THE CHANGE MONSTER

Most of us fear change.  It’s not a great recipe for effective living—since life is always changing.  Why is it that change can feel so threatening?  The basic problem, according to Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, is that somewhere we decided that we are not ok, and we need to find a way to fix that problem.  Our minds then try to get the outside world into a fixed, permanent state that feels safe.  When fear of change arises our tendency is to go into denial of that fear and start reacting to the world.  This puts us into an unconscious, neurotic state of handling life’s challenges.

We tend to want to control the world and build an isolated bunker where we can feel safe:  making money the main goal in life, staying stuck in a “safe” government job, fighting for a bad marriage, believing you are trapped, never leaving your hometown for fear of the unfamiliar, turning down a promotion because you will have to move, eating, drinking, or taking drugs to numb the fear of change.

Still, maybe you do believe you have life safely arranged but regardless of how hard you try, life keeps changing:  your boyfriend wants to move in, the house burns down, the rich spouse gets sick and can’t work, the kids your life revolved around leave for college, someone dies, the business starts to fail, the business succeeds and consumes all your time, the government lays you off, you fall in love with your married coworker, you’re in an addiction from medicating fear, you get promoted and sent to China—life just won’t stand still and let you be.

Singer says that our job is not to make life a predictable, static thing that never changes so we can feel ok.  He recommends that with mindfulness training we learn to watch the fear, allow it to move through our hearts, and release it.  This may sound over simplistic but see if you can experiment with it. The next time you are in a state of fear around change start focusing on your breathing, allow the fear to come up, see if you can watch it without any attempt to move away.  You may find that the fear gets bigger but then actually moves through and dissipates with this simple practice.  After the fear is alleviated your thinking will also be clearer on how to make decisions to handle change most effectively.  Remember, mindfulness needs to be practiced continually to be effective. When change is coming to you the neurotic mind is often looking for a way to take control and build a bunker against it.  You are stronger than that.  Take a breath, watch the change monster rising, stay with it, and see it transformed into a little kitten.

Below Michael Singer talks to Oprah about facing the change monster:

WHERE’S YOUR BLISS?

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”  - Joseph Campbell

We can be talked out of our bliss by a lot of people.  “You’ll never make any money writing.”  “The odds of succeeding as an artist are next to nill.” “We can’t afford college.”  “Being a basketball player is such a long shot.”  “Starting a business is really risky.” “Make sure you are safe.”  “Get a real job.”  “There’s no money in teaching.”

Joseph Campbell was a professor and prolific author most known for his work in comparative mythology. Campbell travelled the world and studied the commonalities in cultural storytelling.   He found that myths across the world have the same basic themes that he coined, “The Hero’s Journey” (see the You Are a Hero post).  This work was also what George Lucas loosely based his Star Wars saga after.  One of Campbell’s most famous ideas was that if you want to find your fulfillment in life,  “Follow your bliss.” He says that the things in life that bring us bliss are also polestars to our authentic life.

Can anyone deny the wisdom of this?  How many people who truly live a fulfilling life don't follow their bliss or passion?  For example:  Obama’s love of politics, a doctor or nurse’s love of medicine, Bill Gate’s love of computers, Ansel Adam’s love of nature and photography, Einstein’s love of science, Frank Lloyd Wright’s love of architecture, Joseph Campbell’s love of myth and teaching, a gardener’s love of horticulture, Albert Cullum’s love of teaching.  Elon Musk’s love of technology in building PayPal, Tesla, and Space X. 

The simplicity of following your bliss brings our thinking from the head to the heart, from fear to love.   We are also invited into a deep level of trust, courage, commitment, and work ethic. We agree to confront all the fear based messages of society that work to keep us pinned down, struggling for money, or fearful of losing it.

I have treated many people suffering from depression and anxiety issues that are largely a result of spending their lives doing things they hated.  They bought the premise that they are trapped, less than, should settle, or otherwise give up on what would actually bring them a sense of joy, purpose, and bliss in life.

One retired man I spoke to said, “I take all these fancy vacations, but the thing that really fulfills me is my work at the animal shelter.”  What is it that will give you flow or bliss in your life?  Is there something nagging at you— a project, book, instrument, business, or passion that is lying in wait for you?  Can you take a step towards it?  It is yours— always has been, always will be. 

Below Joseph Campbell talks to Bill Moyers on “following your bliss.”  Take a listen:

 

SO WHAT DID YOU LEARN?

How you were educated probably had a bigger wallop on your life than you realize.  What was your schooling like?  Were you taught critical thinking?  How to be creative?  How to form a business?  How to communicate?  How to play?  How to learn with joy?  Or were you taught about Jack and Jill running up a hill, a math class in neat boring rows with equally bored teachers, a way to regurgitate facts and then forget them as soon as the test was over, how to pass a fill in the bubble test?

The way you were educated also informed your sense of self-worth, what your possibilities for life were, and your capacity to achieve them.  Many of our school systems are struggling to pass their students through the basic fundamentals.  The failures of the U.S. educational system are now widely documented. 

Some teachers have broken through the fray of mediocrity.  Jamie Escalante of Los Angeles broke through barriers of what poor students in East L.A. could learn.  He taught calculus to kids who were thought to only be capable of math basics.  He was immortalized in the movie Stand and Deliver.   Lean On Me was another movie that told the true story of Joe Clark, an African American principal who overcame great odds in New Jersey to turn around his failing school.

Robert Kiyosaki, of the Rich Dad Poor Dad book series, created the play money board game Cashflow.  His goal is to get the game, which teaches how to invest and grow money, into the public school system.

If you were not seen for your talents, encouraged to pursue them, or given the help you needed and the mentors to guide you, you may have given up on what would bring you the fulfillment you desire.  Have you considered going back to school?  Getting a degree in something you actually care about this time?  Getting your first degree?  Being trained as a firefighter?  Learning how to build a business?  Many universities offer adult extension courses for the public.  They also offer degrees that can be obtained by going to school one weekend a month to accommodate working people.  A friend of mine went back to business school and now leads Omaze (omaze.com), a new kind of for profit business that combines raising money with charitable giving. 

A Touch of Greatness is a wonderful documentary about Albert Cullum of New York who, after being bored himself as an elementary school teacher, decided to start using play as a form of teaching.  His young students were given confidence by being challenged with Shakespeare and other great literature, using play as therapy, and feeling loved in the process.  His students ended up becoming teachers, play writes, business leaders, doctors, historical preservationists—the list goes on.  Did these early experiences in elementary school shape their careers?  His students verdict—absolutely.

Take a look:

 

HELP WITH DEATH

Death is a rough time for all of us.  When a loved one dies there is a lot we go through.  Elizabeth Kubler Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist who, after spending hundreds of hours with dying people, discovered five universal stages of the grieving process. These stages are fluid.  They may seem linear but they can often be overlapping, revisited more than once, or gone through simultaneously. 

Each succeeding stage of grief becomes more dominant over time as we move through the grieving process.  The stages miss Ross detailed in her book, On Death and Dying are:

Denial:  Denial can take different forms.  We can deny our loved one has a terminal illness and cling to the notion that they will get better in the face of obvious deterioration.  Alternatively, once someone has passed, we can go numb and be in denial that the death actually happened.  Denial acts as a kind of shock absorber to our nervous system.  It allows us to approach grief slowly, without becoming disabled by it. 

Anger:  Anger is also experienced in a multitude of ways.  You may be angry with the doctors, God, the addiction that lead to death, even the person who died.  Anger allows us to take a step closer to the loss. 

Bargaining: If the person hasn’t died yet we may make bargains with God that we will change, donate money, change places, or otherwise sacrifice to ward off death.  After someone has passed bargaining involves obsessing on the details of the death.  This could include what lead up to the loss, how it could have happened, what we could have done differently.  This is our mind’s attempt to undo the unacceptable.  Once we realize we cannot undo the death, we move into the next stage of grieving.

Depression: This is where we finally experience the full weight of the loss and realize we cannot change it.  This is not neurotic, clinical depression, but a healthy way of processing the loss.  If we do not allow the depression it can become stuck in our psyche and experienced as ongoing, clinical depression.

