Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Stress Doc Alternative to Just “Move On”: The Inner Journey of Letting Go

The Doc explores the sting in the words “Move On” – its toxic quality, it’s painful effect and, most important, the liberating emotional antidote!

The Stress Doc Alternative to Just “Move On”:  The Inner Journey of Letting Go

Why do I grimace (for sure on the inside, if not facially) upon hearing the words, “It’s time to move on,” “I’ve moved on,” and/or “You need to move on”?  It’s not just or even mostly a feeling of rejection.  This person can even be “so over me.”  The pain comes from not being truly seen or heard.  In fact, the individual is projecting herself onto me, verbalizing her own less comfortable place regarding honest self-disclosure.  Why am I “dragging things out?” is less a question of concern and more an aggressive move to cover angst.  It’s a tactic that says, “I do not want to be vulnerable; I do not want to experience the emotions that would emerge in an honest and intimate give-and-take.”  Or, You analyze too much:  One turns self-doubt into an accusation or negative label foisted on another.  Whether actions or reactions, mostly a defensive ploy, overtly or unconsciously intended to distract and diminish, enabling the other to gain time or throw up a wall, to seize the “high ground” or gain the upper hand.  It’s called, “When the best defense is being offensive!” … And again, the motivation:  first and foremost – self-protection.

Maybe there’s also fear that her hostile side might be exposed.  When one does not want “to dwell on” themselves (like someone they know; again, another pejorative, self-protective term), in contrast “to dwell in,” there’s no inclination to explore a fearful-fragile inner world beyond a safely comfortable, defensive ego-point.  (Or they may want to shut the psychic door and make the room “off-limits” for one and all, including themselves.)   There’s no willingness to empathize or engage with a different, a more candid and complex perspective.  I am asking her to stretch with me a little; to work to get past her fear and shame filters; for each of us to open our eyes and heart, just for a brief while.  For we both know there’s no turning back the cold and calloused hands of time.

As a slow (and a deep) reader of emotions, I need to experience the kaleidoscopic pattern of feelings.  Susceptible to the shift of high and low moods, to the interplay of mindsets light and dark germinating in the shadows, I dive into the psychic-grief wellspring again and again.  And finally, revelation, emerging with another layer of understanding; the wound further cleansed.  Perhaps having a depressive-sensitive-aggressive-creative temperament extends the process and expands the potential of mourning.  This leads to a realization that when it comes to two-word “Get Over It” mantras, I prefer dropping an “O” and adding an “I”.

The Psycho-Philosophical Shift

Why not “Move In” before any seemingly confident pronouncements about the need or readiness to “Move On?”  First of all, when it comes to intimate relationship separations and endings, it’s probably a lot wiser to move out than move in.  Having your own separate space, for me, at least, a room of one’s own, is vital for “R & R – Reflection & Writing.   Of late, I also seek a sacred space – a support group – which allows me both: a) to talk out loud, to hear myself think, to overcome inhibition, to experience feelings, and b) to see my conscious and unconscious reflection in the mirror of another’s share.  The individuals and group – in all our collective wisdom and folly – for me, becomes the higher power.

“Move In” is less a physical or external location than a process of turning inward, grappling with emotional memories, past and present pain, while facing an uncertain if not seemingly empty horizon.  It’s about finding trustworthy others who can see you – strengths and vulnerabilities – more deeply than you can see yourself.  “Move In” means “Confronting the Intimate FOE.”  (See more below.)  Such inner confrontation involves, for example, embracing a fear of abandonment, as well as discovering kindred spirits also seemingly lost on separate islands.  And, alas, finally acknowledging your powerlessness to have the other “Move In” to her space let alone yours.  When both parties of a separation want to travel together for a short while, to use their grief journey to grow emotionally, “Move In” has another possibility:  mutually working in the direction of honest sharing (without the blaming), reaching closure with less dirt in the wound.  But often times, this psychological nexus is not to be.

Still, take heart from the words of the French-Algerian Nobel Prize-winning author, Albert Camus:  Once we have accepted the fact of loss, we understand that the loved one obstructed a whole corner of the possible, pure now as a sky washed by rain.

Now you have not simply “Moved On.”  You have “Moved In” to the land of the promises, if not the “Promised Land”:  you can gradually reclaim your life and reshape your mind, heart, and soul.  All I can add: “Amen and women, to that!”

Why Can’t I Let You Go?

Why can’t I let you go?
Why is it so hard?
Because you were not a ghost
But the flesh and blood I wanted
To love…Not just because you would
Not just because I could
Not just the many times I should
Have said, “I do” …and moved away
Alas, (or more), to live to write another day!

Stormy:  Weather or Not

Ah, chemistry, an electro-hormone storm
Eyes awash in blinding light
Jolting (and jilting) the heart
Into a night of heat, a primal beat
Of longing and wishing (okay, maybe settling)
Upon a remote star
In shadowy darkness to lonesome mourn.
Be honest…Is that where or who we are?
Or were we but a burning comet?
Fire and ice:  too steep a price.
Would we still choose it?
Destined to lose it
No more need to use it
Together…no longer…still
Birds of a flock, just not of a feather…
Again, high flying solo in stormy weather!

Post-Mortem Learning

So, what have I learned
Being burned and spurned
My life overturned?

