I recently came across this story, of a man who committed suicide. According to the story, he had just finalized his divorce, and he had left a recording stating that this was something that he had given some thought to for some years. His body was found by police next to the recording.
The truth about depression is that we choose how we feel. While there are some who would argue that there are certain life circumstances that lead to depression, or that there are certain clinical circumstances that lead to depression, such as chemical imbalances caused by a lack of certain neurotransmitters, what is consistent is that thoughts produce feelings.
You control your feelings through the content and context of your thoughts. When I have worked with clients who were suicidal, the first thing I say to them is this; “given that you have already considered taking your life, what do you have to lose in considering other alternatives for happiness?”
For the man who took his life, after years of “thinking it through” I would argue that he wasn’t thorough in his thinking process, as he clearly engaged in several thinking errors by coming up with several justifications to end his life when things did not go his way. In fact, he most likely had several more options for pursuing happiness, but due to familiarity, he had become anchored to a lifestyle, which he had long decided was the only way he could be happy.
This is primarily how people fall for the trap of depression, they trap themselves into an all or nothing corner with beliefs about how the circumstances of their lives should play out. People do this often, and they do not realize it, until their circumstances change to something they dislike. Another thing that keeps us trapped in rigid thinking, is being surrounded by people who think the same way we do and subsequently reinforce our thought process. It becomes more troubling, when our circumstances change for the worse, that we find ourselves surrounded by others who are unable to give us sound advice on how to cope and make peace with things not going our way.
Be it issues with wealth, health or relationships, there are always healthy alternatives to every lifestyle. It calls for an open mind, and courage to explore and act on other ways of thinking. Suicide is often a final solution to a temporary problem.
Imagine you are on an island, let’s give this island the name, Island A. So you are on Island A and you have found yourself unhappy with the island for a number of reasons. So you go to a travel agent’s office and you request for a ticket to leave the island. The travel agent agrees with you for the number of reasons you are fed up with Island A, and asks you where you would like to go. Then it occurs to you, you don’t where you will like to go.
This is precisely what happens whens we struggle to get past feelings of resentment, we have not yet identified how we will like to feel about the person and or situation we feel resentful about. We are stuck on our feelings of hurt, in regards to what was done/ or what we believe was done to us. The reason we find ourselves stuck with these feelings of resentment, is because our rules on how others should treat and behave towards us has been violated. This leads to a part of us, wanting the other party to change to our liking or at the very least make some sort of amends.
Such a mindset leads to a false sense of control, specifically over the thoughts and actions of others. Overcoming feelings of resentment comes down to the practice of accepting others for whom they present themselves to be. Accepting others for the things they say and the actions they carry out, leads to a focus on those whose words and actions we find ourselves in agreement with.
In short, rather than dwell on what someone has done to you, you can focus on aligning yourself with another person whose actions are consistent with your belief system. So going back to the initial analogy, if you walked into the travel agent’s office with the intent to leave Island A, the focus of your conversation is not going to be on expressing yourself on how much island A sucks, the focus of your conversation would to instruct the travel agent to put you on another specific island. For example, you would ask to be placed on the next ferry to Island B. At that point, if you and the travel agent were to become engaged in a casual conversation, the conversation would be on why you want to travel to Island B. Most people in this instance, would be more likely to focus their attention on what they consider to be the merits of Island B, rather than what they don’t like about Island A.
If you are stuck with feelings of resentment, chances are that you have unintentionally bought into a belief system on how other people should behave towards you. Moving past acute or lingering feelings of resentment comes from focusing on what types of people and subsequently, new and other relationships you will find beneficial.
A disappointment is an expectation that has not been met. There are two types of disappointments, disappointment with self and disappointments with others. This post is going to focus more on dealing with disappointment with others, because it is the type of disappointment that people get more upset about. When dealing with disappointment with self, more than likely you put in effort into achieving a goal, with a desired result and that result did not happen. So, in the absence of a self-defeatist attitude, disappointment with yourself is easier to get over, because you can always change yourself for the better.
However, when it comes to dealing with disappointment because of the actions of someone else, feelings of being upset, perhaps resentful and in some cases hurt are going to be the case for the person experiencing the disappointment. In more severe cases, some people will wish you better luck next time, some will remind you that it is the nature of life, you win some, you lose some. But here is an important question to ask yourself when you experiencing this type of disappointment, in whose reality are you living in?
Reading this question, might catch you off guard as it seems u related to the title/topic of this post. But really, whose reality are you residing in? The ideal answer when you ask yourself this question should be “my reality” but if you ever find yourself struggling to cope with disappointment then it means you have been living in someone else’s reality and that person has let you down.
The answer then lies in getting back into discovering what is important to you. When struggling with disappointment, if you critically consider the situation, you will discover that you are morning the loss of something you never really had any control over. This could be the loss of a job, the ending of a relationship or an opportunity that did not materialize for you. In his book, Victor Frankl is famous for his quote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. This means, that, no matter what you are mourning, your thoughts and feelings remain under your control.