Acceptance: Acceptance of death happens after we have fully grieved, cried, yelled, and done whatever we need to fully experience the loss.  Acceptance is the last stage of grieving and is the place we learn to live the “new normal” without our loved one. We may still feel pain when we think of the person, but we will not be disabled by it.  We will have grown stronger and wiser for having gone through the loss.

We can become stuck in unresolved grief if we don't get the help we need.  This takes place when we resist the loss or lack the tools to process our pain.  We may drink, refuse to cry, refuse to talk about it, hold in our anger, act out in an addiction, sink into clinical depression—even become suicidal. 

Rituals are essential ways of getting help grieving deep loss. Rituals are things such as:   going to the funeral or wake, gathering with others who knew the loved one, honoring the loved one’s memory with story telling, writing letters to them, joining a grief support group, seeking a therapist.  All of these rituals and more can serve to help support us through the grief process. 

Rituals can also help us process the loss of pets.  A church in Los Angeles has a “Pet Support Group” for members who have lost an animal family member. 

When helping someone else through grief it is important to be with them and not try to “fix” their feelings.  A priest I heard speak on death noted that he was shocked, when after losing his wife, his friends were consoling him with the same kinds of words he had used for years to help families going through the grieving process. His shock was that the words of comfort his friends offered, while attempting to be consoling, were experienced by him as attempts to shut down his feelings, not support him in going through them.  They were statements like, “It was her time,” “She’s with God now,”  “She’s in a better place,” “She’s out of pain,” or, “This is a blessing in disguise.”  These kinds of statements, while well meaning, don’t create space for the grieving person to experience the loss.  They can be heard as uncomfortable efforts to avoid facing the loss full on.

It could be better to offer statements that allow space for grief such as, “I’m here if you need to talk”, “This must be so hard”,  “It’s so hard to lose her” or,  “Can I do anything or do you just want me to sit with you?”  It can also be helpful to simply cry with the person, hold them, or share in the pain in whatever way they ask you to.

Below “Counseling Carl” details the five stages of grief.  Take a look:  

STOP THAT TRAIN!

Most of your thinking is useless.  That’s just a fact for 99 percent of us (I’m leaving out Eckhart Tolle, the no-thinking rock star).  The mind, as we recently discovered, is a Monkey (see the You Have A Monkey post:  https://www.charlesrosasco.com/blog/2017/6/20/you-have-a-monkey

The unchecked mind is constantly churning out useless tidbits of information that are usually fear based. Have you ever noticed that when a fearful thought starts, it sounds like a train starting its engines—  “Oh, my rent is due.”  Then it picks up slowly—  “Rent comes so fast.  I’ll never get ahead.”  Then it leaves the station— “What am I going to do when I get older?  How will I ever have enough for retirement?”   Its really moving now— “What if I become homeless?  Who will take care of me?  I can’t survive if I’m homeless!”  Now it’s barreling down the tracks—   “This country doesn’t care about me.  Nobody really cares about me!”  That train is really moving and it’s about to crash into a full on panic attack or debilitating depression.  You may even be anxious right now after having read this fictitious dialogue!

But what if you stopped that train the minute you noticed it starting the engines?  What if right after you said to yourself, “Rent comes so fast.  I’ll never get ahead”, you answered yourself with, “Is this useful?”  or, “Is that true?”  These might be considered questions from the “witnessing mind” referred to in mindfulness teachings.  When you find out the anxious thoughts are not useful, or that actually you have gotten ahead in life from when you were in high school or last year, you stop the "thinking train", set a new destination for it, and free up your energy.  Your train’s new journey might be, “What business can I start to make more money?” or, “How can I buy a place and stop paying rent?” or “Isn’t it great that I always have the money for rent?”, or “Is it time to ask for a raise?”   You give the mind train a new assignment, change your destination, and free up energy for action

The fear based train’s “actions” would probably be to “circle the drain” into panic, fear and depression. It’s destination would likely be to keep yourself stagnated, get a drink, or see if Oprah has a new show on. 

Maybe you can start questioning your mind, see if what it is thinking about is useful, and set yourself a new destination.  This is the essence of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)— looking at the unexamined thoughts and behaviors that have been conditioned by the past, changing the thoughts if they are self-destructive, and changing the corresponding behaviors.  Yes, this can seem like a lot of work, but have you ever considered the mountains of work involved in letting unexamined thought trains leave the station, go barreling a hundred miles an hour, and crash your life?

Below the "Mental Health Matters" dude shares his experience with stopping the train: 

MOVE YOUR BODY

Most of us in the west have a sedentary lifestyle.  It’s not a great way to live.  When the body is too still it becomes sluggish and the mind follows suit.  Exercising sounds like a drag to a lot of people.  Isn’t it a little scary that we have come to resent the need to move our bodies?  We have so many creature comforts we somehow think the good life consists of “taking it easy”, “relaxing”, eating, drinking, and “being merry.”  In the U.S. an enormous emphasis on sedentary entertainment is force-fed us every day.  For some people sitting, eating, and watching movies has become a substitute for living an active, adventurous life.

Ever seen those teen movies where the high school jocks are all walking around smiling, in great shape, and getting what they want?  Annoying right?  Yeah, maybe, but there are physiological and psychological reasons that exercise not only helps the body look good, but changes your mind—and your life.  Here are some of them:

1.  Exercising increases deep breathing. This can help balance emotions, detoxify the lymphatic system, assist with digestion by massaging the internal organs and moving waste out of the intestines, and eliminate excess carbon dioxide from the body.   

2.  Exercising is shown to improve blood and lymphatic circulation—reducing toxins and inflammation.  This increased circulation also gets more oxygen and nutrients to cells—keeping them healthier. 

3.  Exercising for the sweat of it.  The skin is said to be the “third kidney.”  It has a major role in detoxification through sweat.  Sweating releases toxins like salts and cholesterol as well as BPA—a modern toxin absorbed through plastics.  Sweating can also help prevent kidney stones.

4.  Get happy.  Stress relief is a well-known benefit of exercise.  The oxygenation of the blood, toxin elimination, and endorphins released during exercise are now well documented to increase mental clarity, increase happiness, and reduce stress. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, exercise is key for treating these issues. 

5.  Discipline is also a benefit of exercise.  As you discipline yourself in exercise you simultaneously train yourself to be self-disciplined about attaining goals in your life. 

Below the Raw Intuition guy guides you through the joys of exercise:

YOU’RE BEST THINKING GOT YOU HERE

Addiction is all throughout our society.  Addictions are essentially impulse disorders. That is, you have an uncomfortable feeling and you reach for something to medicate it with: sex, food, gambling, shopping, drugs, alcohol—even TV, video games, computers, and cell phones.   The problem with addictions is that while you don’t feel the uncomfortable feeling once medicated, the feeling has not gone away. It gets repressed, goes underground, and comes roaring back soon after your medication of choice wears off.  Each time this cycle of medicating feelings gets repeated, your life gets more and more messy.

The definition of an addiction is that it makes your life unmanageable in one or more areas:  You have a deep depression that comes back every time its not medicated—now its becoming suicidal thoughts.  Your relationships are a mess because of the addiction and your spouse has finally filed for divorce. You may experience violence, stealing, disease, legal issues, jail, obesity, debilitating anxiety, crippling debt, pervasive loneliness, extreme attention deficit, stagnation, etc.  It’s often said that the addiction, like a dark personality, has its own agenda—to either make your life miserable and put you in an institution, or kill you.  One sign of addiction is if you reach a state of “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.”

The best known cure for addictions is by far the twelve-step recovery program.  Founded by Bill Wilson and “Dr. Bob”, the twelve-step program was initially designed as a recovery format for alcoholism, that is, Alcoholics Anonymous, or “A.A.”. The twelve-step program has now been adopted for addictions of all kinds.  There is: Sex Addicts Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Smokers Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Clutterers Anonymous, Co-Dependents Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, and the list goes on. There is also a companion program, AL-Anon, for the co-addict—a person in relationship to the addicted person. 

The twelve-steps lead the participant through a process of getting a “sponsor” to walk them through the steps. In this process the addict learns to take accountability for their actions, turn over their will to a self-defined “higher power”, form a community of support, identify “bottom line behaviors” which they must abstain from, attend meetings, and be of service to others.  The process is meant to invoke a “spiritual awakening” in the member that results in sobriety, a more contented and productive life, and a life of service. 

