Mind Matters: Dum-Da-Dum-Dum

Anybody remember “Dragnet,” a TV program from the 1950s? Okay, you’d have to be pretty old to remember Sgt. Joe Friday, portrayed by actor Jack Webb, saying dryly to a witness or victim of crime, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

Facts often take a backseat to ingrained mindsets or belief systems. However, with a change of perspective, a new understanding can be achieved. I remember when I first moved to Chadds Ford, Longwood student gardeners tried to educate me on the problem with certain invasive plants. At first, I was incredulous, but gradually I came to understand the interconnection of the various plants and their interconnection with wildlife. When we are open to learning the facts, we can change our mindset.

With that as a caveat, allow me to note some facts here about one of the several hot-button issues that psychological research addresses.

One issue that neuroscience has studied is the effect of hate speech on the brain. There is an old adage among scientists of the brain: the neurons (brain cells) that fire together wire together. It is no accident that Buddhist monks who meditate on loving kindness have brains that are calmer and less reactive than the folks whose neurons thrive on hate speech. Psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Friedman noted recently (“The Neuroscience of Hate Speech”, New York Times, Nov 1, 2018) that “repeated exposure to hate speech can increase prejudice…it can also desensitize individuals to verbal aggression, in part because it normalizes what is usually socially condemned behavior.” Furthermore, political figures and others who “stoke anger and fear … provoke a surge of stress hormones … cortisol and norepinephrine, and engage the amygdala, the brain center for threat.” The result of this brain activation is that people’s emotions get more intense and their ability to emotionally regulate is suppressed. In other words, a reactivity ensues that could lead some to extreme behaviors, including violence.

This is exacerbated if a group of people is made to feel threatened by another group of people. If this “other” group of people is dehumanized, then the psychological conditions conducive to violence are met. Empathy for the other is lost when the other is no longer considered part of your human family!

Plants may be invasive species, but people are not! Would that we could use our brains to discern the difference.

About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.



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