Pertaining to dealing with disappointment, there is no rationale in mourning something over which you had no control over. Let’s say you accidentally dropped a glass cup on the floor, no matter how expensive that glass cup was, you can always take refuge in telling yourself that you will be more careful with glass cups next time. This is because a glass cup in your hands is under your control. Experiencing disappointment over the actions of someone else is a situation not under your control, and so the best course of action is to make peace with this fact. Otherwise you are just going to upset yourself even more, and the reason you find yourself even more upset is because there are no remedies in getting others to do what you want them to do. Therefore, if you encounter someone who follows through on their word, that is a blessing. A blessing because they chose an action that benefitted you, an action you had no control over.
You should only concern yourself with your thoughts and feelings and subsequent actions because these are easy to change. As for the thoughts, feelings and actions of others, the best you can do is practice allowance.
As a therapist who specializes with adolescents and young adults on the autism spectrum, I am often on a look out for online forums dedicated to such a population. Unfortunately, while the true intent of these forums is to provide support and validation for those on the spectrum who struggle to with adapting to the daily struggles of socializing in everyday life, there exist forums where the main theme appears to be who can throw themselves the largest pity party.
I have also witnessed this phenomenon with groups for depression and anxiety, and while I am a staunch advocate for freedom of speech and expression, I believe it is a dangerous situation of people supporting each other in unhealthy thinking. I also believe a big part of the problem is the victim based mentality that has become ubiquitous in popular culture. With this being written, there are three main mindsets people on the spectrum need to adapt, when seeking professional help or help from support groups.
Care is not Obligatory.
In the past decade, I have witnessed the rise of websites crowdfunding websites. As someone who adheres to libertarian principles, I can attest that the success of these crowdfunding websites is proof that most people are fundamentally good. There are no laws in place, or social pressures for that matter that mandate anyone go to these websites to donate money to people. There will always be people who are kind heart-ed, who desire to help those in need. So therefore, the idea that other people must care about your plight is an irrational one. Especially when a group of people come together and focus feverishly and complain about those people who don’t have compassion for their difficulties. This will always be unnecessary given that people who care already exist.
Seek to get Better.
A former client of mine once looked me in the eye, and insisted that his collection of symptoms and quirks were due to his brain wiring. I told him that I agreed with him. He then told me that what he needed was drugs and not therapy. I shared with him that after he had built enough tolerance to whatever was prescribed to him that he would be back in my office. After we had a good laugh, I then introduced him to the concept of neuro-plasticity, where the brain forms and strengths new pathways based on the thoughts and behaviors of its owner. It short, change is possible, and it all boils down to the practice of mental effort. So, when looking for a therapist or a support group, you are looking for help designed to help you move past your grieving process and put you into the process of thriving.
Ranking is Overrated.
Yes, we are social animals, and we have desire to belong to social groups. This is the chief complaint I habitually field with first time clients on the spectrum. Their feelings of not feeling welcomed or belonging to a group, clique or tribe. In truth, you already belong to a tribe, and you are already accepted. If this was not true, you would be dealing with several people actively trying to expel you from your respective community. In truth, what you are dealing with is a desire to rank well on the social hierarchy. As a therapist who has worked with over 800 clients, I have worked with all sorts of people, from high achievers to those who are content with a humble existence, and every one of them to some degree expressed feelings of alienation from the general populace and their respective community members. So, if you are feeling like a bit of an outcast, you are in good company. One does have to wonder if that tribe of people who are truly cohesive and all accepting of their member is a myth. Regardless, when looking for a support group, or therapist please keep in mind that it is not healthy is engage in an us versus them mentality. This is not healthy.
Hopelessness is a dangerous feeling to experience, this is because once feelings of hopelessness begin to set and fester, people start reconsidering their existence. When clients share suicidal thoughts and feelings with me, I have responded by asking them if they have left “no stones unturned.” Leave no stones unturned is an old figure of speech for searching and exploring all possibilities before considering another alternative. For example, if you lost your keys and you strongly suspect it is in your house. To leave no stone unturned would be that you thoroughly search your house before considering a search at another location.
So if you are experiencing bouts of hopelessness, and you are contemplating your existence, to leave no stone unturned means that you thoroughly explore every possibility to address your situation. In my fifteen years of counseling there are always several things people have not considered, and when they do consider and follow through, their lives improve.
In truth, nothing is worth ending your life over, I have counseled people who experienced feelings of hopelessness over the death of a loved one, people who received a medical diagnosis which changed their lives, breaking up with a romantic partner, experiencing a significant loss of wealth and not experiencing success or loss in reacquiring wealth. In all of these examples there were three recurring reasons which induced feelings of hopelessness. These reasons were all connected to the beliefs and values of the persons, mainly their relationships with these beliefs and values. Given that most of what we believe comes from our formative years, sometimes without realizing it, we sometimes enmesh our old beliefs with our sense of identity. Which makes it even more difficult for us to reconsider revising the beliefs we hold. So, the reasons people struggle with hopelessness are as follows.
Grief and Loss
The loss of a loved one can be an especially painful experience, particularly when that person passed away before his or her elderly years. However, grief and loss is not limited to the loss of a loved one, it also deals with the loss of income, the loss of a relationship, the loss of perceived status, and the list goes on.
