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Kathy Marshack News

The Heartbreaking Link Between CTE and Empathy Dysfunction

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


Link between CTE and Empathy DysfunctionI have read countless stories of professional, college and even high school athletes struck down by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Athletes in all contact sports—football, hockey, soccer, and baseball—are being diagnosed with CTE. But a new article still caught my eye on CNN - Former NFLers call for end to tackle football for kids.

Several former NFL players are working with the Concussion Legacy Foundation to support a new initiative, Flag Football Under 14, that pushes for no tackle football until 14. In the article, one player, who has been diagnosed with dementia and probable CTE, made a heartfelt plea to parents, “I beg of you, all parents to please don't let your children play football until high school. I made the mistake starting tackle football at 9 years old. Now, CTE has taken my life away. Youth tackle football is all risk with no reward."

The article went on to discuss something that many people misunderstand when it comes to CTE. People are under the impression that concussions are what lead to the disorder. However, CTE is actually much more likely to be found in soccer players and other athletes exposed to repetitive minor hits. Instead of pointing specifically to “concussion” as the cause, this is called Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (or Mild TBI). As if there is anything mild about CTE.

Since I’ve been writing my new book on empathy dysfunction, I found research studies on empathy disorders and mild traumatic head injuries that made the connection between TBI and loss of empathy quite clear. It makes sense since the circuits responsible for empathy are a complex system located throughout the brain.

I went through this with my own daughter who played soccer. At 23 she assaulted me, knocking me across the room into a plate glass door. I believe that brain trauma explains the mood swings, the paranoia, and the assaultive behavior.

I don’t want any other parent to have to stand by and see their child suffer from traumatic brain injury. Do your research before putting your child in a sport that could have long-term negative consequences. Some worse than you could ever have imagined!

Are you wondering whether you’re dealing with a family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor with severe empathy dysfunction? My upcoming book, “When Empathy Fails – How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you,” delves into Empathy Disorders and offers advice on how you can protect yourself from people who can’t or won’t demonstrate empathy. You can read the first chapter here.

NT/AS Marriage Problems – Divorce, Separation or Alone Together?

Monday, February 26, 2018


Divorce is a tough subject, but we can’t ignore it because it’s all too common in Asperger marriages. I’ve heard many times people describing marriage with someone with Asperger Syndrome (AS) is like walking on eggshells. Add that to the “normal” stresses of marriage and it can get to be too overwhelming to deal with. To give you one example:

A man with undiagnosed AS often feels as if his wife is being ungrateful when she complains he’s uncaring or never listens to her. He knows what he thinks and how he feels, and assumes that she should too. It doesn’t even occur to him to understand her point of view, so her complaints bother him. When she asks for clarification or a little sympathy, he becomes defensive because he knows he has good intentions and he resents the pressure. This defensiveness may turn into verbal abuse (and sometimes physical abuse) because he needs to control the communication to suit his view of the world.

No wonder the wife feels like she’s walking on eggshells and looks for a way out of the marriage. But that can bring other problems…

What can you expect if you divorce an Asperger man? Unfortunately, he probably won’t understand why his wife wants a divorce and will become angry. Not knowing how to handle his distress he may turn the energy into revenge. Unfortunately, many high conflict divorces are the result of the negativity and obsessing of the AS partner regarding the wrongdoing he perceives of his NT spouse.

It is likely to be a long, painful and expensive divorce where all suffer.

On the other hand, some Aspies just leave quietly and never remarry because they can’t quite figure out how to rebuild a life separately from their former spouse. Some NT former wives report that their former husband even still refers to her as his “wife” years after the divorce.

Many of our Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD members contemplate divorce or separation. Even though our group is extremely helpful, there may come a time when the only way to save your sanity is to consider ways to leave. If you’re no longer strong enough to endure the loneliness of being Alone Together, it just might be time to strike out on your own and explore a new life.

I invite you to attend the upcoming teleconference: Divorce, Separation or Alone Together? It will be held on Thursday, March 22nd at 2:30 PM PT. Don't be shy about dialing in for this teleconference, even if you’re not considering divorce. We’ll discuss why the issue is relevant to our group. Even when you take your marriage vows seriously (and who doesn't?) it's very tough living without reciprocity and emotional connection.

I think it can be therapeutic to consider what your life would be like without your Aspie. It's not necessarily that you should get a divorce, but it gives you an opportunity to think about why you’re holding yourself back from the life you’re meant to live. Either way, divorce or not, you should be true to your authentic self, shouldn't you?