Below are the twelve steps of A.A. Other programs replace the word “alcohol” for any substance or activity of choice that becomes addictive: 

1.    We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

2.   Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3.   Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4.   Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5.   Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6.   Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7.   Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8.   Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9.   Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10.        Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11.Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12.        Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The success of twelve-step recovery is unparalleled in the field of addiction.  If you think your life has become unmanageable you may want to check out a meeting and get a therapist who has experience in addiction treatment.  You can Google your addiction for a list of local meetings—and can even join meetings in phone formats.  If you think you have a problem but believe you know enough to do it on your own even after failing repeatedly, you may want to remember a slogan in the twelve-step program:  “Your best thinking got you here.”

Below “Austin” talks about joining A.A. and working Step 4, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” 

 

MIND YOUR ANXIETY GAP

Anxiety is not always neurotic.  For example, being anxious that walking down that dark alley might not be a safe short cut can be a healthy form of self-protection.  Being anxious that investing in a fund that seems “too good to be true” might protect you from Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme.  When I was in the London subway a message blared out as the train stopped and we were about to step on— “Mind the Gap.”  There was a gap between the platform and the train that you could step into if you weren’t careful.

Still, anxiety can also be neurotically triggered by a lot of non-threatening situations: you’re anxious about money even though you’ve always had enough, you’re anxious you’ll be late to the meeting even though your clock says you’re on time, you’re anxious you’ll be rejected on a date even though you don’t have any idea what this person is about yet or if you want to be with them, etc. 

In these situations we are usually projecting from the past into the future.  We are seeing things that aren’t there based on past conditioning. We might have had to be hyper vigilant as children to feel safe.   Maybe we came from an unpredictable alcoholic family,  maybe we didn't feel accepted socially, we could have been an outcast minority, had a handicap, struggled keeping up in school, etc.  When we go through enough fear based situations growing up we can have a lot of “free floating” anxiety around the challenges of life.  We can remain hyper vigilant around  when there is no need to . While life is always in “the now”, we project our fear based “What ifs” into the future.    What if I don’t have enough money to retire?  What if he rejects me?  What if I end up divorced?  This “What if?” thinking creates a neurotic gap between the present now of life and the future.  That gap is then  filled with free floating anxiety. 

We want to “mind the gap” and close it.  Emotional Freedom Technique is one way to close the gap.  In EFT we tap on meridian points, welcome the anxiety, let it move through us, and then ground ourselves into present time with affirmations.  The first rounds of EFT tapping might have statements like, “I’m so scared,” “I feel lost”, or “All this fear.”  The last rounds would affirm statements such as “I’m safe”, “I have all I need”, “I’m protected.”  EFT helps lower cortisol levels (the anxiety inducing hormone excreted by the amygdala gland) and lets the brain process challenges without undue fear or anxiety.  We can then get clear on the next reasonable action to take in handling a problem.  In short, we mind the gap and close it.

Check out this video by Brad Yates on closing your anxiety gap.

 

YOU HAVE A MONKEY

The phrase “Monkey Mind” refers to the idea that everyone, for some or most of their lives, has a very active mind that is jumping from subject to subject.  This jumping creates undue stress, anxiety, or anger. 

You may be driving down the street thinking, “Tina makes me so angry.  She never shows up for me. Who does she think she is?   Shoot, did I turn off the coffee pot?  I think I did.  What if it burns down the apartment building?  I can’t go back now . . . ugh, I hope work is slow today, I’m so tired.  I bet Tina isn’t at work.  I’m so hungry.  I have to stop and eat.  I’ll be late.  It doesn’t matter.  Wow the car needs a wash and I’m almost out of gas again.   Who has time for car washes?  I bet Tina is home eating donuts and watching The View.  She’s so lazy.  Hey!  Watch where you’re going idiot!” 

Is it any wonder we get stressed?  That is a lot for the mind to process on one drive—and each thought has an associated feeling these thoughts are generating. In the above example most of the associated feelings would be of the fearful, angry, anxious brand.  Who wouldn’t want to take a pill, a drink, or a toke of something after a full day of these Monkey Mind thoughts? . . . Anything to get that Monkey to shut up. 

Meditation is one way to quiet the Monkey Mind.  There are many types of mediations:  using mantra, affirmations, different hand positions, and guided meditations (check out the app Headspace, www.headspace.com).   The simplest meditation is to just pay attention to the breath and watch the Monkey Mind thoughts spin without following them.  This helps you stop getting caught up in the Monkey Mind and realize that there is a separate, witnessing part of your consciousness that remains in stillness.  As the identification with this witnessing consciousness grows, so does your coinciding peace and focus. 

Many people tell me, “I can’t mediate.  My mind is too loud.”  What they are really saying is that they don’t understand what mediation is.  They probably have an idea that meditation is listening to chimes and floating in a peaceful nirvana state on a woodsy mountaintop.   While this may be achievable after years of mediation, the more common version is to just sit, breath, and watch the “ Monkey Mind” jump.

A long time meditator gets better at not getting caught up in their Monkey Mind throughout the day when they are driving, working, or dealing with Tina. They learn to come back to the breath, identify with a still point within themselves, and watch the Monkey jump—and let Tina, well, just be Tina.

Check out the video below for a quick overview of the Monkey Mind meditation:

 

ANGER, JACKALS, AND GIRAFFES

It gets messy when we are out of control with anger.  Anger can have two versions when it gets unmanageable:  rage at others, or self-hatred.  The first is when the anger gets expressed from a self-involved egocentric view of other people. The second, self-hatred, is when the anger is habitually hidden or repressed. 

When we use anger as our main emotional tool we get locked into the primitive brain, or brain stem.  This part of the brain only has two solutions: fight or flight.  While fight can look like rage, flight can look like repression, or self-hatred.  All wars, whether at home or between countries, begin in the primitive brain’s fight or flight response. 

There is nothing wrong with anger.  If we have a long history of intense conflict around anger we can get convinced that the goal is to never feel anger, to be nice—even try for sainthood. This is usually a set up for an eventual rage attack from repressed resentments, or ongoing depression. 

You may also take the position that “I have a right to my anger,” meaning you can explode at others at will because the other person “deserves it,” or because “I’m just being authentic.”  Domestic violence, whether physical or verbal, has its roots in this thinking. 

Anger is a protective emotion.   It is also a secondary emotion—we first feel fear, then anger.  I’m afraid I’m not safe, afraid that I’m not being heard or seen, or afraid that I’m not going to get a need met.  When you feel these fears you then feel anger as a way of defending yourself, getting seen or heard, or making sure a need is met by someone else.

So we need to learn to feel anger, express it, and then move into the vulnerability or fear underneath the anger.  We can learn to use “I statements” and use “non-violent communication.” These tools allow us to talk from a place of mutual respect and asking for what we want.  “I feel angry that you don’t want to hear my side of things.  I would like you to just listen for a moment.  Can you do that?” 

When we move past the anger and into the fear we can then express the unmet need, and the request for change.  In this way anger becomes a starting point for effective communication, not a beginning-middle-and end.

Marshall Rosenberg coined the term “non-violent communication.”  He uses the metaphors of Jackal communication and Giraffe communication. Jackals tend to be demanding and destructive in the way they communicate anger.  Giraffes (the biggest hearted land animals) communicate from a place of authentic love when they are angry. Giraffes ask in the affirmative, make requests, and identify the needs of both people talking. Giraffes are experts at communicating from a place of mutual respect.  Below Mr. Rosenberg demonstrates the different styles of the Jackal and the Giraffe.  Which are you?  Take a look:

ALKALANIZE YOUR MOOD

"My doctor told me I had to stop throwing intimate dinners for four unless there were three other people."   - Orson Wells

The jury is in—having an alkaline diet is good for lots of things, mood included.  When clients come in with depression or anxiety I always ask about diet. It might go something like this:

“What do you need help with?”

“Well I’m depressed and anxious.”

“What’s your diet like?”

“Just normal,  coffee, fruit juice, pop tarts, cereal, eggs, toast, bacon, hamburgers, fries, chips, beer, margaritas, soda, tacos, macaroni and cheese, steak, ice cream, carrots, sometimes salad."

“Do you drink water?” 

“Of course.”

“How much?”

