In my last entry on this “Why, When and How Psychology Should be Taught in High School Part I,” I addressed why teaching psychology in a relatable way could prevent damage from these beings (sociopaths, psychopaths, narcissists, etc.). Because of how these beings are depicted in movies, television and literature, the garden variety version (e.g., not highly intelligent, not stylish or worldly) thrive under the radar undetected, wasting years of people’s lives and causing significant damage. Recently I clicked on an article about sociopaths in my newsfeed by British Insider UK. This is not a psychology page but has some interesting and quick read articles (important feature, nobody is going to read a book until they are in a search phase of some sort) about entrepreneurship and lifestyle. I’m in the process of brainstorming some business ideas, so I subscribe to a lot of business type pages. Typically I would not even have clicked on the link, but I did, because I was in the ‘in search of’ phase. Why would I click on an article about sociopaths? I’m not involved with suave criminals. I’ve recently heard about someone wasting time with a narcissistic personality disorder being and they posted some articles, but it just didn’t resonate. It tends to resonate better when you are searching for an answer to something. I’ve watched friends break up with such people. I’ve heard horror stories, and I just wrote the predators off as bad people. But grouping all of them together as ‘bad’ doesn't really help one in the predictive mode. You have to avoid such people at all costs, regardless of how adoring they seem. Whether it’s you, a family member or a friend who is associating with such a being, having this is information beforehand could prevent damage, or at the least, reduce the time spent in such a destructive ‘relationship.’ I’m using quotes, because it takes two to have a relationship, these associations are not really relationships. They are relationships in the eyes of those they prey on (unless they are both sociopaths, then they are made for each other).
So the answer to how to teach this topic is extremely tricky. Because I too have tuned out all kinds of information that was out there. But knowledge is power, and if more people were empowered with knowledge of these beings and their patterns, much time could be saved.
So how does one teach psychology to someone in a non academic way? Here are some key components:
- Short and Easy Reading - brief snippets-headlines in our newsfeed are 10 ways to x, or 7 ways to improve y, The reader’s attention span is extremely limited even if they are interested in the topic. I clicked on that British Insider article because their articles are brief. I didn’t need to read a book about sociopaths, because I didn’t even know that the content of this article was going to be relevant. I keep this in mind when I write…keep it short, concise and relatable. Still struggling with the ‘short’ part.
- Relatable Survivors - at the high school age, bring in survivors of such relationships. Men/women who in detail describe the adoration phase, the devaluation phase, and the ugliest exit they ever experienced. Of course these people need to be close in age to their audience, but be firm in emphasizing that these beings are not necessarily as they are depicted on TV, in movies and in literature. In fact, quite the opposite, it’s just a facade. A person might say, “Oh, I’ll take the adoration phase, then if/she gets mean, I’ll just leave, then I’ll know they are a sociopath, narcissist, or psychopath.” It is not that simple. If it was, there wouldn’t be countless boards online that are dedicated to survivors. This needs to be called out by the survivors. This survivor teaching is similar to when holocaust survivors talk about their experiences.
- Role Playing - engage in some role playing. I know in some of my business workshops, we engage in team activities of role playing. It makes you think things through. While a teen may giggle her way through this, they will have it in the back of their minds. Not that different from what takes place in sex education.
- Tools -And remind them that if they believe they had such an encounter, they need to leverage what’s out there about how to move on. There is a wealth of information out there on no contact, how not be lured back and how to leverage the legal system.
- Journal or track relationships in general - and be on guard. That doesn’t mean you can’t ‘fall in love’ or you will never make a mistake, but journals are a good reality check at all points of a relationship. I think that journaling through a seemingly OK relationship is useful. The mind is great at blocking out trauma and bad experiences. It’s a great survival mechanism. But the other aspect of that is that we start forgetting the bad things about relationships and that can lead to someone: 1) repeating the same mistake again, 2) dragging out the ‘relationship’ too long because it’s not ‘that bad’, and 3) wondering if they did the right thing by dumping this horrid being.
So offering some ‘post’ information in high school is also helpful, especially during this day and age of social media. TimeHop and FB memories only show the public facade. Some people after a bad ‘relationship’ ask friends, was it that bad? Yes, it was. If one didn’t journal, a reading of former texts and fb messages will make the pieces fit. One can see the pattern that shows the lack of empathy and feeling. I’ve had friends tell me about how they accidentally came across an old text or email that reminded them of the painful reality they lived, not the public show.
Another benefit of teaching this in high school is that maybe your social circle will understand and believe what happened. They, as outsiders only see the public show and are in denial, even when presented with specifics. Maybe they’ll get it, and save their friends, daughters or sons from entering such a ‘relationship.’ Of course real friends don’t need proof and the whole field of psychology behind you to make them realize what really happened. But that’s another topic. Beware of the “I don’t want to take sides” camp; they bought the facade, don’t want to learn, and don’t really care about your well being.
And since most high schools are not actively teaching about these beings; teach your children and close friends.
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