If there is a soul, what is that really? The term “soul” is usually monopolized by religions and implies an existence after death. In psychology, we use the word “Self”, that what we identify with as a whole. But are they different from each other, or do they mean one and the same?
The psychotherapeutic school of thought Internal Family Systems therapy is shining a new light on this question. The theory surmises that we all consist of a number of parts, as in “a part of me wants this” and “a part of me wants that”. Some of these parts carry a lot of feeling, and others are very detached and intellectual. Some see the world for what is is, and others want it to be different.
Very often, several of these parts are in conflict. That is what gets us into trouble. One part knows that it’s dangerous to eat that extra slice of pizza, but the other needs some comfort food and will try to overpower the first one. Then there’s another part that judges you for even being weak, and off we go into a merry-go-round of internal struggle.
And we go on and carry that internal tension into the world and cause more conflict with others who we then blame for whatever we can in order to get rid of the pain.
So it is important to sort out all the conflict we carry around inside to avoid misplacing it onto other people.
Many times, there are lots of parts involved in an epic internal battle for control and in an attempt to avoid pain. IFS theory, which was created by the psychologist Richard Schwartz, states as one of its goal to get all the parts to coexist in harmony with each other. If they all rally behind you, they play like an orchestra in tune with its conductor.
So there is the big question, who then conducts the cacophony of parts? It is the Self who is behind it all. The Self as it is is already calm and peaceful, deliberate and …
Here’s what’s wrong with the seemingly endless and yet so fascinating lists of things that are either good for you or bad for you: They give me anxiety. Here’s this list about the 7 most compelling books I should read. And then there’s the one with the 10 most delicious dessert recipes without sugar. Even news organization now publish a daily list of “5 things to know for your new day”, covering everything from winter weather to the fighting in Ukraine.
Every day I am bombarded with – probably even quite useful – information about all the things I am supposed to do better. The problem is: it’s too much.
Don’t get me wrong: I too am frequently drawn to articles headlined “5 Ways To Increase your Mental Strength” or “6 Breathing Techniques That Help You Fall Asleep”. I have read many fine articles by equally fine writers that contain helpful information about anything from healthy foods to why smiling is good for you. I even wrote an article some years ago about “5 Dating Tips for Introverts”.
The problem is: it doesn’t stick. I love reading what I could do to lose those five pounds or to make my brain stop forgetting random pieces of information. I go down the lists, thinking: yep, I know that already. Oh, that’s actually interesting. Wait, I haven’t thought of that one before.
But as soon as I click on another article I have already forgotten what 5-item-list I just read. The lists are a great seduction to lure us into the kind of bite-size infotainment that makes us believe we learn something new. But the brain doesn’t learn from reading 50 different things in as short a time as possible. It learns by repeating the same things over and over.
Some people say it takes 17 repetitions – for example to learn a new word in a foreign language, or get the hang of a new habit. Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell talks about 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery, and how even geniuses like the Beatles had to practice in order to become …
Sometimes the mind is too confused or too overwhelmed to give us useful information about what the right thing to do is. We get trapped in self doubt and anxiety and may end up doing nothing at all, which makes us feel depressed and not in control.
When the mind is too wrapped up in thinking, listening to the body can provide relief.
I sometimes get upset about silly things. The neighbor did this, or a friend said that… it’s easy to get caught up in making assumptions about what other people do, and we tend to think their actions have something to do with us, when in reality they don’t.
When that happens I check in with my body. Am I really upset about my friend not calling back at the desired time? Or is it just my paranoid mind telling me stories that she doesn’t want to talk to me, is trying to tell me something blablabla.
When my body is relaxed and doesn’t give me any signal, I attribute the thoughts to my reptile brain, which is programmed to dish out warnings when there seems to be danger, but isn’t very good at differentiating between what is really dangerous or just related to a past experience. So when the body is calm, I try to let it go. It’s so tempting to give in to fearful thinking even when there isn’t the slightest evidence that harm is being done.
It’s different, when my body gives me warning signs. For example, if I have a conversation with a friend and something that was said doesn’t sit right with me, I wonder if I should bring it up to that person or let it go. When I feel a knot in my stomach or a tightening of the muscles in my chest, then I know that something is up. Maybe something from the past was triggered that needs soothing or simply being talked about. Then I try to bring it up in a non-threatening way, by talking about my experience rather than blaming the other person.
It’s important to take a closer look at these physical …
Introverts and shy people all over rejoice: there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with needing space and quiet, and preferring a low key dinner with a good friend to a loud and extravagant party.
There is nothing wrong with needing time to retreat from the world and recharge your internal batteries, or to feel overwhelmed by too much pressure or too much information.
I’m a latecomer to Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s been out for a while, but that doesn’t make its message any less important.
One major point she makes is that introverts are thinkers and creators. “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement”, science journalist Winifred Gallagher is quoted. He concludes that neither Einstein’s theory of relativity nor John Milton’s Paradise Lost was “dashed off by a party animal.”
