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
The most common cause for stress I witness as a therapist is a refusal to adopt to change. Stress itself is not bad. We experience stress when we experience a heightened sense of arousal in response to negative experiences our brains have interpreted as worrisome or a potential threat.
For example, if you are experiencing a bad relationship with a supervisor at work, it is perfectly natural for you to experience stress, in response to your brain seeing this as a potential threat. After all, your supervisor is responsible for rating your performance on the job and in most cases a deciding factor for how long you keep your job. If you are in a position where your job is a sole source of income it is understandable that you may feel threatened if you suspect that your supervisor is not happy with you. If you lose your job, your ability to sustain yourself in regards to your basic needs will become inconvenienced until you find another job.
So what if you find yourself in this position? What do you do? Most people in this position would approach their supervisors and attempt to find out how to remedy the situation. I have counseled with people who have taken this route, only to continue to experience the same negative encounters with their supervisors.
In most cases like these I have dealt with, once the person runs out of options he or she continues to go through a sequence of activities they have traditionally done. Show up for work on time, remain courteous, to co workers and supervisors, address official issues with the supervisor all the while experiencing an emotional breakdown on the inside. In a few cases the person would have made an attempt to find a new job, but after one or two rejection letters they usually give up on this route. All the while, the primary stress-or he or she is experiencing continues unabated.
This post is not meant to discuss work issues per se, it is meant to address why some people deal so poorly with stress. The primary reason? Our beliefs. What we come to believe plays a primary role in how we deal with stress. Our beliefs are like doors to other realities, one belief can open your life up to multiple opportunities, while others can lead to dead ends. So if I were to use the example of an employee experiencing being emotionally stuck as a result of all his strategies to end the problems with his supervisor not working, I would say that the employee is operating on a set of limiting beliefs.
On the surface that belief could be that the current employment he has is the best he can do, and there are no more opportunities out there for him. When people make these statements with me, I dig deeper to learn if this is really what they believe, then the belief changes to people are just refusing to hire. Upon further investigation, once the person comes to realize how irrational this belief is, he later comes to the conclusion that he holds unto the belief that he should not suffer, which has lead him towards playing by a rigid set of rules in his work life and thus, his current situation.
So yes, I am writing in this post, that the common cause for stress is the belief that suffering is intolerable, and therefore should be avoided as often possible. When we come to believe this, we run into dead ends, in our professional and personal relationships. We avoid change because we want to avoid suffering.
Suffering is inevitable, I have found that when clients come to accept and make peace with this fact, they come up with surprisingly simply solutions to the problems they experience.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Driving to my office this morning, I listened to some broadcast information, I found disturbing. A happiness guru was giving giving advice on how to be happy.
He started out with an example of a retail worker, who was not happy with her job, and went to detail how she could immediately begin experiencing happiness, simply by changing her perceptions. Listening further, he appeared to state that she would be able to experience happiness by practicing a number of cognitive exercises simply geared towards looking at her situation in a different light. The problem I had with his message was that the change in perceptions where not tied to any follow through actions.
That line of thinking is based on the old glass half full or half empty analogy. That is to say, that you can either see a half glass of water as either half full or half empty. The issue I have with messages like these is that they are based on half truths. It is true that your thoughts influence your level of happiness, however if you find yourself experiencing unhappiness, who is to say that your thoughts are wrong? Take again the glass half empty or half full analogy, in reality a glass of water at any level is either on it’s way to being emptied or filled. It all depends on what decisions you intend on following through on. Are you going to empty the glass or refill it? Perhaps both.
Let’s explore a concrete example using the story of the retail worker who is unhappy with her job. What if she does not earn enough wages to get her basic needs met? Yet she believes that there are no immediate opportunities she can pursue where she is generating sufficient income. Telling someone in this situation to think happy thoughts is deceitful and insulting. It reminds me of a high school English teacher I was working with, who stated, “thank God I don’t live in India”. As she said this, I couldn’t help but notice the gaping hole in her right worn tennis shoe. I am not one to be materialistic, but I decided that based on her statement, her daily appearance was not one of self imposed frugality but one of impoverishment. Further, her comparison of her current situation at the time, to her perception of life in India, was meant to generate feelings of happiness about her situation. Which amounted to nothing but a false positive.
