Friday, October 20, 2017

Psychology of Hurricane Harvey and the metoo Flood

We are currently awash in #metoo notices on social media sites. A catharsis of massive proportions has followed in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  As with any storm, news sources  examine the origins and publish a chronology. The current storm hit the U.S. 5 October when the NYT published salacious allegations.

Now, two weeks later, the storm has abated. Other news stories are headlines. Meanwhile, clean-up after Hurricane Harvey continues. We don't know how many lives have been destroyed. Heavy rains have affected many beyond the eye of the storm. People are hurting. Some still await care.

As with any storm, accusatory fingers point in many directions. There are reasonable calls for climate change-- we must end the rape climate that creates the conditions giving rise to such sexual hurricanes. They are right of course. Men are responsible for most of the problems. We do need to change. 

The helpfulness of metoo reports provides a Johari-like window of insight for sensitive men. Looking back, some of us can see how we contributed to the destructive climate. I apologize for insensitive comments. Other have too. 

The strong wave of contemporary femminism ocurred in the 1990s ,though there were earlier movements to be sure. The movement itself helped create a greater awareness amongst sensitive men about the insensitive treatment of women. Like others born many decades ago, I learned to change my language and beliefs about women's roles in society--including governments, churches, and the military. I saw how feminism was a blessing to society. Too many keen intellects were missing from solving the important problems we all face.

As the clean-up after the current storm proceeds, we must see if there are any lessons to learn that have not already been identified. This will not be easy because the emotional waters are still high. A lot of mud has covered the landscape.

Disgust is a powerful emotion-laden, expulsion-driven, life-saving response to cleanse us from germ-infested filth. Disgust quickly generalizes beyond vomit and manure to reject the dirty side of sex that robs people of their humanity. Women have been degraded in our eyes. We humans can only take so much disgust before we avert our eyes. We need to wash our souls.

Look for the word disgust in so many articles and comments about sexual harassment and abuse. Look for attitudes of contempt. There are powerful emotions behind the words. There is anger. And sometimes there is hate. There is a world of hurt. As my psychologist friend, Dr. Grant Jones, says, before hurt people can forgive they need to claim their "pound of flesh."

Like any dirty job, people want a break. We see the desire for a break in the change in headlines. We see the need for relief in those men who fight back against blame in the comments sections of accusatory articles. Overexposure robs workers of their capacity to clean-up.

But like all important work, the clean-up must continue. After a short break-- a time to refresh and see beauty once more, we must return to the arduous task. We must continue to read the stories of those who have been hurt. We must be about changing the climate of relationships. We must help survivors recover. We must strengthen social levees and rebuild our culture with stronger foundations of respect.

As the emotional waters subside, we will be better able to re-examine the words and actions that cross the line of respect between the sexes at work, school, places of worship, and everywhere. We need examples to see the difference between what is funny about sex and what is degrading. Men and women need to learn how to approach each other. We need to keep up the rhetoric about consent. We need to see how power and sex combine to hurt others. We need to report sexual harassment. And we need to support those who have been harassed.

As with any serious clean-up effort, some people are better prepared than others to deal with the stench. Rape, sexual assault, and sex trafficking are repulsive. Workers will see disgusting things about humanity. We need workers equipped for the task. We can look to our universities to prepare such workers. Those who feel ill-equipped to do such work can support the efforts of these responders.

We must not forget

     There are millions of loving couples.

     There are women who love the men in their lives. 

     There are men who respect women.

Psychology of Disgust: Related Posts

Why Christians Have Problems Loving the "Unholy"

How Metaphors Mess with our Minds and Destroy Lives

Sexual Harassment and Assault: Related Posts

Psychology of Sexual Harassment


About Sexuality and Morality in Christian Cultures

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Thursday, October 19, 2017


The greed that leads to market tops and crashes can account for the arguably more painful aftershocks too. And there's more psychology at work.


In 2007 the DJIA topped on 29 Sept at 14, 164.53. Then plunged 777.68 on 9 October. But the bottom did not hit until 6 March 2009 at 6,443.27 - more than a 54% loss!

The US markets famously crashed 18 October 1929 (almost 90%) BUT the market did not hit bottom until 8 July 1932. The "bargain scoop-up rally" did not last.

Some may recall 19 October, 1987, the market crashed again losing 23% in one day (DJIA).


Markets are not things. Investments may be analyzed, but markets are about human behavior--people trying to be smart when buying and selling. Some try to get ahead of the herd. Some get greedy when markets fall and try to jump on a bargain only to find out it's cheap for a reason-- no one wants what they bought.

