“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 discuss why there are no benefits to getting angry and what to do when you find yourself angry.
In this video I critic this post by psyblog, which list six supposed psychological benefits of getting angry. In this video I propose the argument that anger is a useless emotion that stems from a false sense of entitlement. I also state that the best attitude to take towards dealing with things not going your way is a combination of assertiveness, a willingness of acceptance and compassion. I also have a post I wrote a few months ago on this same topic.
Enjoy the video.
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.
When I was a young teen, I remember getting so frustrated with trying to solve an algebraic equation that in anger I broke my pencil. My teacher then gave me the advice to practice taking breaks from problems I couldn’t solve and coming back to them. Specifically, he shared with me to accept that I couldn’t solve the problem then take a break from the problem, and in situations where feasible, sleep on the problem.
From then on, when I couldn’t solve a math problem and I came to a place of acceptance, I found myself more at peace with the situation when I took a break from the problem. Nine out of ten times when I came back to the problem, I would have a fresh perspective on the problem leading me to solving the equation.
It is easy for us to get angry at things that don’t go our way, but even more challenging being able to admit that the anger we experience is a sign that we are experiencing a situation that calls for us to use our problem solving skills. Often times I either read or hear about people calling for others to get angry when their rights are being violated. The funny thing is, that you don’t need to get angry when your rights are being violated, it is a natural reaction. The question is what are you going to do about it?
It actually takes more courage to put aside your anger in order to access the prefrontal cortex of your brain to solve a problem. If you find yourself getting angry and perhaps hostile in response to any type of disrespect towards you, it is because you did a quick risk assessment and determined that you would not experience major penalties for acting in aggression, or that you could afford to experience major penalties for acting in aggression.
This is why people who come face to face with others who are equipped to respond with even more hostility, then to go the passive route. It is much similar to an angry and unruly child, who becomes passive and quiet upon encountering an adult disciplinarian. When we attempt to solve problems from the primitive region of our brains we either go into a fight or flight mode, specifically a flight mode when faced with overwhelming force from the opposition.
This is why go to war units in the military train soldiers to not respond with anger when faced with things not going their way but with assertiveness. Not being angry does not mean that you don’t get upset when things are not going your way, nor does it mean that you go into denial mode and pretend to be happy. The best response to dealing with things not going your way, is to get past your feelings of anger, acknowledge the situation for what it is, and assertively go about in addressing it.
If you are reading this and asking yourself how this can be done, I provide the answer to that question in my book, Anger Management 101: Taming the Beast Within.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
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.
Periodically I get calls from prospective clients who are inquiring about anger management therapy, and some of them would actually tell me that they have no idea why they are angry. One guy told me about how he had threatened the life of a fellow motorist, and how appalled he was with himself after the incident. Yet he couldn’t understand why he was so angry for this was one of a series of incidents that he had been involved in during the past month.
For those who do book an appointment with me, the reasons for their anger becomes painfully obvious, but the question remains why couldn’t they understand the triggers for their anger in the first place? The answer is quite straight forward- distraction.
Beer, food, video games, sex, sports, parties, etc.. These are all types of activities that if done in excess lead to a distraction of the mind. These are also activities that reduce the experience of negative feelings and increase the production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter the brain produces when we feel joy. Another neurotransmitter the brain produces in response to pleasurable feelings is serotonin.
The problem with entertaining activities which we use to distract ourselves is that they are short lived. This means after a period of time, we find ourselves consuming more entertainment in order to produce the feel good neurotransmitters. This then leads to the point of diminishing return, where regardless of the amount of entertainment we consume, we find our difficult feelings inescapable.
The answer to understanding why we get angry lies in our ability to recognize our difficult feelings without overreacting. The thing with anger is that it is an emotion of illusion. When we get angry, it is simply because our expectations have not been met. No matter how you slice it, at the end of the day the best attitude to adopt for better health is an attitude of humility, regardless of how much wrong you have experienced due to someone else’s actions.
