There is an NBA player, who I believe is on the spectrum. For people who are not knowledgeable with spectrum related issues, this guy may appear to be an all or nothing kind of player. One minute he is making and following through with picture perfect plays, the next minute he has unintentionally made himself the butt of a meme joke. I can tell that he is on the spectrum, because he works hard to hide his social oddities during interviews. A skill he will most likely perfect as time goes on. This is common among people on the spectrum, due to a marked difficulty in a being able to read and interpret nonverbal cues. “It’s hard for you to mimic something you don’t notice.”
One common issue people with Asperger or ASD diagnosis struggle with is perfectionism. This becomes an issue because of years of experience in trying to learn set of rules to compensate for the lack of intuitive rapport neurotypical people have in reading nonverbal cues. An unintended consequence of this is developing a subconscious tendency to be perfect. This is because the person on the spectrum has become accustomed and resistant towards critical feedback from others regarding how he isn’t doing most things to standard. So, to prevent any more critical feedback, the person takes an all or nothing approach to life. They are either doing it to perfection or not at all.
As you can imagine, perfectionism kills motivation, as the perfectionist becomes easily overwhelmed by the nuts and bolts of the intended activity he is required or desires to perform. So, in the absence of clarity, nothing gets done.
Overcoming perfectionism, is a process of coming to peace with rejection, real or perceived. Specifically, it is about coming to peace with rejection from yourself. You see, rejection from others is an illusion, as we are often not privy to the intents fueling the actions or words of others. So, if someone rejects you, you really don’t know why, unless that person is tells you and you believe them. It boils down to if you are at peace with the rejection in of itself. Being at peace with rejection, means that you often regard yourself unconditionally in a positive light. So, if the rejection is real and warranted, you don’t come to see yourself as a bad person but instead you see the situation as a learning experience.
Developing this mindset, requires a lot of effort and practice, but will help you move past the stuck mindset perfectionism creates in people. For clients I have worked with, who have made steady progress in overcoming their issues with perfectionism, they find themselves more motivated to get things done, and they find themselves doing things more quickly. It is not to suggest that minimum standards for activities be ignored, but is more to highlight the joy of liberation people experience when they allow others to be themselves towards them.
I once worked with a client, who upon anticipating that she was about to lose her job, started putting money away, payed her car notes and rent six months the in advance, and then mentally prepared herself for the storm to come.
In fairness, she had good reason to suspect she might lose her job, and all indications suggested that she was a very competent professional. I then introduced her to an exercise, in which she used her imagination to prepare for a positive experience. For example, a new job she better enjoyed with much better pay. While this exercise caught her off guard, she pleasantly surprised herself in learning that the steps she would take to prepare for this opportunity, where realistic and beneficial towards getting that job she wanted.
It is easy to focus on our daily struggles or major events in our lives not going our way, and it may seem like the right thing to do. “I have this problem, so therefore, if I focus on how best to deal with the problem it will go away.” But this doesn’t work like that, focusing on a problem only turns your attention to more of the problem, which only makes the problem more of your everyday life. The solution is the focus more on the opposite of the problem, or more specifically a desired outcome you wish to experience, followed by realistic measures by which to realize that desire.
Take for example, you live on island A, you are sick and tired of living on island A, so you go into a travel agent’s office and you inform said agent that you are sick and tired of living on island A and you want out. Naturally, the travel agent is going to ask you; “where would you like to go?” Instead of giving a desired destination, you shrug your shoulders and state, I don’t know, and continue your rant about how much you are done living on island A.
Then consider the second scenario, where you walk into the travel agent’s office, with the intent of removing yourself from island A. However, instead of lamenting how much you don’t like living on island A, you ask specifically for a plane or ship ticket to island B. Out of curiosity, the travel agent may ask you why you want to travel to island B, and you respond that you have heard so much good things about island B that you want to go and experience these good things for yourself.
This is how best to approach your problems, acknowledge them for what they are, and identify a realistic alternative to the experience. Then come up with a plan to realize this new experience. With this technique, you are not and never will be in denial about things not going your way, you will simply be taking radical steps in your life to surround yourself with the preferred reality you wish to experience.
One of the primary issues faced by people on the Autism spectrum and those with Asperger syndrome, is coping with feelings of being overwhelmed. These issues often start in childhood, as early as a year old, when children who become easily overwhelmed instinctively react by trying to shield themselves from exposure to excess stimuli. Parents of children on the spectrum can easily relate to stories of children who cover their ears with their hands in response to everyday sounds they perceive as loud and stressful. As the child ages, the coping skills for shielding oneself from excess exposure to environmental stimuli becomes even more subtle but the consequences are the same.
By environmental stimuli, I mean people, places and things which produce overwhelming feelings for the person, causing the person’s desire to retreat to safety until it’s safe again. The consequences are often themed with unfinished work, projects and poorly developed relationships with others. This often leads to unwanted isolation and a lifestyle marked by underachievement.
The solution is easy to understand, challenging to implement and well worth the effort. The solution is to do nothing in response to feelings of being overwhelmed. By doing nothing, you are choosing not to be reactive to your feelings of being overwhelmed, which is to engage in a series of behaviors to prevent yourself from experiencing the emotions you need to experience. Regardless of the specifics of what you do, your being reactive will be an attempt to control, manipulate and/or change your reality to manage your feelings.
Instead, by choosing to do nothing, you are allowing yourself the opportunity to experience the range of emotions you need to feel. Your challenge is to simply accept these emotions for what they are without being reactive. By choosing not to be reactive, you are beginning the process of deactivating your fight or flight response pattern, thereby opening access to your solution focused mind. When people choose to stop responding to their feelings of overwhelm fueled by their fears and worries, they become more insight driven and solution focused.
To the outside observer, who isn’t aware of the changes taken place inside the person, they will often observe someone who is behaving more courageous in their daily affairs. In fact, the person is behaving more courageous, as they are now in the practice of looking past their fears and worries and seeing their issues for the mere inconveniences they really are instead of catastrophes.
In my practice, it is a natural reaction for a client to listen to my take on doing nothing in response to feelings of overwhelm, and then responding with an example of a catastrophe they recently experienced in their life. Often, in processing these incidents with them, it is revealed that said catastrophe began as an inconvenience, which they poorly reacted to, thereby worsening the situation.
Catastrophes do happen in life, whether as an initial incident, or as an incident made worse from an overreaction. Regardless, the most effective response to feelings of being overwhelmed, is to accept the situation for what it is, and accept your feelings for what they are. Once this is achieved, only then can you begin to take a solution focused response.
The process of doing nothing to feelings of overwhelming stress and anxiety, is something that takes quite a bit of effort for a first timer. Specifically, there are evidenced based cognitive behavioral strategies, like the ones found in this CBT workbook, “Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety,” by Seth J Gillihan PhD.
A person can study and practice these strategies on their own, or with an experienced therapist.
The number one cause for hopelessness is living a lie. This lie is usually a narrative you were raised to believe in from a very young age and thus your brain over the years has become wired to look for signs and signals that support your belief in this false narrative, leading you to make daily decisions which support this lie.
The problem with lies is that when we make decisions, or attempt to solve problems based on a lie, (aka problems that don’t exist) nothing changes. Take for example, there was once a young man who was being treated by his family physician for irritable bowel syndrome. During treatment, his condition remained the same for a long time and then took a turn for the worse. It was only when things got worse, that the young man explained to his doctor that he had been abusing laxatives, as part of his diet plan. Now that the doctor and the young man where no longer making decisions based on a false narrative, they could get him the appropriate help he needed for abstaining from laxatives.
This story is a concrete example about how we spin our wheels when we attempt to live our lives on false narratives. A false narrative is a logical fallacy, where the solutions we attempt to apply to our perceived problems make sense, if only the foundation were true. In the story shared in the previous paragraph, only the doctor was in the dark about what was the true cause of the problem. Perhaps some might argue the young man to some degree was also in the dark because he might not have made a connection between his use of laxatives and his stomach issues. Most people who experience hopelessness have no clue that they are attempting to live a lie.
They feel hopeless about their situations, because they have reached the conclusion the path they are taking is the only sure way of getting their needs met. It’s like someone who believes that he can walk through a wall, and repeatedly bangs his head against the wall with the expectation that the wall will eventually give in. Eventually, the person gives up, slums against the wall while massaging a wounded head. Hopelessness feels the same way, you keep tackling the same problem with solutions that make sense, but to no avail. Eventually you begin to lose faith in yourself, and when you see others whom you perceive are doing a great job in getting their needs met, you begin to see yourself as a failure and you start to develop a pessimistic view about your ability to thrive in life.
But what if the problem, or set of problems you have been desperately attempting to tackle, have never been the true issue at all? What if your core beliefs are foundationally based on myths? If you struggle with feelings of hopelessness, then this is good news. It means that there are other ways for you to get your needs met, but first you must go through great pains to revise your beliefs.
Most people who are genuinely lost in regards to where to start in revising their belief systems, would benefit a great deal from a seasoned therapist, who can guide them in addressing all aspects of their lives.
Hopelessness is a dangerous feeling to experience, this is because once feelings of hopelessness begin to set and fester, people start reconsidering their existence. When clients share suicidal thoughts and feelings with me, I have responded by asking them if they have left “no stones unturned.” Leave no stones unturned is an old figure of speech for searching and exploring all possibilities before considering another alternative. For example, if you lost your keys and you strongly suspect it is in your house. To leave no stone unturned would be that you thoroughly search your house before considering a search at another location.
So if you are experiencing bouts of hopelessness, and you are contemplating your existence, to leave no stone unturned means that you thoroughly explore every possibility to address your situation. In my fifteen years of counseling there are always several things people have not considered, and when they do consider and follow through, their lives improve.
In truth, nothing is worth ending your life over, I have counseled people who experienced feelings of hopelessness over the death of a loved one, people who received a medical diagnosis which changed their lives, breaking up with a romantic partner, experiencing a significant loss of wealth and not experiencing success or loss in reacquiring wealth. In all of these examples there were three recurring reasons which induced feelings of hopelessness. These reasons were all connected to the beliefs and values of the persons, mainly their relationships with these beliefs and values. Given that most of what we believe comes from our formative years, sometimes without realizing it, we sometimes enmesh our old beliefs with our sense of identity. Which makes it even more difficult for us to reconsider revising the beliefs we hold. So, the reasons people struggle with hopelessness are as follows.
Grief and Loss
The loss of a loved one can be an especially painful experience, particularly when that person passed away before his or her elderly years. However, grief and loss is not limited to the loss of a loved one, it also deals with the loss of income, the loss of a relationship, the loss of perceived status, and the list goes on.
I have noticed the pain of grief and loss is especially unbearably for parents who have lost children. In cases where this was the only child or first child of the person, the grief appeared to be so unbearable that they had almost stopped functioning in their daily lives. The loss was a situation they never contemplated and refused to accept. I have never been a fan of the stages of grief model, which involve denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This is because the first four stages typically occur together, and what keeps the person from coming to a place of acceptance are the beliefs they hold in relation to the grief. So if I am working with a client who lost her only child, and she continues to repeat that a parent should never bury a child, the statement is a testament to what she believes, which is keeping her sick. In truth, it is a sad day when a parent buries a child, but the statement, “a parent should never have to bury a child is false,” because there is no force or entity that can guarantee the prevention of such a tragedy. In truth this client can come to peace and make a new meaning of her life, even though the pain from the loss might never go away.
Pride may seem like an odd reason, but I rank pride as number two on my list because it is very common. Human beings are innately wired to function in a hierarchal structure, this means for most people who are not aware of this, from the cars they drive, to the clothes they wear, a certain level of status within a micro and macro hierarchal system is being communicated. For those who are not aware of this, and for those who are aware of this and cherish it, when there is a loss of status, due to changes in the person’s life, a sense of hopelessness can set it. This sense of hopelessness is often due to a set of beliefs which state that the person can exist and function in no other state other than the previous state he had grown accustomed to. This is called pride, so in maintaining consistency with the term, leave no stone unturned, an effective solution would be for the person to explore what it would be like to actually live his or herself without his perceived status enhancer.
People don’t like doing hard or difficult things, especially when the prospect of engaging in a difficult task does not guarantee any favorably outcomes. For example, a gold digger is less likely to dig for gold in an area where there is no evidence for gold. Or a high school senior is less likely to apply to attend a college or university if he or she does not believe that a college degree would be beneficial in their life. Given that change is a constant in our lives, it is inevitably that we will all come to crossroads in our lives where we have to consider committing too hard and difficulty work in the hopes of an outcome that improves our lives. If the work is hard and time consuming and the reward is not guaranteed, this can be discouraging to some people and influence the onset of hopelessness. A solution to this would be to explore the belief of promised or guaranteed outcomes. In truth, nothing is guaranteed, however the work we put in helps to add meaning and purpose to our lives, as well as experience.
Hopelessness can be overcome; it is a matter of moving past our difficult feelings and revisiting the messages we have come to believe.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC
The narratives we come to believe in our early childhood have a powerful influence over us. This is because during our early days, the part of our brains that are the most active is the right hemisphere. The right hemisphere is associated with viewing the world from an emotional perspective, as opposed to the left hemisphere which is strongly associated with logic and reasoning. This is why scientists and mathematicians are generally referred to as left brained while those who specialize in the creative arts are referred to as right brained.
So if neuroscience is mostly accurate on brain functions then all children, if not most children must be right brained, emotional, creative, primal and spontaneous. This would mean that during this period of development when the right brain is most active, children interpret most of their daily experiences, especially the acquisition of beliefs and values through an emotional and primal perspective.
This means that whatever beliefs and values you inherited during your early life experiences, is something that is mostly likely non conscious, and primarily associated with your sense of identity, even if it is false.
This is where self-deceit comes in. Self-deceit happens when we run into life challenges that require us to revise our core beliefs in order to overcome said challenges. For example, take a young person who comes from a small town and all throughout his life he was heralded as a really good football player. To the extent in which members of his town began to express great expectations for him to become a professional player. The person eventually graduates high school and gains admission into a major university, where he barely makes the school team and he is eventually cut from roster. If this person already has a self-identity forged in being a star athlete, he is going to have a difficult time accepting the reality of his situation. Furthermore, the longer he holds unto this self-identity the more self-defeating decisions he is going to make in order to maintain a sense of self consistency with his false identity and delusions. This will go on until he reaches rock bottom in his life, or he is fortunate to receive an intervention from a support group.
In the above example, you can substitute star football player with a number of different identities a person may have come to embrace during his or her early life experiences. Regardless this is the root cause of all self-deceits, when challenges a person is currently experiencing, require a major revision of strongly held beliefs which is easier said than done.
While a revision and replacement of major beliefs inherited during childhood years is easier said than done, it is possible. Through cognitive behavioral therapy someone who struggles with self-deceit can relearn to accept themselves unconditionally with positive regard. This will then make it possible for them to abandon any old and unhealthy beliefs associated with their sense of identity and adopt new and healthy beliefs which reinforce unconditional self-acceptance. All of these can be accomplished through the comprehension and consistent practice of cognitive behavioral strategies which leads a rewiring in the brain.
Ugochukwu is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC
Our feelings serve to draw our attention to messages. These messages can be good, bad or indifferent. The intensity of the feelings serves as a call to how urgent we should attend to these messages. An analogy would be the mistaken act of burning your thumb on a hot stove, while cooking. The intense pain you would feel from this incident would be the nerve endings in your thumb, calling your attention to the fact that you are cooking your thumb. This would lead to you instinctively taking your thumb away from the hot stove, examine the damage and seek immediate relief from the pain. So in this analogy the pain would represent the feeling with the message being the burnt thumb.
To further expand on this analogy, the feeling of pain was a sensation produced by the properly functioning nervous system in response to a part of the body being exposed to excessive heat that was resulting in damage to that part of the body. So in essence the feeling was internally generated as a result of the incident. Given a similar analogy with the difference being a non working nervous system, there would be no pain which would most likely lead to permanent injury.
When you experience psychological feelings, it is a result of a proper functioning neurological network in response to a specific stimulus or stimuli. Feelings whether joy, sadness, indifference or rage exist to draw our attention to a message. The more intense the feeling is, or the more emotionally aroused you are the more urgent the message is. So if you receive good news, like the birth of a new family member, you would most likely experience feelings of joy. Your feelings of joy would draw your attention to the message that something important and good just took place in your life. Same thing if you go to work on Monday and you were let go, you would surely experience negative feelings which would draw your attention to something unpleasant and serious taking place in your life.
We generate our own feelings, as a result of the interaction between our beliefs and our experiences. So it sends a self defeating message when we hold others accountable for our feelings. The only way for another person to hurt us is to visit physical pain upon our person hood, however as far as hurt feelings are concerned, we simply experience pain when we perceive things are not going our way.
When we focus on the fallacy regarding how others hurt our feelings, we fail to attend to the message our feelings are sending to us and we emotionally regress to the mindset of infants, where there is a strong expectation that our feelings are supposed to be attended to by someone else. In this mindset we risk further exposing ourselves to more hurt, pain and shame which leads to a vicious circle.
The answer is unconditional acceptance of self with positive regard. You accept yourself unconditionally simply because you exist. Doing so allows you to get past difficult feelings and examine the messages they are trying to convey.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and professional life coach.
Do you habitually struggle with following through on some tasks and commitments you know you should take on and complete, but can’t? More importantly, do you struggle to understand why you can’t engage in something you know will benefit you but you can’t make sense of it?
You are one of millions of people who struggle with this phenomenon, and the reason for your struggle is low mental energy. Keep in mind that energy comes in all forms, so the energy required to power your coffee maker is radically different from the energy required to power your automobile, with significant overlap. The same situation can be observed with human beings. The energy required to power your physical being is radically different from the energy required for you to engage in cognitive complex tasks that require concentration, specifically tasks that you don’t like doing. This energy is very fragile and for most people exists in low quantities. Ideally, over our lifetime starting from our early life experiences, we learn and employ cognitive strategies towards increasing the resilience and duration of this energy.
This is why people can consume media over long periods of time, engage in physical activities they find satisfying and still come up short when it comes to engaging in needed tasks. The activities they enjoyed required a different type of energy and sometimes a lesser amount of that energy. A concrete example would be someone who spends several minutes a day, typing messages and comments on facebook, but procrastinates when it comes down to typing up a needed report for work. While both activities involved concentration and the physical operation of typing, the first activity stimulated the emotional and social mind, as well as the immediate reward of engagement by social peers online. While the latter stimulated the more analytical mind, with the reward for engagement in this activity being delayed.
The good news is that it is possible to increase your self control, the process involves increasing and improving the sustainability of your energy for self control. In order to accomplish this task, you first have to understand how self control energy is depleted.
Food and Diet.
The food you eat is very important, in these posts, 1, 2, and 3 on anxiety and depression, I discussed how some neurotransmitters are produced in the stomach, primarily serotonin. I also discussed how the quality of these neurotransmitters are influenced by the quality of food we eat. So foods of low quality nutrition, leads to the production of low quality neurotransmitters which leads difficulty in our ability to regulate our moods. Mood swings take up a lot of mental energy, primarily in the areas of concentration. When we experience mood swings we are either constantly focused on maintaining a facade, in order not to damage relationships, or we are focused on recurring conflicts with others, based on how our bad moods influenced us to treat them. Another aspect of food, as it relates to self control energy is that research has shown that people who skip breakfast, were more likely to experience physical and mental exhaustion when compared to those who did not skip breakfast.
Research has suggested that we process the day’s events during our sleep. Specifically, the right and left hemispheres communicate with each other through the corpus callosum in our sleep with each hemisphere sharing with the other their unique perception of the same experiences. Specifically, the right hemisphere processes information from an emotional perspective while the left hemisphere process information from an analytical perspective. Researchers have come to believe that this process promotes learning. I would take it a step further and state that this process is akin to a body builder’s muscle repairing itself after a workout. Suffice to say, lack of sleep or poor sleep reduces learning of daily experiences, which increases the likelihood of the same mistakes being made habitually, which increases stress, which leads to low mental energy.
Beliefs and Values
Our beliefs and values can set us up to either thrive or struggle in our lives. This is because some beliefs help to recharge our mental energies, thereby increasing our ability to exercise self control, while other beliefs deplete our mental energies, thereby decreasing our ability to exercise self control. This is by far the most important variable in regards to self control, because what you believe in and subsequently find value in influences what your priorities, regarding what you choose to focus your mental energies on. So therefore, your beliefs and values can influence your quality for sleep and your diet.
For example, what if you believed that you shouldn’t go through any struggle in life? Or more specifically, you believed that you were not capable or resilient enough to go through any struggle in life and so therefore you shouldn’t go through any struggle in life? If this is a belief you hold unto in any degree, it stands to reason that you will find value in anything that represents an easy life. The end result would be a mindset conditioned to resort to avoidance when challenges present themselves. Which results in chronic under achievement, feelings of low self worth and addictive behaviors to escape such feelings. In the event of addiction, the addiction may overshadow the person’s life, due to low mental energies resulting from lack of discipline in responding to life’s challenges.
Some people may read this and declare that they do not hold unto beliefs and values that are detrimental to their well being. However, ninety percent of the beliefs we act upon are beliefs that exists in our minds beyond our level of consciousness. In most case, a psychotherapist can provide expert help in helping you understand yourself and recognize your true motives.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.