Back to our fictional retailer, if I knew someone in that situation, I would immediately share with that person that her unhappiness made sense. Further I would share with her that her feelings of unhappiness was her brains’ way of informing her that her current line of employment isn’t working out. If so, what is a retailer to do? I would introduce the retailer to cognitive exercises meant for her to brainstorm realistic alternatives for generating income. From my experience, such a process usually leads the person to come face to face with her fears generated by unhealthy beliefs she developed during her early life experiences.
At this point the goal would be in assisting the retailer to discard her old unhealthy beliefs and adopt new beliefs that steer her in the direction of practicing the courage to pursue her passions. So it is just not enough to think happy thoughts, instead happy thoughts are generated by decisions we make and intend to follow through on in either pursuing meaningful change in our lives or continue practicing habits to maintain a meaningful and fulfilling life style we are already living.
In my opinion, the key to happiness is the practice of courage. I will write more on this on the next post.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and a life coach.
During our first five years of life, our right hemisphere develops a narrative in accordance to what we have experienced in our immediate environment so far. This means that if our experiences so far have involved safety, compassion and affection, we develop core beliefs to reflect these narratives. If our experiences so far have evolved a scarcity of affection and compassion and a lack of safety, we develop core beliefs which prepare us to survive in a rough world. This is because on a primitive level we are hard wired to survive at all costs. An example of an unsafe environment would include physical abuse in which a person’s existence is threatened, or humiliation as a result of being on the receiving end of chronic emotional abuse. When these incidences occur during a person’s early life experience, it will most likely lead to the development of core beliefs which reside in his subconsciousness, beliefs which are geared towards protecting him from similar incidences in the future, and beliefs which habitually influence his decision making.
For example, when a child is habitually physically or emotionally abused, the child grows up to develop a sub conscious belief in which his safety and/standing with the community or any community is always at risk of being compromised. These beliefs leads to feelings of hyper arousal, where the person is subconsciously constantly on the look out of trouble, as a result everything he does will be limited by his threatening beliefs.
I once had a client who was struggling with his studies, he was a freshman at the University of Arizona and he was on the verge of dropping out of school. The primary reason for his failing grades was that he was simply not doing the work. My client would later reveal his struggle with a learning disability and the habitual shaming language he received from his parents at home in regards to their fears that he would amount to nothing. During our course of treatment, we determined that at his core, he believed himself to be worthless, and lived in fear of being discovered by others, so throughout his life, he would perform the bare minimum and avoid engaging in challenging work in the presence of others, least he was “discovered”.
Consider another story, of a client raised by a single mother, he shared that she was emotionally abusive towards him and some of her male partners were just as abusive. As a teenager, when my client finally demanded to be informed about whom his father was, his mother sent him to go live with his father for the summer. His father whom he had not had contact with since his second birthday, was now married with three children. My client reported that both his father and step mother where physically abusive towards him, and that he and his siblings struggled to get along. It was at this time he fell into a deep depression as he had always romanticized reuniting with his father and being rescued from his mother.
Fast forward to his mid thirties, where he experiences high stress and conflict in his relationships with others. He feels bullied by the mother of his child, he feels bullied by his supervisor at work and by another co worker. His response to these incidents of bullying is to become extra accommodating to the people he is experiencing conflicts with. The typical response to his accommodating behavior is that the bullying he is receiving from others becomes worse, leading him to experience bouts of panic attacks as a result of his feelings of being emotionally stuck.
Treatment for both clients were successful in which they were both able to develop new narratives to begin the process of replacing their core beliefs. These were accomplished through the process and combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization reprocessing. My first client transitioned from an academic probation status, to thriving in his studies during his second year at the University, while my second client reported how his practice of assertiveness had led to favorably changes in his relationships with others.
Our core beliefs resides in our subconsciousness and were formed during our early life experiences to meet the demands of our immediate and respective environments. However, given that change is constant, in the event we find ourselves in a new environment or competence enough to put ourselves in a new environment, it is important to know that we are fully capable of change.
We are the authors of our future.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
I recently came across a two year article about the popularity of Xanax, and it reminded me of the number of patients I have worked with who had already been taking medication for months and sometimes years, before they decided to try the therapeutic route. I suspect that most people who stick with their medication, even past the point of diminishing returns are unaware about the specifics of how anxiety and panic attacks are typically addressed in therapy.
