I don’t know the exact day I had this realization. It came at some point after I crossed the 100-day mark of still dealing with COVID-19 symptoms.
I contracted the virus around March 10th, and the symptoms still hang on. A debilitating headache. A stabbing pain between my shoulders that feels like I’m getting jabbed by a hot poker, and never goes away. I have tightness in my chest and coughing that still requires an inhaler to clear. The brain fog, clumsiness, and confusion are so bad that I’m astonished by how much I’ve intellectually regressed. Overwhelming fatigue and nausea come and go, and my voice often sounds like a whisper because I can’t get a strong enough breath to speak louder.
After 100+ days of dealing with these symptoms that come – off and on like waves, lasting and leaving with no pattern – it finally dawned on me that maybe this is my life now. At this point I’m really not sure this is ever going to go away. It just might be my new normal.
This is a far cry from my old normal. I have fibromyalgia, but pre-COVID-19, I was very active. I’m a retired dog trainer, so I’ve always been on the go. I live near a lake and was kayaking sometimes twice a day, going for a 3-mile walk every day, and I took up tap dancing, practicing 45 minutes to an hour a day.
During my illness and now whenever I relapse, all I can do is look at the lake out the window. I haven’t even attempted tap dancing. I know I don’t have the energy for that. Still, I do have days where I feel pretty good. I can go for a walk, cook meals, and do laundry. But then the relapse comes. It always comes. Sometimes it lasts for 1 day or 2, but sometimes as many as 10. When this happens, I’m knocked down, back in bed, needing to sleep, feeling anxious, reaching for my inhaler to help me breathe.
This is better than it was when I first got sick with COVID-19. For that first month, I was sick with all the symptoms you hear about – nausea, chills, headache, loss of taste and smell. For a few days, I couldn’t walk because my whole left side – my leg and arm – were stiff and in terrible pain. I had debilitating fatigue, and at my worst, I couldn’t eat or take deep breaths. Once, I had to call 9-1-1 for oxygen. In time, I did see some improvement, but for me it’s been far from a full recovery.
It hasn’t been a linear journey, either. I have some good days that make me hopeful that I’ve finally kicked this, but then I backslide. There’s no medical explanation for this that we’ve been able to find. Chest x-rays show my lungs are fine. Follow-up COVID tests have been negative, and my oxygen saturation levels continue to register as normal. Doctors are frankly mystified about what’s happening and what to do about it. The only thing it seems I can do is take Tylenol when the headache comes, keep my maintenance and rescue inhalers within reach, and try to mentally adjust to this new reality.
I get very discouraged sometimes thinking – what did I do wrong, why me? But then I think I should just be grateful that I’m still alive. It helps to know I’m not alone (even though that is heartbreaking, too). When I joined a COVID-19 Long Haulers group on Facebook, I was amazed to read post after post that sounded like me. There are currently more than 7,000 people from around the world in this group, and they too are still struggling with a seemingly never-ending list of debilitating symptoms that come and go in waves. Some people are hospitalized during their relapses and have had far more extreme symptoms than me, so I guess I’m lucky, although it doesn’t always feel that way.
For now, I’m trying to focus on what I can control. I signed up to be part of two clinical trials where I log my symptoms every day so researchers can learn from people like me who haven’t gotten better. I try to help others in my Facebook group when they’re struggling with the symptoms they’re still dealing with. For my own mental health, at this point I’ve just decided I have to give up the idea that I’m ever going to fully recover. I’ve got to stop treating it as if I’m going to be back to where I was before because I really don’t know if that will ever happen.
A lot of people get better and that’s wonderful for them. But for some reason, there are thousands of us out there that the virus has grabbed onto and it’s not letting go.
If anyone else out there is dealing with this, I’d say – find yourself a support group because you’ll need it, and it helps – a lot. You need people who understand what you are going through and you may not find that in your family or social circle.
At this point, after experiencing symptoms for nearly 4 months, I’m trying to find the positive life lessons in this for me. I’ve always been a person who likes to go, go, go, and this is forcing me to learn to slow down, take things down a notch, and relax a bit more. I’m learning to really appreciate the good days when they come and pace myself on those days and then rest when the difficult times come.
Kayaking every day may not be in the cards for me anymore, but I can still enjoy the beauty of the lake. The other day I did fish a little bit, and that made me feel better. I’m finding new sources of Zen in quieter activities that bring me joy. I also think I’ll keep telling my story because sadly, I do believe there will continue to be many others like me. And realistically, I’m just not sure that everybody fully recovers from this virus.
Rachel Baum lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, and is currently participating in 2 studies tracking long-term symptoms in patients who had COVID-19. She says she finds great support from a Long Haul COVID-19 Fighters support group on Facebook and is happy that a book she authored in her first career as a librarian – Funeral and Memorial Readings, Poems and Tributes (McFarland, 1999) – is now helping many people who sadly have to bury loved ones from this virus.
Have ADHD? Know someone with ADHD? Want to learn more? You’re in the right place! We post videos with tips, tricks and insights into the ADHD brain. This channel is my ADHD toolbox — a place to keep all the strategies I’ve learned about having and living with ADHD. It’s also grown into an amazing community of brains (and hearts!) who support and help each other. Anyone looking to learn more about ADHD is welcome here!
Here at HowToADHD we aim to provide a safe, respectful, and welcoming community that help each other out. Whether you are a Brain, a Heart, or simply someone curious about ADHD, don’t worry! Everyone is welcome!
Don’t know where to start? Try here!
Some things about ADHD:
ADHD is a common neuro-developmental disorder that is incurable, but highly treatable. ADHD is also one of the most researched mental disorders, and has many available treatments, such as stimulant and non-stimulant medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, ADHD coaching and strategies such as mindfulness meditation and exercise.
It’s also important to remember that ADHD isn’t the same for everyone! There are 3 different presentations (primarily inattentive, primarily hyperactive-impulsive, and a combination of both). ADHD is also on a spectrum — it ranges from mild to severe — and it is often accompanied by other conditions like anxiety or depression and learning disabilities like dyslexia. Therefore, what works for one ADHDer may not be right for others, but most ADHD brains benefit from a combination of treatment strategies. Medication is not a cure all answer!
Most importantly: Jessica is not a medical professional, nor does she claim to be one.
ADHD can only be diagnosed by a medical professional!
The Faster EFT Tapping Basic Recipe is easy, quick, efficient, effective and a fun healing tool.
It is used to change the references held in the subconscious that result in problems in all areas of life.
It is this procedure that is used for every round of tapping.
This Faster EFT Tapping Basic Recipe method can be used to solve any issue — financial, personal, professional, emotional, psychological, physiological, health related.
This Faster EFT Tapping Basic Recipe has provided relief to thousands of people around the world with impressive results.
We encourage you to try and test this out for yourself.
But first, you will need to know the basics of Faster EFT Tapping, so let’s start!
With just SIX easy steps to learn, it is the Fastest EFT tapping technique out there.
The Faster EFT Tapping Basic Recipe has only FIVE steps, that takes only 30 seconds to do.
Anyone of any age can learn this simple technique and use it whenever they want, wherever they are with lasting results.
It may seem a little strange at first, but after a couple of round of using the Faster EFT Tapping Basic Recipe, you’ll feel more comfortable.
Just like with anything new you learn, it takes practice and persistence.
This will be a tool that can be used throughout your life, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower.
It’ll always be on hand for you to use, no matter the circumstances.
Why Faster EFT Works
In order for a problem to exist, there must be proof (the memory or record of an experience) and feelings.
Feelings are what make a problem a problem.
It is how you feel about something that determines whether it’s a problem or not.
If you feel good, that means you like something.
Conversely, if you feel bad, it means you don’t like something.
It’s that simple.
It is the feelings that make the problem real.
For example, Tom feels angry when he hears loud music in a parked car.
Another person, Tina, may enjoy the music.
She hears the same loud music, but she feels good.
In each of those cases, the subconscious is referencing a record that connects loud music in parked cars with either a negative meaning or a positive meaning; and then the brain signals the organs to produce the matching chemicals for those emotions.
How Faster EFT Tapping Basic Recipe works
FasterEFT is an energy based system as well, founded on Neurology and Biology.
Emotions affect both our physical and mental wellbeing.
So it follows that once your turbulent emotions are healed and cleaned up, you’ll have overall wellbeing.
The foundation belief in Faster EFT is that there is no disruption of energy, unlike traditional EFT.
In fact everything in your life and body is functioning as it should.
According to the way the brain has developed in order to survive in the environment, depending on your life’s experiences.
In Faster EFT, the tapping is used to disrupt the signal between the brain and the major organs of the body that trigger the fight or flight response while changing neural pathways in the neocortex of the brain.
The Faster EFT Tapping Basic Recipe doesn’t just deal with energy disruptions, which only fixes the outer issue of the problem.
It deals with the root cause of the problems, eliminating them completely.
Faster EFT recognizes that experiences are recorded in the subconscious for future reference.
This is how we learn to walk, drive, take a shower, eat, wash the dishes, type etc. without needing to consciously concentrate on every movement and decision.
Regular EFT specifically believes that negative emotions have nothing to do with memories, and are caused only by a disruption in the body’s energy system.
The Faster EFT Tapping Basic Recipe interrupts that signal between the brain and the organs by focusing on the meridian points connected to those organs.
This rewrites the reference or memory associated with that trigger.
For example, if Tom feels angered by the loud music and wanted to change that automatic response, he could use the Faster EFT Tapping Basic Recipe to disrupt the production of the chemicals that cause the feeling of anger when he hears the loud music.
And change the meaning of the loud music in his subconscious from “rude” or “disruptive” (or whatever they learned it means) to fun and enjoyment.
This will then result in an automatic feeling of enjoyment and fun when Tom hears that loud music in the future.
The Faster EFT Tapping Points
The following illustration is pretty straightforward and we’ll give a brief explanation with it as well.
For now, just identify each of these Faster EFT Tapping points on your body and follow along!
Step #1: Aim
Notice how you know you have the problem.
You don’t need to know what the emotions or feelings are, just notice how you know they’re there.
What do you feel?
Where in your body do you feel it?
What do you see or hear?
How do you know it’s a problem?
Step #2: Tap
Use two fingers to tap the following points, while focusing on the feeling of your fingers on your skin:
between your eyebrows
beside your eye
under your eye
just below your collarbone
While you are tapping, say “Let it go”. You can also add “It’s safe to let it go”.
Note: It doesn’t matter which side you tap — you can do either side, or both if you like.
Step #3: Peace
Grab your wrist, take a deep breath, blow it out, and say “peace” — and go to a peaceful memory for a moment.
Step #4: Check
Go back to your problem and take notice of how it’s changed.
Do you feel different?
Is the intensity of the feeling different?
