Archive for March 2016


OK, now that my “Crash” is out of the way, I’m back to offering rules that – should you decide to accept them – will save time and money devoted to therapy. Well, maybe not, but I hope they are helpful.

So, what is “cognitive dissonance?” Well, first of all, lets go back to the issue of control. One thing control requires is a feeling that things make sense. Cognitive dissonance refers to the times when things don’t make sense, because we are trying to hold and/or act upon two (or more) conflicting beliefs. In order to restore a sense of order, we’ll change one or the other (or both) so the two are no longer in conflict. The other alternative is to avoid recognizing the conflict and basically give up trying to make sense. Let’s try a couple of examples.

Representative Donaught (obviously a made-up name) ran for office because he believed that to establish economic equity in the community is a basic moral requirement. Once he was involved in the political game, he discovered that the only way to stay in office to fulfill that moral requirement was to accept large financial contributions from people who expected him to support causes which would ultimately undermine his goal of economic equity. The stage was set for cognitive dissonance. It might be stated this way: the moral responsibility to work toward reducing inequity vs. the need to commit himself to causes that would maintain inequity. What might he do?

In order to stay comfortably in office, he may change his opinion about the morality of his contributor’s causes and vote to support them because he now sees their cause as good. He may decide that he was being too rigid in his earlier beliefs. Or he may stick to his original moral view and refuse the contributions, potentially being voted out of office. Or he might accept the money without modifying his moral convictions, consequently maintaining a high stress level resulting in psychological symptoms like perpetual anger, or maybe depression, or perhaps physical stress symptoms. And his constituents might complain that he is a do-nothing representative.

Maybe the potential for cognitive dissonance is a reason to prefer public officials who are super wealthy in their own right.

And don’t forget, this will all become more complicated if he isn’t wealthy and needs to stay in office in order to support himself and his family.

Or maybe changing his moral standards vis-à-vis the reason for public office will spill over into other issues, leading, perhaps, to formerly unacceptable personal behavior like sexual affairs. Now poor Mr. Donaught is really in a potential mess. I hope he had a back up plan before he decided to run for office in the first place.

Anticipating cognitive dissonance might be a very good idea before making an important behavioral decision.

Oh, but, most of you who have had the patience to read this far have no plans to run for public office, though it may be a good idea to increase understanding of those who are already there.

So, why read on… ?

How about parenting?

Try this. “I’m punishing you only because I love you.” Cognitive dissonance. “The person who is hurting me says it’s love.” Which is it?

The child may conclude, “She doesn’t really love me. If she did, she wouldn’t hurt me.” Or, “hurting me is part of loving. Love hurts.” Or, given the superior power of the parent, the conclusion may be, “She must be right. There’s something wrong with me. I am bad.” Or how about this, “If this is love, I’ll try to avoid it.”  One way or the other, the child has to modify the understanding either of love, or of hurt. Or maybe this could contribute to denial. “It isn’t really love,” or “It didn’t really hurt.”

Maybe one of those conclusions is one the parent really wants to encourage

(I hope it’s obvious that just one event isn’t going to change the child’s whole understanding of love, life, and relationships. I’m way oversimplifying here.)

How about applying this to spousal abuse?

And then there’s the cognitive dissonance some of us pick up in some churches. “God is love, but some things you do are so bad you may spend eternity burning in hell.” Personally, I’d rather give up the belief in hell. But maybe the best move is to get away from the church that’s delivering cognitively dissonant messages. (Again, oversimplifying for the sake of making a point.)

“Mona is good at making things clear; Mona has just messed with my brain. Mona has just created cognitive dissonance.”


Posted March 28, 2016 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,


I messed up yesterday. Let me be clearer today. To access my story of the April 15 accident and subsequent events, go to and click on “Crash” at the top.

Posted March 25, 2016 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized


Just go to to get to the right place. (cross my fingers.)

Posted March 24, 2016 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

CORRECTION TO “MY CRASH.”   2 comments

I goofed the first time around. If you click on my recent entry now it will take you to the right place.

