“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.
The key attribute towards anger management is your ability to be emotionally resilient. Emotional resiliency means your ability to experience intense negative and anger provoking feelings with an attitude of receptiveness. As opposed to an attitude of re-activity where any experience of discomfort is met with an immediate action geared towards relieving a person’s self from feelings of discomfort.
Most people reading this would perceive reactivity to be an overt overreaction to feeling upset, such as screaming or resorting to physical aggression. While they would be right in their perception, reactivity is often very subtle and seldom recognized as reactivity even by the person being reactive.
An example would be a person feeling hurt and another person’s actions, quietly resolving to resort to retaliation through passive aggressive tactics. Another example would be a person feeling hurt by disappointment and quietly resorting to a place a shame. These subtle types of reactivity often result into the person engaging in some form of behavior that results in detrimental consequences for themselves and sometimes others around them.
In previous posts, I have discussed that the primary trigger for anger is a set of irrational expectations in regards to people, places and things. Therefore, emotional resiliency would mean that in order to be able to manage difficult feelings, all expectations in regards to how you want objective reality to be, have to abandoned. Instead you will find that your experiences with negative feelings would be easier to manage and receive if you replaced your expectations of people, places and things with preferences.
With preferences, you will find that yourself becoming more flexible and tolerant towards situations not going your way. This does not mean that you will become a doormat and habitually take abuse, instead it means that after receiving your difficult feelings, you are better able to set your difficult feelings to the side and engage in problem solving from a place of clarity.
The process of emotional resiliency is easier said than done, but it is a rewarding process.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach
Throwing it all away.
From time to time, I work with people who have either made an attempt at suicide and or expressed serious intent to do so. My first response to these people is to ask a standard question based on a ancient quote; “have you left all stones unturned?”
Often times when people contemplate on committing suicide, they are operating on limiting core beliefs, which they have repeatedly used towards getting their emotional needs met in a diverse number of situations. As a result they have experienced limited to no success, due to their lack of flexibility in their core beliefs and subsequently their behaviors.
For example, a common theme I observe with people who idealize suicide is an absence of love from their lives. Often these are people who still struggle with childhood trauma, where they experienced significant physical abuse and or emotional neglect under the watch of caregivers. They often feel unloved and unwanted by others in their lives and in their personal relationships they will resort to subservient roles in the hopes of gaining the approval of the other person.
During the course of these relationships, as the person with suicidal ideation gives more of themselves to the other person, the less value the other person sees in them, the more used, undervalued and unloved the person feels. Further, the more relationships the suicidal person engages in which they give the best of themselves with little to nothing in return, the more exhausted they are going to feel about themselves and life in general.
The good news is that people in this predicament with timely intervention can adopt a more optimistic view of themselves and life in general and start thriving. However before I get into what the turn around process will look life for suicidal people, I am going to get into the reasons why people with suicidal ideation, typically find themselves feeling exhausted about themselves, undervalued and unloved in their personal relationships.
Before I begin, I would like to state that the following reasons does not apply to everyone who experiences thoughts about suicide. Further, the following content is not meant to diagnosis and heal anyone who is experiencing suicidal ideation. The following content is being provided as helpful information , if you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or know someone who is experiencing thoughts of suicide, please seek consultation with a psychotherapist.
“A Corrupted Sub Conscious”
During the first two years of life, the right hemisphere of the brain is the first develop, in regards to the establishment of neurological connections. Not only is the right hemisphere the first to develop, it also a experiences a rapid growth sprout during those first two years.
In the field of neuroscience it is generally agreed upon that the right hemisphere is more closely connected to the primary and survivalistic needs of the body than the left hemisphere. As a result, the sensory information is usually interpreted by the right hemisphere from an emotional narrative while sensory information from the left hemisphere is usually interpreted from an analytical / problem solving narrative.
The type of emotional narrative used by the right hemisphere to interpret information is usually dependent of the person’s experiences in getting his or her emotional needs met as a child. If the person experienced a lot of success in getting his emotional needs met during childhood, his fundamental emotional narrative tends to be more optimistic. The right hemispheres of people who are more optimistic, tend to communicate easily with the left hemispheres. While the right hemispheres of people who are more pessimistic, tend to communicate less with the left hemispheres of those people. So people who had difficulty getting their needs met as children tend to have a more rigid and pessimistic emotional outlook on life. They are more likely to adopt narratives of helplessness and hopelessness when they encounter challenges in their lives.