“Umm a couple glasses a day, but I drink a lot of juice and things that have water in them, like coffee.  Does that count?” 

“Err, not really.”  

There might not be much I can do as a therapist to help change this person’s mood until they are willing to first change their diet.  The typical western diet is so acidic that brain chemistry is negatively impacted.  This impact can be so acute that is limits psychological interventions.  

You’ve probably heard that our blood has a “Ph balance”.  What this means is that it has a balance of acid and alkalinity.  For most westerners our blood tends to be highly acidic.  We want the blood to be slightly (not entirely) alkaline.   The acidity detected in most westerner’s blood is due to an overload of processed, sugary, salty, and acidic foods.  Without making a conscious intention to alkalinize our diet we can be “chasing the dragon” with our diet; continually spiking our mood with sugar and caffeine—experiencing a resulting crash and fatigue that needs another spike to get us over the next energy hump.  This has been shown to be not only detrimental to energy levels and mood, it can also be a breeding ground for disease.

Let’s consider our good friend water.  Water is alkaline (it can be made even more alkaline with a home water ionizer) and is an important aspect of healthy neuro-chemistry.  It has been scientifically proven that when the brain is dehydrated it affects the ability of neurotransmitters to their job—resulting in depression and anxiety.  Alcohol, coffee, and other beverages are actually dehydrating even though their main ingredient is water.  As a rule of thumb drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day.  That is, if you weigh 160lbs., drink 80 ounces of water per day. 

So what does an alkaline food diet look like?  In short, eat your veggies and go green.  Eat more green lettuces and herbs, sprouts, tofu, coconut, almonds, olive oil, milk, yogurt, many fruits, sprouted breads, and vegetables.  Cut down on highly acidic foods like meat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, yeast breads, pasta, cheese, tobacco, drugs, crackers, etc.  For a full list of both alkaline and acidic foods check see: https://www.drdavidwilliams.com/acid-forming-and-alkalinizing-foods.

 Remember, we need both acidic and alkaline foods for a good Ph blood balance.  We aren’t “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and cutting out all acidic foods.  You can still have your fun food, just don't make a whole diet out it.  

Tony Robbins goes over the alkaline basics in this video: 

DON'T BE GOOD

“We’re basically nuts.  We’re missing a connection.”

                                                                        - David Mamet

Most of us want to get away from our darkness.  We want to see it “out there,” not in ourselves.  When we are in fear of seeing our own dark side we can get very clear about seeing it in the “other”. We see the terrorist, the ugly politician, the murderer, the wall street crook, the pornographer, the fill in the blank.  We see them and say they are “bad.”   We aren’t them; we are “good.” 

But being good is often a set up for acting badly.  Why is that?  Why does the politically sainted Ronald Regan end up ignoring AIDS, selling arms to Iran (during an arms embargo) to fund the contras, build up the biggest nuclear arms cache in history, and kick the mentally ill into the streets—creating a homeless epidemic that endures to this day? How did good church goers end up burning women in Salem as witches?  How do priests in the business of teaching us how to be good end up as child molesters?  How does the richest nation in the world, the U.S., end up imprisoning more people per capita than any society on earth—2,300,000 and counting? How do slave owners view African Americans as “animals” and end up behaving worse than animals themselves?  How do we start wars like Vietnam and Iraq that end up being widely recognized as “military blunders”?  When Robert McNamara, one of the architects of Vietnam, was asked about how he viewed things after the war ended, he said Vietnam was “probably a mistake.” 

How do all these things occur? Simply speaking, people are trying to be “good.”  When we see the darkness of humanity only in others we tend to start persecuting those “others.”  People get separated into good and bad categories.  The other is of course the “bad one.”

Good old Freud was the first one to see this and coin the term “projection”.   Freud said we humans defend ourselves against our own unconscious dark impulses.   We do this by denying that the dark impulses exist in ourselves and attribute them to others.   Projection incorporates blame shifting. I project what I can’t stand in myself onto you.  “You’re the problem, not me . . . I’m “good.” All prejudices, genocides, and abuses of power have projection of disowned dark impulses at their core.  Projection helps the person projecting justify their heinous actions.  They feel protected psychologically.  They can defend against the inherent guilt or remorse of hurting others by seeing them as “bad”.

Carl Jung, the swiss psychologist, was said to “smile at his own darkness.”  That is, he got the joke—that all of humanity’s darkness lives as potentials in all of us, including himself.  While it’s true that most of us will never kill or rape, it’s also true that we have collectively agreed to enter into unjust wars that we knew would create those exact situations.  Jung was able to see his dark side and make friends with it so that it was not acted out on others.  He then helped others make the same journey.  Until we are able to befriend the darkest impulses of humanity within ourselves we will continue to project it onto others and persecute them either individually or collectively. 

In a sense hate projects while love extends.  Hate has to have a good and bad person.  It splits humanity into categories.  Maybe we can give up trying to be good and attempt instead to be fully human—capable of the all the beauty and ugliness we see in the world, and leaning into the beauty.  Until we stop projecting we can’t truly start loving. 

Mandela, Gandhi, Francis of Assisi, Amma, the Dalai Lama, MLK, Mother Theresa, are examples of fully integrated human beings who were able to extend the love they discovered by owning their own darkness (and of course their light).  They gave up “splitting” and projecting their sense of good and bad.  They stopped making those outside of themselves complete “others.”  They may agree that some people need to be restrained, but not made “bad”.  They saw themselves in the other and crossed over into full self-actualization and true compassion.  With this they were able to keep extending love regardless of the horrible circumstances they encountered.

Below Alan Watts comments on his encounter with Carl Jung and seeing the psychologist “smile at his darkness”  :

 

 

 

DON'T KILL YOURSELF

It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.  Each year approximately 44,193 Americans kill themselves.  For each of these 25 more try to commit suicide but fail.  Spaulding Grey, Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Cheyenne Brando, Alexander McQueen, Sylvia Plath, Don Cornelius, Whitney Huston, and a whole host of others who seemingly “had it all”— did themselves in. 

Certain groups of people are at higher risk for suicide than others.  They are: 

·       American Indians and Alaska Natives

·       People bereaved by suicide

·       People in justice and child welfare settings

·       People who intentionally hurt themselves (non-suicidal self-injury)

·       People who have previously attempted suicide

·       People with medical conditions

·       People with mental and/or substance use disorders

·       People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender

·       Members of the military and veterans

·       Men in midlife and older men

Why do people resort to the ultimate act of giving up?  There are a number of identified reasons. They are:

MENTAL ILLNESS

Major depression is the leading cause of suicide.  90% of people who kill themselves suffer from this crippling mood disorder.

Anxiety:  When anxiety makes it hard to hold down jobs, maintain friendships, or finish school, anxiety can lead to suicide.

Bipolar Disorder:  The fluctuations from mania to depression can make it hard for people to maintain relationships and a balanced life, leading them to make the fatal decision.

Schizophrenia:  Some people suffering from this mental illness can have command, internal voices telling them to kill themselves. 

BULLYING:  By now it is widely documented that, especially in the age of the Internet, bullying can lead to young people tragically ending their own lives.  Those in the LGBT community are especially at risk for bullying. 

DRUG ADDICTION / SUBSTANCE ABUSE:  Whether it’s the resulting depression, or the tendency to overdose, drug abuse has become pandemic in the culture with opioid and heroin addiction leading the charge toward suicide attempts and / or accidents.

UNEMPLOYMENT / FINANCIAL INSECURITY:  I recently saw Bernie Sanders speak in Los Angeles.  He noted that currently the top 1/10th of one percent of the U.S. population now has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent of people in America.  As a result, in rural, impoverished areas only one business is doing well, funeral homes.  There are so many more suicides each year due to economic insecurity morticians are having a hard time keeping up.

SOCIAL ISOLATION / LONELIENESS:  Becoming isolated can lead a person into depression and begin considering suicide.  We are social creatures and our mental health is largely based on being communal with others. 

RELATIONSHIP ISSUES:  People are so in need of relationships they may stay in abusive partnerships, join gangs, or sink into out of control depression when losing a life mate.  Any of these can lead to the terrible choice of ending one’s own life.

