The Family, it’s Myths and Stories

The family story: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Are you familiar with how you were born? Are you aware of any diseases or tragedies that have affected your family?

“I remember as a twelve-year-old boy, living in my grandparents’ apartment in a walk-up building in the Bronx, my grandparents, with all of us gathered around an open window hoping to catch a warm breeze on those hot August, would tell their stories of how they grew up in Russia and the Lower East Side of Manhattan of long ago. The stories were sometimes funny, sad, and other times, warmly nostalgic as they talked about long passed away great and great-great grandparents, uncles and aunts. Those stories still linger in my mind.

Stories and storytelling are an important part of our lives. We read stories written in novels, watch reality television in which other people’s stories are depicted, and watch stories on the big screen in the movies and on television screens. Many people have personal stories, but all come from families with a family narrative.

Psychologists state that every family has a story or narrative that unifies everyone within the structure of that family. Some psychologists state that family narratives take one of three shapes:

Studies show that children with the most self-confidence have a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

Decades of research have shown that most happy families communicate effectively. These families are talking through problems. However, talking also means telling a positive story about the family. When faced with a challenge, happy families, like fortunate people, add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming that challenge. It’s important for children who need this family narrative or lore during adolescence when identity is being solidified.

The oral tradition is how stories, tales, myths, and adventures have been handed down from generation to generation. It doesn’t matter whether the narrative is factually accurate. After all, memory distorts events from the past. Rather, the narrative becomes part of the family theme that takes on almost mythical dimensions.

One of the wonderful things about family stories is that they are told and retold and, in my experience, get better with each telling. The second wonderful thing is that they are funny and allow family members to laugh and have a good time. Last, there is never a time planned for the retelling. In my experience, these stories would be spontaneous, with the extended family gathering together at dinner, perhaps during a holiday or weekend. I was mesmerized by the accounts of life in the old country.

I hope the readers of this blog encourage their families to do this unless it’s already happening.

If any of you would like to, please submit your family myths of legends and I will post them.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


I like your articles that I’m going back to find and read all of them. Another is that I always hit the nail on the head

What was the best compliment you’ve received?

When Advice is Not Requested

It is disrespectful and presumptive to insert your opinions and ideas when they may not be wanted.

Unsolicited or unrequested advice is often experienced as criticism and can be experienced as disrespectful and presumptuous. If it’s repetitive, it can be experienced as nagging. Unsolicited advice can even communicate an air of superiority. The advice giver assumes they know what’s right or best.

Why do people give unsolicited advice?

Some reasons for giving unsolicited advice are:

  • They want to be helpful.
  • The person believes they know they are right.
  • They are eager to share something new.
  • Sometimes it’s an attempt to reduce our anxiety.
  • The advice giver might be worried about a loved one and feel powerless. They need to figure out what else to do besides giving unsolicited advice.
  • They want to show their superiority and authority on a less charitable note.

Emotionally, giving and taking advice is among the most difficult interactions people must negotiate.

What is advice? Wikipedia states that an advice message is a suggestion for addressing a problem.

For some people, asking for advice has more to do with seeking confirmation than anything else. In my experience, when I respond, there is no need to ask me because they already know the answer.

One result of all the unsolicited advice is that it often leads to the recipient feeling angry, resulting in an argument. The receiver can feel lectured to, belittled, reprimanded, and nagged.

Within the context of marriage, husbands may feel reprimanded for their wife’s advice. In contrast, women may feel their husband is condescending.

The fact is that the giving and taking of advice is a slippery slope to go down. It is usually best to ask a spouse or friend if they want advice. Politely decline advice at this time.

Even if providing the information is the most acceptable advice, it is only helpful if sought after. These are emotional politics that bring out the vulnerability and sensitiveness of many people.

What are your experiences with giving and taking advice?

Please send your comments to Dr. Allan N Schwartz

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD



Everybody’s Talking, Is Anyone Listening?

Everybody’s Talking, Is Anyone Listening?

Quotations about Listening:



  1. “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” Ernest Hemingway
  2. “Emma felt she could not now show greater kindness than in listening.” Jane Austen
  3. “People love to talk but hate to listen. Listening requires more effort than just not talking. You can listen like a blank wall or like a splendid auditorium where every sound comes back fuller and richer.” Alice Duer Miller

Did you ever feel talking to someone, especially a friend, a loved one, or your spouse, they’re hearing you but not listening? We will look at the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing and listening are the same. And the difference leads to family arguments, conflicts between spouses, and conflicts among friends.

What’s the Difference Between Hearing and Listening?