The typical mindset of a person struggling with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness is such that if one type of solution does not work for the problem he is addressing, then no other solution will work for that problem. This is obviously not true and explains why people with suicidal ideation give up so easily after addressing the same types of problems with the same approach. repeatedly.
“The Devil You Know..”
Another reason why people with suicidal ideation experience limitation of ideas in addressing their challenges are the people they have grown accustomed to associating themselves with. We are accustomed to dealing with the same types of people we are raised with. This is because during the course of our lives we have developed neurological connections to enable us relate to specific types of people, which affords us a sense of predictability and consistency.
For the person who suffers from suicidal ideation, this presents a big problem, because chances are that you have grown accustomed to interacting with toxic people, and responding to such toxic persons with your own toxicity. This creates the illusion of de ja vu, were just about every relationship you are engaged in is a toxic relationship, which leads to feelings of inferiority, in that you begin to believe that something is wrong with you and that you are deserving of being on the receiving end of toxicity.
“Reprograming Your Subconscious”
Your subconscious mind can be reprogrammed, intentionally or coincidentally. Intentionally by yourself or a third party and coincidentally by information you encounter which inspires you towards change, for better or for worse.
You can come to deeply believe yourself to be a worthwhile human being and come to unconditionally accept yourself.
This process involves creating a narrative and seeking real life evidence to test the effectiveness of the narrative. The first step towards creating this narrative is by understanding the law of opposites. The law of opposites states that everything in existence is a combination or unity of opposites, a common example would be electricity, which is defined by a positive or negative charge.
This means that if you are currently living your life based on a narrative where your worth is low and you reject yourself, there exists a narrative where you believe yourself to be a worthwhile human being and you unconditionally accept yourself.
This is not a narrative you simple make up, but one you base on evidence. First you explore evidence that supports your reasons for degrading your worth as human being. Imagine that your belief of low self worth is a table top, and the reasons you look down on your self are supported by the legs that hold up the table top.
Now write down on a sheet of paper the evidences you have gathered to support your issues with low self worth, each of these evidences will symbolically represent as a leg for the table. You can write down as many evidences as possible even though the standard table has four legs. Once you have written down your evidences, write down on a separate sheet of papers, the exact opposites of these evidences and how they will support the new worthwhile you.
For example, if you believe that you are surrounded by people who do not care about you, as evidenced by the current people in your life, then you write down what it would be like to be surrounded by people who do care about you and who in return you care about.
You will then write down what changes you can start taking in your life to be surrounded by people who do care about you. By doing so, you will be faced with the harsh reality of the things you do to attract uncaring people into your life. Whatever changes you write down, you will come to the realization that practicing these changes will change how you relate to others and subsequently how others relate to you.
A former client of mine, once began the practice of setting boundaries with family and friends anytime they made crude jokes he considered to be offensive. He would place these boundaries and follow through with his commitment to follow through on the boundaries if he was teased for being too sensitive. Much to his surprise he reported experiencing less conflicts with people, as he in turn had become more cognizant of the things he said to others.
This was all based on his new narrative that he would commit to being the most genuine and courageous person he could be, in all of his relationships with people.
In getting to this stage, there was on obstacle that he had to overcome, and that was learning to get past his difficult feelings.
In this previous post, I wrote about feelings, I discussed feelings being tools we use as human being to gage our accuracy of our perceptions of reality as compared to reality as is.
The most difficult part about implementing a new narrative, is getting past your difficult feelings, which usually consist of confusion, guilt, fear and shame. These feelings are false negatives that you become anchored to over the years to unhealthy narratives you formed during your early life experiences.
The most effective way to get past your difficult feelings is to do nothing. The process of doing nothing does take a lot of effort, as over the years you have developed strong neurological connections that fire in response to certain triggers to illicit certain reactions. The most effective way to do nothing is to practice deep breathing. Deep breathing exercises, invoke deep states of relaxation, leading you to become less reactive to certain triggers. A starter exercise I typically introduce clients to is the process of counting breaths from one through ten and then from back down from ten to one. After this process has been completed you will experience a deep state of relaxation, at which point you can focus on asking yourself why you are experiencing the difficult feelings you are experiencing.