GENETICS: Those with a history of suicide in their families have proven to be at higher risk.   You may be wired for the family depression and be more likely to see suicide as an option (just like it was for dad, etc.)

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS:  Ever seen those TV ads that say, “Caution, taking this drug may increase suicidal tendencies” (?)  Whenever taking a prescribed drug (including anti-depressants) be sure to monitor your mood issues associated with it. 

CRYING OUT FOR HELP:  Some people are simply trying to alert others to their need for help.  They typically choose methods they don’t think will end their lives.  This person might swallow a bottle of Tylenol and wake up in the hospital with a severely damaged liver, but otherwise alive. 

THEY MADE A “MISTAKE”: Oxygen deprivation is sometimes used recklessly to enhance sexual excitement—leading to death.

People choose suicide when they feel trapped, hopeless, helpless to change their circumstances, lost in an addiction, isolated, or otherwise out of control. 

To prevent these tragic ends, we need to seek help at the first signs of suicidal ideation.  If you are considering suicide it is virtually always a good idea to consult a doctor and get on medication while also beginning psychotherapy.  If you are at high risk and living alone, a “suicide watch” can be established with a trusted therapist.  Professionals,friends, and family members can be in constant contact through crisis periods. 

Drug and alcohol counseling as well as a twelve-step program could be in order. 

Suicide hotlines (800-854-7771, 211, or 800-273-8255 (TALK )) can be used to de-escalate a situation. If you are at risk it is essential to ask for help and stay out of isolation.  

If someone is threatening suicide, acknowledge the danger and show concern.  LISTEN.  The threat becomes most real when the person has three active elements:  a means or weapon to kill themselves, a plan to kill themselves, and a scheduled time.  This person should be hospitalized until these elements are eliminated.  Most hospitals have a PET (psychiatric evaluation team) that can be sent to a person’s home who is at risk for self-harm.  Also, 911, or the police can intervene. 

Most people who try to kill themselves regret the decision.  Virtually all people who jumped from The Golden Gate Bridge and survived to tell the tale reported that they regretted the decision the moment their feet left the platform.

There are ways to get help, find connection, discover meaning, come to hope, change your problems, and realize the love you give and receive from others. I’ve dealt with many people contemplating suicide. Thankfully they’ve all concluded that it is not the answer.  If its something you have ever thought of just know that its very common to think about it, that you can get help, and that there are people to listen.  We need your gifts.  You might one day be the answer to helping someone else standing on the fatal precipice. 

Below Kevin Briggs talks about his experience as a police officer intervening in suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge:

ARE YOU IN A TRANCE?

Transference is another one of those terms coined by Sigmund Freud that panned out to be true.  It can be defined as the redirection of feelings and desires unconsciously retained from childhood and directed toward a new person in adult life.  Basically what that means is that we go into a trance.  We see something that isn’t there.   We “transfer” our past childhood onto our present adult life.  If violence happened when my parents got angry, I may avoid it at all costs in my adult life.  I may become a “nice guy” who “never gets angry.”  I’m caught in transference. I assume those in my adult life will act “just like” my parents did in my childhood. I internalize anger, avoid confrontation, go passive, sink into depression, become kind of a doormat. 

Another way this transference could get acted out is if I become violent when I’m angry.  I could could see danger where there is none and assume that this is powerful, just like my dad was when he expressed anger.  In that both of these examples are neurotic, I can be sure there is some unresolved issue or transference going on.  I’m in a trance.

Transferences can occur in a vast multitude of ways.  If I grew up poor and felt less than others I may stay poor to be included in the family, or believe that I’m bad at making money “just like my parents.”  I may believe that others will reject me if I make money since my parents believed, "money is the root of all evil."    Alternatively I may assume others will never accept me if I don't make money.  I may become a workaholic and become rich trying to prove my worth.  Howard Hughes, Steve Jobs, and other “great successes” were plagued by deep insecurity.

If a a boy grows up shamed about sexuality  he might transfer that to others in his adult life and assume they will shame him about sex.  He could grow up to be a religious zealot who rails against promiscuity and takes a vow of celibacy. He may try to prove to others that he’s sexually pure by judging others and spouting religious texts.  As a further consequence of his unresolved transference issue he may start secretly seeing prostitutes on the weekends. 

So with Transferences with “transfer” our childhood onto the world we see as adults.  We enter into a kind of trance.  We might transfer "I’m not good enough" to other adults and cut off chances for advances. We could also kill ourselves working andrbecome a billionaire trying to prove that we are good enough.  We might transfer that we are a sinner and work as a criminal or a guilty social worker. If our father cheated on our mother we might transfer that any partner we have is going to cheat on us and endlessly interrogate our lovers’ behaviors. 

The odd thing about these transferences or trances we live is that they do tend to end up becoming our life experiences.   The partner who is interrogated gets so worn out they do cheat on us.  The belief in being less than does leave us in a life of poverty.  The not good enough issue does leave us feeling depressed no matter how much money we make.  The abandonment or trust issue that we push people away with does leave us isolated, driving us to drink or smoke or shoot up—leaving us even more alone.  The judgment on others sexuality ends up becoming our own sexual perversion.

None of our childhoods were perfect.  We all have transferences.  Transferences either get worked out or acted out.   If they are acted out we end up dismayed. “How did I let this happen?  Its like I went into a trance.”  Some people who are in the trance of pursuing money as a life goal to compensate for past trauma find out it doesn’t work in mid life crisis periods.  “How did my life become so meaningless?” 

So how do we work transferences out? In therapy we transfer our neurosis onto the therapeutic relationship.  We might learn to tell the therapist when we are angry with him instead of repressing it or throwing the vase (hopefully!).  We might admit our hopelessness and insecurity and find acceptance from the therapist, opening the door for self-acceptance.  “If he can accept me with all these terrible issues maybe I’m ok.” We might have to risk failure in therapeutic goals and come back to find that we haven’t died, and that the therapist is ok with our failing and encourages we fail all we need to on our way to learning.  We might risk shining in our efforts and find out they we are supported in our strengths, not diminished.  We might learn that we are unconditionally accepted for who we are and even loved by the therapist without having to do anything. 

Once transferences are worked out the trance is broken. We become more alive. We find a new life free from the past.  We may regress into a transference / trance, but now we know the way out.  We can go forward, feeling good about ourselves while we achieve goals.  We are no longer holding ourselves back or trying to compensate for the past.   

Below The School of Life takes a look at the trances we live:  

 

STUCK IN THE DRAMA TRIANGLE?

Many of us don’t do conflict well.  For some conflict becomes downright dramatic.  Karpman’s Drama Triangle is a social model of dysfunctional human conflict coined by Stephen Karpman M.D..  The Drama Triangle depicts three primary roles we occupy when caught in a neurotic, circular form of conflict.  They are: the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Rescuer.

The thinking of each role fuels the others.  The Victim’s thinking is one of hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness, oppression, and shame. They say or think things like, “Poor me”, “Everyone betrays me.”  “I always end up on the short end of the stick.”  “Why does this always happen to me?”  “No one can help me.”  “Why does he always do this to me?”, etc.  A Victim blames the Persecutors in their lives for their problems (while at the same time unconsciously seeking them out). It is the boss, the spouse, the mother in law, the neighbor, etc., that are causing all the Victim’s problems.  They shirk taking responsibility for ongoing patterns of thinking and behaving that leave them feeling and acting like they are Victimized by life.

Every Victim needs a Persecutor.  A Persecutor takes the consistent stance that, “Its all your fault.”  The Persecutor is oppressive, authoritative, rigid, thinks of themselves as superior, controls, blames, and is critical.  They can be verbally and even physically abusive.  They unconsciously seek out Victims to Persecute.  The Persecutor believes themselves to be powerful and beyond reproach. 

Who’s gonna help these two?  The Rescuer comes riding in on a white horse.   Rescuers think they are innocently, and even heroically helping the Victim—but end up enabling them to stay Victims.  The Rescuer needs the Victim to stay a Victim so they can get accolades for Rescuing.  They might keep paying the Victim’s bills instead of challenging them to get a job.  The Rescuer might bail the Victim out of jail repeatedly instead of letting them experience the consequences of their destructive behaviors.   The Rescuer feels noble, important, better than the poor Victim who would die without them.  The Rescuer also gets to feel justified in avoiding their own problems because they are so concerned about the Victim.

