Our society has a difficult relationship with authority. Many of us were taught as children that it was important to show respect and defer to those above us. We are told to trust people in positions of power — people like doctors, clergy, and police officers.
But we also see daily evidence of these same people making errors or putting their needs above the facts. In that case, what is the average person to do? Is it OK to question authority? Join us as today’s guest, The Punk Rock Doc, explains where we go from here.
Dr. J.J. Kelly, The Punk Rock Doc, is a licensed clinical psychologist, emotional intelligence skills training expert, and bestselling author of The Holy Shit Series. J.J. is also the CEO & Founder of UnorthoDocs, Inc., a punk alternative to traditional psychotherapy. Dr. Kelly and the unortho “docs” live their lives with the belief that global healing is achieved by teaching people the skills to like themselves. “Happy People Act Right!”
Our host, Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome to the show, everyone. I am your host Gabe Howard and calling in today we have Dr. J.J. Kelly. Dr. Kelly, who is better known as The Punk Rock Doc, is a licensed clinical psychologist and bestselling author of the Holy Shit series. Dr. Kelly, welcome to the podcast.
Dr. J.J. Kelly: Thank you so much. It’s so rare that I get to talk to a fellow Midwesterner, so this is going to be fun and funny, I think.
Gabe Howard: I hope that our accents don’t don’t match up incorrectly and make everybody just. Yeah, yeah. You know, accents do really, really well on this podcast. There’s an air of authority to them.
Dr. J.J. Kelly: Huh.
Gabe Howard: Whenever I hear an accent, I think, Oh, I can trust you.
Dr. J.J. Kelly: That’s hilarious, Gabe, because I don’t have an accent.
Gabe Howard: Exactly. So I don’t have to listen to you. But. But you’re a doctor, right? So
Dr. J.J. Kelly: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: That’s its own authority. You know, I bring all of this up because today’s topic is how to stop giving our power to authority figures. And there’s this little piece of me that can, I’m already starting to read the emails that haven’t come in yet because I can see it now. Like, are you telling us that we can ignore the police or are you telling us that that that doctors don’t know anything? Or are you saying that people who have studied for 20 years are wrong?
Dr. J.J. Kelly: Oh, gosh, I have so much to say about that. It’s really hard to break it down. I think that you have to look at any situation. I mean, all those all those emails you’re talking about. I mean, the answer is sometimes, you know, like you have to use your own value system and make your decisions based on your values, not what somebody else tells you to do. And sometimes somebody that has a higher power position than you, you might agree with them. So maybe you do do what they say, but only after it’s gone through your what we call in DBT wise mind filter. It has to resonate with you.
Gabe Howard: When we say authority, just to make sure that we really nail this down. How are we defining authority figures? Because, you know, obviously police officers can be authority figures, but depending
Dr. J.J. Kelly: Mm.
Gabe Howard: On where you are in the circumstance, they may not be an authority figure. It it’s
Dr. J.J. Kelly: Totally.
Gabe Howard: There’s a there’s a spectrum, right. Of when you have to listen versus when you’re free to go.
Dr. J.J. Kelly: For sure. For sure. And I’ve had really positive exchanges with police officers and very negative ones. So, individual differences are out there, too. But with something like an expertise or somebody as a master of something, I think certainly you want to go in with an open mind and open heart and kind of sponge up the information that they know so well. I think my problem with it is that having now been in the mental health system as a professional for 20 years now, it dips into academia as well and dips into medicine as well. So I’ve been surrounded by a lot of doctors of different kinds and occurs to me that this is going to spark some emails. But in my opinion, I think that someone that has a doctor title that is as much a reflection, if not more, of privilege than IQ.
Gabe Howard: Well, let’s talk about that for a second, because as we learned during the pandemic, there is this huge movement much, much bigger than I’m comfortable with, of doctors are wrong. They’re just trying to sell us stuff. And the COVID vaccine is dangerous, but they’re all lying about it. But
Dr. J.J. Kelly: Right.