Does the memory look or sound different?
Step #5: Repeat
Repeat steps two to four until the feeling or memory has “flipped” — in other words, the negative memory has been replaced by a positive memory.
Building Emotional Intelligence Isn’t as Hard as You Think
Dozens of times a week, we ask friends, family, and even strangers, “How are you?” Given this fact alone, you’d think our society was very interested in how people feel.
But all of us know that this question generally doesn’t get an honest answer. Instead, most people reply with, “good,” “fine,” or at least, “okay.” If we’re really honest with ourselves, most of us would be a bit uncomfortable if we got a more genuine answer.
For many of us, it can feel risky to get in touch with our feelings, let alone to express them to others. I was recently speaking with a close friend who was genuinely hurt by something his father posted in a family chat room. He had been ruminating about it for days. And yet, when I suggested that he bring it up with his dad, his answer was straightforward: “No,” he told me. “We don’t talk about feelings in our family.”
Psychologist Marc Brackett, the founder of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, argues that this tendency to avoid feelings, though understandable, can be a real disadvantage.
In one experiment, Brackett and his colleagues divided middle-school teachers into two groups. One group was placed in a good mood by recalling positive classroom experiences, while the other group was placed in a bad mood by recalling negative classroom experiences.
Then, they all were asked to grade the same essay. The teachers who were in a worse mood scored the essay a full letter grade lower than those in a better mood. But here’s the real kicker: Most of the teachers said they thought their mood had no influence on their grading, even though it clearly had.
Whether we like it or not, our feelings affect our thinking and behavior. Being out of touch with these feelings just means we’re at the mercy of them. So, it behooves us to get to know them better.
Our ability to understand and regulate our feelings is what psychologists often call “emotional intelligence.” Luckily, emotional intelligence isn’t a fixed commodity, but rather something we can build by learning what Brackett calls “emotion skills.”
He has developed a system, organized around the acronym R.U.L.E.R., which has been used in nearly 2,000 schools across the world to teach such skills to children and teenagers. But it can be equally applicable for helping all of us develop greater wisdom about our feelings and use them to our advantage.
Here are the five skills you can start practicing now:
The first step toward productively managing any feeling is to recognize that we’re having it. Although this may sound easy, it’s equally easy to ignore our feelings. Have you ever said, “I don’t care,” about a situation when you really did? Have you ever gotten a head or neck ache, only to later realize you were actually feeling emotionally stressed?
To better recognize our feelings, Bracket suggests using a technique known as the “Mood Meter.” At its heart, this technique involves asking yourself two simple questions:
How much energy does this emotion have?
How pleasant is this emotion?
Emotions can be high in both, low in both, high in energy and low in pleasantness, or low in energy and high in pleasantness. Emotions high in both energy and pleasantness include joy, excitement, and optimism, while emotions low in both include sadness and depression. Anxiety, anger, and frustration are examples of feelings high in energy but low in pleasantness, whereas calmness and contentedness are examples of feelings low in energy but high in pleasantness. By at least identifying in which of these categories our feelings fall, we lay a foundation for wisely dealing with them.
The next emotion skill involves understanding our feelings. In short, this involves asking the question, “Why am I feeling this way?” Because this wide-open question is notoriously difficult to answer, in his book Permission to Feel, Brackett suggests some more specific questions we can ask ourselves to figure out the reasons behind our feelings. Here are a few of them:
What just happened? What was I doing before this happened?
What happened this morning, or last night, that might be involved in this?
What has happened before with this person that might be connected?
What memories do I have about the situation or place in which this emotion occurred?
Understanding the causes of our feelings can help provide clues about how to address them. If I’m feeling anxious because my new boss reminds me of a person from my past who was cruel to me, I’ll want to deal with the situation very differently than if my anxiety results from a particular managerial decision my boss just made. Of course, it could be both—so it can take serious time and introspection to really sort out what we’re experiencing and why. Be patient and keep at it.
It’s not enough simply to recognize and understand an emotion; we also can benefit from finding the right word to describe it.
Many of us have a relatively limited emotion vocabulary. Some of us stick with two words: bad and good. Others might have three or four: happy, sad, mad, and scared. Still others may not use emotion words at all, but prefer figures of speech like, “on top of the world” or “burning up.”
But in actuality, there are thousands of words to describe emotions in the English language alone. We certainly don’t have to memorize all of them, but Brackett suggests that more accurate labels are usually better for us. In his words, “We know from neuroscience and brain imaging research that there is real, tangible truth to the proposition that ‘if you can name it, you can tame it.’”
For a start, knowing precisely what feelings we’re experiencing can give us clues about how to manage them. Although you may recognize that you’re experiencing a negative, high-energy emotion, both “stressed” and “overwhelmed” might fit that general description. But which of these labels most accurately describes our feeling really matters, because they mean different things.
“Stress” generally means we feel that what we’re trying to do or handle exceeds our capabilities, whereas “overwhelmed” means there’s just too much of it, regardless of our capabilities. If we’re feeling overwhelmed, the best approach may be to reduce our workload the best we can, whereas if we’re feeling stressed, the best approach may be to upgrade our capabilities by learning new skills or reorganizing the way we do things.
If the R, U, and L of R.U.L.E.R. are about getting into touch with our emotions, the E and R are about what to do with them.
There are lots of reasons we hesitate to express our feelings. Especially when emotions fall on the negative end of the spectrum, we may be afraid they’re inappropriate, will embarrass us, or will somehow injure the person we express them to.
According to Brackett, however, “Hurt feelings don’t vanish on their own. They don’t heal themselves. If we don’t express our emotions, they pile up like a debt that will eventually come due.” So it’s important to express them in some way.
But this doesn’t mean we should let our emotions run wild, saying everything that’s on our minds to everyone we wish. According to Brackett, the skill of expressing our feelings “means knowing how and when to display our emotions, depending on the setting, the people we’re with, and the larger context.”
If we’re feeling hurt by something our boss said, for instance, it’s in our best interest to express this differently than if a close friend said something similar to us. Depending on the level of trust, we may make ourselves more vulnerable to our friend than our boss, expressing our feelings in greater depth or detail. If there’s a good chance we could lose our job, we may even choose not to express our hurt at all to our boss, instead confiding in and seeking support from someone else.
The final emotion skill involves determining how to cope with our feelings.
Whether or not we choose to express them, feelings impact us. Regulating our emotions involves dealing with them in a way that allows us to best meet our personal and professional goals—or at least prevent our feelings from interfering with them. This certainly doesn’t mean ignoring our emotions; as already discussed, this doesn’t work well. Instead, it involves learning to accept and deal with them wisely.
Techniques for helping us cope with our feelings run the gamut, and we should strive to use ones that work for us. Relaxation videos abound on YouTube and can help us soothe strong emotions. Meditation phone apps can be used to facilitate mindfulness, which may help us accept our feelings. Physical exercise can help us to “work out” our feelings and feel more grounded in our bodies.
But emotion regulation can also be very simple. “You can’t stand your neighbor? Avoid her,” writes Brackett. “Your parents are coming to visit and you don’t want them to see some of your more outré artwork? Hide it until they leave. You’re tired? Splash some water on your face.” The important thing is to acknowledge our feelings—not avoid them—and then take productive steps toward dealing with them.
Learning to be more emotionally skilled isn’t a panacea. It won’t eliminate all our negative feelings or bring about a constant state of bliss. Such goals are probably impossible. But part of emotional intelligence is realizing that our feelings aren’t our enemies. In fact, if we approach them wisely, they can be some of our best friends. Let’s all get to know these friends a little better.
About the Author
David B. Feldman, Ph.D., is a professor in the department of counseling psychology at Santa Clara University.
Chronic insomnia is defined as at least three restless nights per week for at least three months. (Alyssa L. Miller, Flickr cc)
While the American College of Physicians (ACP) can’t say cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) outperforms medications for chronic insomnia, the group does say psychotherapy is less risky than drugs.
“Sometimes we forget that sleep medications have the potential for serious side-effects in some patients, while cognitive behavioural therapy is very low [risk] to patients,” said Dr. Wayne J. Riley, ACP president.
“The evidence is clear that CBT and sleep hygiene can be long lasting, life long, durable and delivered at a lower cost,” said Riley, who is also affiliated with Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
About 6 to 10 per cent of people in the U.S. have insomnia. Through loss of productivity, the condition is estimated to have cost the country about $63 billion US in 2009, according to the ACP committee that wrote the new guideline, which is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Chronic insomnia is defined as at least three restless nights per week for at least three months.
“We wanted to take a deep dive into the literature for what makes a big difference with insomnia,” Riley told Reuters Health.
The ACP commissioned two reviews of insomnia treatments. One focused on medications, and the second focused on psychological and behavioural treatments.
Medication and ‘sleep driving’
Overall, the first review found that some medications may improve sleep over a short period of time, but those come with the potential for changes in thinking and behaviour. Additionally, there is a risk for infrequent but serious harms.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says medications for insomnia should only be used for short periods. The agency warns those drugs may impair people during the daytime, lead to “sleep driving,” behavioural changes and worsening depression.
The review of psychological and behavioural treatments found that CBT for insomnia improved overall sleep with a low risk of harms, the researchers report.
Evidence collected separately for the two reviews found that “side-effects can be quite severe with the use of insomnia medications in contrast to CBT, where there are minimal side-effects,” said Riley.
CBT for insomnia is typically delivered in four to six one-hour weekly sessions. People are taught behavioural techniques such as sleep restriction and stimulus control, and they are also taught sleep hygiene.
When chronic insomnia isn’t helped by CBT alone, the ACP advises patients and doctors to consider a short course of medication. That discussion should touch on the potential benefits, harms and costs of medication, the ACP says.
Doctors should encourage patients with insomnia to engage in CBT, according two researchers whose editorial was published with the reviews and the guideline.
‘Prescription not the best solution in the long term’
But, they admit, CBT for insomnia might not be covered by insurance and is likely not available at doctors’ offices, write Dr. Roger Kathol, of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and J. Todd Arnedt, of the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.
“Unless access to and unencumbered payment for value-based behavioural interventions, such as CBT (for insomnia), in medical settings become a reality, patients with chronic insomnia will continue to receive suboptimal treatment and experience suboptimal outcomes,” they write.
Alternatives to in-person CBT for insomnia include group therapy session, telephone counseling, online lessons and self-help books, Riley said.
The ACP recommendations are similar to that of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), said Dr. Alcibiades Rodriguez, who is medical director of NYU Langone Medical Center’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center-Sleep Center in New York City.
The AASM’s 2008 practice guidelines for treating chronic insomnia endorse psychotherapy as a first-line treatment and suggests it be used when medications are prescribed.