Defining hearing vs. listening

Listening is understanding the person speaking.

Listening and Being Empathetic

Hypothetical Case:

George comes from a hard day at work. He is frustrated and angry at his boss, who expects him to work over the weekend due to a need to meet some company deadlines. It happened in the past, and he always resents it. There is paid a bonus for his weekend services but resents the last-minute nature of the work demand. 

He, his wife, and kids usually have weekend plans to go fishing or to the baseball game, or basketball game, or to visit relatives who live in the mountains, where it is beautiful and peaceful and where his wife and kids love to go.

The problem is that when he expresses his outrage, he gets responses that make him feel angrier, wrong for having his reaction to the boss, and more frustrated because no one seems to listen.

His wife tells him things such as

Consider the extra money you’ll make.

Then she is confused when he responds angrily or annoyed.

Normally, George does not have this reaction to his wife. It’s familiar to many people. George and his wife have an otherwise loving relationship. But, in this situation, she comes away feeling angry.

What George needs and wants is empathy. He wants to feel that she is listening.

Here are a few examples of not listening:

  1. Interrupting
  2. Responding vaguely or illogically to what was said
  3. Looking at a phone, watch, around the room, or away from the speaker
  4. Fidgeting, tapping on the table, frequently shifting position, and clicking a pen are some ways people show they are not listening.

I suggest that everyone who wants to understand this problem read a wonderful book called:

“The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Self-Esteem,” written by Guy Winch, Ph.D., Copyright 2011

Dr. Winch, Ph.D., suggests you follow all five of the following steps if you want to help your spouse, friend, or loved one when they are complaining bitterly about a problem:

1. Let the person complete their narrative, so you have all the facts.

2. Convey you get what happened to them from their perspective

3. Convey you understand how they felt due to what happened from their perspective.

4. Convey that their feelings are completely reasonable.

5. Convey empathy for their emotional reactions.

Although it may seem illogical to empathize with a loved one who is angry about a situation and with whom you disagree, it’s important to realize they want and need empathy.

Being empathic, the other person feels a sense of relief. They want to know that you grasp what is happening to them. Agreeing or disagreeing is not the point. Giving advice is not the point. Doing either only aggravates things.

Always remember: Empathy begins with listening.

Guy Winch’s wonderful book provides step-by-step instructions on how to voice complaints to loved ones productively and how to respond to them.

Your comments are strongly encouraged.























Celebrating Spring

I do not have a gift for poetry and Spring Season is such a beautiful time that the best way I can do it justice is to borrow from some of the great poets:

By William Wordsworth

“I heard a thousand blende notes,

While in a grove I sate reclined,

In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts

Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link

The human soul that through me ran;

And much it grieved my heart to think

What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,

The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;

And ’tis my faith that every flower

Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,

Their thoughts I cannot measure:—

But the least motion which they made

It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,

To catch the breezy air;

And I must think, do all I can,

That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,

If such be Nature’s holy plan,

Have I not reason to lament

What man has made of man?”

Some thoughts about Spring:

Spring ushers reawakening, a restlessness that we can apply inside and out to our lives, recovery, and self-care.

I love this poem:

Corinna’s Going a-Maying

Robert Herrick, 1591 – 1674

Get up, get up for shame! The blooming morn

Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.

See how Aurora throws her fair

Fresh-quilted colours through the air:

Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see

The dew bespangling herb and tree!

Each flower has wept and bow’d toward the east

Above an hour since, yet you not drest;

Nay! not so much as out of bed?

When all the birds have matins said

And sung their thankful hymns, ‘tis sin,

Nay, profanation, to keep in,

Whereas a thousand virgins on this day

Spring sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen

To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green,

And sweet as Flora. Take no care

For jewels for your gown or hair:

Fear not; the leaves will strew

Gems in abundance upon you:

Besides, the childhood of the day has kept,

Against you come, some orient pearls unwept.

Come, and receive them while the light

Hangs on the dew-locks of the night:

And Titan on the eastern hill

Retires himself, or else stands still

Till you come forth! Wash, dress, be brief in praying:

Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come; and coming, mark

How each field turns a street, each street a park,

Made green and trimm’d with trees! see how

Devotion gives each house a bough

Or branch! each porch, each door, ere this,

An ark, a tabernacle is,

Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove,

As if here were those cooler shades of love.

Can such delights be in the street

And open fields, and we not see ‘t?

Come, we’ll abroad: and let ‘s obey

The proclamation made for May,

And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;

But, my Corinna, come, let ‘s go a-Maying.