Gabe Howard: But by the same token, if any of those same people who don’t trust the doctors because they’re lying about the COVID vaccine, get COVID and start to get really, really sick, they immediately call 911. Go to the emergency room where, of course, those same doctors who just tried to perpetrate this fraud on them and are lying to the American people are
Dr. J.J. Kelly: Right.
Gabe Howard: Now their best hope for survival and they do trust them. I’m just curious about this wishy-washy nature. But maybe based on some of the things that you’re saying, maybe it’s good to question them sometimes and not other times. And by them I mean authority figures, but in this case, doctors.
Dr. J.J. Kelly: In a measured way. You know, it’s a great the way you set that up with the whole COVID thing. It’s a great lens to look through because. There is an extremism about facts or not facts or it’s a strange it’s a strange movement we’ve come into with the questioning facts thing. But I think it comes from a nation that’s majority, just feels disempowered. And so there’s this grasp at power. And then, of course, one gets sick and they’re just in a lower power position, and then they yield to authority figures defined by them as well as society. Now they’re the authority. Well, can’t we keep things a little more measured, balanced, reasonable?
Gabe Howard: In trying to be reasonable. I do personally like the idea of relying on experts, relying on authority. I’m not completely against the concept of follow the doctor’s orders because after all, that doctor is well-trained and my best option to get well. But by the same token, as somebody who lives with bipolar disorder, I’ve seen a lot of abuses in the mental health system by authority figures, by doctors, and I kind of don’t know where to go with that. And I think maybe this is the crux of our episode here. When do we know when to ignore that authority figure, when to follow that authority figure? And how is a layperson supposed to be in the position of figuring this out? Because even as you and I are talking, you have eight years of schooling under your belt and I have exactly zero.
Dr. J.J. Kelly: Except that you have your data that’s collected about your experience with bipolar. So here’s how I break it down for people. I basically think that everything that comes out of my mouth is truly brilliant. So. So that’s one thing. However, I always tell people of all ages, even young people. However, when I say something to you, if it doesn’t resonate with you, then it’s garbage. So I’m taking guesses at a person as I’m getting to know them and trying to dig for information to get to know them. I certainly have expertise in emotional intelligence skills and I can teach them those skills. However, I can tailor them so much more effectively when I listen to them and learn who they are. So going back to your question, what does the consumer do? Well, remember that you are an expert on you. And if you’re whatever shrink you’re seeing, like they have an expertise as well. Great. And hopefully those match up. But I tell people to shop around. You don’t have to say yes to the first mental health professional or any professional that you see. I tell people to ask a kind of off the wall question to the shrink just to feel them out, see what kind of answer they give. Is it something authentic or is it just like the standard answer from a book? And try to get a feel for how they operate and trust your gut. Our gut definitely screams sometimes, no, when we’re around people and it’s no different with authority figures. If your gut is going, nuh uh. Nope, not this person, then leave. Go get somebody else. You don’t have to be around somebody that makes you feel, I don’t know, scared or angry. And those emotions come up sometimes when you’re working with somebody. But I’m talking more about those initial hits that you get with someone when you’re in their presence for the first time.
Gabe Howard: I have done no such study, and I don’t know this for a fact, but it really seems like women have a harder struggle questioning authority than men do. What are your thoughts on that? Do women have a tougher time standing up to authority and how can they get that power back?
Dr. J.J. Kelly: Well, we certainly are socialized to keep our mouths shut and to be compliant and to not be angry because that makes us too aggressive. I mean, I wish you could see my face right now. I just think this is such horseshit. And that is real. And I love that you asked me that because you’re a dude and you actually are curious about that. So that’s already a win when we get we get our male allies to ask us questions and then be quiet and listen to the answer. So the assertiveness training, the interpersonal effectiveness module that I teach, has an actual formula for how to ask for things, how to say no and how to resolve conflict. And it is so, so effective. And at the end of the day, you just have to employ your courage. You have to be brave. You don’t have to flip out when you’re angry, I’m not saying that. There are very powerful ways to express yourself when you’re angry that still are going to be in alignment with your values. When I am angry with somebody, I’ll say something like. You know, I’m not sure how much responsibility I’m willing to take for that. When someone comes at me and says projects something or has some sort of problem with what I just said or what I did, I still have to weigh that with my values, which are more important to me than whatever it is they’re projecting onto me. Or I might be like, You know what you’re saying right now is pissing me off, so I’m going to need a minute. I’ll come back in ten minutes when I’ve cooled off a little bit. Or I’ll say. You know what? You keep speaking to me like that, I’m leaving this conversation. Bring the volume down, bring the tone to something less aggressive, and we can continue with mutual kindness and respect. You can see how I’m talking to you. I would like that back. And just it’s really, it’s so basic, isn’t it?