Posted March 24, 2016 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

MY CRASH AND I   Leave a comment

People have asked me to write about my crash (April 15, 2015). Be careful what you ask for. It has come to some 17 pages. Right now it’s posted on for those who would like to see the whole thing.To give you a sense of what you’re in for if you go there, I’m posting the first few paragraphs here.

To get to it, click on my web site and choose the tab that says “Crash.” If you read the whole thing, or just scroll to the end, you’ll find a place where you can add a comment. Or I’d be happy to see a comment here.

Here, then, are the first few paragraphs.

In five minutes my Acura RSX would be spinning and bouncing more than eight feet in the air with me in the driver’s seat. How to describe the noise? Imagine being inside a huge tin can filled with pebbles bouncing down a bumpy road. Bang, clatter, crash, rattle, even crackle! The noise!

But I didn’t know it as I waited for the left-turn signal to turn green. Just a short ride south on Audubon Road, a right turn onto Engler Boulevard, left on Chestnut Street and I’d be within sight of home. A nice quick nap and then two wonderful unscheduled days ahead to work on my writing projects. It was a good day, April 15, 2015, I’d just had lunch with women friends followed by a painless visit to the periodontist. Maybe this was a slower route home, but more peaceful than route 41. Looking back, maybe “peaceful” wasn’t such a good choice, but I’d have plenty of time later for “What ifs.”

So far, you can rely on the relative accuracy of my report. From here on in, remember that memory is not a manila folder in an internal file cabinet, but a constantly modified creation. I do have the reports of a couple of eye witnesses, enough so I know that what I recall doesn’t meet with what I see when I drive past the spot now. It’s enough to know I couldn’t have been airborne more than three seconds if it’s true that’s how long air bags remain deployed. It’s enough to know there weren’t as many trees to avoid as my memory conjures.

It was as if a heavy dark comforter suddenly fell away from my eyes and I saw the last of a line of cars directly in front of me. Unspoken words travel in milliseconds through the brain. “I did it. I fell asleep. I can’t hit those cars.” I swerved off the road to the right, taking a piece of the bumper from the car in front of me. I only know that’s true, because the insurance company paid him some $200 for the damage. “Was he mad? I asked later on in my recovery. The answer was “no.” I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him, not only suddenly to be hit ever-so-mildly from behind, but to be on the sidelines to witness my flight. I do know it was traumatic for the witnesses I met later. I remember steering like crazy to avoid trees, saying to myself “I’ve got to get my foot to the brake, but I have to keep steering.” Then I was flying and rotating in the air, saying “Oh My God!” No, I wasn’t praying. I was curious. What an amazing thing was happening. No, I wasn’t in fear of dying. The noise was even louder as I seemed to bounce, and then suddenly it was over. I was sitting right side up in the driver’s seat of my Acura which, as I saw in the photos later, looked like a tin can ready for recycling.
I think my first thought was “OK. Just relax and let them take care of you.” Or maybe it was “There’s black smoke. I’ve got to get out. It’s going to burst into flames.” I do know my thoughts were interrupted by a kind man whose name I later learned was Frank. He reached in through what was left of the passenger side window and took my hand. “Just stay still. 911 has been called. Help will be here in seconds.” It must have been very uncomfortable for him leaning through that broken remnant of a window and – as he later reported – holding my hand that was gritty with shattered glass. “Did I hurt anyone else?” I asked. Hearing his answer “no,” I relaxed easily into total relief and dependence on my potential caretakers.

“I deliberately kept asking you questions,” he reported. I remember some of what he asked, like “Where do you live?” I know he asked me, “Are you married?” because he later confirmed my answer, “No, I’ve been happily divorced since 1976.” He didn’t appreciate my humor when I said, “I think I’ve totaled my car.” One can’t blame him for thinking my brains were scrambled, given the surprise of seeing a “little lady” alive in the driver’s seat when he feared finding a bloody dead body. (He says he saw a “little lady” in the driver’s seat. What a gentleman, he didn’t say “little old lady.”)Then the wonderful first responders arrived.