With practice, you will experiencing progress in getting past your difficult feelings, making it more easier to implement your new narrative.
As effective as these techniques are, they are easier said/written than done. If you experience significant difficulty practicing these techniques, it is advisable that you see a therapist.
After all, you have one life to live. So leave no stone unturned.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and 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.
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.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl
As a soldier, my company commander upon learning that I had studied psychology in college, demanded to know if I could read his thoughts. He then followed up by asking if I had studied psychology to find out what was wrong with me. This scenario underlies the attitude most people have towards psychotherapy and the field of psychology in general. Given that the origins of psychology came from the medical disease model, most people feel that any recommendation they receive for therapy means that something is wrong with them.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Counseling is a process where you transition from a place of being emotionally stuck to a place of wellness and thriving. Life is a transitional process, cognitive strategies that worked for us in the past, typically no longer apply in the present. While this phenomenon is nothing new to us, what happens when we experience an event which we were not prepared for? An event for which we don’t have a script or blueprint to even make sense of.
The answer is we get stuck, this is because when we experience new challenges for which we were not prepared for, our instinct is to resort to old strategies that have worked for us in other and different situations. Which some times leads to Einstein’s definition of insanity. Which leads to mental health issues such as poor anger management, depression and anxiety. Through therapy, we can come to understand ourselves thoroughly, by examining our beliefs and values. Particularly those instilled in us during our formative years.
We can come to learn about which irrational beliefs hinder our personal happiness, and practice cognitive behavioral strategies for embracing new beliefs and values that help us experience true happiness and thrive.
So it’s not a matter of something being wrong with you to begin with, it a matter of correcting a misunderstanding between you and the your life experiences.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Most of what we learned in our earlier years, to include what most children learn today can be described as prescriptive. With prescriptive being what we are told to do, without a good explanation for why. Well in this post, I will be giving a simple explanation in regards as to the science in letting go of resentments.
When we are wounded by the actions of someone, it is natural to become angered, and in some cases experience a desire for retaliation. The problem with giving into this desire is that it leads you down a path where you find yourself drawn into a world of victims and perpetrators. Every type of person that could possible exist already exists, so you are pretty much guaranteed to find the types of people you keep a lookout for, because by looking out for these types of people, you consequently think like them. This where the saying, “like minds attract” come from.
For example, when I work with people who experience bullying, I get them to see and understand how they are unknowingly enabling their suffering, based on their focus on the hostility in the relationship. By getting them to focus on the type of relationship they deserve, they quickly come to realize how they have placed themselves in the company of the bully on several occasions. The same principle applies to forgiveness, by focusing on the types of relationships you want, or the types of people you would like to be drawn to, you inevitably find yourself drawn to the task of healing and moving on. When you focus on retaliation, you find yourself paying more attention to people who remind you of the person who wounded you. Initially this may seem like the right thing to do, because you tell yourself that by focusing on those types of people you are preparing to defend yourself and protect yourself from future wounding.
However this is a trap, because (as mentioned earlier) everything that could possibly exist, exists all at once, so if you are seeking hostile relationships you will have no problems attracting hostile people, based on similarities in your thought process.. Eventually, if a significant period of time goes by where all you lookout for and see are hostile people, then you will either exist in a perpetual state of victim hood, become a victimizer yourself, or both.
Focusing on healing takes more courage, because you put yourself in the position of taking more risks in establishing healthier relationships, and subsequently pursuing your goals. Since everything exists at the same time, it is more worthwhile and likely that you will establish healthier relationships, if you look for them.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and Life coach.
There are no happy ever afters, they simply don’t exist. This of course is an analogy for when we embark on the completion of a goal, of sorts we decide that we are going to put up with a variety of obstacles so that at the end of the day we will find ourselves in this obstacle/problem free reality, where we shall reside with our loved ones in forever bliss.
Versions of this logical fallacy can be found in religious doctrines, children’s story books and Hollywood block buster movies. A person goes through a struggle, accomplishes a certain goal and seemingly never suffers or struggles again. Except of course if it’s the sequel to block buster movie. In real life people make decisions with this paradigm of thinking and experience disappointing results.