Gabe Howard: Another term or concept that that came up while I was researching this is the term obedience bias. What is obedience bias and how can it be dangerous?
Dr. J.J. Kelly: I don’t use that term. I. I think that any time someone is compliant without discernment, it’s dangerous. Even with me. And I consistently tell people that again, going back to the I am an expert and if it doesn’t resonate with you, throw it away. It might come back around. Okay, fine. But I am not attached to being right. Unless it’s for someone’s benefit. But if it doesn’t hit, it doesn’t hit. And so many people in authority positions and otherwise have such a fragile ego that their attachment to being right can make them actually get aggressive. If you disagree with them, they might get aggressive. And I think that is dangerous.
Gabe Howard: So let’s talk about that for a moment. It seems like one of the ways that you can suss out whether or not an authority figure is acting in your best interest is how defensive they get at any sort of pushback. Is that a fair statement?
Dr. J.J. Kelly: Oh, it’s beautifully worded. Yes.
Gabe Howard: So just to just to clarify and help us walk down this path, if I question an authority figure, their response should be to help me understand, to explain, to guide me, not to say I know better than you. You need to follow my lead.
Dr. J.J. Kelly: I would never listen to someone that said that to me. And having been like a lifelong rebel, maverick, pain in the ass, put whatever label you want on it. I have never listened to somebody, done what they tell me to do, without it making sense to me. And that has that has ruffled the feathers of many a previous boss of mine. Teachers I’ve often told bosses, I mean, I haven’t had 1 in 20 years, but back in my 20s, I’d be like, you know, the nuns couldn’t make me do it and my dad couldn’t make me do it. What possible chance do you have of making me do this, dude?
Gabe Howard: And we are back with The Punk Rock Doc, Dr. J. J. Kelly, discussing how to stop giving our power to authority figures. It seems like you’re saying that the phrase because I said so is a bad phrase that that we should not not not listen to.
Dr. J.J. Kelly: I’ve never said those words. And I’m considered an authority figure by many people.
Gabe Howard: I think the burning question is, is how does a layperson stand up to authority?
Dr. J.J. Kelly: That is the question. I mean, how do we move forward when there are these. These things in place that make it difficult to even question an authority figure. Well, I mean, that’s. That’s a very long discussion. But I will say that what I do when I’m questioned, first of all, I invite it because I think that kind of discourse is healthy and because I have enough resilience and a sense of self and self-confidence that I don’t take everything personally. I actually do think that that kind of back and forth helps people learn. And so I model how to behave non-defensively when questioned. Maybe. Maybe in some situations, the best any of us can do is model how to behave, how we want others to behave. We behave that way in order to demonstrate how it can be done. I one of the things that I say a lot is happy people act right. So I try to teach people well. I do teach people the emotional intelligence skills so that they can continue to like themselves with each decision that they make. They can build self esteem instead of eroding it by violating their own values. So my mission is to teach everybody those emotional intelligence skills so that the world acts right.
Gabe Howard: At the end of the day, aren’t people authority figures for a good reason? Didn’t they earn that position? And don’t they deserve respect and adherence?
Dr. J.J. Kelly: I think I do.
Gabe Howard: [Laughter]
Dr. J.J. Kelly: But I also and I don’t allow people to disrespect me, but I also don’t. I don’t violate my own values when standing up for myself or when someone pisses me off. I don’t violate my values just because I’m pissed. I stick to my own values and express myself in an emotionally intelligent way in order to preserve the self-esteem and the self-confidence that I’ve worked so hard to build. So, you know, I think that respect is earned, not automatically given. I think that people often they often perform respect in order to avoid consequences. But I think people know the difference between real respect deep down and performed respect and the former is felt between people and I think connects people.
