The Best of 2017

And Coping Skills for Troubled Times

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

The following is a personal and idiosyncratic review of 2017 highlights by the author. A mental health perspective on the best of 2017 is provided. The underlying premise is that the year 2017 was so disturbing it required a superior level of coping skills.

Does it seem like 2017 was one of the most negative years on record? If you’re like me, you’re happy to see the past year vanish into the haze. I don’t think a day went by without vicious, spiteful political drama, lies and distortions, traumatic mass shootings, terrorism around the globe, hurricanes, fires or other devastating effects of climate change, and disturbing reports of sexual harassment and assault. Given the way 2017 is ending, it looks like we’ll need exceptional coping skills in 2018 as well.

And There Was Good News in 2017

Looking back at 2017, there was actually some good news. Those of us in the mental health profession have learned that gratitude is one of the most important ingredients of a happy life. Effective coping skills include a daily gratitude practice, and a mindful appreciation of the positives in life. When I look back on 2017, it’s surprising how much there is to be grateful for – everything from world events, to positive social movements, and popular culture.

Here are my top picks for the Very Best of 2017:

Politics and Social Movements

· Women’s Empowerment – Time magazine named “The Silence Breakers” their Person of the Year for 2017. In this age of inflamed patriarchy (see next bullet, below), it was remarkable that women’s voices and influence would intensify. Beginning early in 2017, huge numbers of women marched and lobbied for their civil rights, safety, health, diversity and inclusion. And by the end of 2017, large numbers of women, including famous celebrities and other courageous women from all walks of life, spoke out against sexual harassment and assault. Social media became a driving force in the #MeToo movement (it has now been used millions of times across 85 countries). We know that one of our most important coping skills is to speak out. Asserting ourselves in an emotionally intelligent manner – speaking truth to power, or in any distressed relationship – is a hallmark of good mental health.

· Patriarchy – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Our society has always been patriarchal – male dominated and controlled. The year 2017 began the way 2016 ended: The ugly, destructive forces of patriarchy in our society erupted with abuse and violence. After 8 years of a progressive Obama administration, angry white men fought back like never before. Racist, sexist, anti-humanist comments were made at the highest levels of government and politics, and at the lowest levels in our communities (such as the Charlottesville white supremacists). The good news includes emerging voices of reason, temperance and humanism. A personal favorite is Terrence Real, author of I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, and How Can I Get Through to You? Terry is a practicing marriage and family therapist, and he’s been featured on all of the major news networks, The Oprah Winfrey Show, in The New York Times, Esquire, and many other publications. Terry explains that patriarchy is based in a fundamental contempt toward women. Many, perhaps a majority of men feel they are entitled to be in charge – and that they are above the system (better than, and in charge of the world).

Another hallmark of patriarchy is traditional gender roles, which are destructive to relationships – the numbers prove that they produce the least happy marriages. And the traditional male code is clearly unhealthy for men, who live 7-10 years less than women (and they drink more, take more drugs, commit more crimes, and are 5 times more likely to suicide). Terry correctly recognizes that equality in all of our relationships is the only mentally and relationally healthy answer to many of our problems. We can be grateful that so many women, and a small number of men, are speaking out against the destructive forces of patriarchy in our society.

· The Environment – Important progress was made throughout Europe, China and other countries in addressing the climate change crisis. For example, France, the U.K., China and Germany are in the process of completely banning the sale of gas and diesel vehicles, and accelerating the transition to electric cars and trucks. More money than ever before is being invested in developing new sources of energy. Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence also writes about Ecological Intelligence. He argues that the choices we make in what we produce, what we buy, and what we discard can make us sick and destroy us – or we can evolve emotionally and psychologically to make healthier decisions. Retail therapy may not be a great coping skill after all.

· Millennials Get It Right – The newest generation of young adults have been derided for everything from an exaggerated sense of entitlement to their excessive dependency on mobile devices. However, the millennials are getting it right in their politics and in relationships. A clear majority of millennials support diversity and equal rights for all people, a progressive approach to addressing climate change, and many other enlightened humanistic positions. And for the first time in our country, this new generation supports true equality in marriage. It’s quite possible that this will result in a dramatic drop in the divorce rate.

· Other positive developments in 2017 include a strong economy, a more peaceful world (surveys and reports show there is less war and violence throughout the world), and 3 other notable mentions:

1. Robert Mueller – Prosecutor and Special Counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. A life-long Republican with full bipartisan support, and held in very high esteem by many. His integrity and impressive reputation is a breath of fresh air in such a negative political climate.

2. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, became a strong voice for multiculturalism, women’s rights, progressive drug policy reform – and he is raising his children to be feminists.

3. Morning Joe – the political news and opinion show on MSNBC celebrated it’s 10- year anniversary. Joe Scarborough, former Republican Congressman and host of the show along with his new fiancée Mika Brzezinski, have created perhaps the most balanced, intelligent, and incisive political news broadcast in America.

A New Golden Age of Television

I grew up during the first Golden Age of TV – the 1950’s and 1960’s. I loved The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Playhouse 90, and great comedies such as The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, and the Andy Griffith Show. Now we’ve entered into a New Golden Age of TV, spearheaded by streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Binge watching has become a national obsession, and is one of my favorite coping skills. These are just a few of the great shows of 2017, not necessarily in order of preference:

· Stranger Things (Netflix) – This 1980’s throwback has the style and humor of Steven King and the Coen Brothers. I think it’s the “feel good” show of the past 2 years – and scary at the same time. It’s about the power of friendship and love, and fighting against real or metaphorical monsters. And it’s about girl power (with some dorky guy power).

· Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon) – Comedic soap opera set to classical music. One of the most relational shows on TV – it examines a full range of emotional, often whacky relationship dramas with a light and humorous touch. “Crazy” behavior becomes more sane and full of heart and passion than what most people consider “normal.” All set against the most beautiful music in history.

· Sunday Morning (CBS) – After 25 years on the air, Sunday Morning is one of the best “news magazines” on TV. We watch it every week religiously – what a great way to start the day of rest. The very best of culture, history, the arts, and human interest. Almost every episode has a touching story about people who give back, sacrifice and create a better world.

· Big Little Lies (HBO) – One of the most important shows of 2017. A searing, darkly comic, often terrifying portrait of upper-middle class families in America. With a highly relevant and deeply disturbing portrayal of spousal abuse and victim denial. I can’t wait for Season 2.

· Ray Donovan (Showtime) – Probably my favorite drama on TV. The recently completed 5th season was it’s most poignant and distressing. An important portrait of family dysfunction, abuse, alcoholism, and revenge. This 5th season was one of the most gritty and painful stories of loss and grief ever televised – and absolutely brilliant.

· The Leftovers (HBO) – Grief and love as transformative forces for people who faced a level of personal trauma beyond anything imaginable. A creative, amazing depiction of the extreme coping skills needed to survive the emotional turmoil of unimaginable loss.

· Transparent (Amazon) – A dysfunctional family held together (more or less) by their transgender father; now mother. Funny, touching, and some of the most 3-dimensional characters on TV. Bizarre coping skills on full display. So terribly sad and disturbing that Jeffrey Tambor leaves the show due to charges of sexual harassment.

· The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu) – A fundamentalist, patriarchal, totalitarian society that systematically uses and abuses women. Very timely. And very disturbing – but the women are fighting back.

· The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon) – A new comedy about comedy. And about the emerging role of empowered women in mid-century America. Very fun – very funny – even Lenny Bruce makes a comeback! (Love the music.)

· Westworld (HBO) – A thousand times better than the original. Great show for us sci-fi and western freaks. And very cerebral – wonderfully complex themes about the dangers of AI in the hands of humans; the nature of consciousness and free will; the mistreatment of women; and the rebellion against tyranny.

· Godless (Netflix) – Because gods and inner children love a good western. Damn good story about the survival of women abandoned in the Old West. And sometimes the Good Guys actually do win!

· Ozark (Netflix) – The next Breaking Bad. Great story and great acting about family dysfunction, men who self-sabotage, and the healing power of love.

· Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) – Possibly my all time favorite. This show just keeps getting better. Season 6 was the best yet. The power of sisterhood, and the love between sisters. Fighting corrupt systems is worth the risk.

Best Movies of the Year

· The Shape of Water – Best movie of the year. The Creature from the Black Lagoon meets Beauty and the Beast. A story of being different or “incomplete,” social isolation, bigotry and abuse – and transformation through the power of loving connection. Beautiful, sensitive, dramatic, funny, and full of heart and soul.

· Lady Bird – An intelligent, touching story about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. Great portrayal of adolescent anxiety and a “complicated” (possibly character disordered) mother. Mother was brilliantly acted by Laurie Metcalf – one of the most underrated actors of our time. And Saoirse Ronan as the daughter may be an odds-on favorite for best actress of the year.