That’s one of the reasons I wrote my book, When Empathy Fails – How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you. The first chapter, “No One Calls Me Mom Anymore” is now available for free download. After you read it, I’d love it if you’d visit my Facebook page and tell me what you think.

The Odd Couple – Why Aspies and Nurturers Attract Each Other

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Someone with Asperger Syndrome is characterized by their lack of communication skills, social skills, and reciprocity of feelings. The Aspie knows what they think and feel but are often unaware of what others think or feel. With a deficiency in these critical areas, some have wondered how someone with Asperger's develops an intimate relationship or even gets married. The answer is simple, Aspies do love. They just love in a different way.

We tend to unconsciously seek mates who have qualities we lack. It's not so surprising really that Aspies seem to attract the ultimate nurturers. You know, the kind of person who is kind, self-effacing, open-minded, understanding, willing to carry a heavy load for their loved ones. It shouldn't be a bad thing, should it? To be a loving light to others is absolutely the perfect gift.

The NT (neurotypical – the one not on the spectrum) may be attracted to the unconventional nature and child-like charm of the AS adult. They may sense that the Aspie will allow the NT his or her independence. It’s only later that they learn their AS partner isn’t supporting independence. He or she is just not aware of – and may even be disinterested in – the NT’s interests.

So the trick is to remain this loving light even under the pressures of living with Aspies who don’t acknowledge the support you’re offering. My belief is that self-care is in order if you’re going to accomplish this task. Dig deeply into your insecurities and purge them. Accept yourself for the amazing, beautiful Soul that you are.

It's also possible to help our Aspies do better by us. They need instructions in what I call the Rules of Engagement (ROE). They can certainly learn to be more polite and attentive, just not empathic.

The next the Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD video conference is entitled, “Odd Couples – Aspies and Nurturers.” It will be held at three different times for your convenience: Thursday, March 8th at 9:00 AM PT; Wednesday, March 14th at 11:00 AM PT; and Wednesday, March 28th at 3:00 PM PT.

If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA, and desire in-person counseling, please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. I also offer online therapy if that works best for your busy schedule.

Is This Normal Anxiety... or an Anxiety Disorder?

Monday, February 19, 2018


Find out how you can tell if your anxiety has gone beyond the normal range and your feelings of nervousness, fearfulness, and apprehension could be classified as an anxiety disorder.As unwelcome as anxiety is, it is a very normal reaction to stress. There are times when we all feel nervous, fearful, or apprehensive. New experiences where you can’t anticipate the outcome, high-pressure situations and stressful events will often cause a measure of anxiety.

Anxiety is often felt physically as much as it is emotionally. It results in physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, trembling, breathlessness, and nausea. Anxiety can also affect your mood, making you irritable or unable to relax.

The good news is that for many people, anxiety goes as quickly as it comes. Once the stressful event that induced the anxiety in the first place is over, their feelings normalize. They are able to handle the discomfort and uncertainty of anxiety without outside intervention.

But what if your feelings don’t normalize after some time passes? What if feelings of anxiety nag at you on a daily basis? You may suffer from an anxiety disorder. How can you tell?

Anxiety disorders disrupt your day-to-day life. Persons who deal with an anxiety disorder struggle with concentration, focus, and sleep. Their feelings are so severe that they begin to affect their work, relationships, and health. Anxiety becomes controlling, debilitating, and inescapable.

Anxiety disorders are persistent. Like I mentioned, normal feelings of anxiety pass relatively quickly. Persons suffering from an anxiety disorder experience severe anxiety for months. The general standard is that if you have more anxious days than not in a six-month period, you may be dealing with an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders defy reason. You’ve thoroughly examined the situation causing you stress and anxiety. You’ve determined that your anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. You know you have good reason to move on and let go of these feelings. But you still can’t seem to shake your concerns and anxiety? Something more than “normal” anxiety may be going on.

It must be noted that anxiety disorders are not “personality flaws.” They are actually physical brain disorders. People with an anxiety disorder associate a new experience with an old emotional response that lingers in their brain. The previous anxious feelings are now attached to the new, and often unrelated, experience. So even though there’s no true reason for anxiety, their brain tells you that there is.