(To see the rest of this, head on over to

I’ll be back in a day or so with more rules to save you the cost of psychotherapy.

Posted March 24, 2016 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,


Actually, this is an example of a very dangerous triangle. Someone says something.  You respond not to the words but to what you think the person “really” means.

She asks, “Do you have the time to go by Anna’s house and drop this off on your way home?”You hear, “You’d better be willing to do me this  little favor and go out of your way to drop this off on your way home or I’m going to pull a guilt trip on you.”

You surrender and drop it off on your way home even though you really don’t have the time to spare. Now you’ve ceded your power to what you imagine someone else is thinking, and you’re resentful, or at least annoyed. Why not assume she really was asking whether you had the time?

Maybe you know the person well enough to be accurate in your interpretation of the unspoken meaning. It would still be much better to respond to the words that are spoken. What if you said, “Honestly,  I’ll be late getting home if I do that.” If you are kind, you might then say something like “Would it help if I drop it off tomorrow morning?” If the hidden words were indeed intended to induce guilt, you’ve given the speaker and yourself the first lesson in being direct. And you’ve avoided resentment.

I heard once of a faculty member who found a note posted to his door. “I stopped by but you weren’t here.” The faculty member read, “You were supposed to be in your office, but you weren’t and I’m annoyed.” Just at that point someone else arrived and was shown the note with a comment something like “I’m getting sick and tired of these complaining students.” How much better, and more accurate, would it have been to take the words at face value. “I stopped by but you weren’t here.” – a simple statement of fact.

That’s the kind of mistake that can cost friendships or business problems if e-mails aren’t read carefully before being sent.

Consider two people in the process of breaking up a relationship. “Please send me the number of the last check you sent from our joint account before we closed it.” The recipient reads, “I’ve found another way to make your life miserable with an unnecessary request” and decides to withhold the information that the former partner doesn’t really need.  Do I need to describe what emotions follow in both ends?. My comment?” C’mon, just send the number. Why make life difficult for yourself?”

Let me end with a rather mundane example. Jane says to Mary, “I really like your new hair style.” Mary hears, “The way you used to wear your hair was really ugly.”

Oh yes, let me add one more thing. Sometimes silence is language. It’s really dangerous to hear words behind the silence, like “He didn’t say I did a good job on that project. The SOB liked it but isn’t willing to give me credit,” or, depending on your state of mind, “I guess he didn’t like the work I did.” Could it be that your project wasn’t even on his mind? hmmm …

I guess it all boils down to deciding that mind-reading is not a very effective means of communicating and is certainly not a safe stimulus to a response.

I have a feeling you could supply better examples.

Oh yes I know what you’re thinking. “Couldn’t she have come up with some clearer examples?”


Rule #3: Avoid triangles   4 comments

I promise I’ll get to the point, but first I’m congratulating myself on my patience as I’ve been delayed getting back to my money-saving rules of therapy. Fraudulent charges on one’s credit card plus malware messing up the computer take up some very annoying time. And, by the way, both of those things are examples of fighting someone or something else to regain control of one’s life. Remember Rule #1? The only person you can control is you.

So, how does one regain control? Well, first of all you let the credit card folks know you’ve detected fraud. Then you find other ways to pay your bills until you get the the new card and activate it. (ah-ha! Something I can do myself.) Then you notify all the folks who get automatic payments from your card that you have a new one. Getting control back takes time and at least a little annoyance.

How about getting control back when you have malware on your computer? You talk to the wonderful techies at Apple who patiently stay with you – maybe even join you briefly – to help get rid of it. I’m amazed at how they know where to go to spot the villains. I do admire people who are really good at what they do.

I am glad the malware was removed in time for me to download the materials I needed to join a webinar on “Understanding Neurocognitive Disorders.” Another step in regaining control. I have until May to accumulate the Continuing Education Credits I need to practice legally, a process in which I fell way behind as a result of the April accident. To tell the truth, I’m overjoyed to find webinars that provide the opportunity. I’d much rather sit at my computer for six hours than travel to where they are being presented. I do miss the personal contact though.