When people who have been experiencing episodes of anger share with me that they do not understand why they are angry, the truth is quickly revealed once I get them to exercise calm and I begin to ask them some personal questions. What is often revealed is a deep sense of disappointment with some facets, if not all facets of their lives. They have usually spent so many years distracting themselves that even when their methods of distraction have stopped working, they still are unable to recognize their difficult feelings.
The most effective method for understanding the source of your anger is to stop distracting yourself. Entertainment is not a bad thing but if done in excess it becomes mind numbing. Practice going one week without any source of entertainment, this includes, video games, movies, alcohol and and any pleasurable non productive activity you frequently engage in.
The second step is to familiarize yourself with a list of feelings like this one, as you go through the week without your typical distractions. Your difficult feelings are going to be quite intense that your knee jerk reaction is to mistake these feelings for anger. Once you have familiarized yourself, with a list of feeling words, get into the habit of documenting your daily experiences with difficult feelings which will crop up in your daily interactions with others.
The third step is to commit to not react to your difficult feelings, regardless of how badly you feel. If you find yourself unable to honor this third step, it is strongly advised you see a therapist who can guide you through the process of understanding why you are angry.
Often you will find that your skill in being able to distract from your difficult feelings was honed during your childhood years.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
So I recently watched an episode of the The Young Turks on YouTube, where they gave a commentary on Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s run in with a foul mouthed hooligan. Although, as the story unfolds, Kanye West proved to be more hooligan that the man who disrespected his wife, or wife to be.
The story is not what fascinates me, what inspired this post was the commentary by The Young Turks (TYT), where there seemed to be some consensus that Kanye was well in his right to pummel someone for verbally disrespecting his wife. This is the same channel that has a video regarding the ridiculousness of how a series of text messages led to a shoot out at a public venue.
To be specific I have two issues with the commentary, the first is the kid gloves members of the media often seem to use to addressing people of color, specifically Black people.
“Oh… You knocked that guy out for cursing you out? What was that? He used racial slurs? We understand, he had it coming.” It truly is a dangerous message for young people to digest, the idea that you get a free pass for losing your composure, simply because someone hurts your feelings.
In my opinion, this is a set up to get caught up in the American legal system. No, I am not advocating for blind obedience due to fear of authority, or obedience for the sake of fitting in, instead I am advocating for the practice of empathy, a by product that comes from adherence to the non aggression principle.
What is the non aggression principle? Fundamentally the non aggression principle is the commitment to not resort to violence or the threat of violence to resolve disputes. An obvious exception would be when your life is truly in danger and you have exhausted all options in keeping yourself safe. In the story, Kim Kardashian gets racists insults directed at her from a man, she calls Kanye, and Kanye shows up, tracks the man down and beats him up.
The second issue I have with the TYT commentary on the Kanye West story, was the passive promotion of machismo. The idea that it is okay to seek retaliation is antiquated thinking. Violence only begets more violence. Take for example, the man has now pressed charges against Kanye West, with the help of the State. So Kanye now finds himself at the mercy of the State as the evidence and eyewitness testimony is overwhelmingly against Kanye. So now at the request of this man,the State now has the option of visiting violence against Kanye West by taking away his freedom, or a significant portion of his money or both. Just like when a parent, spanks one of his children for hitting a sibling.
One thing I learned from my military experience, is that the attitude of machismo is not practical, and therefore not rational. Machismo is impractical because there is always someone stronger than and more willing to resort to greater degrees of violence that you are.
It’s nice to think that you can go about beating up on anyone who hurls insults at you, but what happens when you encounter someone who’s better at violence than you are? Then what?
Violence is overrated and bad for the brain, please give peace a chance. Furthermore if you are a black person reading this, and you take offense to what I said about the media and violence. Please understand that my pride for my heritage, comes from a place of love and not from a place of unrealistic expectations regarding how others should regard me.
The Young Turks Video
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.