Functional magnetic resonance images (fMRIs) of an anxious brain vs. a healthy brain shows a fundamental brain difference. They show response differences in the amygdale and in the primary sensory regions of the brain, thus supporting the theory that emotional experiences cause changes in sensory representations in anxious brains. This reaction is not something that an anxious person can control. Their brain is literally wired differently.

Do you think you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder? Contact a qualified therapist. They can perform a careful diagnostic evaluation and recommend a course of treatment. Together, you and your therapist can find the treatment and approach that is best for you.

There are measures you can take to relieve some of your anxiety outside of the treatment you are receiving from your doctor. Here are some things that have worked for my clients in the past:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Avoid sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.

  • Get enough sleep.

  • Practice deep breathing techniques.

  • Exercise regularly.


  • Find time to relax and spend time with the people you love.

Remember that you can treat your anxiety disorder. Research is yielding new, improved therapies to help those with anxiety disorders to lead productive, fulfilling lives. If you think you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, please call for an appointment. My office is located in Jantzen Beach, and I also offer convenient online therapy.

Work with Toxic People? Here's How to Cope

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


If you work with a toxic person, someone who is abusive, controlling, or try to cause you harm, find out how to cope with their behavior and what steps you can take to minimize their bullying.Do you have any toxic people in your life? People who are abusive, controlling, or try to cause you harm? Generally, you can get rid of this negativity by cutting toxic friends, family members, and acquaintances out of your life or at least drastically reducing contact with them.

But when you work with toxic people, the solution to your problem isn’t that easy. You have to work with them whether you want to or not. So how can you cope?

Here are some ways to protect yourself from a toxic workmate:

  • Assess if the person truly is toxic. Are they abusive or just difficult? Are they absorbed in themselves to the detriment of others, or are they just overcompensating? It’s worth considering because sometimes people who are not truly toxic can be won over by kindness and compassion and become less difficult. Behind their annoying behaviors, there may be feelings of inadequacy, vulnerability, or a longing for attention and personal connections.

  • Don’t take to heart what toxic people say to you or about you. Words can hurt, especially when we’re barraged with subtle digs all day long. It's easy to withdraw into yourself, feeling hurt and rejected. Then you replay, rehash, and relive the experience over and over again. Don’t do that. Don’t absorb what toxic people say and let it reach you emotionally. Stay calm and rational. Doing so will help you diffuse the situation, rather than providing the bully with the reaction they hoped for.

  • Improve your emotional intelligence (EQ). This may sound counterintuitive because the toxic person should be the one working on their EQ! But really, people with a high EQ can neutralize the effect of toxic people. They stay aware of their emotions and remain calm and objective. They establish clear boundaries and decide when they have to put up with a toxic person and when they don’t. They can keep an emotional distance from the person without becoming cold and uncaring. People with a high EQ also understand that holding a grudge doesn’t do them any good, so they have an easier time letting things go that bring them stress.

  • Continue to do your best work. Rudeness in the workplace is known to stifle creativity, problem-solving, and efficiency. Counteract the inclination to lay low at work by continuing to put your best foot forward. In addition to helping you be your best self, this also casts doubt on any negative things your toxic workmate says about you.

  • Keep your interactions with the toxic person to a minimum. Engage with them as little as possible, and they may move on to someone or something else. Speak in a neutral voice. Keep your responses short and unemotional. Stay on topics that are boring or inconsequential. Don’t engage when they taunt you or make eye contact. Avoid sharing personal information with them and don’t ask them anything personal. Make yourself seem as uninterested in them and as uninteresting to them as possible.

  • Document everything.
    Make sure to keep a record of toxic behavior. Write down what happened, when it happened, who witnessed it, etc. Keep emails, notes, and even voicemails. If things reach a point a point where you need to bring the problem to the attention of your employer, Human Resources, or beyond, this ensures you have the necessary information to make your case.

  • Focus on yourself. You can be happy if you keep your focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. You can’t control your workmate or make them change their personality. But you can continue to work becoming the best possible version of yourself. And remember, sometimes they healthiest choice is to walk away. You can work elsewhere!

Toxic people in the workplace often have severe Empathy Dysfunction (EmD). This is characterized by an “all-about-me” attitude and is manifested in thoughtless, self-absorbed behavior. The result is contemptible harm to those around them. My upcoming book, “When Empathy Fails – How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you,” delves into Empathy Disorders and offers advice on how you can protect yourself from people who can’t or won’t demonstrate empathy. You can read the first chapter here.