When treating anxiety, there are three therapeutic models, I use interchangeably , the cognitive behavioral model, the exposure model and the hidden emotion model.
The cognitive behavioral model approaches anxiety from the idea that it is the beliefs and subsequent actions of the person that is making the person anxious. So when the person holds unto beliefs that create anxiety, that person becomes sensitized to situations that can arose anxious thoughts, with the anxious thoughts being a product of what he believes. Take for example, if a person believes that all dogs are dangerous and vicious. This person then becomes aroused by concerns for his safety whenever he finds himself in the presence of a dog, or when he learns that there is a dog close by. Furthermore this person’s anxiety might become even more amplified if he engages in behavior he believes will keep him safe from the dog. So in this situation, we can say that the person’s anxious thoughts are caused by his beliefs about dogs. So in order to help the person get past his fear of dogs, we have to work on helping him adopt a more healthier belief about dogs. In the short term we will get him to practice healthier behaviors to cope with his anxious thoughts about dogs, when he is in the presence of dogs.
The exposure model approaches anxiety from the idea that the anxiety is being caused by the person’s decision to avoid her identified stimuli for the anxiety. An example would be a fear of negotiating one’s way through a crowd of people. So the person’s anxiety would be triggered every time she encounters what she considers a crowd. Using the exposure model, the person would be encouraged to gradually immerse herself into crowed situations, during which she will go through the process becoming desensitized to crowds.
The hidden emotion model approaches anxiety from the idea that anxiety is caused by a fear of confrontation with others. As a result, people who fear confrontation mask their emotions through a facade of being nice. The hidden emotion model posits that through the chronic process of forcing niceness, people sweep their true feelings “under the rug.” Which leads to the repressed feelings being expressed through chronic anxiety and in worse cases, panic attacks. The hidden emotion model addresses anxiety through a process of helping the person become more aware of his feelings, alongside strategies for helping him become more assertive through the practice of assertive building strategies.
In practice what I have learned is that regardless of which model I use to address a client’s needs, it all comes down to identifying maladaptive beliefs the person holds unto and helping the person adopt and practice healthier beliefs. Anxiety is treatable, and in worse cases such as recurring panic attacks, a person can learn to bring the episodes of panic attacks to an end.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
In the early two thousands, I worked for a residential treatment program. This program provided treatment services for youth offenders who had been convicted for various offenses through the juvenile courts. One day the program director, summoned me into his office, he was making me a job offer, specifically, he wanted me to take over the resident director’s job. I found two problems with this offer, this first was that the resident director was still in that position, the second was that it was not a therapeutic position. My primary issue with the offer, was that he had just had a heated disagreement with the resident director, in front of witnesses and his gesture in offering me the job was a power move. I knew that he would be offended if I did not accept the offer, and that he might see it as a political strategy of sorts on my part. Perhaps he would think I was aligning myself with the resident director against him. I simply did not want the job, because I enjoyed being a therapist and I also considered it immoral to accept a job position that was already filled. I did not want to walk around the facility engaging with the resident director, knowing that he was soon going to be fired and that I would take his place. I also did not want to lose my job.
So I took a deep breath, said a short prayer in my mind and politely declined the offer. To no surprise he gave me a look of surprise and annoyance. I happened to understand that if he could so easily throw the resident director under the bus, my acceptance or decline of the offer would not protect me from similar treatment.
This is my understanding of what courage is, understanding that there are no guarantees or shortcuts in life. Courage isn’t necessarily about sacrifice, this is because without realizing it, most human being put their lives on the line in certain everyday activities. Most notably would be driving. Courage is the recognition that challenges or struggles in our everyday lives are inevitable and that avoiding them or putting them off only makes these challenges more difficult to overcome in the long run.
Most of us have been led on to believe that if only we would submit to some type of lifestyle or entity that everything will end up being okay. From cultural beliefs, attending institutions of higher learning to being employed by certain employers. We surrender beliefs in our personal powers to buy into the illusion of an easier life, all the while failing to recognize the role we play in maintaining the illusion.
As a therapist, when working with clients who have difficulty in making what may seem as a risky or out of the ordinary courageous decision; I guide them through an exercise designed to help them recognize how much of their personal power goes into maintaining the current situation that they are currently unhappy with. It is after they have come to understand and accept this revelation that the conversation shifts into how they can use their personal power into creating the new type of life they desire and deserve.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Using Narratives to Change Your Life.