Well anyway, I’m back. Ready to give the third bit of free advice. These are not necessarily in an order of importance, by the way. It’s more like a complex interactive loop.

So, I have already offered:

#1: The only person you can control is you.

#2:  Appreciate your shadow.

Today I’m giving you, should you choose to accept it

Rule #3. Avoid triangles

I’m not talking here about love triangles. That’s kind of obvious. But there are so many ways we get caught in triangles that have the potential to cause problems. As one person defined it beautifully in my class: “You are creating a triangle any time you ask someone to take an action for you in relation to a third person.” I’d add, “Anytime you offer to take such an action in relation to a third person.”

Just a few examples. First, a relatively simple, only moderately threatening, one. A friend of mine who comes from a large family and has therefore become inured to loud and repetitive noises was not at all disturbed by the barking dog next door. But her husband was. I mean, the dog just wouldn’t stop barking. So he asked his wife to plead with the neighbor to silence the dog. “If I do it,” he said, “they’ll be angry with me.” Then he and his wife both laughed as they realized he was asking her to take the flack.

When I was in third grade we had a pageant at Thanksgiving time, going from room to room acting our parts. My line was “Speak for yourself John.” As I understand the story, Pocahontas ended up with the man who delivered the message, not John. My history may be off, but you get the point. How many of us did the same kind of thing in Junior High and later — even today?

But triangles can get much more serious when they are built into an organizational structure. The other day I heard of a woman I’ll call Amanda who complained to an administrator that her immediate manager was regularly rude and withholding of help. The administrator felt it was another authority who should handle the issue, so she handed it off. The person who caught the job approached Amanda to question why she was unwilling to carry out her job description.

Remember the “Rumors” game?

Ever been in a similar situation?

Let’s try one more: Remember “West Side Story?” and what happened to Maria’s friend when she agreed to deliver a message to Tony? Rape and death were the results.

I could give you examples from the last few days in my life when the light bulb lit to warn me I was getting involved in a triangle. It’s so easy. I think I’m getting pretty good at catching it in time, though.

Before I leave this topic, I have to admit some triangles may not be dangerous. “if you’re going by Mary’s house, would you be willing to drop this off for me?” Hmm. Think about it.

I’d love to hear your examples.





I’m so excited. I just discovered the latest review of Figs & Pomegranates & Special Cheeses on Couldn’t wait to share it. look at the most recent review first.


Rule #1 requires honesty and accepting responsibility. Both those things require knowing one’s self, including the Shadow. And that’s not easy, because the Shadow is that part of ourselves that lurks deep in the background where we don’t want to acknowledge it. Why is it hidden? Because it’s not acceptable. So the thought scares us – seeing things we don’t like about ourselves.

In fact, this may be the hardest “rule” of all. Those shadow places are pretty well closed off. But if you can do it, be prepared to hang on to those shadowy things when they pop up. And even if you reject it when someone suggests something about you that you don’t like, take it home with you and examine it when no one is looking. Nothing says you have to tell them you’ve discovered they’re right. (Though it might not hurt.)

It does help us, though, to understand – even empathize – with those “others” out there. And when we understand and empathize, we’re better able to come up with a way to handle the situation to our own benefit as well as for the general welfare.

There’s a funny thing called attribution. We can look at the same thing and attribute different causes depending on who’s involved. Someone else walks out of the store without paying the bill. They’re stealing. I walk out of the store without paying and I’m forgetful. It plays right into the blame game.

From my adult vantage point, I can get pretty uppity about violent kids in “good” neighborhoods. Then I remember when I was ten years old, visiting someone with my parents. I went with their ten-year-old daughter up to the privacy of her bedroom. There she described the gang she belonged to, the idea being to fight with the other gang – and win. The funny thing is, I remember it to this day because I was jealous. I mean deep in my bones, to the bottom of my well of emotion, jealous. The Shadow practically filled the room.

