personality disorder that requires others to respond with patience. I was afraid of her and did not want to be kicked out on her terms. Fear drove me away but I hadn’t intended for it to be a permanent vacation.

Kasia Bialasiewicz/Bigstock

Gabrielle Katz, LSW <![CDATA[Suicide Prevention Awareness: How to Ask]]> 2016-09-21T22:18:15Z 2016-09-26T10:30:12Z suicide prevention awareness: how to askThis month is suicide prevention awareness month. Statistics show that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and for every suicide, there are 25 attempts. There are many myths about suicide, and I believe there is one myth in particular that must be discussed.

If I ask someone directly if they are thinking about suicide, I might make them think about it or act on it.

This is not accurate; there are numerous suicide first aid trainings being conducted in the world, and what research and trainings are teaching us is that you should ask someone directly about their thoughts of suicide. For example, “are you thinking about suicide?” or “are you thinking about killing yourself?”

Some may be wondering two questions about this reality:

  1. What about asking, “are you thinking about hurting yourself” instead?
  2. Do I have to say anything at all? And if so, why directly?

What about asking, “are you thinking about hurting yourself” instead?
When someone is thinking about taking his or her own life this means that she or he is already in pain, suffering, and does not see any other options at this time. He or she is hurting. The suicide is not seen as something that will necessarily hurt. It is seen as something that could possibly take the hurt away. With that being said, for people struggling with suicidal ideation there is a quote that really speaks to how suicide is not the answer or the only option you have:

“Suicide does not end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibilities of it ever getting better!!” — unknown author.

Do I have to say anything at all?
If you are asking someone if he or she is suicidal there is a reason behind it. It means you are seeing warning signs or red flags that make you feel this may be a possibility. If you don’t want to say anything at all, check in with yourself and your own biases that might lead you not to ask this question. Are you worried about the person’s answer? What that will mean for you and your relationship with that person? What are your beliefs about suicide?

All of these questions are understandable to ask yourself. This makes sense — it can be scary to ask someone “are you think about suicide?” — but then ask yourself this, wouldn’t it be better to be safe than sorry? Wouldn’t it be better to ask and save a life than to not ask at all?

And if so, why directly?
Asking someone directly if they are thinking about suicide shows them that you are not afraid to talk about it, and that you are willing to listen to and help them with their thoughts. It can help to alleviate the belief that there is no one to talk to or no one that understands. People can feel reluctant to express their thoughts of suicide, so talking about it directly can provide a sense of relief.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. There are people out there that can help.
If you would like to be trained in suicide first aid please research safeTALK, Applied Suicide Interventions Skills Training (ASIST), or contact your local American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) chapter. The AFSP mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.


Elizabeth Blackwell <![CDATA[The Dangers of Rising Adderall Abuse among Teens]]> 2016-09-11T19:55:11Z 2016-09-25T22:35:47Z rising use of Adderall in teensCall it a case of unintended consequences. Twenty years ago, the prescription medication Adderall debuted as a treatment for narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A stimulant, with amphetamine as its active ingredient, Adderall helped sufferers of narcolepsy stay awake, but it also increased mental focus and endurance for those diagnosed with ADHD.

Because of its effectiveness and relatively mild side effects, Adderall quickly became a common treatment for ADHD. But as its popularity increased, use of Adderall also began spreading beyond the people it was intended for. Today, students without ADHD regularly take Adderall as a study aid, in order to work longer and later than they would be able to otherwise. In 2009, 5 percent of American high school students were using Adderall for non-medical reasons, according to a University of Michigan Study—a rate that increased to 7 percent in 2013. A recent review of multiple studies published in the journal Postgraduate Medicine estimated that up to 10 percent of high school students and 5 to 35 percent of college students are misusing stimulants.

There’s no question that Adderall (along with related stimulants such as Ritalin) can be enormously helpful for young adults with ADHD, who might otherwise feel overwhelmed by the demands of schoolwork or a first job.

“For those who have documented ADHD and no history of substance abuse, Adderall can be extremely helpful in sustaining attention, following through on tasks, and other executive functioning skills required for learning,” says Dr. David Baron, medical director at Yellowbrick and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The Chicago Medical School.

But because Adderall directly affects the brain’s dopamine level, it can also become habit-forming, especially when it’s taken on an ad hoc, “as needed” basis, and it can be dangerous. “Taken in too-large doses, it has potentially dangerous or even lethal side effects, including hallucinations, other psychotic symptoms, strokes or heart attacks,” Baron says.

Even students who take the drug at relatively low doses are still at risk for common side effects such as loss of appetite and sleeplessness — both of which can ultimately affect their schoolwork and everyday functioning.

Researchers at the University of Michigan study have also found a link between misuse of stimulants and later substance abuse. According to a recent study of more than 40,000 individuals, children who began taking stimulant medications for ADHD in elementary school were at no greater risk for later substance abuse than the general population. But young people who began taking ADHD medications in middle or high school — when it was easier to obtain the drugs without a medical diagnosis — were significantly more likely to abuse other drugs or alcohol in the future.

To control “recreational” Adderall use, Baron says doctors need better ways of determining exactly who has ADHD — and therefore who will benefit medically from a prescription. “Diagnosing ADHD can be complicated and at times confusing, both to patient and prescriber,” he says. Symptoms that may seem like ADHD may not be, and people who don’t experience the classic symptom of hyperactivity may still have ADHD but never be diagnosed.

“Adderall is probably both overprescribed — for those who report trouble concentrating and don’t have ADHD — and under-prescribed, for the many people whose symptoms of ADHD are either unrecognized or unreported,” he says.

As the tools for diagnosing ADHD become more sophisticated, it may become easier to determine who will truly benefit from taking Adderall. That will mean fewer prescriptions obtained by fraudulent means and less Adderall available for sale at schools. “The psychiatric profession and primary-care physicians have increasing opportunities to become more adept at differentiating actual indications for Adderall and other stimulant medications, which may increase their appropriate use,” Baron says.

Parents and educators can also help by addressing the underlying reasons students who don’t have ADHD take Adderall. Many overworked, overachieving students think the only way they can keep up is to pop a pill. Teaching better study habits, keeping workloads manageable and setting reasonable expectations are all important ways to support students who might otherwise think Adderall is the only answer.