The very first thing…for me
Emotions are everything!
I run toward them…unlike many:
Who tried to avoid em?
Emotions are my electric current
Sure, at times I’m short
Sometimes short-circuit
Firing sparks from the heart, at least
I don’t throw dry-static darts
Shocking one senseless
Leaving one speechless.

If emotions wire-inspire my brain
Why did I choose one who would refuse?
To look inside, still trying to hide
In our “his moans, her moans, hormones” haze
From a lost, up at 3am daze
Searching for someone to fill all holes
Running red lights and tolls…
The predictable quandary:
Where is the boundary?

Epilogue:  Reality or Fantasy?

Oh, for a heart that sings and a mind that dances
One willing to swim in deep emotional seas
To go the long distance…just you and me
Confronting the Intimate FOE:  Fear of Exposure
Exploring that treasure:  two hearts beating together
Without losing their individual souls
Clutching each other on breakers and shoals.
Better, provide freely a shoulder
So each becomes bolder
Now growing wiser…not just getting older!

©  Mark Gorkin  2016
Shrink Rap ™ Productions

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a nationally acclaimed speaker, writer, and "Psychohumorist" ™, is a Leadership Consultant for the international Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University, HQd in Daytona, FL.  Mark is also a founding partner and Stress Resilience and Trauma Debriefing Consultant for the Nepali Diaspora Behavioral Health & Wellness Initiative.  A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, he has led numerous Pre-Deployment Stress Resilience-Humor-Team Building Retreats for the US Army.  The Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress, The Four Faces of Anger, and Preserving Human Touch in a High Tech World.  Mark’s award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info, email:

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The “Cultural Sensitivity” vs. “Political Correctness” Drama: Dissension vs. Compassion – Part I

The Stress Doc ™ examines a recent controversial – “cultural sensitivity” vs. “political correctness” – Linked-In posting that generated some impassioned and inflamed to thoughtful and empathic commentary.  (IMHO, the recent election shines a spotlight on the contemporary and critical relevance of this culturally exchange.)  Part I lays out the narrative and sites high-pitched and pointed reaction as well as reasoned response.  Part II will provide psychological-communicational-motivational analysis along with adding to or expanding upon some of the constructive strategic suggestions.

The “Cultural Sensitivity” vs. “Political Correctness” Drama:  Dissension vs. Compassion – Part I

Ten days ago, my corner of the Linked-In Universe exploded in tens of thousands of “likes,” comments, and rants.  The initiator (or instigator, depending on your viewpoint) was a young man (a “32 under 32” awardee) who I, fittingly enough, will call K (for all you Franz Kafka fans).  According to his Linked-In profile, K is a recognized entrepreneur and social activist/leader working with culturally diverse youth and minority communities.  So, what did this upstanding young man do to cause such an uproar?  As is customary for this younger generation (though the practice seems to be crossing, if not infecting, multi-generations), K posted words and images depicting his version of a “troubling” two-party social interaction (  I suspect you are already anticipating the punchline:  an event that, in years past, would have played out mostly in obscurity now gains social media notoriety!

Social-Cultural Rorschach Test

As God (or the devil) is in the details, let me sketch our drama.  K’s first and last names seem to reflect a Muslim lineage (or identification), though his pictures on Linked-In simply depict a good-looking, tall, athletic, light-brown hued, individual, whether in T-shirt or business attire.  Returning to the name, his last is comprised of ten letters and six vowels, including every vowel but “i”.  Suffice to say, it is not a familiar, dominant culture last (or first) name that for many rolls off the tongue.  Let’s jump into the narrative, using K’s own words:

I checked into my hotel at the Hyatt Regency and the front desk person went on to make fun of my last name. She laughed as she said it had every letter in the alphabet in it. I didn't laugh. In fact, I thought she lacked some cultural sensitivity. I tweeted at the hotel about my experience. Instead of brushing it off, they went above and beyond during my stay to make it memorable and worthwhile. They acknowledged the comments on twitter, had the hotel manager call my room, and they wrote an apology [which he posts]. We can all learn from this service recovery.

The Existential Question

So, is this an issue of “cultural sensitivity” or “political correctness” run wild?  Was successfully pushing this up to a higher level worth the potential injury?  And why was social media brought into this picture?  Clearly, aspects of our “case study” triggered folks.  Ironically, yet not surprisingly, many who accuse our protagonist, K, of overreaction in his discomfort with and criticism of the desk clerk’s communication, appear to be engaging in similar quick-fire judgments.  Or are missing other apparent ironies, to wit:

One woman began lecturing K not to make decisions just because his feeling got hurt.  Decisions should be based on facts or evidence, not emotional assumptions.  I agreed with L, but went on to post:  Wouldn’t it be nice if the most powerful man in the country/our most powerful role model took your words to heart!  A momentarily self-absorbed Millennial is not the only one engaging in such “immature” or “mixed bag” behavior with potential negative consequences.


A lack of "cultural sensitivity"?? Don't take yourself so seriously and learn to laugh at yourself a little.

Develop some thick-skin…another whiny Millennial.

Lighten up, life is short, if this upsets you enough to put someone's job in jeopardy how do you deal in day to day business?