It’s interesting to note that, while we adapt habitual, regular roles within the Drama Triangle, we also switch roles inside of it.  For example, a Rescuer might switch to a Persecutor if the Victim is not appreciative. “After all I’ve done for you, you think you can talk to me like that?  You are cut off! Don’t ever talk to me again!”  A Persecutor might move in the Victim position, “Ok, I screamed at you again, but you don’t’ know what a nag you are. I didn’t have a choice.”  A Victim may suddenly become a Persecutor to the Rescuer.  “You didn’t pay my rent? How can you do that to me?  You know my family doesn’t give me anything and you have the money!”   

The Drama Triangle has some fundamental dynamics of manipulation that are unconsciously kept in motion by the players:

1. Players keep responsibility out in space with manipulation; never taking ownership, always blaming.
2. There is a lack of internal conflict within the individual players. Their agenda becomes about creating conflict with others.
3. The players lack empathy.  They are self-absorbed in their role.
4. Patterns of the triangle prevent any real problem solving because the drama becomes the goal.
5. Maintaining bad boundaries is essential to the identity of the players in the Drama Triangle.
6. The Drama Triangle provides identity and fills emptiness. People can jump around in all three roles to keep the Drama dynamics in play.

So how do we break out of these patterns of relating?  While this blog is too brief to go into all the ways the codependent cycle of the Drama Triangle can heal, there are basic ways to break out of each role.

 The Victim can learn to take responsibility and stop looking for others to Rescue them.  They must learn to deal with their own problems, seeking support to address their problems, but not looking to get rescued.  They can learn about the pay offs they get from playing Victim and become willing to give them up.  They may need to do trauma recovery work that keeps their thinking and behavior locked in “learned helplessness.”  (see the You Are Not Helpless post)  The Victim needs to learn boundary setting with Persecutors to avoid being abused and boundaries with Rescuers to stop being rescued. 

A Persecutor can do anger management work. They need to work out unconscious shame that is avoided by going into anger and control.  A Persecutor can benefit from learning how to be vulnerable, negotiate others needs with theirs, and see others as fully human—not objects to meet their needs.  They must replace the benefit of control over others with the benefit of true intimacy with others.  A Persecutor can learn the difference between a rigid emotional “wall” and a boundary. 

A Rescuer’s work is to focus on themselves.  They need to give up Rescuing as a way of feeling important or needed. They may need to heal a deep sense of inadequacy that is compensated for with Rescuing.  They can learn to tolerate guilt that arises from not Rescuing.  Al-Anon is a program the Rescuer can join if they are Rescuing an addict.  A Rescuer may need to learn “tough love.”  That is, they may need to redefine their understanding of love that means letting others grow up, become adults, suffer consequences, and take responsibility for themselves. A Rescuer can learn to redirect their focus to their own career, relationships, money, self-care, etc.

There are many ways the Drama Triangle can be acted out.  Jeff Gazley explains one possibility below:

 

 

YOU CAN BE MORE THAN LESS MISERABLE

There’s an acronym for the word “fine” that is thrown around a lot in mental health circles.  I heard this acronym loud and clear at a wedding I attended.  At the wedding I encountered a friend I hadn’t seen in years.  She had wanted to marry the groom and had even once proposed to him.  After his refusal they remained friends and she had come to the wedding as a guest.  She had a painful, frozen smile on her face.  When I asked her how she was doing she said, “Fine, I’m fine.  We’re all fine, just fine.” I heard that unmistakable acronym in her reply, “I’m fine”—“F****d up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional”.

We have a lot invested in our society in the presentation of looking “fine” to others.   We want to be seen as ok, even if we are miserable inside.  Buddha let the cat out of the bag a long time ago with his one liner, “Life is suffering.”  (until you wake up).   Scott Peck revitalized this slogan in his one liner, “Life is difficult.” (but it stops being difficult when you fully accept this truth). 

Maybe its time to go beyond being “fine."  Let’s talk about happiness.  Happiness, as it turns out, takes work.  It’s hardly a given for most of us.  We spend a lot of time buying the lie that happiness lies in the common recipe of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.  With food, alcohol, TV, computers, drugs, sex, vacations, lying on beaches, margaritas, infotainment, money, football games, Facebook, Instagram, and countless other distractions—many people are on an endless loop of fruitless activities that focus on short term highs— but never achieving happiness. On this loop we usually wind up telling others that we’re, well,  “fine.”

Positive Psychology is a theory that was developed to study happiness.  The originators wanted to break out of the disease model favored by most psychological theories.  The authors of Positive Psychology felt that the disease models of mental health treatment that were focused on what was “wrong with us” ended up falling short.   Its not that the disease models were completely off, it was just that the end results of treatment were hardly stellar.  More often than not the treatment coming from these theories just helped people be “a little less miserable.” We might do ten years of psychoanalysis and end up feeling a little more “fine.”  Positive Psychology examined what actually makes people happy by studying vast cross sections of people across the world.

After years of research the result of the exhaustive study came in . . . money buys happiness.  (just kidding)   The thing most people associate to this day with happiness, having more money, was shown to have little effect on happiness after a basic level of survival and freedom were achieved.  While poor people did show a greater level of unhappiness than middle class or wealthy people, the study found that once people didn’t have to worry about money, making more of it didn’t increase happiness levels at all.  As one wealthy man I knew said, “Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it helps.” 

In fact researchers found a phenomenon they coined “the hedonic treadmill”.  The hedonic treadmill is the discovery that when people base their happiness on money they will always reach a frustrated saturation point with the amount of money they have and the amount of material goods they own.  They will then believe that having more money is the answer—thus they are on a never-ending treadmill leading nowhere.  Even lottery winners were found to have an initial spike in happiness that only lasted for roughly three months.  They then reset to their normal emotional state before the big win.

Positive Psychology researchers found some fundamental aspects to what accounted for human happiness and coined the word PERMA to describe their findings.  PERMA is broken down into these categories:

P:  Positive Emotion.  We need positive emotion to feel good.  We are not talking here about bodily pleasure associated with sleeping, eating, drinking, etc.  Positive emotion is generated in creativity, being intellectually challenged and standing up to it, remembering pleasant experiences, playing in the snow, etc. Positive Emotions are the basic building blocks of happiness. 

E:   Engagement.  This is being completely absorbed in an activity. That is, entering a state of flow or bliss where we lose time.  We are composing, gardening, wood working, working on a computer program we find fascinating, serving others, we are “in the zone” playing sports, etc.

R:  Relationships.  We are social animals.  We need deep, close, loving relationships to achieve happiness.  This is more than just having people around us.  We can be alone in a crowd.  We must have people who we know and who know us on a deep level.  People we can trust, be intimate with, share, and count on. 

M:  Meaning.  We need to be part of something larger than ourselves.  Positive Psychology is not so much about what make individuals happy  (this is more akin to the kind of thinking that leads to attempts at finding happiness through material wealth).  Meaning is about relationships and finding happiness in contribution to society.  From a Positive Psychology viewpoint happiness is social. How is my life serving the greater good?

A:  Accomplishment.  Human beings seek competence, achievement and mastery as a way of experiencing well-being and happiness.  Even small goals like reading for half an hour a day can improve self-esteem.  Larger goal accomplishments are obviously also important—getting that job, writing the book, setting up a garden, having a child, etc. 

Using PERMA can give you direction in cultivating happiness on a daily basis.   We do this by focusing on combining the basic building blocks:  positive emotions as a result of engaging activity, nurturing intimate relationships, meaningful goals that serve society, and achieving accomplishments. 

Below Martin Seligman gives his TED talk on Positive Psychology:                                                                     

MOVIE THERAPY

Movies can help us work through shame.  Shame is a deep thing.   When we internalize rejection, abuse, or neglect, we end up with toxic, shame based beliefs. Shame can bind us in deep seeded negative beliefs about our worth, sexuality, money, career, value in relationships, and just about anything else we deal with in life.  Shame is at the root of most addictions, clinical depressions and anxiety disorders. 