The other day I came across a you tube video of a physicist, criticizing a hover board invention. His claim was that the invention was a hoax. While the invention in of itself was very real, looking at their kick-starter page, I felt their presentation was significantly misleading. Meaning that the hover board itself was only regulated to a special surface, versus the board being able to hover over any surface. Regardless, I also did feel that the physicist was very limiting in his critic of the project, in that it appeared that the overall theme of his critic seemed to suggest that the ambition of making a hover board to hover over any surface was not possible – I could be wrong about this.
This got me thinking about people I know and work with who operate on limiting beliefs, specifically in regards to what they can not do. Conversations geared towards problem solving with such persons can be frustrating, as their overall message is based on how their acquired knowledge and skills have lead to the conclusions of certain impossibilities. While these arguments are usually based on logic, one has to wonder, what happens if we were to focus more on using acquired knowledge and skill sets towards attaining certain possibilities?
I have written about using narratives to change your life before, and it was soundly rejected. I will chalk it up to me making a poor argument and I am now prepared to take another go at it. Let’s say you wanted to lose some unwanted weight, you purchase a scale, purchase a gym membership and consult with a nutritionist.
A protocol is established regarding your exercise regimen and your daily diet, however there lies one fundamental problem, you keep cheating on your diet. Then it stands to reason that you have developed a habitual behavioral response pattern to being triggered for various types of food, specifically types of food that you and your nutritionist have determined to be unhealthy for you.
Using the narratives technique, once you identify what your trigger is for cheating on your agreed upon diet, you construct a narrative where you are successful in overcoming your urge in engaging in poor habitual behaviors. It need not be long winded, and in most cases a simple paragraph would do, such as passing up on the urge to drink sugary drinks. If in real life passing up on the urge to drink sugary drinks like soda seems much for you, then in your narrative you detail what types of feelings, specifically negative feelings you will be forced to deal with if you passed up on a sugary drink during say.. lunch time.
Once the feeling or feelings have been identified then you construct a narrative on how you will go about making peace with these negative feelings without resorting to consuming any sugary drinks or any other substitutive that can alter your consciousness in the same way a sugary drink can. Such a narrative is focused upon the possibilities of overcoming one’s addiction to sugary drinks towards the eventual goal of losing unwanted weight. When people who have a habit of thinking within limitations, approach such a goal, they tend to focus of what’s not working while still engaging in the behavior that continues to produce the unwanted weight for themselves.
My attitude is to take the approach of leaving no stone unturned. Rather than focus on what’s not working, focus on the eventual goal. If the goal in of itself is possible to achieve, then it stands to reason that there lies many paths you can take towards achieving that goal.
Goals are like destinations, no matter where you are in the world, if you pick a destination of choice, there are multiple paths that lead towards that destination, and multiple paths that don’t.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and professional life coach.
This morning I came across a news feed on my YouTube feed it was by The Young Turks and it was focused on CEO pay, specifically the disparity between CEO pay and the pay of the average worker. The commentary in the news video was focused on how unfair the disparity of the average CEO pay was from the average worker pay. Here is the problem I have with the video, am I to imply that in the event the average pay for CEO is reduced significantly that this would improve the average pay of workers?
Most people who are asked this question would answer no, this is because subscribing to the belief that the success or failure of others affects my success taps into a primitive mindset which desires to relieve me of any and all responsibility for any unfavorable conditions I find myself in. The problem with not seeing myself as responsible for my circumstances, is that it leads me into seeing myself as powerless to change my condition.
One Size Does not Fit All.
I enjoy playing puzzle games and the thing with what makes a really good puzzle game, is that there are more than one way to solve the puzzle. This rule also applies to our everyday lives. If I were to engage the hosts of the above-mentioned video about why I disagree with their stance, they would immediately point to the number of reasons why the average worker is unable to get a chance to achieve economic freedom. They will say things like, “not everyone can go to college” (this is true), or that minimum wage is not a livable wage (also true). However if I were to retort with the statement that there is no problem we cannot work through, I will be accused of living in la, la, land. However the reality is that not all paths towards success is the same, as a matter of fact success means completely different things for different people. Most people have been brought up to believe in a one size fits all paradigm, starting in the home and reinforced through institutions of learning. Most people do not know themselves, most people have a poorly defined sense of identity and as a result will continue to hold unto a beliefs and values that do not truly define who they are. In truth, no arguments can solidly be made to support the notion that only way to economic achievement is through college. Generally speaking, there are multiple paths to multiple goals, and every goal has more to one path towards reaching it.