Susan Cain adds more great achievements by venerable introverts: Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity, Chopin’s nocturnes, Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown. Even techno revolutionaries like Google founder Sergey Brin or Facebook creator Marc Zuckerberg are included. The list goes on to include Al Gore, Warren Buffett, Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi.
Many of us turn to the mind. We are called cerebral, innovative, brooding, creative. But also spiritual, psychologically minded, curious about the inner workings of all things. Endlessly fascinated by the wonders of nature, and inspired by the journey of discovery.
Of course, not all introverts end up famous. Many of us struggle with feelings of loneliness, fear of conflict, depression and low self esteem.
Many times, our negative self image goes back to the messages we received from our families and our culture. Extroverted children are deemed preferable to quiet ones by lots of parents, for fear that their kids will end up as outsiders or loners. The angst they are putting on their children ends up creating just that: youngers who feel bad about themselves …
Codependency is defined as one partner being dependent on the control and the needs of another, like when a self defeating partner falls for a narcissist. For the codependent person, the needs of the other become paramount, and one’s own needs and desires – sometimes even the whole personality are obliterated.
The primary task of a codependent person is individuation. Becoming one’s own priority. Knowing and realizing one’s desires. Discovering the self. And eventually standing on your own feet within a partnership.
The way a person becomes codependent often goes back to childhood, when a parent or an important family member or a caretaker used the child as an extension of the self and did not allow the child to develop his or her own personality.
The most important job of the child was to attend to the narcissistic parent’s needs – be it directly by obeying whatever the parent said, or indirectly, by becoming the person the parent wanted us to be: be good, be quiet, be compliant, be like them, become the better version of the parent and so on.
Parent and child became emotionally fused. There is no independent will the child may pursue. There is only the needs and fears of one person, the all powerful and dominant parent.
Even when the parent outwardly rejects the child, because he or she doesn’t seem to live up to their expectations, the child will still try to gain the approval of the parent and won’t be permitted to become an individual.
Children of emotionally fused parents will end up in codependent relationships later in life. Becoming aware of this dynamic is very painful. The first task is to grieve the lost self, and to find the pillars on which one’s own personality rest.
Even if it feels like all energy goes into the needs of other people, there is still a fundamental inner core that represents the true self.
Go back and look at old pictures. Maybe there was an aunt or a grandparent that fostered independence and ideas in you. Maybe there was a game you played with other kids, or an art project …
Most people who seek psychotherapy believe that they are weak, that their life force has been shaken to the core, that they can’t face the world and its challenges. But it’s quite the opposite. Daring to look at oneself and one’s imperfections really is an act of heroism.
Most of us don’t like to admit that we often are in need: we crave to be in a loving relationship, grow roots and find stability in a community, want the security of having a financial cushion and so on. So much of our self exploration focuses on our needs and how we can avoid the pitfalls of never saying no to anyone.
And not just that. Sometimes we are weak. When our child is in pain and we can’t help, we feel each pang of that pain with them. When we are exhausted and run down, we don’t have it in us to stand up to whoever we feel treats us unfairly.
Defeat cannot always be averted. All there is to do is to admit that we have failed. There is no way to pretend otherwise. We need to be able to face the truth of our human existence.
Admitting to feeling vulnerable and confused automatically takes the aggression out of a fight. Saying calmly “that really hurt me” or “I just don’t have it in me” deflects anger and opens the door for dialogue and cooperation. It avoids defensiveness and the typical downward spiral of self righteousness and stonewalling.
Seeing our weaknesses enables us to move past them, because we first have to become aware of our limitations before we can try to do something about it.
Knowing that we are vulnerable makes compassion with others possible. Everyone appreciates compassion, kindness and gentleness.
Every feeling is temporary. All things must pass, as George Harrison said. And there will be an end to feeling weak and incapacitated too. It’s all part of the human experience. The sooner we can accept that, the easier we will move past it.
We’ve long known that soft candle light generally triggers a gentler mood, and grey skies can make us more gloomy. Some people tend to be depressed in the winter, when the sun sets early.
The same dynamic takes place inside our homes and offices. The artificial light that comes from the ceiling or floor lamp will have an impact on us. Especially the harsh light of fluorescent bulbs creates a cold, stark atmosphere.
Researchers at the German Fraunhofer Institute are now testing what kind of moods are associated with colored lighting. They found out that red light has more of a relaxing effect that will make us want to lie down or go to sleep. It’s the same red tones that appear on the sky at sunset. For our hunter and gatherer ancestors who lived mostly outdoors this was the signal to retire into a sheltered space.
In contrast, blueish light will wake us up, make us more alive and increases the drive to move. Yellow is said to increase concentration.
Research concludes that when workers in an office were forced to work in a space without windows, their levels of tiredness were much higher than of those who were exposed to daylight. The researchers then created a virtual ceiling with blue light and moving clouds, and the effect was immediate: the test subjects reported a significantly lessened decrease in well-being when exposed to the virtual sky.
Human beings are not made to be exposed to artificial light all day long. Exposed to TV screens and computers, our internal clock gets thrown off, and sleep disturbances are on the rise. “We’ve lived and worked outdoors for almost 200,000 years” says Oliver Stefani, light researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute. Exposure to light at night has been linked to depression, learning issues and sleeplessness.