Don't be so sensitive. We all go through this type of name problem. Just help them to understand that it’s not appropriate and move on.

I feel you over reacted!! To me it feel like a innocuous non-offending remark! Of course, in this days they had no choice but to apology and so on.  I don’t think they were sincere and really thought you are right to be so offended. As Yair put it – Grow up!


That's a great response from the hotel. As for people being too politically correct, it's not nice to make fun of people's names. Period. There's nothing wrong with politeness and being nice to strangers. It keeps us civilized.

This has nothing to do with political correctness; it has to do with plain, old fashioned respect and courtesy.

Ugh, this happens to me so often (full name Oluwatope Fashola Mitchell)! As a woman, I am taught to diffuse awkward moments with laughter and exit stage left rather than confronting them. I will be stronger and help people gain some cultural intelligence! Thanks for posting!

I think the follow up you received was awesome! I think service is what distinguishes great companies and is something rarer than it should be. Thank you for sharing this case study in how one company, and one manager chose to both be aware of their customer opinions, and took action to correct a slight. :-)

Strategic Yay and Nay or Just Go Away!

She obviously does not know her alphabet. There are other ways of starting a politically correct conversation with someone you don't know. When in doubt, less is more. Be gracious.

I would not risk someone's job by making a complaint like this one. I believe a better approach is to confront the person when they make the comment to give them a chance to learn from the experience without possibly losing their job. The person was probably just trying to lighten the mood and make small talk.

It was an odd way to create conversation w/ K. Front desk staff truly make or break your vacation for a myriad of reasons. The best "front desker's" feed off the guest's emotions to either role with their "good" mood or try to deflate their "bad" mood. ...but who's to know what Karim's body language, etc were being portrayed. But yes, social media didn't have to play a role in this...address the staff member of your concerns...if there is push back...then go above her to Management. OR stop down in the morning to address it with Management. Twitter did not need to be used.

Seriously, you could have addressed it yourself with her. You should have taken the high road and shared your thoughts face to face. Instead this poor person probably has a write up in her HR file now. This is a good example of a poor leadership trait, you did exactly what we ask our employees not to do, run from the situation and discuss it with others instead of addressing the issue and making a learning/positive experience. A simple, I know you think this funny, but some people are sensitive about their names------- chances are she was only trying to be funny (probably flirting with you and thought she was being cute) and she had no intention of hurting your feelings. Hope you learned from this experience and your take away is to lighten up and address issues as an adult instead of using social media to make a point.

This has gone too far, probably this is how all the revolutions started, with an idea, a stupid little thing, like this story.

Closing Thoughts

Well, I hope Part I did not drag on, was neither stupid nor trivial, but began to hold up a mirror to the diverse perceptions, social-cultural, even generational, divisions, and divisiveness in our society.  And one “kumbaya” moment will not make such arguments and tensions disappear.  Actually, as Distinguished Professor, Stanley Fish, notes in Winning Arguments:  What Works and Doesn’t Work in Politic, the Bedroom, the Courtroom, and the Classroom, (Harper/Collins, 2016), these underlying differences will never fully disappear.  However, through honest give and take, divisiveness can morph into a more complex and multifaceted, engaging and enlightening contest if not exchange of ideas.  And maybe the “barrier-bridge” ratio is positively impacted.  All I can say, “Amen and women, to that!”  Stay tuned for “Bridge-Building” Part II.

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a nationally acclaimed speaker, writer, and "Psychohumorist" ™, is a founding partner and Stress Resilience and Trauma Debriefing Consultant for the Nepali Diaspora Behavioral Health & Wellness Initiative.  He is also a "Leadership Consultant" for the international Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University, HQd in Daytona, FL.  A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, he has led numerous Pre-Deployment Stress Resilience-Humor-Team Building Retreats for the US Army.  The Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress, The Four Faces of Anger, and Preserving Human Touch in a High Tech World.  Mark’s award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info, email:

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Family Dysfunction and Trials of Immigrant Transition: Performance Pressure Dynamics

Examining the broad parallels between how family dysfunction and immigrant status, especially immigrants in the throes of transition stress, may affect performance pressure, the Stress Doc puts a Nepali professional under the microscope. The goal is to understand the dynamics of a recent high stress performance situation, but not just for one individual.  The Doc scrutinizes a host of factors that may have wide-ranging influence on “insider-outsider” expectations and perceptions, as well as performance behaviors and social/status interactive patterns.

Family Dysfunction Dynamics and Trials of Immigrant Transition:  Performance Pressure

As my circle of immigrant friends and colleagues expands and cultural understanding deepens, I increasingly appreciate the everyday stressors that many new immigrants experience while pursuing the “American Dream.” In addition, I’m seeing parallels with the psychological pressures and tensions experienced growing up in a dysfunctional family.  (I’m not saying being an immigrant turns individuals and families dysfunctional.  In fact, I admire how hard most work in often demanding, if not draining, situations and circumstances.  Of course, working exhausting hours or juggling multiple jobs may drive folks to the burnout point.  Then again, major migration is often a source of tension, if not trauma, and in states of crisis or trauma, highly disorienting and/or disruptive individual and family patterns may appear, at least temporarily.  Depending on the quality of family/friend support and access to responsive allied health/problem-solving resources, the angst, confusion, and uncertainty may be short-lived or lead to more chronic symptomatology and regressive behavior.)