Stocks, bonds, and houses are not worth anything unless someone else is willing to buy what you are selling. Unless of course, you derive income from what you own that outweighs any drop in value below what you would have if you just held cash. That takes some calculation.

Like many things in life, the psychological principle of sunk costs applies. When an investment goes south, people often throw good money have bad rather than cut their losses. This situation is worse for individual stocks, bonds, and houses compared to people who hold an index fund. Any particular investment can go to zero! But large index funds like the S&P500 are probably too big to fail even when they drop 50%.

A market that sells off 7-10% seems bad to an average investor. Some hang on and endure losses of 20-50%. Others cut their losses and move to cash or find something better. A person's tolerance for risk is evident in their behavior. Most stay put or add more money until finally shaken out during the aftershock -- the date when everyone who wants out got out. The recovery can be a matter of years or decades.

Young people with a long work history ahead can afford to remain investors for the long hual. Wealthy people with diverse holdings can afford to remain in the markets as their wealth passes to the next generation via assets that will surely improve at some distant date.

But people near retirement who are heavily invested may not live long enough to enjoy a recovery if they lose double-digit percentages.

So, we must know our tolerance for risk. Recognize the trap of sunk cost psychology. Learn when to cut losses. Manage greed and fear (you may have more to fear than fear itself if you lose lots of money).

And consult a financial advisor when unsure. They might make you feel better even if they don't have a clue about the future. Really, who can predict the future? But they may help you think more clearly about your situation.


By the way, the principle of sunk costs applies to personal investments in relationships, education and career paths as well as commitments in politics and religion.

Of course I'm not giving financial advice. I am not a financial advisor - just a psychologist.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Is Scouting Safe?

wikimedia commons

Not long ago, I was shocked when a friend told me of personal sexual abuse in a scout-like program in his church. I learned of his long-term suffering--years of depression. Those of us in clinical work are sadly used to learning of people who have been sexually abused as children and adults. But abuse happens to our friends as well.

Recently, the Boy Scouts announced that girls will be welcomed into their program. It didn't take long for the Girl Scouts to respond with "Why admitting girls is a 'terrible idea.'" (Garcia, 2017)

It doesn't help that a Boy Scout Leader made news earlier this year for the sexual abuse of five boys (USNews, 2017, March 4). The problem of child sexual abuse is not new. And the sexual abuse is not limited to scouts (e.g., CNN).

The history of problems of child sexual abuse and the recent reports of sexual harassment by aspiring female actors, make it clear. Vulnerable people are at risk for sexual abuse.

Getting our cultural house in order begins with every adult taking responsibility for themselves and their children. All organizations must carefully screen and monitor their leaders. Policies must be in place for safety and reporting. Education about sexual abuse must be ongoing.

When we see weaknesses in a system, let us point them out to the administrators.

Download and read the free booklet on preventing child sexual abuse: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse within Youth-serving Organizations -- available from the CDC.

Scouting can be a positive and fun experience. Let's keep it that way.

My ad for a related book.

Learn more about sexuality and morality in Christian Cultures.



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Twitter @GeoffWSutton


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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Psychology of Sexual Harassment

I changed the channel from the struggling Mizzou to CNN whilst waiting for my wife to join me in plans to watch something entertaining on Netflix. The talking heads were reviewing the latest Weinstein sex scandal allegations. Just seeing the pictures of famous women across the screen has an effect. One man with power can influence so many lives.

We saw this before when Cosby was in the news.

We've seen stories on college campuses and reports of clergy abuse.

One attorney is tuned in to the psychological trauma.

"I heard (attorney) Gloria Allred say the other day on CNN: 'Sexual harassment harms people,'" said Kendall. "And it's true. It does. Your body remembers the trauma. Your heart remembers the trauma. It changes you and makes you make decisions about life, like, I'm going to go in another direction. You don't know the harm it can do." (US News)
Beyond the Film Industry

The talk about what to do in the film industry is certainly appropriate. But I see others who are keen on examining the culture of sexual harassment in the workplace. The thing is, when you're young, as were so many of these women when first approached, you don't know what to do. It's totally unexpected. You're scared and angry. You want to attack and don't know how. I know. I've been there. Emma Thompson aptly called W a bully and a predator.

Invading personal space has consequences. We naturally want to defend ourselves against intruders. Sexual intrusion deserves a strong response. A strong response necesarily arouses fight and flight action and emotion. 