Toxic shame leads us to have a “shame based identity”.  This identity doesn't say that what we did was bad, it says that we "are bad."  It can be so painful that we develop defenses or a “false self” to cope with it.  All addicts are shame based—using their addiction to medicate self-hatred and hide from being vulnerable to others.  Many passive people have shame-based identities.  They hide from the world, secretly thinking of themselves as “losers.”  The people who crashed the economy in 2008 were shame based—knowingly sacrificing the health of the economy from a greedy, shame based identity that abuses money to make up for feeling small or less than. 

So what’s all this have to do with movies?  Movie Therapy is simply the act or using movies to alleviate shame, normalize our pain, know we are not alone, break through defenses, cry, laugh, help process, and create psychological distance between who I am and the pain I’m experiencing. 

Laughter can create this distance and enhance our sense of well being. Laughter decreases stress and has even been proven to enhance the immune system.  When we don’t take life too seriously we can lighten up enough to have the clarity we need for right decision making.  Shame walks hand in hand with over personalizing and heavy self-judgment.  Laughter can release us from these heavy “shame binds.”  Recommendations:  Office Space, Yes Man, Swingers, Annie Hall, The Birdcage, Monty Python and The Holy Grail, What About Bob, Analyze This, Trick.

Many people, especially men, carry shame around crying.  They see crying as weak, or being out of control.  Crying is often the healthiest thing we can do to process and release pain.  I’ve had many people tell me the only place they cry is at the movies. Researchers have found two important neurotransmitters in tears that release emotional stress (leucine-enkephaline, and prolactin—which is released form the pituitary).  Who doesn’t feel better after a good cry?  Recommendations:  The Color Purple, Bridges of Madison County, Rudy, Terms of Endearment, Finding Neverland.

Normalizing pain is central to working through shame.  Feeling alone in our pain compounds it on every level.  Almost all movies we relate to help us normalize our struggles. In the wonderful movie, Ordinary People, the title says it all. The film tells the story of a pretty on the outside, suburban family, struggling tragically with their pain behind closed doors.  The film helped people from all walks of life see their family dramas as more “Ordinary”, easing the associated shame that kept them in hiding.

Hopelessness and helplessness are two key factors in clinical depression.  Overcoming obstacles and gaining hope is a theme of many movies.  In identifying with characters that are hopeless, and watching them overcome their struggles, a viewer can gain optimism for their ability to work through life challenges.  Recommendations:   Castaway, Apollo 13, Chocolat, Rocky, Invincible, Miracle, The Shawshank Redemption, Billy Elliot, Philomena, Harold and Maude, Wild. 

To be fair, many films do more harm than good and should likely be avoided for mental health reasons. The Exorcist had audience members throwing up, feeling paranoid, and experiencing nightmares as a result of watching the satanic flick.  Movie are also not a mental health panacea.  They don't cure us. They are often wildly over valued for their capacity for change and for their importance in an entertainment addicted society.  Still, they can be a useful psychological tool when related to in a conscious way. 

In their best sense, movies are the myths of today.  They are our version of the mythological stories told around tribal fires.  They help us relate to each other, and give us something to reference in our communication.  “It was like in that movie...”  Some films describe the struggles we all face on “The Hero’s Journey”, as depicted by Joseph Campbell. (see the You Are A Hero, and, You Are in Star Wars blogs). 

In depth psychology films are a tool to open up communication between a person’s unconscious and conscious minds.  This  happens when a viewer watches a movie character struggling with the disowned, repressed “shadow material” of the viewer.  For instance, a depressed single parent who denies the rage they feel about the demands of raising a child on their own might address the anger more directly after viewing The Goodbye Girl, Paper Moon, or Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

What movies have helped you break out of isolation, open up communication, feel less alone, and given you hope?  In this Bridesmaids scene Annie learns that self-pity is the road to hell, that courage is the way out, and that she has a friend.  Enjoy:

 

 

THE SOUND OF MUSIC

The idea that music heals can sound like a nicety reserved for flowery Hallmark cards and sugary sweet holidays.  Mozart, The Beatles, Dylan, Beethoven, Miles Davis, Florence Welch, Tupac, Maria Callas, Ray Charles, Bassnectar, Stevie Wonder, and Alanis Morrisette might have a different idea about the healing power of music— so do music therapists.

Formal music therapy began with a few generous souls looking to help veterans. After World Wars I and II musicians began going into veteran hospitals to play for soldiers suffering from the mental and physical ravages of war.  The patients' marked improvement physically and mentally lead hospitals to start requesting musicians to come in regularly.  However, it was soon understood that musicians needed formal training for interacting with the vets.  In 1944 the first music therapy degree program was started at Michigan State University (my alma mater!)

Music therapy has come a long way.  A certified music therapist now assesses emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills through musical responses.  The therapist will design music sessions for individuals and groups based on client needs. The therapist uses music improvisation, receptive music listening, song writing, lyric discussion, music and imagery, music performance, and learning through music. While traditional therapy uses talk to achieve therapeutic goals, a music therapist utilizes music to achieve therapeutic goals—not musical goals. 

Consider all the ways the brain has to work to translate music:  it must register melody, rhythm, words, harmony, tempo, timbre, dynamics, and form. Further, the brain is involved in memory, emotion, participation type (active or passive), and familiarity.   The brain is processing all of these things at once.

As a result, music can be used to aid a patient’s recovery in multiple ways.  A stroke victim might be taught to use rhythmic auditory stimulation to help them walk.  The patient follows a beat, which their brain will then entrain and teach their feet to follow—that is, walk properly.  Music is also used to facilitate communication with autistic children.  The lyrics of songs can be utilized to help psychiatric patients understand coping skills.  Music therapy is used for stress reduction via music making such as in drumming, singing, etc.  Stress is also relieved with passive listening.

Music can ease loneliness— letting us know that others suffer the same pain we do. It can serve as a form of motivation, an expression of repressed anger, a way to form social bonds, and help us experience love.  Music can be used to alleviate depression, soothe anxiety, and, for some, access the spiritual dimension of life. 

The soulfulness of rhythm and blues started in church with gospel music. Gospel was a way for the African American community to come together, heal from the oppression of racism, and express their love of God.

In the inner city rap music serves as a platform to speak out against the oppressive forces of poverty. While much of the music has been criticized as violent, misogynistic, and homophobic, rap has also served to join communities, uplift people, and give individuals a passionate career. 

By now the 60’s music of Woodstock has long been understood as a way the Vietnam War was protested and people came together to heal.

Kirtan music is played to express spiritual ideals. It is often performed in a call and response form with the audience to elicit states of deep meditation, joining, and ecstasy. 

Drumming circles are used to ground people and release anxiety.  They were commonly utilized by tribes to counter the tension of the full moon.  A full moon not only pulls on the tides of the oceans, it  pulls on the water in our bodies—triggering glands and emotions, bringing out the “werewolf” in people. Police forces have long put more cops on the beat during the full moon.

I’ve heard many people repeat the phrase, “Music saved my life.” How do you access music to balance emotions and heal your life?

Below a high priestess musician, Florence Welch, of Florence & The Machine, tends to a patient in the first video and leads a crowd in a rain dance in the second.  She tells them both  that its ok to let go of pain, rejoice, and proclaim, The Dog Days Are Over. I dare you not to be healed, just a little:    

 

PUPPY LOVE

They’ve been called angels who’ve come down to Earth to help us, best friends, seeing eyes, family members—even a reason to live. For those who have pets the love and companionship they supply is something few can deny.  

Interacting with, petting, and caring for animals has been shown to release oxytocin in the bloodstream, the feel good hormone.  Pets have been said to absorb and disperse negativity in a person's environment.  Can anyone argue that they haven’t felt better after hugging their dog or cat?  A friend who got a dog right after a terrible break up said, “Its weird.  I’m trying to be sad about losing the relationship but this dog is so happy I can’t feel sorry for myself.” 

Animals are being used more often as agents of emotional and psychological healing.  It’s not just that they can be good at cuddling— they are good at helping us heal our minds.  Today a “support animal” is common.  Animals are registered to go with those suffering from trauma into public spaces to provide an “attachment object”—a being we are attached to that provides a sense of safety and security. 

By now most of us have seen the plethora of Youtube videos made by military personnel who bonded with a dog in war torn areas. The relationship with the dogs help soldiers cope with the horrors of war. Many of these bonds are so strong that soldiers find ways to bring their dogs back to the states.  Dogs are also being used to treat military veterans for PTSD, panic attacks, depression, and loneliness after wars.  As one troubled solider said after getting a therapy dog, "I wouldn't be here without my dog."  