12-Step/Outsider Mantra

Interestingly, as a second-generation American, I see similarities in my own maladaptation to a repressed and depressed, secretive childhood family life.  I also recognize emotional-communication parallels in the myriad stories shared in various 12-Step Groups.  Shrouded in shame and stigma, the dysfunctional family mantra: “Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel.”)  However, this mantra is also not unknown to groups feeling like outsiders, or who believe they are safer, or that it’s easier huddling with your own kind.  (Having others with whom you relate for social/identity validation supports wellness.  Insularity and isolation is often problematic, heightening the sense of “Otherness” or “Outsider.”  And IMHO, today’s threatening political climate only ups the insular-secretive-xenophobic ante.)  Okay, compared to plain old dysfunctional me, for those in the throes of major life transition – especially the being “a stranger in a strange land” variety – stress and tension is likely magnified.  Perhaps transition trauma has a relation to psychosocial dysfunction akin to my comparative claim that Las Vegas is like New Orleans, but on steroids!

Parallels between Family Dysfunction and Transition Trauma

So, what are some of these pressure-packed dysfunctional-transitional parallels?  Four that quickly come to mind (and expanded upon after reading an interview with Dr. James L. Griffith, MD, a Washington, DC psychiatrist who has worked globally with refugee families; see Marie Rohde, “Global Mental Health, One Refugee at a Time,” Health Progress,, March-April 2014):

1) Mental Health Stigma – there’s a stigma around mental health issues; acknowledging mind-body-spirit tensions, depressions, grief ghosts, and/or self-defeating behaviors is a sign of weakness and is shameful.  When these issues are closeted, they fester, becoming a source of dis-ease, if not mind-body dysfunction.  The not uncommon result is a stigmatized individual and a family shrouded in dishonor.  (Of course, when it comes to questions of mental illness, suffering in silence and secrecy is often the preferred modus operandi, and not just for immigrant cultures.)  And, remember, in many immigrant cultures, family identity supersedes individual identity, unlike in the more individualistic – pull yourself up by those bootstraps – culture of the US, for example.  (Gee, what happens if you don’t have a pair of cowboy boots?)

2) Underutilized/Undervalued – many new immigrants, especially those formerly having significant professional-skill positions in their countries of origin, often must grapple with working at jobs way below their education and experience levels; talk about a feeling of loss as well as the potential for erosion of one’s sense of self-worth and core identity.  Predictably, over time, if feeling stuck, if inertia sets in, personal competence and confidence diminish.  And this pressure-filled expectation is passed on to the next generation:  children are often burdened as flag bearers for a parent’s broken professional dreams!

3) Passivity vs. Perfection – not surprisingly, feeling underutilized and undervalued, often leads to complementary patterns: the first is avoidance, one is not adequate to the task or social situation, or one becomes resigned to one’s station in life.  Conversely, some reveal a compulsive need to compete, often feeling their value as a person is being tested; there’s not just pressure to perform, but one must win, if not be perfect.  And to complete the vicious circle, the pressure to be perfect can motivate an individual to give up or duck out of any activity that might expose human imperfection.

4) Nostalgia vs. the New Challenge – the classic immigrant challenge:  how do you hold onto the good of the old and embrace what is adaptive in the new – a “best of both worlds” approach; alas, difficult to do, especially if caught in a rigid, all-or-none mindset.  The danger, of course, is nostalgia, over-idealizing what we left and trashing the new.  Or over-idealizing the new homeland and forgetting the old.  When it comes to past and present, can a person integrate both pros and cons in mind and mood?  As noted, 20th c. American author, F. Scott Fitzgerald observed:  The test of a first-rate intelligence is the capacity to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.  For example, one should see things as hopeless, yet be determined to make them otherwise.

Putting Pressures to the Performance Test

Let me share a recent experience that captures some of the above stressors, especially related to sense of self and performance pressure.  Our protagonist, BD, a married 40+ immigrant lawyer from Nepal, is still grappling with figuring out his own personal-cultural synthesis.  Thinking he would be returning to Nepal, he did not fully concentrate on improving his spoken and written English.  Alas, his wife and son had other ideas.  Because of a divided focus, seven years in the States has not led to English proficiency, especially in the speaking arena. Now he’s belatedly playing catch-up, hence our coaching lessons.

Just last week, a new challenge appeared on the horizon.  As head of a caste-focused/human rights organization, BD was asked to participate in a panel discussion on “Caste and Democracy” for an invitation only conference sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).  (The desire to have open and frank discussion about many sensitive socio-cultural-political issues was behind the invitation-only event.  I had to get special permission to attend.)

NED is a DC-based international human rights/academic think tank; in addition to field and scholarly research, the organization also provides grant money and funding for human rights projects.  (So, this was an important opportunity for BD and his International Coalition of Dalit Rights, ICDR.  If not a TED Talk, it was certainly a NED Talk. ;-)  A number of the guest speakers were from South Asian countries, nations where caste hierarchies/systems still formally and informally oppress, allowing all but survival subsistence for hundreds of millions.  Alas, for so many of these individuals and communities (called Dalits), birthright is destiny.  Immediately branded “untouchable,” often treated as leper-like outcasts, limited in their educational-economic-political opportunities, most are consigned to a stigmatizing, no, let’s say it, a dehumanizing role-status in their society.  (FYI, BD’s keen intelligence and fierce pride, being a fighter, a need to challenge limits, a strong aversion to social injustice, helped him break out of a caste-based upbringing.  And, of course, you take your family-cultural history – strengths and wounds, hopes and hurts – with you, no matter where you go.)