The other thing about harassment, the mental rape and grope kind, is it's often short of physical rape so you don't feel like you deserve the same kind of outrage that goes with those horrid reports of child sexual abuse and rape that keep popping up in the news. We know those survivors deserve a great deal of attention with vigilant efforts to protect their welfare, prevent further acts, and help survivors heal.

Some say sexual harassment is not about sex-- it is about power. I disagree. Sexual harassment is not just about power. Sexual harassment is about about both sex and power

There is harassment of a nonsexual kind. People bully others all the time. Nonsexual harassment makes you angry too. And it can cause fear. Sexual harassment evokes disgust as well as anger. Disgust is more powerful. Disgust makes you feel dirty. It's repulsive. Sexual harassment gets to one's soul.

Weinstein is the kind of story we need to rally support to strengthen laws so that all humans are protected from sexual harassment. We have enough evidence now that women and men are victimized in high school, at college, in sports, when applying for jobs, as interns in many fields, and now of course in the film industry where beautiful people compete for limited, high paying jobs. Attractiveness attracts money and unwanted sexual advances.

So what can harassed people do?

It is not easy when you think you are alone. The CNN story provides a little more advice--there is strength in numbers. And timing is important. Employees have rights and companies have policies nowadays. It is not so clear what people can do when attacked in other venues like contractors or people seeking employment. And the problem in high schools and colleges remains unresolved.

If there is any good news, high profile people are drawing attention to the problem of sexual harassment. There are some laws. There is a glimpse of justice when the powerful lose their power positions so they can no longer harm others. And the risk of getting called out adds some external brake to those who lack inhibitions. The support for survivors is growing along with an intolerance for sexual harassment. And men who are not predators are becoming more aware of how their words and actions can be construed as sexual harassment.

I have worked in places where the lack of policy enforcement is pathetic and the lack of serious sexual harassment training was either lacking or not up to anything close to a strong, persuasive, and persistent educational effort.

Complacency is the enemy. There will always be predators who are not inhibited by the threat of embarassment, loss of employment, or prison. 

  • We must stay informed.
  • Support survivors wherever they may be.
  • Warn our youth-- make sexual harassment part of sex education.
  • Speak up on company, school, church, community boards and committees.
  • Read company policies and advocate for stronger ones when they are weak.
  • Advocate for the most effective sexual harassment education programs available.
  • Provide treatment for victims.
  • Parents-be careful but not overly anxious.

Sexual harassment is everywhere:
   News & Resources

Middle School and High School (CS Monitor)
     This is why parents must ensure sexual harassment is part of sex education.
     Sexual harassment begins early in life.

Colleges and universities (USA Today College)
    Despite major news stories, the problem continues.

Religious settings (UMC advice) 
     Check on the policy at your congregation

CT "The Law on Sexual Harassment"

    A reminder to the religious.

Assault in the military (NBC) (DOD report)

    This is serious.

U S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEOC

Facts about Sexual Harassment and Title VII

    There are limitations on scope

Sexual Harassment in sports   SI story

   Just a reminder-- it happens.

What to do at work (Forbes)

    Some good notes here of things to do if you are in a situation now.

Read more about the psychology of sexual harassment at this link

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Do we need a sign: Do Not Feed the Children?

There's little doubt that children love sweets and show an interest in adults who provide them.  But many parents work hard to keep their children on healthy diets.  And some children require special diets.

I was thinking of the care shown to donkeys at Carisbrooke Castle. The staff reminded guests not to feed them.

Most of us have seen signs advising us not to feed animals because of their special diets. As I read various reports on research it is clear that many children and adults consume much that is unhealthy.

I have joked about diet options such as the variety of chocolates one can choose (my photo of chockies at the outlet in Portsmouth above).

But, health is no joking manner. Perhaps parents need to post signs saying: "Do Not Feed the Children," and explain that they are on a special diet.

Cheers to parents who provide their children with healthy foods in sufficient quantities. And set limits on high calorie treats. Extra cheers to parents who demonstrate healthy eating plus a healthy lifestyle by adding exercise to healthy eating.

And more. May those parents who resist fads and unscientific claims about nutrition and supplements be blessed for they shall save money and demonstrate wisdom when it comes to unsubstantiated health claims.



Twitter @GeoffWSutton


Palms Donkeys and Kings

On Palm Sunday 2017 I was in the chapel at Carisbrooke Castle built in  recognition of Charles I and veterans.