· Dunkirk & Darkest Hour – Is it an accident that 2017 brought us 2 movies about western civilization fighting to survive the onslaught of extreme patriarchy in the form of Fascism? Both movies are brilliant with different themes and styles. Dunkirk’s point of view is ground level – average but heroic citizens who risk everything to save their country and countrymen. It shows the best of mankind.  In contrast, the perspective of Darkest Hour is from the highest levels of British government and monarchy. Specifically, an intensely personal view of Winston Churchill – his complicated, dark personality, his megalomania and ego-driven need for power and control, and ultimately his struggle through self-doubt, alcoholism and depression. From there he goes on to almost single-handedly save Britain and maybe the rest of world from tyranny. Brilliantly acted by Gary Oldman, who has to be a shoe-in for Best Actor of the year.

· The Big Sick – Another “little movie” with big impact. Wonderful, comedic love story based on a true relationship between a Pakistani comic and an American grad student.

· Wonder Woman – If you’re not a fan of superhero movies or feminism, don’t bother. I’m glad to know there are true wonder women in our world today – thank you Angela Mirkel, Michelle Obama, Melinda Gates, Federica Mogherini, all of the “Silence Breakers,” and my very own wonder woman, my wife Michele.

· Baby Driver – Not on anybody’s list of the best movies of 2017. Great action/crime movie to stream at home. Pure fun and lots of great action scenes. New coping skills for those wanting to leave a life of crime. Wonderful performances by the young getaway driver, Ansel Elgort, and cameos by Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx. And you can’t beat the title song of the same name by Simon & Garfunkel.

· A Dog’s Purpose – Not even on my list of the best movies, but deserving an honorable mention, if only for it’s heart and the love of woof. I cried when I read the book on an airplane, and I cried again with my wife as we watched the movie. Hugo, our French Bulldog, sat upright on the sofa and watched every minute and every dog. If you have a dog, he has to watch this movie. If you don’t have a dog, but your heart is open to the love between 2 animals (human and canine), you have to watch this movie.

My Favorite Books of 2017

These are some books I read in 2017 that I highly recommend (most were not newly published in 2017):

· The New Rules of Marriage – Terrence Real (2008) – Almost everything you want to know about creating peace, love, and partnership in your relationship. One of the most unique and forceful voices in understanding relationships and how to make them work.

· Angry White Men – Michael Kimmel (2013) – The foresight and relevance of this book is phenomenal. An essential sociocultural, psychological and political view of patriarchy today. His description of “aggrieved entitlement” (a term that he coined) by men today is invaluable in understanding so many angry men.

· Raising Cain – Don Kindlon and Michael Thompson (1999) – For all parents of boys, and for anyone who wants to understand what happened to them growing up. Two child psychologists explain why boys (also men) are hurting, depressed, and full of shame. And why they can’t or won’t talk about it. The back cover accurately states that “…the authors shed light on the destructive emotional training our boys receive…” due to the old, traditional male code and impossible, archaic standards of manhood.

· The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog – Bruce Perry, M.D. (2006) – The subtitle of this book says it all: And Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook; What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing. The most beautifully written, compelling and readable book about trauma ever published. Dr. Perry’s deep and empathic reporting sheds new light on childhood abuse, neglect and abandonment. Everybody should read this book.

· Born to Run: Bruce Springsteen – (2016) – Probably my favorite autobiography of all time (of course it helps if you’re a Springsteen fan). I love that Bruce’s writing “voice” and personality sound exactly like his songs. It’s as if he wrote a 500-page song about his life. His open, raw vulnerability is fully expressed in this fascinating book. He holds nothing back in describing the poverty, abuse and abandonment of his childhood and youth, and the resulting depression that haunted him his entire life. His coping skills are inspiring. Throughout the book is a message of hope – he has truly led a life of survival, redemption – and transcendence.

· A Dog’s Purpose – Bruce Cameron (2016) – See Movies, above. I recommend both. Bring Kleenex.

My Favorite Music – 2017

· Billy Joel – New Year’s Eve 2018. Concert in Sunrise Florida. He’s 68 years old and he’s still rockin’ down the house after 50 years as The Piano Man.

· Tom Petty – Best concert of 2017. Period. His 40th anniversary tour. He seemed as young and vital as he did in the 1970’s and 1980’s. We will miss him terribly.

· Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Finally, the Moody Blues made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Better late than never. They will be inducted in 2018, along with other favorites like Nina Simone and Dire Straits. And the 2017 inductees were not too shabby: Electric Light Orchestra, Yes, Joan Baez, Pearl Jam, and Journey. Cleveland, here we come!

All of us here at the Relationship Center of South Florida wish you a healthy and happy New Year in 2018. We hope your 2017 highlights bring you many pleasant memories. For more information about our services, please call us today.