When the Time Trial becomes a Test of Time, Speech, and Self-Worth

In some ways, the biggest presentation obstacle was having only ten minutes for his opening remarks.  But if I drill deeper, a major drag was the heaviness of the psychological bag that BD, as a new immigrant still grappling to find his niche and voice, carries around.  And, of course, I am sharing this story because BD’s narrative and struggles are not unique.

Before examining these interconnected public presentation challenges, some background points.  As a coach, (and a schooled-by-hard-knocks-and-hard-earned-wisdom public speaker), my biggest concern was that ten-minute window.  Though he had given public presentations before, in this forum, BD would have to be concise and precise, choosing a select number of key points.  (And, of the five languages that BD speaks, English was not yet his strong suit.)  As a speaker, I know the truth espoused by one of those Englishmen of letters, apologetically explaining his lengthy missive to a friend, thusly: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter.”  In truth, a ten-minute presentation is more challenging than an hour talk.  To be most effective, one needs to prepare and practice, to tightly weave a beginning, middle, and closing.  First, one must establish credibility. (I had strongly encouraged BD to connect his personal Dalit experience with his passion to fight caste-based injustice.)  And the next task, to succinctly diagnose the problem and posit some strategic, “bullet point” recommendations.  There’s not a lot of room for mental meandering.

But my state of angst was not simply about selection and preparation; I was keenly aware of the issues of diction (choice of words) and pronunciation (clearness of speech).  Trying to get in too many points would compel BD to quicken his speech, which invariably reduces the clarity of his message.  (I can’t help but think of the elocution lessons of Eliza Doolittle, in My Fair Lady, slowly and painstakingly declaring over and over again, “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”  My Professor Henry Higgins moment:  surreptitiously flashing a “Talk Slow” sign just before BD’s turn to talk.)  Yet we both believed that reading his talk would not be walking his talk:  conveying “passion” was more important than “polish.”

Not Walking the Talk

Alas, my fear was realized, at least in the first go-round.  Caught up in the moment, BD spoke too quickly, at least for these senior ears.  In his initial brief panel presentation, BD mostly didn’t personalize his message, didn’t select and focus on key points, seemed to touch on too many facets of the problem (including challenging NED to become more involved with caste-based issues, probably a good thing).  Towards the end of his presentation, belatedly recognizing something was amiss, BD closed by reading quickly too many points from his written script.  Unfortunately, overall, his pace of speech meant I understood about half of what was said.

In a post-conference conversation, BD acknowledged his early mistakes, but said he had chances in the afternoon to more effectively personalize and deliver the desired message.  Having to leave shortly after his initial presentation, I was glad to hear of the recovery.  And in fact, while still present, I did hear and understand his response to a question posed by an audience member.  In our day-after critique, BD acknowledged that as the face of his advocacy organization, he must redouble his speech preparation and pronunciation efforts.  To BD’s credit, his fighting spirit would once again prevail.  Nonetheless, it’s important to ask:  What happened initially?  What scrambled both sound and image in this presentation picture?

Presentation Post-Mortem

I will posit both reasoned arguments and hypothetical questions.  However, a bedrock for this analysis is the following pith ditty: “Wherever you go/whatever you do, life journey baggage comes with you.”  So, what were some of the key items impacting DB’s presentation?

1. High Stakes Setting.  Obviously, when sharing your story in public is important, as it was for BD – both for business and personal/ego reasons – and there will be (perceived) significant consequences to presentation success or lack thereof, performance angst increases.  Now an optimal heightening of tension tends to sharpen performance focus; if tension is excessive (or, conversely, if the presenter is demotivated or feeling bored), performance quality decreases.

Another dimension, not yet explored, was my sitting in the audience.  I had never seen BD present in public.  Interestingly, in our preparation, BD shared that his wife downplayed the significance of this event, noting that her husband has given many public talks.  But then she added, “But you have a chance to make Mark proud.”  At the time, BD and I both laughed.  But maybe I was a source of pressure affecting performance.

2. Insufficient Preparation.  As noted previously, with a short presentation, some folks mistakenly think you can be “off the cuff” or basically improvise.  BD was juggling several projects that week; our inability to meet and “rehearse” until the day before didn’t allow sufficient time to design a new KISS – Keep It Short and Smart – outline.  Just as important, 11th hour preparation precluded sleeping on his presentation over the course of a few days.  Rehearsal and sleep strengthen memory consolidation.

3. Time Pressure.  If you are well-prepared and have a game plan, time pressure will enhance your energy, focus, and impact.  Alas, the opposite preparation conditions make improvisational performance a high-risk situation.  And having previously given a longer version of the talk, does not necessarily smooth the “ten-minute” path.