Are you in a position of leadership and see signs of toxic behavior in your business? Or are you on the receiving end of this type of demoralizing behavior and want it to stop? Many have found that consulting with a trained therapist and business coach has helped them find positive solutions. Please contact my office in Jantzen Beach to schedule an appointment or take advantage of online therapy.

My New Book Introduces You to the Empathy Scale (EmD Scale)

Monday, February 12, 2018


Over a decade ago, it felt like my life turned into a nightmare of intrigue not unlike a Hollywood crime mystery script. I felt like Julia Roberts in the movie “The Pelican Brief,” wondering how she’d gotten herself into such a mess, being forced to learn on the fly how to protect herself from a group of unscrupulous conspirators.

In my case, it wasn’t a fictional plot. It is a true crime story about a suburban mom in the eye of a perfect storm of greedy neighborhood bullies wrongfully enlisting the aid of pawns — several of them elected — in judicial, legal, and law enforcement systems.

My decade from hell began with a sad, but not uncommon, divorce story. My scorned husband used parental alienation to harm me. His efforts were effective. Neither of my daughters has spoken to me for years. Following the divorce, I was besieged by a host of unethical and absolutely selfish power brokers, who stirred up a hateful and destructive mob.

Sadly, my daughters are also among those who were victimized by the perfect storm of dangerous players in our lives. In turn, my two girls victimized me. That’s why the first chapter of my new book is entitled: “No One Calls Me Mom Anymore.” You can read chapter one for free by downloading a copy here.

For years, I’ve puzzled over what toxic people have in common. It finally occurred to me that all of them have one thing in common: deficiency in empathy to some degree or another. This was my “Eureka” moment! It made everything clear.

Next, I had the revelation that I could categorize empathy dysfunction into various levels of empathy (or non-empathy). My hunches and hard work had begun to take shape and culminated in my designing the Empathy Dysfunction Scale (EmD).

I’ve already introduced you to EmD-5 Radiant Empathy, in an earlier blog post that described it as “the ability to care for the feelings and thoughts of others without any need for reciprocity. It takes a lifetime to develop Radiant Empathy because it’s the combination of a healthy brain and life experience.”

My new book, When Empathy Fails – How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you clearly defines the six levels of empathy, from EmD-0 to EmD-5. (It will soon be available in Kindle and print editions on Amazon. Sign up for my newsletter, so you’re notified right away.)

The most important thing I want you to take away from reading Chapter One “No One Calls MeMom Anymore,” is how to spot people with Empathy Dysfunction, and then stop them dead in their tracks, using the tools that worked for me — before they damage you or your loved ones.

Eventually, I came out on the other side of it all, triumphant and at peace. So can you. Be sure to download your free chapter today. After you read it, please visit my Facebook page and tell me what you think.

“I, Tonya” Reminds Us That We Can’t Afford to Ignore Child Abuse

Wednesday, February 07, 2018


“I, Tonya” Reminds Us – We Can’t Afford to Ignore Child AbuseWhy do people do what they do? What makes them tick? As a psychologist, these are questions I often ponder. An award winning movie I saw recently sparked these questions again. It was “I, Tonya,” a true story of a downtrodden girl and woman who had no idea how to handle abuse and it ended tragically.

If you watched the news in 1994, you couldn’t miss the scandal that rocked the Olympic skating world. You may remember how Tonya Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly hired a friend to crush the knee of her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. Sentiment was pretty hot in Oregon at the time, since Tonya was an Oregonian and the disappointment was fierce. So you might not agree with the way everything is portrayed in this movie.


However, I’m looking at this movie as a reminder to show insight and look beyond behaviors and see why people act as they do.

When children are abused and grow up feeling insecure, unloved and unwanted it will change the way they live. Here’s an excerpt from Tonya’s New York Times interview:

“People don’t understand that what you guys see in the movie is nothing,” she said. “That was the smallest little bits and pieces. I mean, my face was bruised. My face was put through a mirror, not just broken onto it. Through it. I was shot. That was true.” Mr. Gillooly shot at the ground, she said, and it ricocheted onto her face. (He has denied this and other abuse.) She said her mother threw a knife at her. (Her mother has also denied allegations made by Ms. Harding.) But “that’s all true,” she said.