I  was reminded of other features of the early Palm Sunday by palms in the nearby garden and a donkey easily coaxed into walking a treadmill that provided water from a well years ago.

The gospels illustrate parallels between the everyday life and one full of spiritual significance. We can find many lessons about humanity that make the Palm Sunday story so relevant.

For me, the palms and the donkey were mostly cues to remember the day. Of course, my Christian heritage provided a connection that others might not make.

But the stories of Jesus and Charles I remind me of the religious component in the speeches and violent acts of people whose loyalties are often tested in extreme ways. People have the capacity to draw on faith to celebrate both peace and war.

Disagreements among the religious still lead to death and destruction.  Fair trials are often hard to come by.

Now King Charles I was no Jesus but the people surrounding them were divided over religious beliefs and views of political power like people today. The mixing of faith and politics rarely works out so well.

It is hard to find the moral high ground among the world's leaders or their opponents.

But there is something appealing about that donkey at the well who more or less obediently walks to bring the water of life that sustains others regardless of faith or politics.

A Look at a Deconversion Testimony

Coventry Cathedral 2002/ by Geoff W. Sutton

On a cold winter’s day Sarah sat across from me in the restaurant and declared, “I’m an atheist.” We were at a conference and her friends had left to go somewhere—I forget where. Sarah is a brilliant young woman with a bright future. I don’t know her well but she made some good points during a conference presentation. She knows I write about the psychology of religion so I’ve asked her about her opinions. Sarah was raised as an Evangelical Christian—a bit on the fundamentalist spectrum, I guess. She doesn’t like the Old Testament—too much murder, too many rules. I ask about the “Sermon on the Mount.” She thinks that’s ok. She likes Jesus’ moral teaching. She’s left of center politically and socially. She’s about to graduate from a Christian university. Somewhere along the line she lost her faith. She’s not come out as an atheist—except to a few people. She’s aware of the risks. She can’t doubt outloud. Her litany of complaints focus on beliefs that don’t make sense and certain views of morality she no longer holds as true.*

Peter Enns and The Sin of Certainty

My point in telling the “Sarah story” is that I was thinking of people like her when I read the first chapter of Peter Enns', The Sin of Certainty. I’ve been asked to lead off a study of Peter’s book. And Enns' first chapter describes his faith crisis. His chapter is instructive because it fits well with a recent uptrend in deconversion and conversion research in my field of interest, the Psychology of Religion. I previously summarized some research on deconversion and conversion. In this post, I provide a look at Enns', story from the perspective of deconversion and conversion. He claims not to have written an autobiography yet the lead story suggests his crisis provides the context for the book.


Peter Enns recalls a threatening moment listening to faith-challenging questions in a Disney movie, Bridge to Terabithia. Leslie and May Belle discuss God and the Bible. After a brief exchange about belief in the Bible and the consequences of disbelief, Leslie says, “I seriously do not think God goes around damming people to hell.” Here's the short video clip:

Enns' tells us of his spiritual and emotional discomfort and offers a larger life-context of leaving his teaching job at a Christian school (See Bailey, 2008) and losing some of his friends. He observes, “Watching certainty slide into uncertainty is frightening.” Faith provides a sense of meaning and organization. His faith has been seriously tested. After decades of education and teaching in Christian communities, he experienced some life-changing questions like: “Is there a God? What will you do now that God is far off, out of sight? (p. 13).”

In their summary of recent conversion and deconversion research, Raymond Paloutzian and his colleagues (2013) opine that both conversion and deconversion can be seen as part of a larger perspective on spiritual transformation. Here’s a quote about the concept of deconversion:

“Overall, deconversion is conceptualized as an intense biographical change that includes individual and social aspects: experiential, emotional, intellectual-ideological, social-environmental, moral, as well as changes or termination of group membership." (p. 409).

As a psychologist, I found myself drawn to Enn’s description of his feelings—the emotional experience he felt or reported that others with similar experiences shared. Here’s some examples of his language in chapter 1: "threatened, frightening, worried, Feeling judged and banished…” The experience is clearly emotional and specifically, about fear and anxiety.

As a psychology of religion researcher, I noted the social context and its impact on Enns. He reported a change at the school where he taught. The organizational climate became “tense and adversarial” (p. 12). His teaching and writing were examined. Eventually, he says he resigned. His description of the change sounds like a spiritual transformation.