But the issue is not only the selection of the content; for BD, under time pressure, his English pronunciation became a stumbling block for message sent = message received.  The culprit was a three-headed monster:  lack of time to get in key points prompted faster speech; faster speech prompted less clear enunciation.  And the final self-defeating head…starting to sense things are not going as anticipated (perhaps reading your audience’s response or lack thereof), reading notes at the end to quickly add key points.  To use a forest/trees analogy, now your essential points, like distinctive trees, get lost in in a tangled forest of words.

4.  Insufficient Streamlined Focus.  You have a much better chance to be informative and inspiring using my KISS technique – Keep It Short and Smart – by highlighting and fleshing out three or four key points, than to superficially cover two or three times that number.  Somehow, I’m reminded of a quote by martial arts icon, Bruce Lee.  Lee observed that when it comes to assessing competition, he is less concerned about an opponent that has 10,000 techniques than the individual who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

4.  Defying Authority.  Some reasonable post-mortem questions might be:  Why did BD not follow my suggestions to highlight a few key points and to make a personal connection between his Dalit past and human rights activist present?  (BD was personally aware of my experience and skills as a public speaker.)  Had time-place pressure upset his game plan?  Was he defying his coach?  Was he needing to put his signature on the program?  Was it a Frank Sinatra – “My Way” – moment?  If there was a need to “prove” something, was it logical or psycho-logical, or maybe cultural…or all of the above?  Let’s further pursue some of the above.

5.  Hot Button Effects.  First off, let me declare that I was not a naturally gifted speaker, as a youngster or as a young professional (much too caught up in my fears and feelings of inadequacy).  So, I can relate to performance angst contributing to BD’s uneven message delivery.  However, I’d like to focus on the disorienting source coming from a deep-seated place, not always self-evident.  This self-doubt is connected to one’s own essential and existential worthiness, especially when in foreign, if not alien, territory.  And one manifestation of such doubt can be believing that articulating but a handful of points will not establish you as a subject matter expert.  Getting both hypothetical and anecdotal, let me speculate:

a) perhaps to feel more authoritative or, as likely, to believe he would be seen as an authority, BD might have thought he needed to hit on “ten key points, instead of three or four.”  Another Nepali professional resonated to a family message shared by many African-American friends and colleagues over the years.  To paraphrase, “To have a seat at the dominant culture table you have to be twice as good as your white counterpart.”  This Nepali friend could relate to an immigrant trying too hard to impress, to prove his worth, at times to the detriment of his recital.  Now while the statement contains some hyperbole, I also believe, for many immigrants and people of color, as well as for numbers who are products of significantly dysfunctional families, depending on the performance arena and circumstance, there is often some truth in this injunction.  And certainly, research supports the notion that members of the dominant culture invariably carry around prejudicial perceptions about minority cultures.  All of the above can influence performance expectation and pressure.

b) another social-cultural dynamic in the room, was the presence of people from India and Nepal, from the upper class/caste system, e.g., one scholar from Nepal never had known any Dalits growing up.  Despite the NED invitation, might this be the loose equivalent of a sports team playing on the road in a (covertly) “hostile environment” or “Daniel in the lion’s den?”  I suspect there’s some social status tension for BD that can influence focus, even what he might be willing to share, how vulnerable to be, whether to shed performance armor, how willing to trust, a determination to “show them!”, etc.  And, as noted, such tension, including aggressive feelings, can also influence the need to prove one’s worth, adding more info than is optimal, accelerating pace of speech, perhaps even deciding to lecture those who mostly have “academic knowledge,” not life lived in the trenches.

Closing Summary

For me, writing this essay has been a mini-journey, exploring my own and others’ ethnic/cultural diversity assumptions, biases, and unconscious motivations.  I’m still cogitating on the myriad dynamics that come into play in the realm of social status difference, self-other expectations, as well as performance pressure and adaptive vs. self-defeating coping.  FYI, BD is also still reflecting on what affected his performance.  He also eagerly accepted my suggestion that he write a succinct (ten-minute) narrative linking his experience growing up in a “subordinate” caste society and his drive to be a human rights advocate:  how does one grapple with the pain, integrate it as part of one’s essence, not buying the oppressive label while transcending the “undesirable” social-cultural injunctions.  Finally, how does an individual discover/design his or her own unique identity path, create a position of solidarity with other progressive individuals and groups, and challenge those holding on to status quo assumptions and power dynamics?  Can’t think of a timelier question!

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a nationally acclaimed speaker, writer, and "Psychohumorist" ™, is a founding partner and Stress Resilience and Trauma Debriefing Consultant for the Nepali Diaspora Behavioral Health & Wellness Initiative.  He is also a "Leadership Consultant" for the international Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University, HQd in Daytona, FL.  A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, he has led numerous Pre-Deployment Stress Resilience-Humor-Team Building Retreats for the US Army.  The Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress, The Four Faces of Anger, and Preserving Human Touch in a High Tech World.  Mark’s award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info, email:

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Note of Appreciation: The Vital Intersection of Writer and Reader, Coach and Learner, Performer and Participant

As Thanksgiving approaches, the election hangover momentarily ebbs. (I'm counting on Trump and his minion, along with the counter-reaction, to fuel media explosion-exploitation for periodic transition mayhem.)  During this psycho-political interregnum, I wish to express thanks for the chance to contribute in the face-to-face – individual and organizational – arenas as well as through social media platforms.