Whether her entire story is true or not, what is true is that child abuse is all too common. According to Child Welfare League of America 2016 Oregon State Fact Sheet during October 2015-September 2016:

  • “76,668 reports of abuse and neglect were received. 
  • 38,086 of these reports were referred for investigation.
  • 37,320 investigations were completed, which includes reports that were referred in the previous year.
  • Of all completed investigations, 7,677 were founded for abuse or neglect and involved 11,843 victims. 
  • Of all victims, 46.3 percent were younger than 6 years old.
  • Of all types of maltreatment incidences, neglect was the most frequently identified type of maltreatment (42.9 percent), followed by threat of harm (40.7 percent).”

I’m not advocating that victims of abuse should be excused from their bad or criminal behavior. However, if we want to stop the behavior, we must break the cycle of abuse. If we see evidence of abuse we must speak up.

In January, we saw the shocking account of the Californian couple who beat, shackled and severely malnourished their children to the point that the 29-year-old daughter weighs just 82 pounds. When asked, neighbors reported that they thought something odd was going on, but they did nothing about it.

A man who attended third grade with one of the girls wrote on Facebook: “I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. Of course, none of us are responsible for the events that ensued, but you can’t help but feel rotten when the classmate your peers made fun of for ‘smelling like poop’ quite literally had to sit in her own waste because she was chained to her bed, It is nothing but sobering to know that the person who sat across from you at the lunch table went home to squalor and filth while you went home to a warm meal and a bedtime story.”

Rather than passing judgment on people you meet, take the time to get to know them better and gain insight into why they behave as they do. It may be the first time anyone has every bothered, and your kindness could be a turning point for the better. In fact stepping up to confront child abuse isn’t always so difficult, even though it requires courage. Don’t blame; offer help.

It sickens me when the ones who are out to get you are the ones who should care the most about you. That’s one of the reasons I wrote my book, When Empathy Fails – How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you. The first chapter, “No One Calls Me Mom Anymore” is now available for free download. After you read it, I’d love it if you’d visit my Facebook page and tell me what you think.

Choose Your Empathy Perspective Wisely – It’s the Difference Between Mental Health and Anguish

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Empathy is what binds all humans. It’s in the act of relating and connecting to others that we become more human and develop our identity within the human family.

On the other hand, Empathy Dysfunction can divide us from that human family. Attempting to engage with someone with Empathy Dysfunction can leave us feeling unheard and unimportant. This disconnect brings us down emotionally and creates chaos in our lives in no time flat!

Empathy is multidimensional – it’s a dynamic, evolving process, not a human trait. From empathy comes the ability to hold dear the feelings and thoughts of others. And if your empathy skills are highly-evolved you won’t confuse the psychological boundaries. You won’t be taking responsibility for another person’s intentions or feelings. This distinction is critical. Empathy is respectfully allowing the other person to take responsibility for his or her own life. (In AA or other 12-step programs, the ability to do this is called detachment.)

Because most people register EmD-4 on the scale, (more about the Empathy Dysfunction Scale in an upcoming blog post) they can often confuse these boundaries and take on too much for themselves. They energetically internalize the feelings and pain of others — and often have trouble distinguishing someone else’s discomfort from our own.

A new study shows that how we arrive at the empathy – our perspective – is as important as being empathetic. Researchers found that there are two routes we take to achieving empathy.

One approach observes and infers how someone feels – the imagine-other perspective-taking (IOPT).
The second approach is putting yourself in someone’s shoes – the imagine-self perspective-taking (ISPT).

How do these empathy perspectives differ?

You can acknowledge another person’s feelings without it affecting you deeply. That’s the IOPT perspective.

The ISPT ups the ante by actually taking on the emotions you see in the other person. They’re sad and you feel sad. The researchers in this study found that:

“When we are feeling threatened or anxious, some peripheral blood vessels constrict, making it harder for the heart to pump blood through the body, and people who engaged in ISPT had greater levels of this threat response compared to people who engaged in IOPT.”

It’s important to learn how to continue to be empathetic without that empathy creating a burden. If you don’t, you’ll burn out or at the least shy away from helping others, because it’s just too painful.

Dr. Poulin, one of the co-authors of the above study, suggests, “Rather than saying to a child, ‘How would you feel if that were done to you?’ maybe we should be saying, ‘Think about how that person is feeling,’”

My new book, When Empathy Fails – How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you sheds a great deal of light on how you can protect yourself and still be a highly empathetic person. My readers get a sneak preview…download a free chapter even before it’s available for sale. After reading it, I’d love to hear feedback over on my Facebook page.



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