“I recall those first few months of sweet freedom. I hadn’t felt that light and joyful in probably a decade. Pick your cliché: I felt alive, born again, as if I had been liberated from a prison camp, released from a dungeon, and had seen the sunshine and felt the cool breeze for the first time in ages.” (pp. 11-12)

The positive feelings did not last long. He soon found that “faith went dark” and he lacked the structure of faith provided by the community where “Thinking for myself wasn’t necessary…” (p. 12).

Enns concludes the first chapter by suggesting a “sacred journey” is possible for those who give up the quest for right belief and begin trusting God. The sin of certainty is a preoccupation with right belief to the point of making an idol out of belief and forcing God into our interpretation of the image we created.

I’ve read the book. Enns ends by telling us of his current congregation on page 192. We see his transformation, played out in Christian media, as an example of that type of deconversion from a fundamentalist-like evangelical Christianity. After what sounds like a wilderness experience, he finds a different sort of Christian community. As I read his words I see evidence of a changed spirituality, a de-emphasis on beliefs, but still a desire for meaning and relationship, “I need to be a part of something bigger than myself…”


Peter Enns' tale is a story for our time. I suspect doubters have been around since the first religious ideas were spoken. But in western cultures, it has become safer to express those doubts and concerns. There’s still a risk as Peter indicates—people can’t really be honest about their doubts in some faith communities and expect to keep their job or their old friendships.

Like Sarah, more and more young people are questioning the statements of belief promulgated by conservative religious groups. They doubt the truthfulness of certain claims. And when they get answers to difficult questions, they don’t find the answers very convincing.

There are different types of deconversions. Some occur gradually but may come to a critical point. These sound a lot like the reverse of conversion experiences. Some exit faith altogether. Some keep quiet and carry on—agnostic. Others exit a faith community (disaffiliation) and find a better fit.

Anxiety makes sense. The transition from childhood to adulthood can be smoother for those who remain in a spiritual family even when leaving their parent's home. We form attachments to parents as infants. The nature of attachment changes as we age. When children are removed from their attachment figures for various reasons like going to school or a parent going away, the event is marked by anxiety. In severe cases, children experience separation anxiety. Anxiety can occur at different points in life. A spiritual family mitigates against such anxiety unless the child is cast out.

I'm not seeing anger in Enns' chapter one account. I will resist the attempt to analyze his presentation. But I will hypothesize that many will feel a great deal of anger. Anxiety and anger can produce the emotional turmoil that motivates action. Action may lead one to redouble efforts to re-attach to secure relationships like the old ones left behind or find a new family altogether different. Emotions can function like catalysts to activate belief-behavior connections.

In the research literature, some emerge from their emotional turmoil with a new sense of autonomy and a feeling of personal growth. As Paloutzian and others write of some deconverts who leave a religious community, “...there are also gains in a sense of connectedness for the lucky ones who immediately find a new community and a new identity with a self-identification as ‘spiritual person,’ also a key characteristic of deconversion.” (p. 414)

Peter Enns offers a path forward for those troubled by restrictive interpretations of Christian belief statements—encourage trust in God (in my language, don’t sweat the details of belief).

Here's what I’d like to know as I take these ideas to class:

What elements of Enns' story make sense in terms of other stories you have heard or read?

What Christian beliefs, if any, must be held as true and certain to continue a sacred journey as a Christian?

How does your church or Christian organization create a safe place for people with doubts like those questions Enns reported?

How can Christians be helpful to people like Sarah who wish to talk—explore their thoughts about faith?

How do people handle family relationships where some Christians consider others as unsaved, lost, heretics, agnostics, or atheists?


Read more about Christian cultures in A House Divided available on AMAZON from the publisher, Pickwick and in the Apple bookstore on Apple devices.

*(Sarah is not a particular person but a composite of bright young people who reject the conservative faith of their youth).

Bailey, S. P. (April, 2008). Westminster theological suspension. Christianity Today. Retrieved from This article tells of Enn’s suspension and provides links to related stories.
Enns, P. (2016). The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs. San Francisco: Harper One.
Paloutzian, R.F., Murken, S., Streib, H. & Rößler-Namini, S. (2013. Conversion, deconversion, and spiritual transformation: A multidisciplinary view. In. R. F. Paloutzian and C. L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, (2nd Ed., pp. 399-421). New York: Guilford.

Sutton, G. W. (2016). [Review of the book The sin of certainty: Why God desires “our” trust more than “our” correct beliefs by Peter Enns]. Encounter, 13. You can find my academic review of his book online at Academia and ResearchGate.