The Vital Intersection of Writer and Reader, Performer and Participant

Starting with the digital universe, an unexpected note from a reader helps, once again, solidify my decision to walk my “Psychohumorist” ™ talk along that off-the-beaten, writer's path:  Congratulations on the new book. (Ed. note:  Fierce Longing...Fiery Loss:  Relearning to Let Go, Laugh & Love; on Amazon.]  You may not remember me but we met a few years ago. Unfortunately, after our meeting I became ill and have been in and out of the hospital for the last 2 years. Your emails are always refreshing and help me appreciate the gift that God has given you and encourage you to keep up the good work. God blessDH

Feedback from readers – pro and con – thankfully, is one of the forces that keep this mind obsessively grinding and, occasionally, trail-blazing.  As I once penned:

For the phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire!

It was only after my third decade that I sensed the urge, the desire, and the potential to be a writer with a home-grown, meaningful, and playful voice.  Now, after three + decades evolving and honing my craft, first and foremost, I write to harness emotionally intensity, to construct an imaginative bridge between the conscious and the subliminal, to drill for psycho-kaleidoscopic memory, with its fading images yet also sudden bursts of pulsing and streaming color.  I labor at the keyboard (and sometimes still rough out initial ideas by hand), to find and shape my own "word artist" anima, not just a persona, to conjure and express an idiosyncratic conceptual frame, to transform complexity and confusion into a multi-threaded yet singular creative tapestry.  Ah…to choose the right word, to sculpt that compelling metaphor, to grapple with rhythm and rhyme.  Consider this illustration by one of my heroes, Mark Twain, American humorist and man of letters; his cleverly crafted, truly inspiring conception of “wit”:  Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation!

Finally, I write to stand up to and laugh at all those critical, self-doubting voices in my head, that forever emerge as I'm nervously posturing and positioning myself in the new project starting blocks. And despite the anticipatory angst (or, perhaps, because of the same) ...I feel the least need to justify myself when immersed in creative writing.

The Learning, Sharing, and Performing Arenas

But this word artist must thrive on both page and stage (or, at least, a coach’s chair).  And for this, too, I am grateful.  First, as a writing and speech coach, helping an immigrant lawyer's pursuit of both the American Dream and supporting his advocacy message of human – social-educational-economic-political – rights for individuals caged in caste-based systems, especially in South Asia.  In the process, I am better understanding the challenge of the immigrant experience, especially giving up “the once big fish in a smaller pond” status. Sometimes it’s nice to be in the shadows while supporting another’s struggle to recreate the limelight…feeling like an “uncle” as much as a coach.

And a recent stage appearance, as a Leadership Consultant and workshop-retreat leader/facilitator for the internationally-based Leadership Institute of Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University.  I will be expanding my training role with their management and supervisory staff.  I have loved brainstorming and working with the Leadership Institute Team, assisting on webinars and providing university personnel with an in-the-flesh "Stress Doc (Retreat) Experience" (to quote the Leadership Director).  Helping audiences “Get FIT – by making programs FUN-Interactive-Thought-provoking – creates a symbiotic and synergetic learning laboratory.

Back to the social media arena, I'm also grateful for the congratulations and "likes" by so many Linked-In contacts to my profile posting of the newly evolving Embry-Riddle position.  In fact, here was my note of acknowledgement:

Thanks...appreciate the congrats. Looks like I'm starting to fly around as a leadership consultant.

Hope you are also in flight. Anything cookin?  Still would love to partner. Best wishes and good adventures. Mark

See recent leadership retreat testimonial (below) for international Aeronautics Univ. (FYI, just been asked by Embry-Riddle Aeronautics U./Leadership Institute, HQd in Daytona, FL, to do another "magical" leadership retreat with university managers, this time at their satellite campus in Prescott, AZ.)


Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University/Leadership Institute, Daytona, FL (Global HQ), "Building Power through Conflict," One-Day Leadership Retreat for 30 managers/supervisors

Nov 3, 2016

Mark Gorkin took our leadership group on a discovery tour of how conflict brings power. He demonstrated and we practiced the art of “letting go of the rope” – that frequent occurrence of two people standing firm on differing sides of an issue. They both keep pulling until one pulls the other over – never a good solution but most often the outcome. The art of letting go gave our participants another great tool for creating a win-win. Mark has a way of creating an environment of safety where people feel free to express themselves – it was a true bonding experience!

Rich Pernell, MS, CPF, CPM
Director – Organizational Development & Design
Human Resources
Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
Daytona Beach, Fl 32110-3900
(386) 226-6995 voice

Rita Avinger, Ph.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Director, Leadership Institute
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Voice: (386) 226-7004

Closing Thoughts

So, I am thankful for the opportunity to share my complex, ever evolving self with others and to be enriched and enlightened by head-and-heartfelt interaction – whether as writer, coach, or group facilitator.  I am grateful for my small yet meaningful victories, as I recover from the partnership breakup tsunami and rebuild a life.  To quote mid-19th century American transcendental philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson:

" To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of leave the world a better know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. "

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Perhaps I have “succeeded” more than I realize, or give myself credit.  Fittingly, a final share which has often induced a knowing laugh from others.  Best wishes for a graceful holiday season.

