The Chains of Victimhood

Glorying in victimhood is a favorite path for people hurt in relationships (especially the divorced). When someone has been wronged (and wronged many times), it is easy to keep seeing life through those pain-filled moments and “define” yourself by what others have done to you. Instead of moving on and creating your own identity, your past pain becomes an excuse for not taking responsibly for today.. and a means to gain sympathy. When you meet new people, you find yourself quickly working your way to an explanation of what happened. You want it front and center so that others to see you in that light. You want that shadow of the past to fall over your face when they look at you. How much better it is to let them get to know the person you have become rather than what you once were! It’s a risky but healthy step toward breaking the chains of victimhood.

Stephen Goforth

Your Pain

Finding a different way to interact with your pain is hard. People have the most difficulty embracing the paradox of acceptance. Our instinct is to run as far away from our pain as possible, to be as safe as we can be. Making a decision to step into it rather than trying to get rid of it can be excruciatingly difficult. Feeling the intensity of those difficult, painful emotions and sensations can feel very dark and very lonely. I see it in all forms of suffering. The depression that never seems to lift, the drink that has to be drunk, the highway we cannot drive on, the hands that must be washed over and over and over. The reality is that most people are willing to embrace acceptance only when they have run out of options – when what they have been doing, often for years, simply doesn’t work anymore. This is a dark place that feels like there is no light to guide you out. It can be devastating. 

To be able to connect and embrace a lifetime’s worth of suffering in service of a valued end, that – in its very essence – is acceptance. 

Joseph Trunzo writing in Aeon 

Closing Doors that seem like Opportunities

A professor of behavioral economics asked hundreds of MIT students to play a computer game that paid cash for finding symbols of money behind three doors. Each time the students clicked on an open a door, they earned a little money.

But there was a catch: The amount was different behind each door-and the amount kept changing. The player could switch rooms and search for higher payoffs, but for each switch, he or she used an extra click just to open the new door. Each player only had a limited number of clicks. The best strategy was to stay in the room offering the highest rewards.

But did the students do that? No. The doors to the unclicked rooms would start shrinking and eventually disappear.  Instead of ignoring those disappearing doors and just paying attention to the doors that paid off, students kept switching back and forth, clicking on the doors that appeared to be disappearing, even though it wasn’t in their own best interest.

Irrational? Yes. Predictable? Yes.

The students thought they were keeping their options open. Even when the game was set up so that players could make a door reappear whenever they wanted, they still kept frantically trying to prevent any door from vanishing. They wasted time, refusing to let go because of the pain of watching a door close and seeing an option disappear.

We are willing to pay a price to avoid feeling a particular emotional such as losing an opportunity, according to Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational. His advice? Find ways to avoid overbooking our lives by letting a few things fall off our plates. Cancel projects. Give away ideas to colleagues. Resign from committees. Rethink hobbies. Let a few doors close.

Stephen Goforth

Two Ways of Relating to the World

Most people who come to see a psychiatrist are suffering from what is called either neurosis or a character disorder. Put most simply, these two conditions are disorders of responsibility, and as such they are opposite styles of relating to the world and its problems. The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with character disorder not enough. When neurotics are in conflict with the world they automatically assume that they are at fault. When those with character disorders are in conflict with the world they automatically assume that the world is at fault.

Even the speech patterns of neurotics and those with character disorders are different. The speech of the neurotic is notable for such expressions as “I ought to,” “I should,” and “I shouldn’t” indicating the individual’s self0image as an inferior man or woman always falling short of the mark, always making the wrong choices. The speech of a person with a character disorder, however, relies heavily on “I can’t,” “I couldn’t” “I have to,” and “I had to” demonstrating a self-image of a being who has no power of choice, whose behavior is completely directed by external forces total beyond his or her control.

As might be imagined, neurotics, compared with character disordered people are easy to work with in psychotherapy because the assume responsibility for their difficulties and there fore see themselves as having problems. Whose with character disorders are much more difficult , if not impossible, to work with because they don’t see themselves as the source of their problems; they see the world rather than themselves as being in need of change and there fore fail to recognize the necessity for self-examination.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

The Dangers of Love

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness... The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

CS Lewis, The Four Loves

The Passion for Control

Researchers arranged for student volunteers to pay regular visits to nursing-home residents. Residents in the high-control group were allowed to control the timing and duration of the student’s visit, and residents in the low-control group were not. After two months, residents in the high-control group were happier, healthier, more active, and taking fewer medications than those in the low-control group.

At this point the researchers concluded their student and discontinued the student visits. Several months later they were chagrined to learn that a disproportionate number of residents who had been in the high-control group had died.

Only in retrospect did the cause of this tragedy seem clear. The residents who had been given control, and who had benefited measurably from that control while they had it were inadvertently robbed of control when the study ended.

Apparently, gaining control can have a positive impact on one’s health and well-being, but losing control can be worse than never having had any at all.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

Depression Lingers

There is a chain of events follow the awareness of a loss that starts with mind-body chain of events that leads to depression. While it mind can resolve the loss, the body still needs time to recover. The biochemical changes accompanying the depression take time to return to normal. One may continue to feel depressed long after the problem seems to be resolved.