For example, an overweight person gets on a diet, loses the necessary weight, then ends the diet. He or she is then sorely disappointed when in a year later or sometimes less, the weight returns. In truth the diet should have been forever, a lifestyle change for the good, at least until you make an even better lifestyle change.
So in relation to the analogy, the diet is the journey and upon accomplishment of the goal (losing x amount of weight) a new journey begins which will be to maintain the new weight. To end the diet program, means a likely regression into the old diet that never worked out for the person in the first place.
Another example would be some of the clients I work with, be it for anger management, or treatment for anxiety or depression, often the first phase of treatment involves a client holding his breath as he practices the cognitive behavioral strategies towards improvement on his issues. This usually doesn’t work, as he never learns to feel comfortable tackling his issues and any improvements made is quickly negated by disappointment because improvements usually lead to more challenges that need to be tackled. The second phase of treatment involves getting the client to recognize that challenges are a normal part of life, and getting into the habit of finding happiness even during the process of change.
If you a are looking to change your life, you should do so with the belief that whatever journey you embark upon is going to transition into a new journey upon accomplishment of your stated goal. There will always be problems to solve, So this means that it is unwise to put all of your happiness into the accomplishment of any goal. The challenge is to find your place of content in the process of anything you are going to accomplish any goal, with the goal itself being the equivalent to icing on the cake.
In this video, I address a common question I received from my last blog post and video on the negative correlation between Spanking and IQ. The question was on why some people who where spanked as children, present with high IQ as adults.
I have also included links to the articles and studies I referenced in the video.
The Truth about IQ: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2009/07/the-truth-about-iq/22260/
The Genius in all of Us.
Expert Performance and Deliberate Practice
Why Spanking Impairs Cognition in Children and Adolecents
In this previous post, I discussed how we use cognitive rules which lead to us being upset, while in this post I am going to discuss how to transition getting past being upset to a more rational mindset. There are three ways we upset ourselves, the first is only accepting ourselves conditionally, having irrational rules of engagement with others and being resistant to disappointment.
Unconditional Self Acceptance.
One of the most common ways people upset themselves is only accepting themselves conditionally. Without realizing it, if we set up certain conditions for our happiness, such has having a certain type of wealth, a certain type of profession or being involved with a certain type of person, we have set up ourselves to become upset if any of these conditions to our happiness are not met. Being upset in this instance should not be confused with disappointment, this is because disappointment is an acknowledgement and acceptance of things not going your way, while being upset is an acknowledgement of things not going your way, but a refusal to accept things not going your way. One way of learning to get past being upset is to practice unconditional self acceptance. Seeing yourself as a worthwhile human being simply because you exist, and not based on your accomplishments or your relationships.
Preferential Treatment from Others.
We love to be accepted by others, our drive to be accepted by others is so powerful that we even want others who we do not accept, to accept us. Yes, at our primal level we are irrational beings, which lends some explanation to our irrational expectations to be liked and accepted by others. One of the best methods of getting past our tendency to become upset in response to rejection from others, real or perceived is to change our rules of engagement with others. This means that expectations of acceptance from others become preferences. To preference your expectations for favorable treatment from others, you simply have to recognize that people like yourself have personal power. This means that you to come to place of acceptance that people have a choice as to whether or not they are going to accept you and that you are powerless to their opinions. We can’t force those who reject us to accept us, but we can certainly come to a place of peace regarding our powerlessness over the choices of others.
Things aren’t supposed to go our way all of the time, if they did life would cease to have meaning. Challenges in life are what give us a sense of meaning and purpose, which makes the idea that things should mostly go our way an unhealthy one. It is easy to see why people become easily upset when things don’t go their way, given that difficulty in coping with disappointment comes from placing one’s sense of happiness on one hopeful outcome.
Happiness in life comes from from our ability to see ourselves as worthwhile people and our positive interpretations of our life experiences. This best way to overcome being upset over disappointment is to see the disappointment as a part of your process and journey towards a desired outcome.
In summary,while being upset is a normal human phenomenon, it certainly isn’t a state of mind that’s healthy for anyone to be in for a prolonged period of time.