You Have More Power Than You Think.
As children, our powers are limited. It has been hard wired into our brains that fitting in with the beliefs and values of our immediate family followed by our community will increase our chances of survival. As adults we become solely responsible for what we choose to believe and keep believing. While it is true that there are a number of unpleasant things that could happen to us, likewise there are also a number pleasant things that could happen to us. The reality is that the number of pleasant things that could possibly happen to us are increased three fold when we actually take steps to make our desires a reality. When we focus on other people having things we desire, which we do not have, we become susceptible towards buying into beliefs that limit our potential to excel.
So the next time you come across any bit of news information that tells you how unfair life is, and how others have more leverage than you, ask yourself one question; “how does this help you?” If it is more income you are trying to bring into your life, your efforts would be best spent looking up information that tells you specifically how to bring in more income into your life. Or, how to retire in x amount of years, or how to fund your child’s education and so on and so forth. A video on how unfair life is, is not really telling you anything new, instead it is keeping you grounded in old thinking that has most likely not worked out for you to date.
So here’s wishing you live your life to the best of your potential.
Our thought carry more weight than we them credit. Positive thoughts give us the confidence and courage to address and tackle problems in our lives, while negative thoughts take away from our ability to have confidence and practice courage in our daily affairs. For years I have heard terms such as magical thinking and placebo effects. Terminologies that have suggested that our beliefs by themselves had no effect on our lives. In the years since I have practiced psychotherapy, primarily through the modality of cognitive behavioral therapy, I have come to realize that our beliefs are fundamental the most important and potent aspect of our existence.
It’s complicated, because sometimes we are lead to believe one thing which we believe benefits us as people, however said belief only serves to hinder us. While some beliefs that we are taught to not take seriously, actually provide us with a lot of benefits when we adhere to the principles of such beliefs.
In this video I discuss the power of our thoughts, using a research study the on effectiveness of antidepressants and the phenomenon of the placebo effect. I will be speaking more on this issue in the future.
One of the things that makes cognitive behavioral therapy so rewarding is the numerous examples that one can draw from which lends more evidence to the power of believing.
There is a new drug, call zohydro and according to this article, it is the most important frightening potent drug recently approved by the FDA, when it comes to opiate drugs on the market today. Concerned advocacy groups indicate that once made available to the general population, that there will be high incidents of deaths due to the potency of the drug.
Times like this, members of the public have two choices, you can depend on others to fight your battles for you, or you can take the initiative to protect yourself.
Some years ago, I underwent emergency surgery to remove an appendix, after the surgery, I was offered by my doctor some vicodin, to which I refused. My doctor seemed surprised and repeatedly asked me if I was sure. I told him I would be fine. Out of what I determined to be genuine concern, he wrote me a prescription for tylenol, a prescription I never filled.
Yes, I was in pain, but it wasn’t crippling. I took an extra day off work for bed rest, and limited my movements. After about four days I had started to feel again like my old self. How was I able to pull this off? By practicing the art of mind over matter.
You see mind over matter is not the stereotypical machismo nonsense, you will hear in a movie line, or perhaps your local gym. From my experience most people who often use that phrase don’t understand the concept.
Instead mind over matter, refers to the a initial of readdressing our beliefs around certain circumstances we will typically find unpleasant, certain circumstances like pain for example.
While my doctor at the time had the best intentions, what he didn’t realize he was telling me was that I wasn’t not supposed to feel any pain after coming out of surgery, so therefore he had arranged for me to take some pain medication which would be helpful in reducing my pain.
However since I had just been cut open and a piece of organ had been removed from my body, it stands to reason that my body should experience pain as it healed itself. It was with this idea that I was able to accept the pain I was experiencing as a good thing. It meant that my nerves where functioning as they should and that my body was healing itself.
This is the kind of attitude through the practice of cognitive behavioral strategies I encourage people who suffer from addiction issues to take. Whether it’s pain, unresolved issues with abandonment and rejection, it doesn’t matter. What we choose to believe plays a role in influencing our ability to deal with psychological and physiological discomfort.