This is important to remember because many people who experience such temporary losses do not allow time for the body’s chemistry to heal. They are likely to interpret their continued low mood as a sign of failure, reject themselves, and create further loss and depression. Many depressions are perpetuated this way.

The healthiest way to deal with sadness following restoration of the loss is simply to accept it. Give the body time to heal after the mind is recovered.

Archibald Hart, Counseling the Depressed

Information Overload

“Information overload” is one of the biggest irritations in modern life. Commentators have coined a profusion of phrases to describe the anxiety and anomie caused by too much information: “data asphyxiation” (William van Winkle), “data smog” (David Shenk), “information fatigue syndrome” (David Lewis), “cognitive overload” (Eric Schmidt) and “time famine” (Leslie Perlow). Johann Hari, a British journalist, notes that there is a good reason why “wired” means both “connected to the internet” and “high, frantic, unable to concentrate”.

These worries are exaggerated. Stick-in-the-muds have always complained about new technologies: the Victorians fussed that the telegraph meant that “the businessman of the present day must be continually on the jump.” Yet clearly there is a problem. It is not merely the dizzying increase in the volume of information (the amount of data being stored doubles every 18 months). It is also the combination of omnipresence and fragmentation. Many professionals are welded to their smartphones.

They raise three big worries. First, information overload can make people feel anxious and powerless: scientists have discovered that multitaskers produce more stress hormones. Second, overload can reduce creativity. Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School has spent more than a decade studying the work habits of 238 people, collecting a total of 12,000 diary entries between them. She finds that focus and creativity are connected. People are more likely to be creative if they are allowed to focus on something for some time without interruptions. If constantly interrupted or forced to attend meetings, they are less likely to be creative. Third, overload can also make workers less productive. David Meyer, of the University of Michigan, has shown that people who complete certain tasks in parallel take much longer and make many more errors than people who complete the same tasks in sequence.

What can be done about information overload? One answer is technological: rely on the people who created the fog to invent filters that will clean it up. A second answer involves willpower. Ration your intake. Turn off your mobile phone and internet from time to time.

But such ruses are not enough. Smarter filters cannot stop people from obsessively checking their BlackBerrys. Some do so because it makes them feel important; others because they may be addicted to the “dopamine squirt” they get from receiving messages, as Edward Hallowell and John Ratey, two academics, have argued. And self-discipline can be counter-productive if your company doesn’t embrace it. Some bosses get shirty if their underlings are unreachable even for a few minutes.

Most companies are better at giving employees access to the information superhighway than at teaching them how to drive. This is starting to change. Management consultants have spotted an opportunity. Derek Dean and Caroline Webb of McKinsey urge businesses to embrace three principles to deal with data overload: find time to focus, filter out noise and forget about work when you can. Business leaders are chipping in. David Novak of Yum! Brands urges people to ask themselves whether what they are doing is constructive or a mere “activity”. John Doerr, a venture capitalist, urges people to focus on a narrow range of objectives and filter out everything else. Cristobal Conde of SunGard, an IT firm, preserves “thinking time” in his schedule when he cannot be disturbed. This might sound like common sense. But common sense is rare amid the cacophony of corporate life.

Schumpeter, from The Economist

How to know you're emotionally healthy

We are on a road to significant life disruptions when we cling to what we wish the world was like instead of what it really is like. As M Scott Peck wrote, “Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.”

Like it or not, we are all neurotic to some degree. If the wrong set of circumstances comes along, and if they are combined with unhealthy attitudes encouraged by poor parenting and genetic tenancies, any of us can tip over into the abyss.

Mental clarity is fundamental to emotional health. That's why, despite the biological component to mental illness, our therapeutic approach should be holistic and address cognitive issues. A cognitive-focused approach has a history of greater effectiveness than drugs (except when dealing with extremes psychotic breaks, schizophrenia, etc).

After an initial physical exam rules out disease and general illness, an eclectic approach that is focused on cognitive therapy, is the preferred direction. For most issues, drugs are best regulated to use as a tool allowing a person to find a place of stability in order deal with the fundamental unhealthy cognitive issues.

Stephen Goforth

Ordering the Mind

Unless a person knows how to give order to his or her thoughts, attention will be attracted to whatever is most problematic at the moment: it will focus on some real or imaginary pain, on recent grudges or long-term frustrations. Entropy is the normal state of consciousness – a condition that is neither useful nor enjoyable.

To avoid this condition, people are naturally eager to fill their minds with whatever information is reality available, as long as it distracts attention from turning inward and dwelling on negative feelings. This explains why such a huge proportion of time is invested in watching television, despite the fact that it is very rarely enjoyed. Compared to other sources of stimulation – like reading, talking to other people, or working on a hobby – TV can provide continuous and easily accessible information that will structure the viewers attention, at a very low cost in terms of the psychic energy that needs to be invested. While people watch television, people need not fear that their drifting minds will force them to fact disturbing personal problems. It is understandable that once on develops this strategy for overcoming psychic entropy, to give up the habit becomes almost impossible.

The better route for avoiding chaos in consciousness, of course, is through habits that give control over mental processes to the individual, rather than to some external source of stimulation… To acquire such habits requires practice, however, and the kind of goals and rules that are inherent in flow activities.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Flow