I have noticed the pain of grief and loss is especially unbearably for parents who have lost children. In cases where this was the only child or first child of the person, the grief appeared to be so unbearable that they had almost stopped functioning in their daily lives. The loss was a situation they never contemplated and refused to accept. I have never been a fan of the stages of grief model, which involve denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This is because the first four stages typically occur together, and what keeps the person from coming to a place of acceptance are the beliefs they hold in relation to the grief. So if I am working with a client who lost her only child, and she continues to repeat that a parent should never bury a child, the statement is a testament to what she believes, which is keeping her sick. In truth, it is a sad day when a parent buries a child, but the statement, “a parent should never have to bury a child is false,” because there is no force or entity that can guarantee the prevention of such a tragedy. In truth this client can come to peace and make a new meaning of her life, even though the pain from the loss might never go away.
Pride may seem like an odd reason, but I rank pride as number two on my list because it is very common. Human beings are innately wired to function in a hierarchal structure, this means for most people who are not aware of this, from the cars they drive, to the clothes they wear, a certain level of status within a micro and macro hierarchal system is being communicated. For those who are not aware of this, and for those who are aware of this and cherish it, when there is a loss of status, due to changes in the person’s life, a sense of hopelessness can set it. This sense of hopelessness is often due to a set of beliefs which state that the person can exist and function in no other state other than the previous state he had grown accustomed to. This is called pride, so in maintaining consistency with the term, leave no stone unturned, an effective solution would be for the person to explore what it would be like to actually live his or herself without his perceived status enhancer.
People don’t like doing hard or difficult things, especially when the prospect of engaging in a difficult task does not guarantee any favorably outcomes. For example, a gold digger is less likely to dig for gold in an area where there is no evidence for gold. Or a high school senior is less likely to apply to attend a college or university if he or she does not believe that a college degree would be beneficial in their life. Given that change is a constant in our lives, it is inevitably that we will all come to crossroads in our lives where we have to consider committing too hard and difficulty work in the hopes of an outcome that improves our lives. If the work is hard and time consuming and the reward is not guaranteed, this can be discouraging to some people and influence the onset of hopelessness. A solution to this would be to explore the belief of promised or guaranteed outcomes. In truth, nothing is guaranteed, however the work we put in helps to add meaning and purpose to our lives, as well as experience.
Hopelessness can be overcome; it is a matter of moving past our difficult feelings and revisiting the messages we have come to believe.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC
“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
“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.
I recently came across YouTube video by TYT (The Young Turks) about a research study on fairness and money. Actually what drew me into watching the video was the video title, “How Being Rich Can Make You A Dick”
The video is about a study conducted by the University of California Berkeley on on the advantages of having wealth. According to the study two participants were kept in a windowless room and were asked to play a game of monopoly. One of the players was given an unfair advantage during the start of the game by way of extra cash included with bonus cash for every move he made, while the other player received less money all around. During the course of the game, the researchers observed that the advantaged player displayed more aggression and arrogance during the course of the game, as compared to the other player. Looking at the TYT video, it appeared the main host Cenk, was alluding to the idea that having wealth over others makes human beings more arrogant and less empathetic towards others with less wealth. If this is what he meant, I would have to disagree with his misinterpretation, and here’s why.
The concept of fairness is so ingrained in our DNA that you see it play out in the workplace. Once at a former job, a human resources manager who got fired, sought her revenge on her last day by “mistakenly” sending out an email to all members of staff that listed our positions and our respective salaries. I became so angered when I noticed that two of my co workers were making more money than myself that I resolved to ask for a pay raise. The next day in my boss’s office, in anticipation of what my grievance was about (I am guessing) , my boss gave me a pay increase which equated to what my coworkers were making. So I believe that it is reasonable to write that given that my boss clearly valued my work, his sense of awareness informed him that I was not going to be happy with the report I received via email and he also anticipated that I would approach him for a pay increase. While I was pleasantly surprised by his response, it made a lot of sense.
Consider this scenario, let’s say I am sprinter, and I am preparing for an upcoming race, when my coach approaches me with a proposition to use steroids or some other type of growth hormone to win the race. If I accept my coach’s offer, it simply means that he does not believe I will win the race and that I agree with him. Heck it could also be presumed that my coach may not be a big believer in my abilities as a sprinter. So even if I use drugs to cheat the race and I win the race, my feelings of inadequacy wouldn’t go away.
Chances are high that due to the turmoil I will experience internally, I will act out behaviorally even after I have won the race. I may display a great deal of arrogance and immaturity, just to overcompensate for my feelings of inadequacy or feelings of being a fraud.
I do not believe that inheriting money from your family leads to feelings of inadequacy, however money that is stolen or earned through ill gotten means certainly can level leads to feelings of inadequacy. So if I were to rob a bank or a store, what I am telling myself and others through my actions is that I do not believe I have what it takes to make a honest living.
It’s like the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people,” so when you see people behaving arrogantly, they are probably coming from a place of inadequacy.
The video is below.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.