There ‘s not a budding boy or girl this day

But is got up and gone to bring in May.

A deal of youth ere this is come

Back, and with white-thorn laden home.

Some have despatch’d their cakes and cream,

Before that we have left to dream:

And some have wept and woo’d, and plighted troth,

And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth:

Many a green-gown has been given,

Many a kiss, both odd and even:

Many a glance, too, has been sent

From out the eye, love’s firmament:

Many a jest told of the keys betraying

This night, and locks pick’d: yet we’re not a-Maying!

Come, let us go, while we are in our prime,

And take the harmless folly of the time!

We shall grow old apace, and die

Before we know our liberty.

Our life is short, and our days run

As fast away as does the sun.

And, as a vapour or a drop of rain,

Once lost, can ne’er be found again,

So when or you or I are made

A fable, song, or fleeting shade,

All love, all liking, all delight

Lies drown’d with us in endless night.

Then, while time serves, and we are but decaying,

Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

Your comments are more than welcome.

Please send comments to my Email address


Guess What, There are Health Benefits to Cursing

Guess What? There are Health Benefits to Cursing

 The other day, I caught my finger as I closed the top of my Nespresso machine to make a cup of coffee. Spontaneously and without thought, I shouted out several curse words. I was shocked that I caught my finger, and it hurt. I felt like a clumsy fool for being so clumsy and called myself an idiot. My mood improved after I smiled.

Recently, a female psychotherapy client sat in front of me very abashed. When I asked why she looked upset, she hesitatingly described a painful procedure at the Doctor’s office. She let out a curse word when the procedure became excruciatingly painful. She blushed and felt ashamed of herself. Both Doctor and nurse assured her they were accustomed to patients cursing when undergoing the procedure.

When we are the smallest of children, most of us learn from our parents that curse words are wrong and we must never use them. These teachings are correct. We all know expressing ourselves in ways considered insulting and in poor taste is socially inappropriate.

Recent research informs us that there are exceptions to the rules regarding swear words. A recent article put it this way:

Using swear words can positively affect your well-being, including pain relief and helping you cope with emotionally challenging situations.

  • Studies show cursing during a physically painful event can help us better tolerate the pain.
  • Experts say using curse words can also help us build emotional resilience and cope with situations we cannot control.
  • Swearing can also provide various other benefits, including creative expression, relationship development, or allowing a variety of people to be in harmony by signaling that you feel relaxed around the other person.

We’ve all had plenty of reasons to want to shout the “f word” during the last two years. Living in a pandemic has given us all cause to express our frustrations, from the confusing restrictions to the fear of what may happen if we contract the coronavirus.

It is essential the keep in mind some caveats about cursing. The same research shows the benefits of swearing did not occur in people who admitted to daily swearing as part of their lifestyle.

Every rule has exceptions. In this context, cursing among friends, especially men, is a way to express warmth, acceptance, and closeness.

Outbursts of cursing, cussing, and swearing can be a healthy coping mechanism.

Swearing can liberate when feeling bottled up with frustration. Curse words can have a calming effect on the complex emotions we are experiencing.

Comments are encouraged. Email is:



Isolation and Addiction

Addiction is the repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes because it was pleasurable.

Addiction is a family problem, so the individual with the addiction is not necessarily the most important in the recovery process. The person with the addiction is the center of attention in the family. One of the most perplexing problems in the family is that some members enable the individual with the problem to continue to abuse alcohol or drugs by supplying them with the money to purchase the substance. The enablers believe they are helping the substance abuser by preventing them from living on the streets or illegally getting money. Sometimes, there is a complete denial of the problem. In this context, the word denial means the inability to know that there is a problem.

Characteristics of Codependency

Following are some commonly used characteristics of codependency.

Sometimes the codependent is a father, mother, husband, or wife. The codependent needs or wants certain things from the addicted individual, such as

  1. Wanting to be liked or loved.
  2.  Seeking approval
  3. Believes they can relieve the pain of the substance abuser.
  4.  Needs to protect the person who depends on the substance
  5. Will put their interests aside for the substance-dependent person
  6. The codependent puts aside their own for their future for the sake of the addicted person
  7.  The codependent is driven by the fear of rejection and
  8.  the fear of anger
  9. There is a great need to feel safe in the relationship

It’s important to emphasize that the codependent person is unaware of these behaviors and denies drug or alcohol addiction.

The addictions

The problem with using any of these substances to self-medicate is that, while there is a temporary, good feeling, people feel sick and depressed more than before. For example, after drinking all night, most people feel very ill with their hangovers the next day. Sometimes, people will drink all day. This strategy to self-medicate does not work. And the users are not conscious of the fact that they are self-medicating.

Among the addictions is the opioid epidemic. It has reached terrible proportions. The question is the why of alcohol and drug abuse. One recent factor contributing to drinking and drug abuse was the pandemic, which isolated people in their homes. Drinking and drug abuse became coping mechanisms for loneliness and isolation. People could not go to work. They were often sent home to work on computers connected to the office, creating the environment necessary to spread addiction.

Many young people abuse alcohol and opioids because they feel isolated. But their isolation is no longer because of the pandemic. The problem is that these young people sit in front of their electronic devices. That alone is isolating. That isolation leads to loneliness, and loneliness leads to addiction in young people. There is also increasing depression among young people. It becomes a vicious cycle where these young people feel lonely and abused drugs or alcohol, which causes them to feel more depressed. What is alarming is that this is causing increased suicide among our teenagers.

A contributing factor to the sense of isolation felt both by young and old alike is the decrease in altruism in our culture. Altruism involves acting selflessly for the benefit of others. It can have a meaningful impact on those around you. Altruistic behavior links to many benefits, like improved emotional well-being and physical health. Altruism involves engaging in selfless acts for the pleasure of it. An example of altruism is a person giving their jacket and shoes to a homeless person.

Many have written about a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism. Narcissism is a self-centered personality style characterized as having an excessive preoccupation with oneself and one’s own needs.

Concern and care for other people’s feelings are lacking in many adult people today. It’s become each man for himself.

Contact Allan N Schwartz at





Self-Blame, Self-Criticism, and Shame

Self-Blame, Self-Criticism, and Shame

“Self-blame is a cognitive process in which an individual attributes the occurrence of a stressful event to oneself. The direction of blame often has implications for individuals’ emotions and behaviors during and following stressful situations.” 

“Self-blame is common among adult sexual trauma survivors and it is very common among children who grew up in situations where abuse occurred. Guilt is a sign that the person has not completed his or her grief.”

“A distressing side effect of shame, self-blame, and guilt is that it is emotionally exhausting, undermining our sense of self-worth and competency. “

The old saying is, “It takes two to Tango.” I have often said this to clients who blame themselves for everything from their divorce to many other events. To emphasize their cognitive distortion, I’ve even told some individuals, “I know you’re responsible for climate change, the earthquake in Turkey.” It is not meant to be funny. I explain how readily they blame themselves for everything in their lives.

I have worked with patients who entered psychotherapy because of depression over their divorce. These patients included people who were recently divorced. Some divorced long ago. Some blamed themselves for their lost marriages.

In several cases, people blamed themselves for not recognizing problems with their ex-partner when dating. The result was that they were ashamed of themselves and embarrassed by what they saw as an unforgivable error. They were convinced there were warning signs it would not be a good marriage and ignored those signals.

People have an endless capacity to be self-critical because of the unrealistic belief in perfection.

There are many examples of people who were blamed, by their parents, for an entire list of problems at school and in the home and family. Many years ago, one of my patients remembered an argument between his parents. When he asked his mother if the argument was his fault, she said yes. He continued to blame himself for everything that happened in his marriage and among his children.

Perfection is written about in other articles. The fact is that all of us are imperfect. That imperfection leads some people to self-blame for every perceived failure. Feelings of low self-worth, insecurity, and incompetence result from this thinking. Therefore, learning self-compassionate is essential. What is self-compassion? According to Kristin Neff, Ph.D., self-compassion has these three things:

1. Self-Kindness

2. A Sense of Common Humanity

3. Mindfulness

Self-Kindness allows for imperfection and self-forgiveness. We share many of the same things with other people. It is the opposite of the steady stream of criticism that we direct at ourselves. It is the opposite of self-hate which permeates the psychology of too many people.

The question is how to develop self-compassion. The answer lies in what is called “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is focusing attention on the present moment without judgment. Meditation is used to accomplish this. Mindful meditation focuses on living in the present moment while letting thoughts drift away. I encourage the reader to go to the website of Kristin Neff:

Keep in mind that self-compassion includes compassion for others.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

An Ode to Being Imperfect

An Ode to Being Imperfect

Have no fear of perfection–you’ll never reach it, Salvador Dali

“There is a story of a father who pointed to his paraplegic son and railed at G-D for his imperfect child. G-d replied, “Seek perfection in your reactions, not your son’s physical makeup.” The actual message here is that we, as human beings, must accept that we are imperfect and that it is alright.