“The recommendations made by the ACP will appeal to a broader group of physicians to make them aware of this,” said Rodriguez, who was not involved with the new recommendations. “Then the doctors know just giving patients who come to their office with sleep problems a prescription is not the best solution in the long term.”
In terms of health care, we have it pretty good. If you are unfortunately diagnosed with cancer, most, if not all of your treatment will be paid for. If you break your leg, you can go to the ER and get a cast and leave without a bill. If you require surgery, the government will pay for that too. But what if your issue isn’t physical? What if what’s holding you back in life is a mental concern? Well, then you’re kind of out of luck.
There are indeed mental health services that are covered by provincial programs such as OHIP here in Ontario. We are all allowed free access to psychiatrists, which sounds great on the surface. But the real story is that most psychiatrists are incredibly overworked and many have waiting lists over a year long. For anyone who has ever experienced a mental health crisis, you know that waiting a year just isn’t an option.
And if you are mentally well enough to wait for that year (or more) there is only so much a psychiatrist can do for you with their limited time and vast client lists. Sure, they can prescribe and monitor your medication. But they typically don’t have time to sit down with you week after week and get to the real reasons why you are facing either depression, anxiety, addiction or any other mental health issue.
Psychotherapists specialize in that kind of ‘getting to the root of the problem’ type of therapy. And each year, countless lives are changed by the hundreds of excellent psychotherapists we have in this country. But for every life that is changed by psychotherapy, their lives are also changed by way of having to spend their hard-earned money and by prioritizing their mental health, sometimes at the expense of other important bills.
Whenever I am discussing treatment with a new client, their first question is inevitably ‘is this covered by the government?’
My answer has to unfortunately be ‘no, it’s not. But someday, I sure hope it will be.’
There are of course some private benefit packages that do cover psychotherapy but most of us are not lucky enough to have such in depth personal coverage from our employers. And that leaves many paying out of pocket for what can be a fairly costly expenditure.
If therapy was free for everyone in Canada, we would see an incredible reduction in the amount of sick days due to depression and anxiety. Productivity would go through the roof and our emergency rooms would be able to focus more of physical injuries instead of having to attend to mental health crises as well.
We are a progressive country and we lead in many areas. Unfortunately we are falling flat when it comes to mental health treatment. We’ve decided that only the rich and prosperous can have access to therapy.
And that just doesn’t sound very progressive to me.
With that expert’s list of ways to manage anxiety, the latest trendy mental health app and that “magical cure for depression” your aunt heard about on TV, it seems like everyone’s full of mental health advice these days.
So, we asked our mental health community to share pieces of advice they’ve actually found helpful. These little nuggets of wisdom aren’t FDA-approved, but when used correctly side effects may include: self-care, acceptance and a little more patience with yourself.
Here’s some advice that’s actually helped people with mental illness:
1. “On a particularly difficult day, I was trying to fight through an anxiety attack and finish all the child-related tasks I needed to complete. My husband kept offering help, and I kept refusing. He pulled me aside in the laundry room as I was frantically folding another load and said, “Just let me help you.” It doesn’t immediately make the anxiety go away, but it’s helped me learn to let go.” — Maria Heldreth
2. “Don’t wait. See a doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be embarrassed. Chances are, someone knows exactly what you’re going through.” — Kristin Salber
3. “I have depression and anxiety (as well as other chronic medical conditions), and after the worst week I’ve had in a while, my doctor said,“Find something you enjoy, and if you can’t find that, find the joy in something.” This really had an impact on me and still reminds me to look for a silver lining.” — Faith Merryn
4. “I have generalized anxiety disorder, and I made friends with someone who’s extremely similar to me. She told me to always be myself and the people who truly care will stick around. It truly did help.” — Julia Ann Lange
5.“Words can hurt to say, but they need to come out. Write all those words down on paper.” — Melissa Cote
6. “A friend recently told me that no matter if I get a job one day or not,your life matters as long as you can make people smile. When I think of it that way, it’s easier to see my life as something of worth.” — Emma Wozny
7. “A great therapist I had told me to focus on ‘harm-reduction, not perfection.’ I felt like I was expected to magically ‘get better,’ and she helped me learn that starting with baby steps was totally OK.” — Jen Decker
You enteredtherapyfeeling broken, lonely,anxious, dissatisfied with your relationships and your career. Now you feel whole and healthy; your relationships have improved, and you’ve made some professional changes that have led to a more fulfilling career. You feel good about yourself. Life isn’t perfect, but you have come to accept these imperfections, and you feel equipped to handle life’s challenges when they come your way. Congratulations! The time, effort, and willingness to openly and honestly explore the most complex and painful areas of yourself and your life have paid off. Therapy worked. Now what? You have a standing weekly appointment with your therapist, and you have probably developed a strong therapeutic alliance with him or her. But lately you have noticed that you don’t feel a need to go to therapy and you struggle to find ways to fill the hour. These are some strong indicators that you are ready to leave therapy.
For most people, therapy is not forever. Very few people have reason to be in therapy for life. In fact, many of the people who make therapy a way of life are therapists. They have a personal and professional responsibility to maintain high levels of self-awareness. They must take precautions to ensure that their issues are not getting in the way of helping their clients, and that they are not letting their clients’ issues prevent them from living their own lives. Weekly therapy sessions can create the time, space, and support for therapists to do just that.
Certainly, there are some people who are not therapists who also come to view therapy as a way of life. These people are often deeply dedicated to self-growth, and therapy may provide the support they need as they pursue constantly evolving personal goals. However, the vast majority of people who come to therapy do so with the intent of getting help with something specific. Whether it is something as broad as wanting to feel better or something as narrow as making a decision about a career move, people usually bring a specific goal to therapy. For some, these goals can be achieved in a few short months, while for others, it can take years. But ultimately there is a resolution and they feel ready to end therapy. Thequestion then is how to do it.
One of the things people find most useful about therapy is that there is nothing you can’t talk about in a session—including your relationship with your therapist. In fact, a growing body of research indicates that much of the positive change produced by therapy comes as a result of the therapeutic relationship. For example, if your relationships improved while you were in therapy, it is likely, in part, because you learned new ways of being in relationships by actively participating in your therapeutic relationship. So take the well-honed skill set that you developed in therapy and open a discussion with your therapist about ending the therapeutic relationship.
This will likely come as no surprise to your therapist. He or she knows what you came in to work on and knows that you have achieved your goal. Plus, this is a natural part of the process—all therapists in training learn about how to help clients work through this final stage, called termination. This is a prime opportunity to review the goals that brought you to therapy and to reflect on the growth that allowed you to accomplish them. This part of therapy is kind of like a graduation ceremony—it is an opportunity to step back, look at how far you have come, and revel in your success. And, as with graduations, it is an opportunity to ponder and plan for what comes next. Part of termination involves reinforcing the coping skills that evolve during therapy and reminding clients to continue to draw upon them in the future. Another important part of this process is to identify indicators that may signal the need to return to therapy in the future.
Finally, working through the process of termination with your therapist will allow you the opportunity to process the ending of a powerful and unique relationship. While this is a deeply genuine relationship, it is also one that exists within strictly prescribed boundaries—within the therapist’s office during appointment times. Of course, there may have been phone calls and additional meetings scheduled during times of crisis, but there isn’t a healthy way to continue the relationship you have formed with your therapist outside of therapy. Feelings of grief, loss, and anxiety about ending the therapeutic relationship often come up, and termination is designed to address these feelings. Like all aspects of therapy, this can be a difficult process, but seeing it through can be invaluable in helping you continue to develop and implement the kind of sophisticated relational skills that enable you to have deeper, more meaningful, and authentic relationships.
A good listener will listen not only to what is being said, but also to what is left unsaid or only partially said. Effective listening involves observing body language and noticing inconsistencies between verbal and non-verbal messages.
For example, if someone tells you that they are happy with their life but through gritted teeth or with tears filling their eyes, you should consider that the verbal and non-verbal messages are in conflict, they maybe don’t mean what they say.
1. Stop Talking
“If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” Mark Twain.
Don’t talk, listen. When somebody else is talking listen to what they are saying, do not interrupt, talk over them or finish their sentences for them. Stop, just listen. When the other person has finished talking you may need to clarify to ensure you have received their message accurately.
2. Prepare Yourself to Listen
Relax. Focus on the speaker. Put other things out of mind. The human mind is easily distracted by other thoughts – what’s for lunch, what time do I need to leave to catch my train, is it going to rain – try to put other thoughts out of mind and concentrate on the messages that are being communicated.
3. Put the Speaker at Ease
Help the speaker to feel free to speak. Remember their needs and concerns. Nod or use other gestures or words to encourage them to continue. Maintain eye contact but don’t stare – show you are listening and understanding what is being said.
4. Remove Distractions
Focus on what is being said: don’t doodle, shuffle papers, look out the window, pick your fingernails or similar. Avoid unnecessary interruptions. These behaviours disrupt the listening process and send messages to the speaker that you are bored or distracted.
Try to understand the other person’s point of view. Look at issues from their perspective. Let go of preconceived ideas. By having an open mind we can more fully empathise with the speaker. If the speaker says something that you disagree with then wait and construct an argument to counter what is said but keep an open mind to the views and opinions of others.
A pause, even a long pause, does not necessarily mean that the speaker has finished. Be patient and let the speaker continue in their own time, sometimes it takes time to formulate what to say and how to say it. Never interrupt or finish a sentence for someone.
7. Avoid Personal Prejudice
Try to be impartial. Don’t become irritated and don’t let the person’s habits or mannerisms distract you from what they are really saying. Everybody has a different way of speaking – some people are for example more nervous or shy than others, some have regional accents or make excessive arm movements, some people like to pace whilst talking – others like to sit still. Focus on what is being said and try to ignore styles of delivery.
8. Listen to the Tone
Volume and tone both add to what someone is saying. A good speaker will use both volume and tone to their advantage to keep an audience attentive; everybody will use pitch, tone and volume of voice in certain situations – let these help you to understand the emphasis of what is being said.
You need to get the whole picture, not just isolated bits and pieces. Maybe one of the most difficult aspects of listening is the ability to link together pieces of information to reveal the ideas of others. With proper concentration, letting go of distractions, and focus this becomes easier.
10. Wait and Watch for Non-Verbal Communication
Gestures, facial expressions, and eye-movements can all be important. We don’t just listen with our ears but also with our eyes – watch and pick up the additional information being transmitted via non-verbal communication.
“PTSD is going to color everything you write,” came the warning from a stepmother of a Marine, a woman who keeps track of such things. That was in 2005, when post-traumatic stress disorder, a.k.a. PTSD, wasn’t getting much attention, but soon it was pretty much all anyone wrote about. Story upon story about the damage done to our guys in uniform — drinking, divorce, depression, destitution — a laundry list of miseries and victimhood. When it comes to veterans, it seems like the only response we can imagine is to feel sorry for them.
Victim is one of the two roles we allow our soldiers and veterans (the other is, of course, hero), but most don’t have PTSD, and this isn’t one of those stories.
Civilian to the core, I’ve escaped any firsthand experience of war, but I’ve spent the past seven years talking with current GIs and recent veterans, and among the many things they’ve taught me is that nobody gets out of war unmarked. That’s especially true when your war turns out to be a shadowy, relentless occupation of a distant land, which requires you to do things that you regret and that continue to haunt you.
Theoretically, whole countries go to war, not just their soldiers, but not this time. Civilian sympathy for “the troops” may be just one more way for us to avoid a real reckoning with our last decade-plus of war, when the hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown up on the average American’s radar only if somebody screws up or noticeable numbers of Americans get killed. The veterans at the heart of this story — victims, heroes, it doesn’t matter — struggle to reconcile what they did in those countries with the “service” we keep thanking them for. We can see them as sick, with all the stigma, neediness, and expense that entails, or we can recognize them as human beings, confronting the morality of what they’ve done in our name and what they’ve seen and come to know — even as they try to move on.
Sacred Wounds, Moral Injuries
Former Army staff sergeant Andy Sapp spent a year at Forward Operating Base Speicher near Tikrit, Iraq, and has lived for the past six years with PTSD. Seven if you count the year he refused to admit that he had it because he never left the base or fired his weapon, and who was he to suffer when others had it so much worse? Nearly 50 when he deployed, he was much older than most of his National Guard unit. He had put in 17 years in various branches of the military, had a stable family, strong religious ties, a good education, and a satisfying career as a high-school English teacher. He expected all that to insulate him, so it took a while to realize that the whole time he was in Iraq, he was numb. In the end, he would be diagnosed with PTSD and given an 80% disability rating, which, among other benefits, entitles him to sessions with a Veterans Administration psychologist, whom he credits with saving his life.
Andy recalls a 1985 BBC series called “Soldiers” in which a Marine commander says, “It’s not that we can’t take a man who’s 45 years old and turn him into a good soldier. It’s that we can’t make him love it.” Like many soldiers, Andy had assumed that his role would be to protect his country when it was threatened. Instead, he now considers himself part of “something evil.” So at a point when his therapy stalled and his therapist suggested that his spiritual pain was exacerbating his psychological pain, it suddenly clicked. The spiritual part he now calls his sacred wound. Others call it “moral injury.”
It’s a concept in progress, defined as the result of taking part in or witnessing something of consequence that you find wrong, something which violates your deeply held beliefs about yourself and your role in the world. For a moment, at least, you become what you never wanted to be. While the symptoms and causes may overlap with PTSD, moral injury arises from what you did or failed to do, rather than from what was done to you. It’s a sickness of the heart more than the head. Or, possibly, moral injury is what comes first and, if left unattended, can congeal into PTSD.
What we now call PTSD goes way back. In Odysseus in America, psychiatrist (and MacArthur “genius” grantee) Jonathan Shay has traced similar symptoms to Homer’s account of Odysseus’s homecoming from the Trojan War. The idea that a soldier may continue to be haunted by his wartime life has had a name since at least the Civil War. It was called “soldier’s heart” then, a lovely name for a terrible affliction.
In World War I, it went by the names “shell shock” and “war neurosis” and was so widespread that Britain devoted 19 hospitals solely to treating soldiers who suffered from it. During WWII, it was called “battle fatigue,” “combat neurosis,” or “gross stress reaction,” and the problem was severe enough in the U.S. Army that, at one point, psychiatric discharges outpaced new recruits. The Vietnam War gave us the term “post-Vietnam syndrome,” which in time evolved into PTSD, and eventually the insight that, whatever its name, it is probably neurologically based.
PTSD’s status as an anxiety disorder — and as the only mental health condition officially defined as caused by a single, external event — was established in 1980, when it was enshrined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of psychiatry. The diagnostic criteria have expanded since then and will probably be altered again in next year’s version of the DSM. That troubles many therapists treating the ailment; some don’t think PTSD is a disease, others argue that the symptoms are just a natural response to being at war or that, in labeling it a disorder, political and cultural norms are being invoked to reinforce what is considered orderly. As Katherine Boone, writing in the Wilson Quarterly, put it, “If you react normally to trauma, you have a disorder; if you act abnormally, you don’t.”
Most PTSD is short term, but perhaps one-third of cases become chronic, and those are the ones we keep hearing about, in part because it costs a lot to treat them. For a variety of reasons, no one seems to have an exact number of recent combat veterans with PTSD. The Veterans Administration estimates that between 11% and 20% of the 2.3 million troops who have cycled through Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from it, and the Congressional Budget Office calculates a cost of $8,300 per patient for the first year of treatment. Do the math, and you could be talking about as much as $3.8 billion a year. (What we’re not talking about nearly enough is the best way to prevent PTSD and other war-caused psychic distress, which is not to put soldiers in such untenable situations in the first place.)
Since the early days of diagnosis — when you were either sick with PTSD or you were fine — the medical response to it has gained in nuance and depth, which has brought beneficial funding for research and treatment. In the public mind, though, PTSD still scoops up everything from risky behavior and aggression to substance abuse and suicide — kind of the way “Alzheimer’s” as a catch-all label stands in for forgetfulness over 50 — and that does a disservice to veterans who aren’t sick, but aren’t fine either.
“What you come into the war with will dictate how you come out of war,” Joshua Casteel testified about a soldier’s conscience at the Truth Commission on Conscience and War, which convened in New York in March 2010. He had spent five months as an interrogator at Abu Ghraib shortly after the prisoner abuse scandal broke there. He later left the Army as a conscientious objector after an impassioned conversation about faith and duty with a young Saudi jihadist, whom he was supposed to be questioning, led him to conclude that he could no longer do his job. Casting a soldier’s experience as unfathomable to anyone else was not only inaccurate, but also damaging, he said; he had never felt lonelier than when people were afraid to ask about his life during the war.
Our warriors today are all volunteers who signed up and are apparently supposed to put up with whatever comes their way. As professionals, they’re supposed to be ready to fight, but as counterinsurgents they’re supposed to be tender-hearted and understanding — at least to kids, those village elders they’re fated to drink endless cross-cultural cups of tea with, and their buddies. (Every veteran has a kid story, and mourning lost friends with tattoos, rituals, and drunken sorrow are among the few ways they’re allowed to grieve publicly.) They’re supposed to be anguished when they hear about the “bad apples” whogang-raped, then murdered and set fire to a 15-year-old girl near Mahmoudiya, Iraq, or the “kill team” that hunted Afghan civilians “for sport.”
Maybe it’s the confusion of these mixed signals that makes us treat our soldiers as if they’re tainted by some special, unwanted knowledge, something that should drive them over the edge with grief and guilt and remorse. Maybe we think our soldiers are supposed to suffer.
The Right to Miss
A couple of decades ago, David Grossman, a professor of psychology and former Army Ranger, wrote an eye-opening, bone-chilling book called On Killing. It begins with the premise that people have an inherent resistance to killing other people and goes on to examine how the military overcomes that inhibition.
On Killing examines the concerted effort of the military to increase firing rates among frontline riflemen. Reportedly only about 15%-20% of them pulled the trigger during World War II. Grossman suggests that many who did fire “exercised the soldier’s right to miss.” Displeased, the U.S. Army set out to redesign its combat training to make firing your weapon a more reflexive action. The military (and most police forces) switched to realistic, human-shaped silhouettes, which pop up and fall down when hit, and later added video simulators for the most recent generation of soldiers raised on virtual reality.
This kind of Skinnerian conditioning — Grossman calls it “modern battleproofing” — upped the firing rate steadily to 55% in Korea, 90% in Vietnam, and somewhere near 100% in Iraq. Soldiers are trained to shoot first and evaluate later, but as Grossman observes, “Killing comes with a price, and societies must learn that their soldiers will have to spend the rest of their lives living with what they have done.”
That price could be called moral injury.
The term may have come from Jonathan Shay, though he demurs. Whatever its origin, it wasn’t until the end of 2009 that it began to resonate in therapeutic communities. That was when Brett Litz, the Associate Director of the National Center for PTSD in Boston, and several colleagues involved in a pilot study for the Marines published “Moral injury and moral repair in war veterans,” a paper aimed at other clinicians. Their stated aim was not to create a new diagnostic category, nor to pathologize moral discomfort, but to encourage discussion and research into the lingering effects on soldiers of their moral transgressions in war.
The authors found that emotional distress was caused less by fear of personal harm than by the dissonance between what soldiers had done or seen and what they had previously held to be right. This echoes Grossman, who concludes that the greatest cause of psychological injury to soldiers is the realization that there are people out there who really want to hurt you.
Moral injury seems to be widespread, but the concept is something of an orphan. If it’s an injury, then it needs treatment, which puts it in the realm of medicine, but its overtones of sin and redemption also place it in the realm of the spiritual and so, religion. Chaplains, however, are no better trained to deal with it than clinicians, since their essential job is to patch up soldiers, albeit spiritually, to fight another day.
Yet the idea that many soldiers suffer from a kind of heartsickness is gaining traction. The military began to consider moral injury as a war wound and possible forerunner of PTSD when Litz presented his research at the Navy’s Combat Operational Stress Control conference in 2010. The American Psychiatric Association is also thinking about adding guilt and shame to its diagnostic criteria for PTSD. A small preliminary survey of chaplains, mental health clinicians, and researchers found unanimous support for including some version of moral injury in the description of the consequences of war, though they weren’t all enamored of the term. As if to mark the start of a new era in considering the true costs of war, a new institution, the Soul Repair Center has just been launched at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, with a $650,000 grant from the Lilly Foundation to conduct research and education about moral injury in combat veterans.
Of course, to have a moral injury, you have to have a moral code, and to have a moral code, you have to believe, on some level, that the world is a place where justice will ultimately prevail. Faith in a rightly ordered world must be hard for anyone who has been through war; it’s particularly elusive for soldiers mired in a war that makes little sense to them, one they’ve come, actively or passively, to resent and oppose.
When your job requires you to pull sleeping families from their beds at midnight thousands of miles from your home, or to shoot at oncoming cars without knowing who’s driving them, or to refuse medical care to decrepit old men, you begin to question what doing your job means. When the reasons keep shifting for what you’re supposed to be doing in a country where most of the population wants you to go home even more than you want to, it’s hard to maintain any sense of innocence. When someone going about his daily life is regularly mistaken for someone who means to kill you — as has repetitively been the case in our occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan — everyone becomes the enemy. And when you try — and fail — to do the right thing in a chaotic and threatening situation, which nothing could have trained you for, the enemy can move inside you and stay there for a very long time.
In trying to heal from a moral injury, people struggle to restore a sense of themselves as decent human beings, but the stumbling block for many veterans of recent U.S. wars is that their judgment about the immorality of their actions may well be correct. Obviously, suffering which can be avoided should be, but it’s not clear what’s gained by robbing soldiers of a moral compass, save a salve to civilian conscience. And despite all the gauzy glory we swath soldiers in when we wave them off to battle, nations need their veterans to remember how horrible war is, if only to remind us not to launch them as heedlessly as the U.S. has done over these last years.
When you’ve done irreparable harm, feeling bad about your acts — haunted, sorrowful, distraught, diminished, unhinged by them — is human. Taking responsibility for them, however, is a step toward maturity. Maybe that’s the way the Army makes a man of you, after all.
Two final observations from veterans who went to war, then committed themselves to waging peace, apparently a much harder task: Dave Cline began his lifetime of antiwar work as a G.I. in the Vietnam War. A few years into the Iraq War, when he was president of Veterans For Peace, he told me, “Returning soldiers always try to make it not a waste.” The second observation comes from Drew Cameron in a preface to a book of poems by a fellow veteran, published by hisCombat Paper Press: “To know war, to understand conflict, to respond to it is not an individual act, nor one of courage. It is rather a very fair and necessary thing.”
Recognizing moral injury isn’t a panacea, but it opens up multiple possibilities. It offers veterans a way to understand themselves, not as mad or bad, but as justifiably sad, and it allows the rest of us a way to avoid reducing their wartime experiences to a sickness or a smiley face. Most important, moral repair is linked to moral restitution. In an effort to waste neither their past nor their future, many veterans work to help heal their fellow veterans or the civilians in the countries they once occupied. Others work for peace so the next generations of soldiers won’t have to know the heartache of moral injury.
Nan Levinson, a Boston-based journalist, reports on civil liberties, politics, and culture. Her next book, War Is Not a Game, is about the recent G.I. antiwar movement. She is the author of Outspoken: Free Speech Stories, was the U.S. correspondent for Index on Censorship, and teaches journalism and fiction writing at Tufts University.
I was recently giving a seminar to therapists on the application of mindfulness in psychotherapy. In that seminar the topic of insomnia came up and I couldn’t help it, I outed myself. I let people know that insomnia used to be a very real part of my life and that my practice in mindfulness was what saved me and continues to from time to time. One woman came up to me during the break and asked me how I applied mindfulness to heal my sleep troubles.
Here is what I said…
For most of us insomnia is a mental dis-ease that over time gets conditioned into our bodies as a habit. The trauma of it is stored in our memories and only serves to make our mind increasingly reactive to the symptoms or anticipations of not falling asleep. It becomes so easy for our anxious or restless mental buttons to get pushed. It’s as if you only need to drop the lightest worry of not being able to sleep, like a feather, and the brain begins swirling with anticipatory anxiety.
I was once told that practicing mindfulness was far more restorative than tossing and turning. Therefore, even if you just practiced being present all night long and you didn’t fall asleep that was still better for you. On top of that, time spent in mindfulness practice is training your mind in mindfulness which is good for so many other parts of life, not the least of which growing a stronger and healthier brain.
With that I could relieve my worries about needing to fall asleep and just make the night time in bed my time to practice. I would put on my ear phones and be guided with a body scan that didn’t have a bell at the end (find a 10-minute body scan here). Initially I noticed my mind getting pulled frequently, thoughts that this wouldn’t work would yank me away, but I stayed disciplined (as best I could) to gently bring myself back to the practice.
Eventually I was able to let go of the audio and either bring a general awareness to my body each time I closed my eyes noting the field of sensations that were moving around. At other times I would just follow my breath.
But first I needed the support of the audio to train me to eventually be able to just do it on my own.
It’s been years since insomnia has been an issue for me now, once in a long while it creeps up, but I am usually able to dispel it with my practice. Studies show mindfulness help with sleep in many people.
The key here is that there needs to be the understanding that you’re using this time to practice to train in mindfulness, not to fall asleep. If the explicit intention is to fall asleep then you set up a monitor in the back of the brain to continually check on that. You need to let that expectation go, it’s okay if you don’t fall asleep.
No matter what, using it as a time to train in mindfulness is a wise use of that time.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Whether this is your first time you’re coming here or you’ve been around for the almost four years I’ve been writingThe Mindfulness and Psychotherapycolumn, I want to share a personal moment of gratitude and say “Thank You” for being a part of this community. This was a big year for this column, it will become 4 years old and is also the year that The Now Effect andMindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler hit bookshelves. Now it’s my turn to give you some gifts of my favorite Top 10 posts of the year. In these posts you’ll read about the power of mindfulness, the importance of self-compassion in healing, the upside to embracing dark emotions, how to be alone, why multitasking is ineffective, many short practices and much more.
May they bring you a sense of insight, ease, peace and freedom. Enjoy!
The three decades since mindfulness meditation was first found to help with anxiety, chronic pain and depression have seen the reversal of a trend that goes back over a century. When Freud founded psychotherapy as “a middle way between philosophy and medicine,” he took pains to keep it on the scientific side of the modern gulf between science and religion. He did this in part by basing his insights on evolutionary neurobiology, and in part by distancing his psychology from its sources in the spiritual philosophy of Romanticism.
Sadly, in cutting his “new science” away from its spiritual roots, he felt a need to jettison not just myth and ritual but contemplative states and practices too. Though spiritually minded analysts like Carl Jung warned this was throwing the baby out with the bathwater, Freud’s rejection of all things spiritual came to earmark mainstream psychotherapy. Jung’s dream was that psychotherapy would not only work as a clinical art to heal mental suffering but also as a spiritual science to help build the best in our nature. The recent film, “A Dangerous Method,” dramatizes with telling accuracy Freud’s break with Jung and the rift this caused in modern psychology.
Fast forward to the present. The more mindfulness has been proven to enhance attention, empathic attunement and neuroplasticity, the more it has found its way into traditional psychotherapy and new cognitive therapies. As this simple technique has made waves in psychotherapy, it has raised a groundswell of interest among researchers and clinicians in contemplative methods in general and Buddhist psychology in particular.
Of course, mindfulness did not turn the anti-contemplative tide of mainstream therapy all by itself. It helped catalyze a complex reaction fueled by new findings in evolutionary biology, the neuroscience of plasticity and emotion, developmental psychology and positive psychology, all of which have converged in a new view of human nature as far more malleable and sociable than we thought. Buttressed by a growing body of research on meditation and yoga, this new consensus has begun to bridge the gulf between science and spirituality. Where the split faces of modern culture are starting to reunite is in two emerging fields for the scientific study and clinical application of humanity’s ancient contemplative traditions: contemplative neuroscience and contemplative psychotherapy.
As clients and therapists have grown more curious about the traditional practice behind mindfulness, they’ve learned that it comes embedded in a complex psychology all its own, including integrated disciplines of cognitive self-analysis, emotional self-healing and behavioral life-change. This second wave of influence has brought mounting awareness of the scientific tradition of classical Buddhist psychology and its core disciplines. With this, the tide has shifted away from simply grafting mindfulness into conventional therapies, toward a fuller confluence of Buddhist and Western psychology.
A vibrant new field blending meditative insights and tools with current neuroscience, contemplative psychotherapy represents a turning of the modern tide away from contemplative methods. And as Buddhist contemplative science has been a catalyst in this turn thus far, it seems likely to play a more influential role in years to come. This is no accident, but reflects Buddhism’s unique bent as a religion which seeks to awaken the human spirit less by myth and ritual than by therapeutic philosophy and contemplative psychology.
Fortunately, the rise of contemplative psychotherapy also comes at a watershed moment in the history of the West’s encounter with Asian Buddhism. As neuroscientists and psychotherapists turn toward contemplative science and practice, Western and Asian scholars of Buddhism for the first time are giving us access to the long isolated Buddhism of Tibet. This most recent confluence seems likely to give rise to a third wave in the convergence of Buddhist and Western psychology, for several reasons.
First, Tibetan civilization preserves in its final form the ancient Buddhist tradition that was most concerned with bringing contemplative tools to lay people in everyday life. This was the socially engaged tradition linked with the rise of the world’s first university at Nalanda, a world-class institution which became India’s beacon of liberative education and a think-tank for contemplative civilization throughout Asia. The second reason is that the Nalanda tradition was and is both scientifically rigorous and psychologically minded. Its core curriculum assumes that success in secular and religious life both require mastery of scientific knowledge and empirical methods, especially the insights and methods of psychology. The third reason is that this tradition is not just universal but comprehensive, enhancing mindfulness and loving kindness with a whole range of industrial-strength tools for building compassion, altruism and inspired leadership in a stress-driven world.
Unfortunately, there’s a rub. Because it forged the religious practice of Indian yoga into a human science of spirituality, the Nalanda legacy is not only the most modern and scientific of Buddhist traditions, but ironically also the one that seems most religious! The challenge contemplative therapists face in integrating its rich archetypal imagery and transformational arts is reminiscent of those faced by analysts like Jung.
Can powerful, mind-altering contemplative states and methods be harnessed to the therapeutic work of building confident, caring and inspired new selves, while staying grounded in objective science and reproducible methods?
Fortunately for us all, this challenge is far simpler in our day than it was only decades ago. Brain science has progressed so dramatically that we now understand how empathy and altruism, archetypal imagery and transmuting affects like joy and bliss work. And direct access to the living masters of the Nalanda tradition offers the time-tested perspective and methodology we need to make the work of reinventing ourselves for interdependence eminently safe, reliable and reproducible. Given the fast-shifting tides of science and civilization, contemplative psychotherapy seems ideally poised now to realize Jung’s dream, with a rigor that would have satisfied even Freud.
By S. Roman & D. Packer in Abundance on February 7th, 2008
Money is neither good nor bad; it is energy. It is the way money is used that determines whether or not it is a positive energy that will benefit you and others. If you come from the highest level of integrity with your money, if you make it in ways that benefit people, through shifting their consciousness, or through serving and making a contribution, by giving your best, honoring others, and putting attention and consciousness into what you do, you are making a contribution to humanity and to yourself. When you use money in ways that serve your higher purpose and bring you and others joy, you are creating money of light. The more money is made and spent with integrity and light, the more it becomes a force of light for everyone.
True abundance is having all you need to do your life’s work – the tools, resources, and living environment – and to live a life filled with joy and aliveness. Abundance is not an extravagant, glamorous style of living maintained purely to impress others or one that does not support your true aliveness and life’s work. Part of the essence of spirituality is the belief in true abundance – of time, love, and energy. You teach others by setting an example. It may be hard, if not impossible, to help others lead abundant lives if you do not have a feeling of abundance about your own life. You do not want living at a survival level and experiencing lack to be the examples you set. When you have the right amount of money and money works in your life, people will learn about abundance from your example.
Most war and strife come from a belief in scarcity. People who believe in scarcity often try to squeeze more and more out of nature, wasting the planet’s resources. If you want to contribute to planetary peace, you can start by believing in abundance for yourself and others. As society begins to believe that there can be abundance for everyone, new discoveries will be made that will provide unlimited energy and resources that do not pollute or deplete the earth, and there will be fewer reasons for war. There truly is the potential for abundance for everyone on the planet. If humanity believed in abundance for all, it could be created. Start by believing that it is possible for everyone to have abundance.
It is all right to have money. Some of you feel guilty about having money, especially when you look around and see others living in lack. Some people learn and grow as much by having a totally materialistic focus as others do by living in poverty. It is not more spiritual to be poor, nor is it better to be rich. If you are worried that it is not spiritual to have money, examine the times in your life when you had money, even if it was just a small amount. Remember how you used your money. You may have been able to help those around you even more. When you felt abundant, you probably felt generous and able to support others in their abundance.
The people who are clearest about money are not usually those who have large sums of money, or those who have none, but those who have just the right amount for them. People who have just the right amount are not burdened by too many possessions; their possessions serve them. They do not spend time and energy that would be best spent creating their life’s work to acquire or take care of material things. Having too much money can take you off your path if you must spend a lot of time taking care of it. Not having enough money can also take you off your path if it requires a lot of your time and energy just to survive. It is important for you to have enough money to live on. If you do not have enough, if you spend most of your time worrying about your rent and food, your time and energy are not available to do the greater work you came here to do.
Think of being rich as having enough wealth to carry out your life’s work. You may not need many material possessions to have enough. For instance, your life purpose may be to work with nature. You may live in a log cabin, spend little money, and still have all the natural resources you need to carry out your purpose. In that case, you would be rich. What is important is having enough money to do the work you came to do, and not having so much that it keeps you from the work you came to do. Having enough money means being able to put your vision into action, to transform the energy around you into a higher order. Some people may need many material things to accomplish their life purpose. They may need to work with a group of people who will only listen to and respect them if they have an appearance of wealth and power.
Material possessions may provide some with a spiritual experience, teaching them what they need to learn in this lifetime, just as not having money may be a great teacher for others. Some people gain great freedom and growth from having money; some people gain freedom and growth from not having money.
How much money people need is an individual matter; do not judge others for what they have or do not have. Some people may be amassing fortunes that will later be used for the good of humanity, even if at present they don’t plan on using their money this way and aren’t on a spiritual path. You cannot know the larger purpose of anyone’s path. It is good to measure people’s success not by how much money they make or have, but by the degree to which they are fulfilling their life purpose, are happy about their lives, have the right amount of money, and believe in themselves.
As you become more prosperous yourself, it is likely that you will be around prosperous people. As you think in terms of prosperity, your vibration begins to change and you attract other people who think in terms of abundance as well. Do not feel jealous or threatened by someone who is successful. Realize that if you are close to a person who is succeeding, you are beginning to have that same vibration of success yourself. Begin now to believe that everyone’s success means even more success for you. If everyone around you begins to succeed, then you are surrounded with the vibration of success, and your success will grow even faster. When you hear of other people’s good fortune, appreciate their success, knowing that it affirms the abundance that is available for you as well.
Many of you think that you have to get your work out to a large number of people or be number one in your field to truly be successful. It is not wrong to feel competitive if that feeling helps you do your best at your job, but don’t feel that others who succeed in what you are doing can take away from your success. There is an unlimited supply of success. Every person in the world can be successful. Realize that you have your special place, and what you are here to do is in some way special and unique, no matter how many people are doing similar things. Are there people or companies you are competing with? Are you worried that their success might mean a loss to you? Take a moment to picture them succeeding beyond your wildest dreams. Then, imagine a reason why their success will be beneficial to you.
Know that there is no one else in the world who is going to do your work exactly as you do it. Even if it appears that others are doing the same work, they are probably reaching a different group of people, or reaching the same group in a different way. It is better to focus on living up to your potential. Are you putting the wants of people you serve first? Are you following your inner messages? As you do, you will shine. You will have all the business and abundance you want. Enjoy the process of getting your work out, not just to strive for recognition and fame. Let it be all right not to be number one, have the most clients, make the most money, or do it all yourself.
Do not worry about someone else taking away your idea, or doing what you are doing better than you are. As long as you do the best you know how and put out the finest quality product or service you can offer, you will be richly rewarded. It doesn’t matter what other people do. Even if someone is claiming the credit right now for your good work, don’t stop putting out quality work. You will be rewarded eventually. As with the tortoise and the hare, the one who works consistently and steadily, doing a good job all the time, will have more abundance and make a greater mark in the world than the person who takes shortcuts to beat everyone else out.
If you are competing with other job applicants for a job, or with other businesses for a client, or are wanting to get a grant or funding, do not view yourself as competing with others. If it is for your highest good to get the money, client, or job, you will. Always do your best in your grant applications, job interviews, and sales presentations; write or go to only those people your inner messages direct you to, and you will find your money or job. If you get it, do not worry that you have taken something away from someone else.
The universe is perfect and abundant, and others will receive exactly what is best for them. You cannot take away from others. Your opportunities are meant for you, and those that aren’t for you will be given to others. If you are competing for anything right now – a job, funding, a loan, a scholarship, or an apartment – see if you can let go of your worry and trust that the best outcome will occur for all of you. Trust that what is meant to be yours will be yours; the universe is always working to bring your higher good to you.
Don’t view your coworkers or those around you as competitors; see them as friends. Cooperation will get you much further than competition. One man who worked for a company wanted to be the vice president in a short period of time. He went around telling everyone of his ambitions, often praising his own work. He undermined the work of other employees so that his own work would appear better, and tried to take the credit himself for work that others had done. Another man in the same company simply wanted to do the best job he could. He was constantly thinking of his fellow employees, took on extra jobs, helped his boss out whenever he could, and performed the job he was hired for with attention and love. The first man was not promoted and quit in anger with many grievances against the company that “just couldn’t appreciate him.” The second man went on to become vice president.
When you think of others and yourself, have thoughts of riches, prosperity, success, and goodness. Having such thoughts helps make them come true. Let your thoughts about everyone be of their increased good. Picture everyone as successful. Sometimes people bring financial hardship to themselves by dwelling on other people’s financial difficulties, for what you focus on is what you draw to yourself. Rather than talking about how hard life is for people, send them compassion and light; see them getting out of their difficult situations and experiencing abundance. The positive pictures and love you send out will come back to you many times over.
One storekeeper increased his business dramatically by sending love and envisioning success for everyone who came into his store. People were magnetically drawn to his shop. If you hear friends complaining of lack, remind them of what they do have. When you are around people who talk of financial problems, see if you can change the subject or help them appreciate the abundance they have already created.
You may be hoping that your wealth will come from winning a lottery. To win, be ready to receive the money. While many of you hope to win, you don’t truly expect to win. People who win are committed to winning, and have dealt with their beliefs that say getting money this way is too easy, or too good to be true. Even more important, if winning the money would stop you from doing your life’s work, your higher self will keep you from winning. Winning a large sum of money can create more challenges than you think. It is important to have the right amount of money, and if a huge windfall would put your life out of balance, your higher self will most probably keep it from you.
Depending on how prepared you are to have a large windfall, many things in your life will change. Getting money gradually, at a pace you can adjust to, is a gift. You can get used to handling a larger energy flow in a balanced, stable way. You have the time to try out various actions before large sums are involved. If you aren’t prepared to handle a larger amount and you do get it, your higher self may find many ways for you to let go of it. Many people who have won or inherited large sums have also lost or spent them in just a few years; their own energy and the larger sum of money weren’t in harmony. Those who do keep their windfalls often keep the same jobs and homes and bank the money, slowly getting used to the increased amount.
Play lotteries if you grow from the process. For many people lotteries provide an opportunity to visualize themselves as abundant, and that picture helps them draw in abundance in other ways. Every time they buy lottery tickets, they feel the possible joy of winning, and bring that feeling into their lives. That may be precisely the feeling their souls want them to develop. You can create the same experience by visualizing your success, imagining having what you want, and making the picture as real and vivid as possible.
When you have money, see your money as a source of good; see it as potential to create higher purpose that has yet to be converted into substance and form. Keep picturing all your money in the bank or in your wallet as money that is awaiting your command to go out and create good for you and others. Appreciate your abundance, and realize that you have learned to tap in to the unlimited abundance of the universe. Your money is awaiting the opportunity to bring you good, and to improve your life and the lives of others.
About the author:
Sanaya Roman has been channeling Orin, a wise and gentle spirit teacher, for more than twenty years. All of Orin’s work assists people in unfolding their potential, finding their inner wisdom, and in growing their spirituality. Duane Packer has been channeling DaBen for many years, teaching people how to sense subtle energy and work with it to transform their reality. Both authors reside in Oregon and their website is www.orindaben.com.
Brain Scans Fuel Efforts to Teach Patients How to Short-Circuit Hurtful Signals
By MELINDA BECK
How you think about pain can have a major impact on how it feels.
That’s the intriguing conclusion neuroscientists are reaching as scanning technologies let them see how the brain processes pain.
Alternative remedies for relief of chronic pain are getting new attention and respect these days. Melinda Beck has details on Lunch Break.
That’s also the principle behind many mind-body approaches to chronic pain that are proving surprisingly effective in clinical trials.
Some are as old as meditation, hypnosis and tai chi, while others are far more high tech. In studies at Stanford University’s Neuroscience and Pain Lab, subjects can watch their own brains react to pain in real-time and learn to control their response—much like building up a muscle. When subjects focused on something distracting instead of the pain, they had more activity in the higher-thinking parts of their brains. When they “re-evaluated” their pain emotionally—”Yes, my back hurts, but I won’t let that stop me”—they had more activity in the deep brain structures that process emotion. Either way, they were able to ease their own pain significantly, according to a study in the journal Anesthesiology last month.
While some of these therapies have been used successfully for years, “we are only now starting to understand the brain basis of how they work, and how they work differently from each other,” says Sean Mackey, chief of the division of pain management at Stanford.
He and his colleagues were just awarded a $9 million grant to study mind-based therapies for chronic low back pain from the government’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
Some 116 million American adults—one-third of the population—struggle with chronic pain, and many are inadequately treated, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine in July.
Yet abuse of pain medication is rampant. Annual deaths due to overdoses of painkillers quadrupled, to 14,800, between 1998 and 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The painkiller Vicodin is now the most prescribed drug in the U.S.
“There is a growing recognition that drugs are only part of the solution and that people who live with chronic pain have to develop a strategy that calls upon some inner resources,” says Josephine Briggs, director of NCCAM, which has funded much of the research into alternative approaches to pain relief.
Already, neuroscientists know that how people perceive pain is highly individual, involving heredity, stress, anxiety, fear, depression, previous experience and general health. Motivation also plays a huge role—and helps explain why a gravely wounded soldier can ignore his own pain to save his buddies while someone who is depressed may feel incapacitated by a minor sprain.
“We are all walking around carrying the baggage, both good and bad, from our past experience and we use that information to make projections about what we expect to happen in the future,” says Robert Coghill, a neuroscientist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Dr. Coghill gives a personal example: “I’m periodically trying to get into shape—I go to the gym and work out way too much and my muscles are really sore, but I interpret that as a positive. I’m thinking, ‘I’ve really worked hard.’ ” A person with fibromyalgia might be getting similar pain signals, he says, but experience them very differently, particularly if she fears she will never get better.
Dr. Mackey says patients’ emotional states can even predict how they will respond to an illness. For example, people who are anxious are more likely to experience pain after surgery or develop lingering nerve pain after a case of shingles.
That doesn’t mean that the pain is imaginary, experts stress. In fact, brain scans show that chronic pain (defined as pain that lasts at least 12 weeks or a long time after the injury has healed) represents a malfunction in the brain’s pain processing systems. The pain signals take detours into areas of the brain involved with emotion, attention and perception of danger and can cause gray matter to atrophy. That may explain why some chronic pain sufferers lose some cognitive ability, which is often thought to be a side effect of pain medication.
The dysfunction “feeds on itself,” says Dr. Mackey. “You get into a vicious circle of more pain, more anxiety, more fear, more depression. We need to interrupt that cycle.”
One technique is attention distraction, simply directing your mind away from the pain. “It’s like having a flashlight in the dark—you choose what you want to focus on. We have that same power with our mind,” says Ravi Prasad, a pain psychologist at Stanford.
Guided imagery, in which a patient imagines, say, floating on a cloud, also works in part by diverting attention away from pain. So does mindfulness meditation. In a study in the Journal of Neuroscience in April, researchers at Wake Forest taught 15 adults how to meditate for 20 minutes a day for four days and subjected them to painful stimuli (a probe heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit on the leg).
Brain scans before and after showed that while they were meditating, they had less activity in the primary somatosensory cortex, the part of the brain that registers where pain is coming from, and greater activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which plays a role in handling unpleasant feelings. Subjects also reported feeling 40% less pain intensity and 57% less unpleasantness while meditating.
“Our subjects really looked at pain differently after meditating. Some said, ‘I didn’t need to say ouch,’ ” says Fadel Zeidan, the lead investigator.
Techniques that help patients “emotionally reappraise” their pain rather than ignore it are particularly helpful when patients are afraid they will suffer further injury and become sedentary, experts say.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, which is offered at many pain-management programs, teaches patients to challenge their negative thoughts about their pain and substitute more positive behaviors.
Even getting therapy by telephone for six months helped British patients with fibromyalgia, according to a study published online this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Nearly 30% of patients receiving the therapy reported less pain, compared with 8% of those getting conventional treatments. The study noted that in the U.K., no drugs are approved for use in fibromyalgia and access to therapy or exercise programs is limited, if available at all.
Anticipating relief also seems to make it happen, research into the placebo effect has shown. In another NCCAM-funded study, 48 subjects were given either real or simulated acupuncture and then exposed to heat stimuli.
Both groups reported similar levels of pain relief—but brain scans showed that actual acupuncture interrupted pain signals in the spinal cord while the sham version, which didn’t penetrate the skin, activated parts of the brain associated with mood and expectation, according to a 2009 study in the journal Neuroimage.
One of Dr. Mackey’s favorite pain-relieving techniques is love. He and colleagues recruited 15 Stanford undergraduates and had them bring in photos of their beloved and another friend. Then he scanned their brains while applying pain stimuli from a hot probe. On average, the subject reported feeling 44% less pain while focusing on their loved one than on their friend. Brain images showed they had strong activity in the nucleus accumbens, an area deep in the brain involved with dopamine and reward circuits.
Experts stress that much still isn’t known about pain and the brain, including whom these mind-body therapies are most appropriate for. They also say it’s important that anyone who is in pain get a thorough medical examination. “You can’t just say, ‘Go take a yoga class.’ That’s not a thoughtful approach to pain management,” says Dr. Briggs.
Psychotherapy, talk therapy, and counseling are all terms used when treatment revolves around a patient talking to a therapist every week. This series of blogs aims to evaluate some common myths about getting therapy for one’s mental or emotional symptoms. The first post in this series addressed the purpose of psychotherapy.
Myth: Talking about your issues is a psychological-only treatment in that it does not affect biological brain functioning.
Reality: This may be partially true. Talking about things often calms one down and lets one see several points of view and options for corrective actions in the future.
But psychotherapy is also a brain process. Talking things through likely strengthens the front part of the brain, making it stronger and better able to control the parts of the brain involved in drives and impulses (such as anger and sadness).
Imagine a depression study in which half of the patients only get psychotherapy, and the other half only get an antidepressant medication. Both groups of patients would get their brains scanned. (Such a study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2001.) Guess what? Those whose depression got better had the same changes in brain functioning, regardless of whether they took the medication or just talked in therapy. So talking in psychotherapy does create biological changes, just like some medications do.
Why is this important? Some patients think psychotherapy is just talking and they want a more “biological” treatment that is studied and scientific. Psychotherapy is both of these.
Posted by: Thomas L. Schwartz, MD at 2:42 pm
I have been on anti-depressants and anxiety medications for several years; I have also seen a couple of different psychotherapists as well. I feel that the combination for me has been tremendously healthy for my emotional well-being. Quite frankly I feel that for me the combination has been enormously helpful because talking with a trained professional in addition to taking medication is crucial at getting to the root of my mental health issues. I feel that talking with a psychotherapist “validates” and guides me through very strong mental issues that I have had over the years. For example, I have learned to be more assertive as a result of seeking psychotherapy as I am the type of person who can admit to needing more than just medication….I need validation of my feelings by a trained pr
If all you did was watch TV, you might think social anxiety disorder was as prevalent as depression — or as big a problem. Also called social phobia, social anxiety disorder is often treated first with medications, such as an SSRI antidepressant (you know, regulars like Paxil or Prozac). Psychotherapy is also an option — it’s just not as popular as medication.
In a randomized controlled research study published recently, two psychological interventions were put head to head to see which one would come out on top.
Cognitive therapy (CT) focuses on the modification of biased information processing and dysfunctional beliefs of social anxiety disorder. Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) aims to change problematic interpersonal behavior patterns that may have an important role in the maintenance of the problem.
According to the researchers, no previous direct comparison of these two treatment options exists.
In psychotherapy research, often researchers use a condition called a “waiting-list control” group. This group is told they will get treatment in a short time, but they have to be placed on a waiting list because no therapists are readily available. This allows the researchers to test to see if it’s time alone that will result in a person’s condition improving (rather than the therapy treatment).
A total of 117 subjects were gathered from two outpatient treatment centers, and out of those, 106 completed the study.
How was the study conducted?
Treatment comprised 16 individual sessions of either cognitive therapy or interpersonal therapy and one booster session. Twenty weeks after randomization, posttreatment assessment was conducted and participants in the control group received one of the treatments.
The primary outcome was treatment response on the Clinical Global Impression Improvement Scale, as assessed by independent evaluators [blinded to treatment conditions].
The secondary outcome measures were independent assessor ratings using the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale, the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, and patient self-ratings of SAD symptoms.
What were the results? At the end of the study, the cognitive therapy group have a nearly 66 percent response rate while the interpersonal therapy group had a 42 percent response rate. The control group, in comparison, had only a 7 percent response rate — meaning that just waiting for the problem to resolve on its own is significantly less effective than getting treatment for it.
In the specific measurement of social anxiety disorder, cognitive therapy significantly outperformed interpersonal therapy. Both treatment conditions significantly improved social anxiety symptoms in comparison to the control group.
This study also did something special a lot of studies don’t do — a one year followup. It’s all well and good to measure the effects of a treatment immediately when the study ends. But a one-year followup tells us whether the treatment “sticks” or not.
At the follow-up, the differences between CT and IPT were largely maintained, according to the researchers. The cognitive therapy group again came out on top with significantly higher response rates (68 percent) versus the interpersonal therapy group (32 percent)
The cognitive therapy group also had better outcomes on the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale at the one year followup.
So there you have it. For social anxiety disorder, cognitive therapy is the therapy of choice — it’ll give you great results in just 16 weeks. And not results dependent upon taking a medication for a year or two — results that are long-lasting and permanent.
Stangier U, Schramm E, Heidenreich T, Berger M, Clark DM. (2011). Cognitive therapy vs interpersonal psychotherapy in social anxiety disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 68, 692-700.
Dr. John Grohol is the CEO and founder of Psych Central. He has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues, and the intersection of technology and psychology since 1992. Dr. Grohol also sits on the editorial board of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine.
by Jerry Lopper, Personal Growth Coach on June 13, 2011 »
Image By Colin Brough
The influence of our parents is on my mind right now. Even as we become fully functioning adults and parents ourselves, it’s intriguing to consider how much of who we are is directly attributable to beliefs and experiences we encountered as children of our parents.
I’m reminded of this in reading Into My Father’s Wake, by journalist and author Eric Best. Best leaves his job, buys a sailboat, and sails solo from San Francisco to Hawaii and return in an attempt to resolve his relationship with his parents, especially his father.
A respected journalist, Best’s marriage is failing, he feels dead-ended in his job, and he struggles with alcohol and anger. The 50 day, 5,000 mile solo journey is his attempt to find himself and correct the path of his life.
Adult Children of Abusive Parents
Interspersed with fascinating descriptions of his sailing adventures, Best shares pleasant childhood memories of long sailing voyages with his father and disturbing memories of brutal beatings with a rubber hose at his father’s hands. He recalls his mother’s silent support of her husbands discipline, and struggles to come to terms with both parents’ treatments.
Most children are raised without the abusive behaviors demonstrated in Best’s book, yet don’t we all grow up carrying mixed images of our parents’ behaviors?
Psychologists offer an explanation that makes sense. Carl Pickhardt Ph.D. is a psychologist in private counseling practice who has authored several parenting books exploring the various phases of parent/child relationships as a child moves from childhood to adolescence to adulthood.
Pickhardt explains that the child idolizes and worships her parents, the adolescent criticizes and blames her parents as she begins the process of independence, and the adult rationalizes parental behaviors as she begins to understand the complexities of parental behavior.
The children of abusive parents experience conflicting and inconsistent adult behavior, at times nurturing and caring, at other times abusive and hurtful. Given the child’s total dependence and natural tendency to look up to her parents, the abused child is confused, ceases to trust, and may even assume she’s part of the problem. Best demonstrates how these conflicts carry into adulthood.
Children of non-abusive parents also experience conflicts. We see behaviors that are loving and caring as well as darker behaviors such as anger. We see our parents’ faults, tend to focus on those in adolescence, and may even carry their faults into adulthood as the reasons for our own failures.
Life Purpose and Our Parents
Looking at more positive aspects of parental influence, in The Celestine Prophecy, author James Redfield suggests that each person’s life purpose evolves from and extends the life purpose of their parents. Intrigued by this, I followed the suggested process of examining what each of my parents stood for (their strong beliefs and values) and where they fell short (weaknesses and limitations).
Sure enough, I could clearly see how my own life extended what each of my parent’s stood for and how I’ve developed interests and strengths which they lacked.
Since this analysis was valuable and informational to me, I added the process to my Purpose in Life Workshop content, expecting that others would also find valuable insights.
I was surprised by the responses of workshop participants. Though some found the process positive and helpful, a majority reacted strongly against the hypothesis, even resisting my encouragement to keep an open mind and explore the possibilities. It seemed a large number of people attribute their life’s problems directly to their parents.
Coming to Terms with Parents
What does this all mean? To me it simply means that parents are human beings, with the full range of human strengths and weaknesses. Parenting is tough work. Our parents made some mistakes along the way, as we have in our parenting roles.
On the road to adulthood, we’re exposed to many examples of behaviors, including the very influential examples of our parents. Whether they were outstanding parents or lacking in many ways, as adults our behaviors are ours alone. We can chose whether to copy behaviors of our parents or discard them. We can chose whether to cherish their parental talents or denounce them.
Personal growth involves insightful—sometimes painful—self-reflection. Personal growth also involves accepting the accountability and responsibility of personal choice for our behaviors.
Eric Best reaches this conclusion near the end of his solitary 50 day voyage, deciding to cherish the love and care his father displayed in teaching him to sail, while forgiving his brutal discipline as a terrible weakness of his father’s own personal struggles.
Into My Father’s Wake is a good story of a man’s journey of self-discovery. Those without sailing knowledge may struggle a bit with the sailor’s terminology, but all will appreciate the vivid imagery Best conveys as he describes the beauty and danger of solo-oceanic travel. I found that sharing Best’s struggles with the human frailties of his parents stimulated useful self-reflection on the influence of my own parents on my adult life.
“Every being is intended to be on earth for a certain purpose.”
— Sa’di, 12th Century Persian poet
I’m often asked, “Why can’t I find the purpose of my life?” Over the decades I’ve heard many men and women — whether they’re psychotherapy patients working to build healthier lives or business executive trying to create healthier leadership — say at some point that they don’t know what they’re really here, for, on this planet. They’re not necessarily religious or spiritually inclined, but they feel a longing for that “certain something” that defines and integrates their lives.
Many turn to the various books and programs purport to identify their life’s purpose, but most come away dissatisfied. No closer than they were before, they identify with Bono’s plaintive cry in the U2’s song, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
And yet, many do find and live in harmony with their life’s purpose. Here are some of my observations about why many don’t, and how they differ from those who do.
First, I think everyone feels a pull towards some defining purpose to his or her life, no matter how much it may have become shrouded over along the way. In fact, you can say that all forms of life, all natural phenomena, have some purpose. There’s always movement or evolution towards some kind of outcome or fulfillment — whether it’s a tree that produces fruit or clouds that form to produce rain. But we humans become so enraptured by our daily activity, engagements, goals and so forth, that our awareness of our own unique life purpose is easily dimmed.
And there are consequences to not knowing or finding your purpose. I often see men
and women who’ve become successful in their work or relationships — their outer lives — and yet they feel hollow, empty, unfulfilled. They describe feeling “off-track” in some way, or incomplete, despite a conventionally successful life. Sometimes they wonder if they’ve been on the “wrong” path all along — chosen the wrong career, or the wrong life partner. Or that perhaps they haven’t realized that their chosen path could be more meaningful or purposeful to them, if they let it. Moreover, they wonder how you can tell the difference?
One thing is clear: The consequences of not finding your purpose include chronic, lingering dissatisfaction; an absence of inner peace and a sense of not being fully in sync with your inner self. That’s because your true inner self knows that your life purpose is out of sync with your outer life. The latter is often a false self, but you’ve identified with it because it’s been so rewarding to your ego.
I think most people retain at least a glimmer of awareness of their life’s purpose within their inner being. It often feels like a leaning, an inclination, that continues to pull at you. Sometimes is right in front of your eyes but you don’t allow yourself to see it, like when you’re hunting for your missing keys and then discover that they’ve been right in front of you the whole time. For example, an investment advisor found himself doing more and more work with charity organizations. He finally realized that what he felt most in sync with was hands-on work helping people. That was the part he enjoyed about his work, not the money managing per se. Helping people was his true calling, and it was staring him in the face the whole time.
Those who experience a clear inclination but don’t pursue or fulfill it remain incomplete and dissatisfied. But it’s important not to confuse seeking happiness with finding your purpose. Happiness is what you experience in the daily flow of life — the highs and lows that are situational. They will fluctuate. But purpose is deeper. It’s more of an underlying sense of peace and fulfillment overall, a sense of integration and continuous unfoldment of your being. It transcends everyday ups and downs, the disappointments or successes, even. When you’re living in accordance with your life’s purpose, you view all of the above as part of what you encounter along the road. They don’t distract you from that larger vision, your ideal, which is like a magnet steadily pulling you towards it.
Themes Of People Who Find Their Purpose
There are commonalities among those who find their true purpose for being. One major theme is that they aren’t very preoccupied with self-interest, in their ego-investments in what they do. That can sound contradictory. How can you find your life purpose if you’re not focused on yourself? The fact is, when you’re highly focused on yourself, with getting your goals or needs met — whether in your work or relationships — your purpose becomes obscured. Your ego covers it, like clouds blocking the sun. Self-interest, or ego in this sense, is part of being human, of course. It’s something that requires effort and consciousness to move through and let go of, so you don’t become transfixed by it, as the Sirens sought to do to Ulysses.
Letting go of self-interest opens the door to recognizing your true self, more clearly, so you can see whether it’s joined with your outer life and creates a sense of purpose — or clashes with it. Knowing who you are inside — your true values, secret desires, imagination; your capacity for love, empathy, generosity — all relate to and inform your life purpose.
A second theme of those who discover their life purpose is that they use their mental and creative energies to serve something larger than themselves. That is, they’re like the lover who simply gives love for its own sake, without regard for getting something in return, without asking to be loved back or viewing his actions as a transaction or investment. That can be hard to imagine in our mercantile society, but giving your mental, emotional and creative energy from the heart comes naturally when you serve something larger than your self-interest. It beckons you; it calls forth your spirit.
This theme of service to something larger than your ego, larger than “winning” the fruits of what you’re aiming for, takes many forms in people. For some, their service and sense of purpose is embodied in the work that they do every day. That is, what they do reflects the paradox of not directly aiming to achieve something, because doing so only fuels the ego. This theme is described by John Kay, former Director of Oxford’s Business School, in “Obliquity.” There, he shows examples of achieving business or career goals by pursuing them indirectly; by deliberately not pursuing them. That is, too much self-interest tends to undermine success. It’s the difference between passion in the service of creating a new product, rather than trying to capture a big market share from the product.
Service towards something beyond ego is always visible in those who’ve found their purpose, whether younger and older. Sometimes it’s by conscious intent. For example, letting go of a previous path when they awaken to it’s not being in sync with their inner self. Sometimes it’s triggered by unanticipated events that answers an inner yearning
One example is a 20-something woman who, disenchanted with college, returned home and happen to join up with some other musician and artist friends. That led, in turn, to creating a nonprofit organization, the GoodMakers Street Team, a group of passionate young adults who are bringing positive change to communities. Older people are also discovering a newly-found life purpose. For example, the rise of “encore careers” and projects or engagements that they discover are more in sync with their inner selves; and perhaps have lingered in the background of their lives for years.
Sometimes one’s purpose is awakened by a tragedy one learns about, such as person who become moved by victims of torture and discovered his life’s purpose in helping them. Or, a tragedy one experiences, like John Walsh, whose nationally-known work in criminal justice was spurred by the murder of his young son.
If you work towards weakening the stranglehold of self-interest, you can take an important step towards discovering your life’s purpose: Learning from your choices and way of life. That is, they can give you important feedback about the path you’ve been on, in relation to your deeper life purpose.
Begin by examining what you’re currently doing in your choices, way of life, and commitments, looking from “outside” yourself. Try to discern what the outcomes — whether successes or failures — reveal to you about your inner self. Look for where there seems to be resonance or not. That is, don’t try to “find” your purpose by tweaking or fine-tuning what you’ve been doing in your work, relationships or anything else. Instead, let all of that teach you what it can. That is, look at what it tells you about your longings, your inner vision and predilections that you might be trying to express through your outer life, even if the latter may be an incorrect vehicle.
When you do feel a pull towards some purpose, activity or goal that you feel reflects your inner self, then pursue it fully and vigorously, and with great intent. Keep looking for the feedback your actions give you along the way. It doesn’t matter if your purpose is something more concrete or more spiritual. If you pursue it with minimal self-interest, with “obliquity,” you will learn from what happens if it’s the true path for you or not.
Infuse all of your actions with a spirit of giving, of service; in effect, with love for what you’re engaging with. That includes all the people you interact with, as well. The more you consciously infuse your thoughts, emotions and behavior with positive, life-affirming energy – kindness, compassion, generosity, justice – you’re keeping your ego at bay and you’re able to see your true purpose with greater clarity.
Of course, this is hard, and you might encounter opposition from cultural pressures or others who have their own interests at stake. Keep in mind, here, something Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.
The Sufi spiritual leader Hazrat Inayat Khan, who brought his teachings to the U.S. and Western Europe in the early 1900s, described the pull of your purpose in an interesting way. He wrote that one
…may suddenly think during the night, “I must go to the north,” and in the morning, he sets out on his journey. He does not know why, he does not know what he is to accomplish there, he only knows that he must go. By going there, he finds something that he has to do and sees that it was the hand of destiny pushing him towards the accomplishment of that purpose which inspired him to go to the north.
I find that men and women who set out to “go north” and awaken to their life purpose radiate a calm inner strength, inspiration, power and success in whatever they do with their lives. It radiates to all around them.
* * * * *Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a business psychologist and psychotherapist, is Director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, D.C. You may email him at dlabier@CenterProgressive.org