A number of companies are beginning to tap into the market and are offering colored LED light bulbs that can be set to any mood, and even simulate the colors of the sunrise in the morning to wake you up gently. New technology makes it …
“Why Do I Do That?” is the title of a new book by fellow blogger Joseph Burgo which deals exclusively with the ways we try to deal with difficult feelings and situations in life: It’s our defense mechanisms that make us look away when things get dicey or hard to deal with. The book is released on October 29th and will be available on Amazon in print-on-demand and eBook versions. In this interview, Joe Burgo explains how he got fascinated by the topic.
What do people defend against?
In the broadest sense, they always defend against pain. Donald Melzer said that defenses are lies we tell ourselves to evade pain, which is a very elegant way of saying it.
There are different kinds of pain. In my book I divide it into three areas. We are primarily concerned with what it’s like to need and depend on other people, which can lead to frustration, hurt and disappointment. Secondarily, we are concerned with being able to manage a lot of intense feelings that come up in relationships. And we try to develop some sense of personal self worth, to feel that we have value, and when we don’t, that leads to shame, a deeply painful experience. So need and dependency, strong feelings and self esteem, those are the areas where pain comes up and we rely on defense mechanisms.
What are the classic defense mechanisms?
Well, there are repression and denial. All defenses rely on repression, even though it’s a defense in its own right. Displacement, reaction formation. Splitting, idealization. Projection. And then there’s a bunch of other ones that are secondary, like defenses that involve ideas of control, and lastly defenses against shame.
What are these?
Narcissism is the primary defense against shame.
Narcissism is a defense?
Pathological narcissism is a defense against shame. There are people who are currently writing about this connection, its kind of out there in the profession right now.
How do you work with patients in terms of defenses?
As I was writing the book, I didn’t really think that I am working on defenses but I guess …
Exercise can be just as effective against depression as medication, especially in mild to moderate cases. Study after study has come to this conclusion, and it can even help with major depression and to prevent reoccurring episodes of it.
Many alternative health professionals talk about how “food is medicine;” now, the corresponding view is “exercise is medicine.” A recent news item claiming that exercise is more crucial in managing diabetes than food, is an example of this new viewpoint.
Having a stronger body increases overall well-being, even in people with low self esteem. Body and mind cannot be seen separately – an insight that athletes back in ancient Greece were well aware off.
Of course, it’s difficult to motivate yourself to move when you are depressed. It’s important to find an activity that suits the pace you are comfortable with. If walking is all you can do, then walking it is (especially when done in nature). If dancing feels possible, do that. If you like Yoga, great.
You don’t have to hit the gym. Find something that appeals to you. Being active on a regular basis (say two or three times a week) is much more beneficial than doing something strenuous once in a while.
If you can avoid medication and exercise regularly instead, even better. Drugs can have serious negative side effects, especially when taken over a long period of time. Some studies even suggest that antidepressants can lead to chronic depression.
This phenomenon seems to occur in many people, who had an initial positive response to SSRIs, then stayed on the drugs, relapsed and became treatment-resistant. This is when the depression may become permanent.
Other cautionary tales include that psychiatric drugs have led to impairment in brain development in animal studies. Robert Whitaker, author of “Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness”, points out that the widely believed theory of chemical imbalances in the brain had turned out to be false.
It is undeniable that drugs have helped and still help countless people, especially with severe mental illness. …
We know that meditation is beneficial. It’s hard nowadays to escape the ever present pictures of the smiling Buddha, and the articles praising meditations efficacy, reaching from calming the mind to lowering blood pressure.
But how do we get ourselves to fit yet another chore that’s “good for you” into our schedule?
There are no easy answers, because if you want to turn a blind eye, you will. Just like with going to the gym. Or eating your vegetables.
But those of you who are willing to take a shot at it, there are a few tricks to help push yourself.
First and foremost: Forget that your mind will be quiet. It won’t. It takes many years of consistent practice to come to a place of emptiness of thought.
In the meantime, look at it this way: Your thoughts will not be eliminated, but they will slow down, and that in itself will feel like a relief.
Allow your thoughts to be chaotic. How can we expect perfection without any or little training? We don’t expect it when it comes to our bodies. Or our professional skills. We know that it takes hard work to come to a place of mastery.
But somehow we entertain this illusion that we should be able to control our minds just like that; and when we can’t, we feel bad, and nobody wants to feel bad. So all good intentions go out the window, and there’s not going to be any meditation.
Accept that the mind is busy. When we say “the brain just functions that way” it’s easier to allow this busyness than to think, “I can’t pull it off, I am a failure”.
No one can, when they first sit down.
Be prepared for your mind to trail off, and to lose focus. Over and over and over.
But if you sit just ten minutes in silence, you will have removed yourself from a lot of noise and obligations and stress. That in itself has a calming effect.
Make your meditation a routine activity. Do it in the morning. If you postpone it until bedtime, you’ll most likely …