New studies on how strivings for power and love shape how we conceptualize and respond, what works, and what doesn’t work

KEY POINTS

  • Interpersonal problems are often a source of confusion and distress but may be simpler than we imagine.
  • Research shows there are three basic patterns underlying how people approach interpersonal problems.
  • Attachment style and negative personality characteristics shape how we behave in relationships and overall well-being.
  • Understanding the basic patterns can make it easier to regain a balanced perspective and make better decisions when distress is high.

Relationships may defy comprehension, confusing us perhaps beyond their actual difficulty. …


A new meta-analysis synthesizes the evidence for cacao in alleviating low mood, soothing anxiety and boosting our sense of well-being.

KEY POINTS

  • Cacao has been prized since at least 450 BC by ancient civilizations.
  • Chocolate contains a potent blend of psycho- and biologically active chemicals.
  • While chocolate is reputed to have a range of health benefits, evidence while enticing is limited.
  • Some forms of chocolate appear to have short-term benefits on mood and anxiety, but longer-term effects remain unclear.

Chocolate is one of the world’s most iconic foods. With origins in Central and South America, cacao was first enjoyed as a fermented drink as early as 450 BC. …


An interview with the founders of LAAUNCH (Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change), an organization on the front lines in the fight for diversity, equity and inclusion.

KEY POINTS

  • Discrimination and violence against Asian Americans is on the rise, with a 164 percent jump in hate crimes.
  • Recent politics and pandemic-related attributions have polarized anti-Asian sentiment.
  • Most people cannot think of Asian role models, and if they do, the majority think only of famous film stars.
  • Many people do not realize that Asian-American racism is a problem.

An interview with Ming Chen and Norman Chen, co founders of LAAUNCH — Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change.

I recently had the pleasure of learning about the important work of former schoolmates from growing up in the 70s and 80s…


New research on bullying outcomes underlines the alarming unmet need. Effective interventions reviewed include anti-bullying, trauma-informed, family-based, and systemic approaches.

KEY POINTS

  • Bullying is an epidemic that is not showing signs of improvement.
  • At least one in five kids are bullied, and a significant percentage bullies. Both are negatively affected, as are bystanders.
  • Parenting style can reduce the risk of PTSD from bullying.
  • Evidence-based bully prevention programs are generally effective, but school adoption is inconsistent and anti-bullying legislation weak.

According to the US federal government website StopBullying.gov:

“There is no federal law that specifically applies to bullying. …


“Doorknob comments” define the boundary, when they come up.

Co-authored with Fara White

KEY POINTS

  • “Doorknob comments” are things ripe with unexplored significance people say at the end of a therapy session.
  • There is usually no time left to address their significance unless there is an emergency or other reason to extend the time.
  • Doorknob comments become less common over the course of one’s therapy, as the capacity to communicate and collaborate deepens.
  • Working through doorknob comments, their impact, and the meaning they convey contribute to personal growth.

There’s a phenomenon called “doorknob comments” by therapists. Recently podcast cohost Fara White and I, on the Doorknob Comments podcast, explored this phenomenon…


Beware romantic partners who try so hard to help you grow as a person. The relationship may start out seeming to be what we always needed, but end in suffering and want.

KEY POINTS

  • Well-functioning relationships serve appropriate developmental needs for all involved.
  • In “personal development relationships”, one partner is an unofficial therapist to the other, making healthy intimacy less and less possible.
  • In relationships where pathological narcissism meets excessive dependency, PDRs become abusive.
  • Addressing unmet developmental needs in an appropriate setting frees one up to build mutually beneficial, balanced relationships.

People seek close relationships for many reasons: the need to be loved, for a family, longings for a life partner with whom to grow old, for mutual edification, for fun and enjoyment, for pragmatic purposes, for financial advantages, and so on. …


New research on self-enhancement in personal and professional relationships.

KEY POINTS

  • Bragging is seen as a social liability, but that’s overly simplistic; sometimes we need to share positives with others.
  • Bragging is problematic in many cases, but fear of being seen as a braggart can interfere with intimacy in close relationships.
  • Learning how to distinguish when bragging is negative and when sharing positive news is healthy is a key achievement.

We are socialized that it is bad to brag. And, it often is — perhaps, by definition, always given that bragging almost never has a positive spin. …


Part 2 in a review of psychoanalytic work on how we do what we do to each other.

In Part 1 of this two-part post, we looked at how psychoanalyst Harold Searles thought about how we drive each other crazy. On one hand, he describes many pathological reasons for doing so, in his focus on maladaptive parental and family dynamics. He notes there are other reasons people have difficulty maintaining a grip on reality and our own emotional states than how we are raised, but his focus is on developmental factors and how they play out in adulthood, and particularly in therapy.
In this follow-up piece, we review the reasons why — the motivations for — driving the other…


Part 1: A review of psychoanalytic work on how we do what we do to each other.

Harold Searles was a brilliant, controversial psychoanalyst who worked with patients at Chestnut Lodge for over 15 years. Chestnut Lodge, a well-known sanatorium in Rockville, Maryland where patients with chronic psychiatric illnesses lived and received intensive treatment, ended its over century-long life, metamorphosing from boarding house to hotel, asylum, and finally proposed high-end condos before succumbing to a fire of unknown origin in 2009.

Many of the patients with whom Dr. Searles worked had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1950s and 60s. While some may have met modern criteria for a psychotic illness, it is likely that a large…


Provocative new research opens up dialogue about less familiar aspects of male desire and need to be wanted.

  • Interviews with heterosexual men in relationships revealed that feeling desired was “very important” to the vast majority.
  • Only 12 percent of men reported that their partners made them feel as sexually desired as they wanted to feel.
  • Expressions of desire include compliments, dirty talk, and communicating about sex, flirting, romantic touch, and initiating sex.
  • Sexual scripts and stereotypes can be limiting. Recognizing that men and women both want to feel desired may contribute to healthier relationships.

There’s no question that our culture is — ahem — still evolving when it comes to sexuality. Male heterosexual desire is still highlighted more…

Grant H Brenner

Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Advocate

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