One of the primary issues faced by people on the Autism spectrum and those with Asperger syndrome, is coping with feelings of being overwhelmed. These issues often start in childhood, as early as a year old, when children who become easily overwhelmed instinctively react by trying to shield themselves from exposure to excess stimuli. Parents of children on the spectrum can easily relate to stories of children who cover their ears with their hands in response to everyday sounds they perceive as loud and stressful. As the child ages, the coping skills for shielding oneself from excess exposure to environmental stimuli becomes even more subtle but the consequences are the same.
By environmental stimuli, I mean people, places and things which produce overwhelming feelings for the person, causing the person’s desire to retreat to safety until it’s safe again. The consequences are often themed with unfinished work, projects and poorly developed relationships with others. This often leads to unwanted isolation and a lifestyle marked by underachievement.
The solution is easy to understand, challenging to implement and well worth the effort. The solution is to do nothing in response to feelings of being overwhelmed. By doing nothing, you are choosing not to be reactive to your feelings of being overwhelmed, which is to engage in a series of behaviors to prevent yourself from experiencing the emotions you need to experience. Regardless of the specifics of what you do, your being reactive will be an attempt to control, manipulate and/or change your reality to manage your feelings.
Instead, by choosing to do nothing, you are allowing yourself the opportunity to experience the range of emotions you need to feel. Your challenge is to simply accept these emotions for what they are without being reactive. By choosing not to be reactive, you are beginning the process of deactivating your fight or flight response pattern, thereby opening access to your solution focused mind. When people choose to stop responding to their feelings of overwhelm fueled by their fears and worries, they become more insight driven and solution focused.
To the outside observer, who isn’t aware of the changes taken place inside the person, they will often observe someone who is behaving more courageous in their daily affairs. In fact, the person is behaving more courageous, as they are now in the practice of looking past their fears and worries and seeing their issues for the mere inconveniences they really are instead of catastrophes.
In my practice, it is a natural reaction for a client to listen to my take on doing nothing in response to feelings of overwhelm, and then responding with an example of a catastrophe they recently experienced in their life. Often, in processing these incidents with them, it is revealed that said catastrophe began as an inconvenience, which they poorly reacted to, thereby worsening the situation.
Catastrophes do happen in life, whether as an initial incident, or as an incident made worse from an overreaction. Regardless, the most effective response to feelings of being overwhelmed, is to accept the situation for what it is, and accept your feelings for what they are. Once this is achieved, only then can you begin to take a solution focused response.
The process of doing nothing to feelings of overwhelming stress and anxiety, is something that takes quite a bit of effort for a first timer. Specifically, there are evidenced based cognitive behavioral strategies, like the ones found in this CBT workbook, “Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety,” by Seth J Gillihan PhD.
A person can study and practice these strategies on their own, or with an experienced therapist.
The number one cause for hopelessness is living a lie. This lie is usually a narrative you were raised to believe in from a very young age and thus your brain over the years has become wired to look for signs and signals that support your belief in this false narrative, leading you to make daily decisions which support this lie.
The problem with lies is that when we make decisions, or attempt to solve problems based on a lie, (aka problems that don’t exist) nothing changes. Take for example, there was once a young man who was being treated by his family physician for irritable bowel syndrome. During treatment, his condition remained the same for a long time and then took a turn for the worse. It was only when things got worse, that the young man explained to his doctor that he had been abusing laxatives, as part of his diet plan. Now that the doctor and the young man where no longer making decisions based on a false narrative, they could get him the appropriate help he needed for abstaining from laxatives.
This story is a concrete example about how we spin our wheels when we attempt to live our lives on false narratives. A false narrative is a logical fallacy, where the solutions we attempt to apply to our perceived problems make sense, if only the foundation were true. In the story shared in the previous paragraph, only the doctor was in the dark about what was the true cause of the problem. Perhaps some might argue the young man to some degree was also in the dark because he might not have made a connection between his use of laxatives and his stomach issues. Most people who experience hopelessness have no clue that they are attempting to live a lie.
They feel hopeless about their situations, because they have reached the conclusion the path they are taking is the only sure way of getting their needs met. It’s like someone who believes that he can walk through a wall, and repeatedly bangs his head against the wall with the expectation that the wall will eventually give in. Eventually, the person gives up, slums against the wall while massaging a wounded head. Hopelessness feels the same way, you keep tackling the same problem with solutions that make sense, but to no avail. Eventually you begin to lose faith in yourself, and when you see others whom you perceive are doing a great job in getting their needs met, you begin to see yourself as a failure and you start to develop a pessimistic view about your ability to thrive in life.
But what if the problem, or set of problems you have been desperately attempting to tackle, have never been the true issue at all? What if your core beliefs are foundationally based on myths? If you struggle with feelings of hopelessness, then this is good news. It means that there are other ways for you to get your needs met, but first you must go through great pains to revise your beliefs.
Most people who are genuinely lost in regards to where to start in revising their belief systems, would benefit a great deal from a seasoned therapist, who can guide them in addressing all aspects of their lives.
If you suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, (OCD) and you are experiencing difficulty in getting yourself to adapt healthier behaviors in your life, there are no easy solutions. However, there is a solution, the solution is three part, defining what the problematic behavior is and picking an alternative and healthier behavior, understanding the genesis of the problematic behavior and learning and practicing how to get past your difficult emotions so you can practice your new behavior.
Defining what the problem is.
Let’s say you have a ritual with touching door knobs three times before entering any room. This is a problematic behavior because it is an oddity and people around you are bound to notice. Furthermore, the stressful urge that pushes you to engage in this behavior puts you in an anxious and stressful mood any time you enter any room, especially a room with a person or persons that you are required to engage with. Furthermore, it is also problematic as the obsession with performing this ritual prevents you from being present with others. So it stands to reason that the solution for this problem would be the opposite of what you are doing which would be two part, first that you no longer go through the awkward ritual of touching door knobs three times before you enter any room. Secondly, that you relive yourself from the strong mental urges to engage in such a ritual.
Understanding the Genesis of the problem.
From my experience in treating obsessive compulsive disorders, a commonality is usually a stressful childhood. The sufferer’s childhood was either blatantly abusive, such as physical abuse or covertly abusive, such as emotional abuse. Usually when someone suffering from OCD or any other type of mental health issues insists that they had a great childhood, they often will immediately contradict themselves in reporting on stories and experiences that the average person would consider to be terrible. Regardless, when an adult or child is chronically exposed to a stressful situation for which they lack the cognitive skills to properly address, the consequence that follows is usually the development of some type of mental health illness. Clinical evidence of this can be attributed to a research study where University of Berkeley researches showed that chronic exposure to stress leads to long term changes in the brain which the researches argue predisposes people to mental illness. Regardless, from a place of understanding and forgiveness, it is beneficial to explore any and all past traumas, big and small and understand how they have shaped you and influenced your problematic behaviors.
Practicing how to get past your difficult emotions.
So now you have defined what the problematic behavior is, and you have successfully explored how you came about developing this maladaptive behavior, there remains one major problem. This problem is getting past your strong urges and feelings of anxiety to engage in the problematic behavior in this first place. OCD is the result of brain damage, primarily to the basal ganglia. While biological infections have been known to cause damage to the basal ganglia, a common cause for such a damage would be atypical neurological wiring. Such atypical wiring can be attributed how a person lacking the cognitive skills to deal with a prolonged stressful situation, adapts with unhealthy behaviors which work in the short term.
A good example would be learning to read others for signs of anger, irritation or moodiness. This leads to a belief fallacy that the person can control others based on their astute observations of others and it also leads to an underdevelopment in assertiveness skills, in which the person unintentionally recreates familial stress in their lives by walking on egg shells around others and getting into personal relationships with difficult people. In most cases, people who suffer from OCD report a false feeling of having control over the situation when they engage in their rituals.
Regardless, having become armed with the knowledge of how their daily behavior influences their neurological wiring, most suffers from OCD become motivated towards practicing their alternative and desired behavior in response to emotional urges to engages in old rituals. For best results I would recommend OCD suffers to work with an experienced cognitive behavioral therapist.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
My best friend and my worst enemy all reside within me. Further, I believe this paradox applies to each one of us. This maybe upsetting to some people, particularly those who have experienced wrong doing at the hands of other people. Some might even see it as victim blaming.
However this is empowerment. You see, the idea that life would be better if people doing bad things would stop doing bad things, is a fallacy. This is because, in a perfect world even if every single human being stopped doing bad things, our personal challenges would still remain. Furthermore, just thinking about everyone choosing the path of goodness, brings to your awareness, just how unrealistic it is. At least for me it does.
Which brings me to my primary argument, the focus on other people in our lives being well behaved is a distraction from ourselves, specifically the issues we struggle with. Such as procrastination, depression, anxiety, etc. The types of issues we know deep down is keeping us from doing our best, as the years pass us by. The type of issues we intuitively know, that if we don’t improve, we would be at the mercy of life’s challenges. Yes, this includes people who enjoy victimizing others.
The important thing is to recognize that you are your own worst enemy, so that you can make friends with yourself (sooner than later) and start treating yourself well.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and 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.