Gabe Howard: I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it really sounds like you’re saying that just because somebody is an authority figure doesn’t mean that you should automatically adhere and follow and obey that. That’s one of the things that we do to give our power away is just to assume because you’re in this role, you must be good. How do we stop doing that?
Dr. J.J. Kelly: How do we stop? I think that when you learn emotional intelligence skills and you practice them for a while and you know what your values are and you’re able to name your emotions, you have a powerful sense of self and you like yourself. And that inner voice, your inner voice is louder than the ones outside of you. And you have the confidence when you get those gut hits, those intuitive hits where you’re like, Nope, this guy’s full of shit. Then you can just. Respect those. Honor those and behave from those hits and not believe everything that said to you. People have a lot of different motivations for what they say. They have a lot of different motivations for judgments of other people. And a lot of times they are just projecting their own feelings about themselves, the world. Negative feelings get projected out onto people when people don’t know how to manage or effectively manage their emotions. So it probably doesn’t even have anything to do with you. You get to know that when you practice these skills.
Gabe Howard: I want to be completely honest with you. I agree that we do need to question authority. We do need to understand why we’re being told to do things. I think that’s part of the social contract. But there’s also this part of me that thinks, huh, if everybody ignores authority, why don’t we just descend into anarchy?
Dr. J.J. Kelly: Well, that’s black and white thinking. I teach things on a spectrum and I actually practice and live that way personally as well. It’s not an either/or. It’s sometimes you question things and sometimes you go with what an authority figure says. It’s up to you and your value system. It’s. It’s just not it’s not that black and white. Everything’s not going to descend into anarchy. If I question some Harvard shrink about narcissistic personality disorder. It’s just not that extreme.
Gabe Howard: I love that you brought up black and white thinking because people believe that there’s only two choices either complete obedience or complete anarchy, and there’s nothing in the middle. And I believe that getting more towards the center will actually make well, it’ll make our society better because we’ll have more understanding of what we’re doing, the decisions that we’re making and why we’re following these rules, orders, etc. And I think ultimately that’ll bring us closer together. And, well, I just think ultimately that will make things better.
Dr. J.J. Kelly: I agree. I agree. And let’s just listen to each other more and better. Active listening is a skill that very few people have. I wish people were more curious about each other. Everyone seems to be everyone. I mean, a lot of people seem like they just want to talk and they want people to agree with them. They’re looking for some sort of external validation. And so few people ask a question and then just listen to the answer and are curious enough to ask a follow-up question. Like nobody, nobody. I mean, I’m doing the black and white thing. Everybody. Nobody always never. I think that it is. It makes me sad how rap rampant it is where people just want to talk about themselves and they don’t want to learn about each other. That that makes me sad often because I think that everybody’s looking for connection with other humans and they’re behaving in a way that solidifies never having that connection. There are some basic things. Listening. Everybody knows what that is. Why don’t they do it then? The amount of people that say the words emotional intelligence or EQ, like so many business execs, like to throw out the EQ, emotional intelligence. They say it, they don’t have it. They say it a whole lot. It becomes part of the jargon. And I just I wish it was more about actual connection than just acquisition of information.
Gabe Howard: Dr. Kelly, thank you so much for being here. Where can folks find your books and you online?
Gabe Howard: I bet your books are also on Amazon because, well, everything’s on Amazon.
Dr. J.J. Kelly: They absolutely are. And the audiobooks are as well, and I’m reading them, so they’re funny.
Gabe Howard: Very, very cool. Thank you so much again.
Dr. J.J. Kelly: You’re welcome. What a pleasure. Thank you, Gabe.
Gabe Howard: You are very welcome, Dr. Kelly. And a huge thank you to all of our listeners. My name is Gabe Howard and I’m an award-winning public speaker who could be available for your next event. I’m also the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” which is on Amazon. But you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to my website gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is 100% free and hey, can you do me a favor? Recommend the show to your friends, your family member colleagues, put it on social media. Hell, send a text message. Sharing the show is how we grow. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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