Practice Safe Stress for the Holidays:
The 4 "F"s of Holiday Friction

While many associate the holidays with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and its theme of gaining and sharing the holiday spirit, the opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities may have even more relevance:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of time
It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness...
It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Like Dickens, I too have tried to capture the complexity of the holidays; if not through a great novel, then with my one classic holiday joke.  I realized with all this talk of pressure during the holidays, I needed to distinguish between "Holiday Blues" and "Holiday Stress."  Now holiday blues is the feeling of loss or sadness that you have over the holidays when, for whatever reason, you can't be with those people who have been or are special and significant.  And holiday when you have to be with some of those people!

Email or send me a message on LinkedIn or Facebook to receive the entire essay.

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a nationally acclaimed speaker, writer, and "Psychohumorist" ™, is a Leadership Consultant for the international Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University, HQd in Daytona, FL.  Mark is also a founding partner and Stress Resilience and Trauma Debriefing Consultant for the Nepali Diaspora Behavioral Health & Wellness Initiative.  A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, he has led numerous Pre-Deployment Stress Resilience-Humor-Team Building Retreats for the US Army.  The Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress, The Four Faces of Anger, and Preserving Human Touch in a High Tech World.  Mark’s award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info, email:

Saturday, November 12, 2016

11/9: Have We Seen this Before? (Or, The Night of Broken Dreams)

Reading about the post-election wailing and grief or the counter-reaction of "stop the whining," helped me realize the personal value of my coping option: turning a political lemon into poetic lemonade. Enjoy...or not!

My biggest fear in this election campaign was that Donald Trump was providing a platform for social-cultural hatred, a hatred by a variety of supporters, surrogates, and sycophants.  Such flame-throwing typically targets groups based on race, ethnicity, nationality, geography, gender, sexual identity, and/or religion.  I don’t believe Mr. Trump is a fanatical hater, more a conditional one:  a) when someone rubs his ego the wrong way (alas, this happens too easily), b) when women complain Mr. T has “rubbed them the wrong way” (alas, this happens too frequently), and c) when he strategically or spontaneously bullies or demonizes “the other” to gain supporters and votes and win a “negotiation” or political battle.  I hope my fears are mostly baseless.  I pray (despite being a Jewish atheist) that the new President will resist the urge to Trumpism, to become a dictatorial, Putin-like “strong man” repressing dissenting voices and constitutional rights.  I will congratulate Mr. Trump hardily if he genuinely helps rebuild our infrastructure and the economic options and standing of working-class families.  In truth, many of his other avowed premises and promises frighten me – personally, for our democratic ethos, and for our fragile planet.  So, I will be vigilant.  To loosely quote Ronald Reagan:  warily trust and verify.  Until then…I versify!

11/9:  Have We Seen this Before?
(Or, The Night of Broken Dreams)

Please do not think me dumb
Or even merely craven, yet
Will 11/9 become
Our homegrown 9/11?

Ah, the ironic paradox
The choice of free election.
Have we unleashed Pandora’s Box:
A swarm of white-male venom?

Oh tell me Mr. Trumpty
How do you run on empty?
Oh tell me Humpty Trumpty
How many have you dumptied?

Forgive my taste in history
To look back does no good
Still…a little pre-war Germany
And streets running with blood?

Why am I compelled to rant?
Perhaps a mere sore loser.
Though not a recent immigrant
(More “word artist” itinerant)
For you…does my life matter?

Oh tell me Mr. Trumpty
Why are you so grumpty?
Oh tell me Trumpty Dumpty
How many have you humptied?

“Why are you so paranoid?”
“He will drain the swamp!”
I gaze into the krystal ** void:
One big internment camp!

I do not fear the Mighty Wall
For I will not be barred
But one and all, from grace may fall
When “vermin” are gold-starred. ***

** The choice of the “kystal” spelling is a blend of “crystal” and “Kristallnacht” also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass.   “Kristallnacht was a pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938, carried out by SA paramilitary forces and German civilians. German authorities looked on without intervening. The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues had their windows smashed.

Estimates of the number of fatalities caused by the pogrom have varied. Early reporting estimated that 91 Jewish people were murdered during the attacks. Modern analysis of German scholarly sources by historians such as Richard J. Evans puts the number much higher. When deaths from post-arrest maltreatment and subsequent suicides are included, the death toll climbs into the hundreds. Additionally, 30,000 were arrested and incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps.” (Wikipedia)

*** During the Nazi reign, Jews in Germany (and elsewhere, I believe), were mandated to have gold Jewish Stars sewn on their outer garments, to single out and stigmatize them when in public, increasing their chance for ridicule and much worse intimidation.

© Mark Gorkin  2016
Shrink Rap ™ Productions

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a nationally acclaimed speaker, writer, and "Psychohumorist" ™, is a founding partner and Stress Resilience and Trauma Debriefing Consultant for the Nepali Diaspora Behavioral Health & Wellness Initiative.  He is also a "Leadership Consultant" for the international Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University, HQd in Daytona, FL.  A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, he has led numerous Pre-Deployment Stress Resilience-Humor-Team Building Retreats for the US Army.  The Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress, The Four Faces of Anger, and Preserving Human Touch in a High Tech World.  Mark’s award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info, email: