THE MIND AS AN INSTRUMENT, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

The mind can be played with the subtly and grace of a Stradivarius violin or as bullishly and aggressively as a bass drum.

Listening to the voices from our unconscious is not an easy task. It means taking time to evaluate rather than just react. Listening and letting feelings percolate is what good therapists do, and it’s exactly what you can do for yourself. Then, when you know what you feel, and maybe even where the feeling originates, you can choose to take action or not to take action.

But sometimes, even a psychiatrist has no clue where certain feelings are coming from. In Skin Dance, a mystery, Dr. Jake Robb is miserable after Jennifer, his wife, leaves. His brother Ken tries to help.

“Jake, I know you’re the shrink and I’m the attorney, but you have to admit that what’s really bothering you isn’t that crazy patient you were telling me about, but Jennifer. Hiding out isn’t going to bring her back. If you were treating yourself, you’d never advocate a treatment of social withdrawal and overdosing on carbs.”

Sighing, Jake felt himself sinking lower and lower into a puddle of depression. Mose Allison’s melancholy voice coming from the stereo wasn’t helping the situation.

“Listen Bro. We’re going out tonight. I’m not taking no for an answer.” Ken’s tone was insistent, undercurrents of worry lacing his words, like scotch through soda. “You won’t believe where we’re going…”

So Jake, like most of us, wasn’t clear on why he was feeling so down. He’d have to work hard to figure out the source of his depression. In Jake’s case, his life would depend on it. For us, our happiness and piece of mind may not be a life or death situation, but it will be an essential component to having a satisfying life.

So how do you do it?

Write down your dreams, fantasies, feelings, and the way you’re behaving in stressful situations. Then try to connect the patterns. Are the patterns a repetition from the past? Are you displacing feelings from your childhood and aiming them at a spouse or friend or child? It’s certainly not easy to discover what’s hidden in the unconscious, and a therapist might be necessary, but I assure you, learning to play a Stradivarius is a much better choice than battering your way through life. Except maybe if the bad guys are closing in…

Art Smukler MD is the author of Skin Dance, a mystery, Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, The Man with a Microphone in his Ear, and…drum roll… The popular blog, Inside the Mind of a Psychiatrist.

WHY IS A STONE KILLER SO INTERESTING? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

I’m talking about the one with dead eyes who blows someone’s head off, then opens the fridge, finishes off the last piece of apple pie, and carefully brushes away the crumbs with a clean hanky.

How can someone do that? Wouldn’t he be shaking or vomiting, filled with guilt and anguish at the fact he’s taken another’s life? That would be nice, but then that would make him human. A stone killer has no conscience. If you have no conscience you can strangle puppies to death, steal from elderly women, or torture innocent people. Having a reasonable discussion with this type of pseudo-human sociopath is a waste of time. Spending thousands to rehab him is also a waste of resources.

So why do we find him so interesting? Because he does exactly what he wants. We struggle with right or wrong, whether we’ll hurt someone’s feelings, or whether what we’re doing is honorable. Our code of ethics runs deep. His only code is to not get caught.

On the good side, stone killers can be fun. It’s fun to get revenge without guilt or remorse, to read a murder mystery and give our overactive consciences a rest. Crawl into bed, relax into a comfortable state of anxiety, because in the end, the good guy will get the bad guy and we’ll all be saved.

Any thoughts on good versus evil?

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