So it’s important to acknowledge our own unacceptable parts. And besides, folks tend to like others who are as flawed as they are. “Perfect” people are pretty boring, or maybe just not believable.

But here’s the funny thing. For some of us – my fellow Scandinavians may recognize this – part of what’s unacceptable may be stuff that other people think is great. “You shouldn’t think so highly of yourself.” “Don’t puff yourself up.” “Being humble is a good thing; don’t brag.” It may seem weird, but good things can lurk in the Shadow because those childhood warnings drove them there, and the general culture keeps them there. How many good assertive contributions are lost because one isn’t willing to admit to positive virtues?

My apologies to the Shadow. It’s so much more powerful than I make it sound here. But because it’s so powerful, it’s worth getting to know and accepting.

The path to forgiving [or any other healthy thing] means accepting your own dark side. Preface to “Forgiving One Page at a Time: The Diary of your Journey to Restoration and Confidence.”


I’ve been promising to present some “rules” of therapy – no charge. So here’s the first one. No doubt some can be applied in a broader sphere, like maybe government, war, and politics. But discussion here is limited to our personal/interpersonal lives. I call them shards, because I’m really just offering pieces that suggest something larger and more complete. And besides, they have sharp edges that require careful handling.

Rule #1: The only person you can control is you.

This is basic. It starts at the very beginning – the need to make life predictable – to get it under control. I could easily get lost here in a long review of Developmental and Social Psychology but I don’t feel like doing that. I’ll acknowledge that how we go about controlling is strongly influenced by the way we are raised. Here, though, I just want to point some ways we get it right, and some ways we stray. I’m hoping many of you will make comments about the how and the why based on your own experience and understanding.

Let’s consider a couple who seek therapy. You can place bets that it will start out with each one trying to change the other, mostly by telling the partner how he or she should be. No surprise, it doesn’t work.

Oh, maybe you can influence the way the other person acts. Browbeating, bribing, passive aggressive words and actions, financial control, violence – other forms of bullying or abuse. In that sense, I guess I’d have to admit that the other person can be controlled. Look a little deeper at the couple, however, and it’s clear those things aren’t getting what the controller really wants; confidence in the partners faithfulness or love or admiration or respect, or …

And the chances are good the restrained one would find a way to strike back, Or maybe become something less than what the controller was expecting.

What does often work is to change one’s own behavior to evoke a different reaction from the other. Basically, this is the object of mediation. Funny thing, though, that starts with changing oneself. Back to the rule. The only person you can control is yourself.

That kind of change requires honest listening. But it won’t work if the person you’ve been listening to is not honest. And here’s a really important point. You can’t be honest, or get honesty from your partner, if one or both of you is not being honest with yourself. Which brings us to another point.

Self Control

Yes, the goal is self-control. But not the way it’s often meant. Too many of us are raised to think that self-control means hiding or squelching our own feelings. That won’t work without either taking a toll on our bodies, or eventually coming out in uncontrolled anger, or tears, or depression, or something else I’ve missed.

The fact is, we can’t get enough control of ourselves to change if we aren’t willing to be honest with ourselves. To accept our own “Shadow.” But that’s rule #2, saved for the next posting.

The situation with couples makes for an easy example, but the rule applies everywhere. I hope you’ll use the “comments” section to add some examples based on your own experience.

But before we leave our unhappy but growing couple, here’s a question. Could it be that more arguments would help? The kind where each one is honest about feelings and opinions and listening to the other? (Even if they’d rather not admit it at the time.) And knowing that somehow they’ll have to do something about what they’re hearing if they really want things to change.


See page 35 of “Figs & Pomegranates & Special Cheeses.” A conversation between Dara and her mother.

“Your father respects me – and us.

 “I do not believe it. I hear him when he is arguing with you.

 “Oh, but Dara, that is the point. We do argue. I know some mothers and fathers who do not argue, but I will tell you right now, the wives do not argue because they do not dare. … Your father and I argue because he holds me in high regard. Otherwise he would never listen to what I say, and I would never dare say it.”


%d bloggers like this: