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.
Most of the clients I treat for anger management describe themselves as terrible people. Furthermore, they are often described as bullies by their family members and those who are close to them. Typically such a description will come from a spouse who will call in to schedule an appointment on their behalf.
In getting to know these clients, overwhelmingly men, I find that they are typically overwhelmingly nice. To a point where they are inconsistent in setting for themselves healthy boundaries with other people. In close relationships this becomes a problem as the person seldom addresses naturally occurring conflicts with the other person or persons. This leads to stuffing of feelings and chronic pretentiousness in the relationship, until the person can no longer keep his feelings bottled up, the next stage is the angry outburst. In severe cases, particular crisis fueled episodes, the angry person habitually engages in bouts of angry outbursts with strangers.
To others who witness these outbursts, based on their feelings of confusion and feelings of being upset, they come to see the “angry” person as a bully or mentally unstable at worst. Meanwhile the person who engaged in the angry outburst is burdened by feelings of guilt and shame and will typically resolve to double down on his commitment to being the nicest person possible. Unfortunately this plays out as the person failing to exercise assertiveness skills leading to little or no boundaries being set. This then sets the stage for a new cycle where the person habitually stuffs his feelings, bottles up resentment before deciding that he can no longer put up with perceived disrespect. For people in close relationships with these people, it could feel that the angry outbursts are unpredictable, when it fact they are very predictable.
At the beginning of therapy for poor anger management, the person is first introduced to exercises for recognizing his difficult feelings. He is then introduced to cognitive strategies for recognizing and responding appropriately to his difficult feelings.
The core of addressing poor anger management skills is to address the core beliefs of the chronically “angry” person which influence his episodes of anger. For example, with someone who has difficulty exercising healthy boundaries in his relationships with others, it will be important to determine what beliefs he holds unto which prevent him from setting healthy boundaries.
It could be a belief about how he communicates with others, or it could be a belief about how he sees himself, these are just two examples of a variety of possible beliefs a person could hold unto. For example, I once had a client share with me that he viewed expressing his disagreement at work and at home as a form of complaining. He then further stated that he saw complaining as a form of being weak minded.
Whatever belief he is holding unto, is going to be an irrational belief. Put simply, irrational beliefs are beliefs which are not true, but feel true to the person who holds unto them. For example, a belief which states that “no one should curse at me,” is a belief which feels true, because people generally don’t like to be cursed at, but is an irrational belief because we have no control over the words of others.
Once an irrational belief has been identified, a healthier alternative is chosen for the person to adopt, along with cognitive behavioral strategies for internalizing the new belief. The process of practicing new beliefs produces a paradigm shift in how the person’s sees the world around him and subsequently how he interacts with others.
For those who are successful in adopting and implementing new healthier beliefs, family members and others close to them come to see them as more genuine, confident and compassionate.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
From blog posts, video logs to headlines news stories, most of us as inundated with stories about “bad” people and how these people affect our lives. The idea of someone or a group of people doing bad things to us can be emotionally triggering, to the point where you can lose yourself playing the role of the victim. You then find other people who can either relate to your story of victim-hood or at least sympathize with you on how you have been victimized.
The problem with this mindset is that, if you are indeed experiencing any degree of victimization at the hands of another person or group of people, you will continue to be victimized until you recognize your role in the story. While it is true that good people from time to time do experience bad experiences and sometimes at the hands of other people, a majority of the time when we have recurring bad experiences it is a result of the role we have unintentionally played in keeping the bad experience alive and well.
The ego can be fragile, it is an instinctual source we turn to, to find a sense of confidence in regards to how we navigate through life. However primary reliance on the ego to get you through challenges in life is a mistake. You need to be able to identify your flaws and weakness and the role they play in your recurring bad experiences or victim-hood, specifically in your relationships with others.
From personal to formal relationships in order to change our daily experiences for the better, we need to recognize the bad things we ourselves do and change them for the better. Seldom can you truly be absolved of all guilt during conflicts with others. In cognitive behavioral therapy, the client is introduced to the standard format of experience + behavioral response = natural and logical consequences. With the behavioral response being the most important variable in that simple equation. This is because, while you cannot control what other people do to you to include other experiences caused by other sources, your response to your experiences determines just how manageable your life is going to be.
In short, worrying too much about what others might do, does nothing to facilitate growth in our lives.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
If you suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, (OCD) and you are experiencing difficulty in getting yourself to adapt healthier behaviors in your life, there are no easy solutions. However, there is a solution, the solution is three part, defining what the problematic behavior is and picking an alternative and healthier behavior, understanding the genesis of the problematic behavior and learning and practicing how to get past your difficult emotions so you can practice your new behavior.
Defining what the problem is.
Let’s say you have a ritual with touching door knobs three times before entering any room. This is a problematic behavior because it is an oddity and people around you are bound to notice. Furthermore, the stressful urge that pushes you to engage in this behavior puts you in an anxious and stressful mood any time you enter any room, especially a room with a person or persons that you are required to engage with. Furthermore, it is also problematic as the obsession with performing this ritual prevents you from being present with others. So it stands to reason that the solution for this problem would be the opposite of what you are doing which would be two part, first that you no longer go through the awkward ritual of touching door knobs three times before you enter any room. Secondly, that you relive yourself from the strong mental urges to engage in such a ritual.
Understanding the Genesis of the problem.
From my experience in treating obsessive compulsive disorders, a commonality is usually a stressful childhood. The sufferer’s childhood was either blatantly abusive, such as physical abuse or covertly abusive, such as emotional abuse. Usually when someone suffering from OCD or any other type of mental health issues insists that they had a great childhood, they often will immediately contradict themselves in reporting on stories and experiences that the average person would consider to be terrible. Regardless, when an adult or child is chronically exposed to a stressful situation for which they lack the cognitive skills to properly address, the consequence that follows is usually the development of some type of mental health illness. Clinical evidence of this can be attributed to a research study where University of Berkeley researches showed that chronic exposure to stress leads to long term changes in the brain which the researches argue predisposes people to mental illness. Regardless, from a place of understanding and forgiveness, it is beneficial to explore any and all past traumas, big and small and understand how they have shaped you and influenced your problematic behaviors.
Practicing how to get past your difficult emotions.
So now you have defined what the problematic behavior is, and you have successfully explored how you came about developing this maladaptive behavior, there remains one major problem. This problem is getting past your strong urges and feelings of anxiety to engage in the problematic behavior in this first place. OCD is the result of brain damage, primarily to the basal ganglia. While biological infections have been known to cause damage to the basal ganglia, a common cause for such a damage would be atypical neurological wiring. Such atypical wiring can be attributed how a person lacking the cognitive skills to deal with a prolonged stressful situation, adapts with unhealthy behaviors which work in the short term.
A good example would be learning to read others for signs of anger, irritation or moodiness. This leads to a belief fallacy that the person can control others based on their astute observations of others and it also leads to an underdevelopment in assertiveness skills, in which the person unintentionally recreates familial stress in their lives by walking on egg shells around others and getting into personal relationships with difficult people. In most cases, people who suffer from OCD report a false feeling of having control over the situation when they engage in their rituals.
Regardless, having become armed with the knowledge of how their daily behavior influences their neurological wiring, most suffers from OCD become motivated towards practicing their alternative and desired behavior in response to emotional urges to engages in old rituals. For best results I would recommend OCD suffers to work with an experienced cognitive behavioral therapist.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
The number one obstacle for people accomplishing any measure of change in their lives is the belief that they should be comfortable. The problem with always feeling comfortable is that it takes away your will to strive for any measure of accomplishment, in getting your needs and values met. When you are comfortable, you no longer have a sense of urgency to address challenges in your life and make the necessary changes. This is not to suggest that you must always be in a state of urgency to accomplish change in your life, but it does mean that if there any changes you want to make in your life, it is a mistake to wait to get to a state of comfort before you begin practicing change. If you wait to get to a place of comfort, you will simply revert back to old behaviors.
Feelings of discomfort are actually an evolution advantage; in that they motivate us towards taking action. For example, a hungry stomach will motivate you to get some food for yourself, however if you are surrounded by delicious junk food which influences your health for the worse, once you have satisfied your hunger with the junk food, you become less motivated towards acquiring and preparing for yourself healthier foods that will benefit your health. This is because the latter is more time consuming and requires significant effort.
In order to exercise the change, you need in your life, you will need to adopt a mindset where you come to appreciate all feelings and sensations as helpful. This means that even when you experience feelings of discomfort, you come to see these feelings as messages from your brain and body. These messages can be about things either going your way or things not going your way. When greeted with feelings that communicate any measure or severity of discomfort, ask yourself why you feel this way and then make a commitment to attend to the message without seeking to alleviate yourself from the discomfort. Often times this commitment can be made in writings. Over time, you will become more tolerable of uncomfortable feelings and more skilled at attending to the daily challenges in your life which require you to exercise change.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
It is not uncommon for me to run into a potential client who is seeking to change a detrimental habit. The habit can range anywhere from issues with procrastination to substance abuse. In the process of gathering more information from the client. I encounter a pattern of unhealthy thinking and behaving that is prevalent in all areas of the clients’ life.
Upon bringing this to the attention of the client, I receive a response that the only thing he or she wants to work on is changing the specific habit they complained about, and nothing else. Well, this is a problem, because everything about us is interwoven. This means that while we are working on cognitive strategies to change thoughts and behaviors regarding the identified behavior, the client continues to engage in his established pattern of thinking and behaving in other areas of his life, which only reinforces the bad habit he wants to change.
The idea that we can departmentalize our behaviors is a misunderstanding, A misunderstanding because some people experience significant success in some areas of their lives than other areas of their lives. The simple reason for this is because in the areas they have experienced more success, they invested more time. Regardless, if you are experiencing negative consequences due to chronic detrimental behavior you engage in, it is based on your mindset, or simply put, an unhealthy mindset you adhere to. This means that for people who struggle with unhealthy behaviors, while simultaneously experiencing success in another area of their life, then they have experienced that success in spite of their unhealthy mindset. Furthermore, in the absence of the identified unhealthy mindset, they would achieve even more success in the area or areas they are already excelling in.
Ultimately, the ability to identify a need to change, and the preference to cherry pick what type of change will occur, is a primitive instinct. Meaning that we want to experience positive changes in our lives with little cost or sacrifice.
It is also important to note, that for those who embrace focusing on the whole versus the parts, the process of changing your entire life is counter intuitive in that you only focus on your mindset and become cognizant on when and how you practice change in all areas of your life.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
I recently came across an article regarding a neuroscientific intervention for sleep paralysis. What I find fascinating about the article is the heavy reliance of mindfulness and meditation the neuroscientist prescribes for sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis occurs when you find yourself awake but unable to move. This lack of movement can last from several seconds to a few minutes as the sufferers’ experience sheer terror and agony in their inability to move their bodies. In some cases, people who suffer from sleep paralysis also experience hallucinations, most commonly reported is a shadowy presence in the bedroom.
The four steps for regaining control of one’s body during sleep paralysis are:
- Reappraisal of the meaning of the attack
- Psychological and emotional distancing
- Inward focused-attention
- Muscle relaxation
Step 1, “reappraisal of the meaning of the attack” is another way of saying that you should give the attack another label. The idea of waking up from sleep without the ability to move is so terrifying for most people that some sufferers develop extreme anxiety about going to sleep in the first place. For some people they spend the entire experience of their paralysis in a state of fright until they are able to move again. This leads to learned dread and a host of other issues. By relabeling the paralysis, you begin to experience a shift in your perception of what’s going on. For example, if you found yourself in this situation, you could tell yourself that you are experiencing a phenomenon that occurs in 20% of the population and is temporary.
Step 2, “psychological and emotional distancing” means that you should practice adopting an objective view of the situation. Since you have already told yourself that this is something 20% of population already experiences and is temporary, you should readily observe that your feelings of fright and panic are understandable but irrational.
Step 3, “inward focused-attention” this means that you should practice positive thinking. The author of the article recommends focusing on a loved one or a positive event. I would recommend you envisioning yourself getting out of bed and walking about. A mindset that can help with this vision is to inform yourself that while your mind is awake, your brain and your body haven’t yet received the signal to awake and move and are merely playing catch up. So soon you will be out of the bed and walking about.
Step 4, “muscle relaxation” from what clients who have struggled with sleep paralysis have told me, while they may not be able to move, they discover that there are aspects of their body that they can still control, such as their breathing and their ability to flex certain muscle groups. As tempting as it may be, forcing yourself to move only worsens the experience. Instead you are recommended to practice easy breathing and relax your muscles, by doing this you are adopting an attitude of acceptance towards the entire situation, which reduces the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack during the paralysis and shortens the duration of the paralysis.
The more people are able to successfully practice these steps during sleep paralysis, the less dread and anxiety they will have about sleeping, which in all likelihood will reduce the frequencies of the sleep paralysis.
This is the link to the article.
Ugo is a therapistand professional life coach.
“A friend of mine was learning how to swim, when he suddenly felt he was starting to drown. He began splashing wildly about when his instructor told him to stand up. Much to my friend’s relief and embarrassment, he discovered he was okay.”
Anxiety is based on primal fear, and primal fear is based on the idea of not having enough. Not having enough of your basic needs met and perishing before you reach a ripe age, not having not enough social support and being vulnerable, and the list could go on. The point is that when we are struggling with anxiety our mindset operates on the idea of scarcity. When we think from a place of scarcity, we are fearful, we are timid, we are excessively selfish, we are desperate and hurried in our decision making. The mind of the anxious person is irrational, like the story of my friend learning how to swim and pessimistic, picture yourself at noon in the middle of any desert during the summer months with less than a quarter of warm water left in your canteen.
The anxious person does not take any risk, because he operates from a place of what he might lose as opposed to what he might gain. This leads to a self fulfilling prophesy, where like the unfortunate hiker in the middle of the desert, the anxious person is careful about not exerting too much energy, least they might end up losing the little they have left.
By now the answer may have become obvious to you, to rid anxiety visualize yourself having enough of what you need. So once my friend learned that he was in the shallow end, he exercised more courage in his swimming lessons. So in essence, his level of safety was enough. Or you can also practice imaging yourself as a hiker with enough water to last you to the next well or tap.
How the mental practice of visualizing yourself easily getting your needs met, is not enough. This is because people who struggle with anxiety, have experienced anxiety for most of their lives. This means that for most of their lives, their brains have become wired to think in regards to scarcity. So they have become habituated to thinking in regards to timidity, desperation and primitive survival instincts. The good news is that our brains are malleable, meaning that it is never too late to learn new ways of thinking and doing.
There are cognitive behavioral strategies you can learn and implement which would make your practice of visual exercises fruitful. Here’s one, start small. Visualize yourself engaging in a small challenge, which you have passively dreaded due, to your perception of the risk to reward ratio, or your lack of confidence in yourself. Create a plan to follow through with this small challenge in which you create a narrative which consists of the best possible scenario and outcome for this challenge. Then when you are done engage in the challenge.
The mere process of your creating a plan for the challenge, rewires your brain to how you see the situation and increases your motivation to make you overcoming this challenge a reality. It is not uncommon for people to experience some emotional difficulty when practicing this exercise. These are usually due to past traumas. If you are experience difficulty completing this exercise due to difficult feelings you can’t get past, a therapist can help you process these difficult feelings and get you back on track.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and a professional life coach.