Dogs and cats are the obviously the most popular candidates, but many animals can provide this sense of well-being to their owners.  One friend I have says that reptiles are his passion.  “I forget all my problems when I’m with them.”  He has snakes, lizards and other reptiles in his home.   He goes out to the desert regularly to find his scaly friends under rocks and in hidden nooks.

I even had a roommate who fawned over his pet goldfish, “Pat.”  (Try to stay with me here).  Pat would come to the side of the tank and stare at my roommate when he got home.  It was, well, a little weird.  The day Pat died I was taken aback.  I thought my roommate had always sort of faked his loving attachment to the tiny fish as a kind of joke.  It wasn’t.  He was visibly shaken by the loss. 

In twelve step recovery the recommendation for healing relationship issues is to first get a plant.  If the plant doesn’t die the addict can get a pet.  If they can handle having a pet, they can then consider dating. 

Equine Assisted Psychotherapy is a form of therapy utilizing horses.  “Therapeutic Riding” is used to mentally and physically stimulate disabled persons and help them improve their lives through increased balance and coordination, raising self-confidence, and a greater feeling of freedom and independence.  

Using dogs in clinical settings has been shown to reduce stress, increase rapport, help clients  become more cognizant of emotional reactions, and support resiliency in individual and group sessions. Counselors who specialize in working with children or individuals with disabilities find that dogs can be used in building rapport, working on specific goals, physical skills, and social interactions.  People who feel ostracized due to sexual preferences, religious or ethnic prejudices, etc., often find dogs to be a form of love, attention, and acceptance that is not widely available to them.

The elderly are often subject to isolation, depression, anxiety, and loss of purpose in our culture.  Dogs and cats brought into nursing homes have been shown to lower blood pressure, alleviate depression and anxiety, increase socialization, and give elderly people a sense of meaning in caring for the animals.  Kittens in need of care have been brought into the Catalina Springs Memory Care facility for elderly people with dementia. Caring for the kittens has helped patients improve their memory, uplift their mood, and give them a sense of purpose.  One man, who rarely interacted or left his room, now feeds and cares for the kittens.  He then puts one under each arm and says, "Its time for a walk."  

Pets are also used in hospitals by trained personnel to combat fatigue, isolation, and depression.  Hospitals are now allowing a patient’s pet from home to visit as a way of increasing their morale. 

Author Eckhart Tolle says that when a pet looks at you it is not thinking.  It is completely accepting. This acceptance allows you to access the deepest part of you—which is a place of love and joy normally covered over by the negative thinking of the mind. 

Some people  have closer relationships with their pets than with other humans.  I’ve heard people say that when their dog died they grieved more than when some family members had passed away.  The “queen of mean,” Leona Helmsley, famously left her beloved dog “Trouble” twelve million dollars.  Apparently the dog provided a form of love Miss Helmsley could only get from the four-legged friend. 

How is your animal love these days?  If you don’t want to own pets, there are ways to foster animals looking for a home, volunteer with pets, and make animals a part of your mental / emotional well being.

I recently saw a bumper sticker for a pet rescue center.  The sticker was of a paw.  On the paw it said, "Who Rescues Who?"

Below, some military personnel get a helping paw:  

 

THE TRIBAL ANTI-DEPRESSION RECIPE

Depression has become pandemic in the modern industrial age. We often experience the competition, income disparity, fast food laden, sedentary, screen addicted, and isolated lifestyle of our “advanced culture” as a real drag.  This lifestyle has put our brains into a “runaway stress response.”  Our brains can easily get over activated into a flight or attack response in every day life.  This stress can actually change the brain physically and make it prone to depression. 

Even with the incredible plethora of anti-depressant drugs, depression in the U.S. has escalated three hundred percent over recent years.  It is the leading mood disorder people seek treatment for and is the driver of over a million suicides each year.

Let’s pause for a second.  We are talking here about clinical depression; that is, chronic depression that leads to ongoing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and even suicidal ideation or behaviors.  We are not talking about the healthy aspect of depression—the kind that is part of grieving a death, or a depression that is experienced at the end of a significant relationship, depression over political moves that throw millions into financial or health care insecurity, or depression that many felt at the beginning of the Iraq war.  Depression around these kinds of things can be thought of as a sign of mental health, not mental illness.  Depression can be a way of letting go, or of feeling the pain of others. 

Some call neurotic, clinical depression a “disease of civilization.”  Recent research has found that many indigenous tribal cultures have almost non-existent depression.  Though they deal with many difficult life circumstances, they don’t suffer from this crippling mood disorder.  What’s up with that?

Researchers at the University of Kansas determined six major lifestyle differences from tribal people and those of us living in the modern world.  They termed this study TLC, or Therapeutic Life Change. 

Here they are:

Exercise: Tribes don’t exercise.  They live.  Their daily activities provide all the movement their body requires.  We are so sedentary in our modern lives we need to “exercise.”  Getting up and moving is something we have to think about and will ourselves to do— its not built into our lifestyle.  Even thirty minutes of brisk walking three times a week can make a change in brain chemistry where depression is concerned.  Exercise is medicine for your brain— increasing dopamine and serotonin, mental alertness, and circulation. 

Diet:  The brain is made up mostly of fats.  The fats in tribal diet include a balanced amount of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats with a 1 to 1 ratio. Most of our fats in modern life are Omega 6 fats which are inflammatory to the brain.  An inflamed brain is a depressed brain. Often our modern diets are at a 17 to 1 ratio of Omega 6’s to Omega 3 fatty acids.  Cutting down on Omega 6’s and taking Omega 3 supplements can be a step toward balancing brain chemistry, decreasing inflammation, and improving your mood.

Social Connection:  Per the previous post (see The Roseto Lesson), connecting to others in real time is essential to mental health.  Modern culture can be extremely isolating with people living alone, spending an inordinate amount of time in the “steel coffin” commuting to work, looking at screens, etc.  Tribes live in continual community, connection, and intimacy with one another.  I once talked to a depressed woman who lived in an extraordinarily beautiful home.  She said, “When I moved away from my friends to this house I learned that you can be in the most beautiful place in the world and it means nothing without your friends.” 

Sunlight:  Seasonal depression is now well documented.  When the sun goes away more people get depressed.  Your brain needs sun exposure.  Tribal members spend most of their time outdoors.  We don’t.  With modern housing and office buildings we can spend a huge amount of time indoors.  Normal indoor light does not provide the brain’s need for light exposure.  Regular, daily sun exposure for 30 minutes has been shown to have a significant impact on elevating mood.  For those in cloudy climates a light box (available on Amazon) with a 10,000-lux light rating can be used as a substitute.

Sleep Hygiene:  When you are living outdoors as a tribe member your brain knows when the sun goes down and its time for bed.  Deep REM sleep is essential for your mood. With the advent of modern lighting and electronics, the modern brain does not know when the sun has gone down and its time to start excreting melatonin to prepare for sleep. To remedy this, turn down overhead lighting an hour before bed, get electronics out of the bedroom and shut down an hour before bed, keep the bed only for sleep and sex so your brain associates it with relaxation, and stay away from working night shifts.  Also, try to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time each day. 

Anti-rumination skills:  Tribe members have little time to ruminate on negative thoughts.  There are things to do, plants to harvest, hunts to go on, water to bring, people to constantly interact with.  In modern society we are often left to alone to ruminate for hours on negative thoughts that spiral out of control.  Interrupting rumination is crucial to avoiding depression.  Writing in a diary can be a basic skill in moving past negative thoughts.  Tapping, Self-Compassion, and Inner child work can also be ways of breaking rumination (see previous posts: Tap Out Your Depression, Have Compassion for Yourself, and You Have a Child).  Shared activity, exercise, or “engaging solo activity” like art and music can be effective ways of breaking rumination.  If nothing else, change your scenery.  Getting into nature can easily break negative thinking. There is actually bacteria present in nature that when inhaled improves the brain’s ability to produce dopamine. 

For more on Therapeutic Lifestyle Change, visit

http://tlc.ku.edu

And check out this TED talk on TLC :