Kristin Neff, author of a must-read book, “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind,“ defines perfection as the compulsive need to achieve and accomplish one’s goals, with no allowance for falling short of one’s ideals.

Why do some people insist on perfection in everything they do? Many theories attempt to explain this. One is that perfectionists are very insecure and believe they are not good enough. There is much self-judgment in those seeking perfection.

Another way of looking at this is to suggest that the perfectionist compensates for a deep sense of inadequacy. Other people are viewed as being better than they are. In their pursuit of perfection, they are up against frustration because perfection is impossible for anyone.

The problem is that we are caught in a competitive society demanding constant productivity. While society does not demand perfection, it rewards those who strive for it. However, in striving for perfection, we run into self-hatred, frustration, and depression because it’s impossible to be perfect.

As Tara Brach points out in her excellent book Radical Acceptance, ”There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our imperfect and messy life. With even a glimmer of that possibility, joy rushes in. Yet when we have been striving to make ‘Pillsbury(perfect) biscuits’ for a lifetime, the habits of perfectionism don’t easily release their grip. When mistrust and skepticism creep in, we might be tempted to back down from embracing our life unconditionally. When we put down ideas of what life should be like, we are free to say yes to our life as it is wholeheartedly.”

Unless we give perfectionism a terrible reputation, it has a good side to it. It has advantages in so far as it motivates people to do the very best they can. Striving to achieve and setting high standards for yourself can be a productive and healthy trait. However, once a person’s sense of well-being and self-esteem is based on being perfect, there is nothing but unhappiness. Neff points out that perfectionists are at significant risk of developing eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and other emotional problems.

If you stop and think about it, accepting being imperfect is a relief. It’s OK to be imperfect and to be the way we are.


Tuesdays with Morrie, A Celebration of Life

Tuesday at Morries, A Celebration of Life

“Tuesdays with Morrie” is a true story about Morrie Schwartz, a professor dying of ALS. It is also a story about how to live a meaningful life.

“Tuesdays with Morrie” is a biography about a friendship between an old professor, Morrie, and his former student, Mitch Albom. In the late 70s, when Mitch attended Brandeis University, he liked his energetic sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz. He took every class Morrie taught, and soon the two became great friends. Morrie told Mitch, “Coach,” and not Professor.

Every Tuesday, they meet and talk about life and everything in between until Morrie graduates from Brandeis. He promised to keep in touch with and visit Morrie. However, Mitch became immersed in a world of money-making and fame.

However, nearly 20 years later, now an award-winning sportswriter, Mitch realizes he is not needed by the newspaper as much as he once believed. The newspaper is on strike, and he visits Morrie, his old professor. Morrie warmly greets Mitch, who then learns that Morrie is dying of ALS.

Soon Mitch started visiting Morrie every Tuesday again, just as they used to back in college. Mitch calls his weekly visits to his teacher, his last class, and the present book, which he refers to as a term paper about the meaning of life.

Morrie is a wonderful man who loves to dance and appreciates the little things in life. Dying of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, he was determined to make the most of his remaining time. Morrie maintains his sense of humor and his fun personality.

Determined not to let his ALS deter him, Morrie was very independent until his death, which Morrie said is as natural as life.

Continuing to live life to the fullest, Morrie hosted his own “living funeral,” where people told him everything they would say at his funeral while he was still alive.

Morrie was a dynamic man, making people comfortable with themselves. He made them look deep within themselves and realize their worth in spreading happiness and joy.

Mitch and Morrie discuss death, fear, aging, greed, marriage, family, society, forgiveness, and meaningful life. A failed musician, Mitch is hardworking and ambitious but distracted by the wrong things, such as work, fame, and success. Morrie teaches him about how valuable life is in all aspects. “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in,” Morrie reminds Mitch.

Morrie’s life lessons leave the reader to reflect on their own lives and could help anyone find their purpose.

Morrie’s death represents the book’s message. The message is that a person who lives life to the fullest will die feeling content.

“Tuesdays with Morrie” encourages us to appreciate the little things in life, like the rain falling, looking at the beautiful flowers, and appreciating the people we meet during life’s journey. In Morrie’s words:

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’ve been chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning in your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

Professor Morrie, with this statement, threw light on how, to achieve happiness and satisfaction, we must devote ourselves to the more significant cause, which could be to preserve humanity.

This book is not sad. It is a warm book that celebrates life and is an excellent example of how all of us can live. That may be the reason. I’ve read it four times at different stages of my life and discovered new things in each reading.





%d bloggers like this: