Psychological research has had a tendency to study negative effects of behavior both on the individual and cultural level. But new research has started to focus more on the positive aspects of behavior. I like this shift, as I think it will change how we interact with the world. In one TED talk I watched, scientists were studying genetic superhumans. That is, people with genetic ‘flaws’ that has proven to give these people abilities normal people don’t have. By getting more knowledge about these ‘superhumans’ we are also a step closer to knowing which environmental, psychological and biological factors contribute to their genetic make-up.
Humans in a big crowd have an inclination to behave the same way. It is difficult to resist the force of it. This is why people, who ordinarily are sensible, can do things that they regret afterwards . It is also the reason people who normally are harmless can become violent.
There are thousand different ways we can be affected by mass suggestion, both in a negative and positive sense.
A mass-suggestion experiment
If I could do a study as a researcher, I would want to look at how positive mass-suggestion could affect us . Let’s for fun’s sake call it a social media experiment. If every person shared the research hypothesis I’m about to present with one person, it would be interesting to see what would happen next.
My hypothesis would be something like: Can we by mass-suggestion, make people around the world do the same thing on the same day?
For example I could propose that the 30th of september, every one of us tried to do one random act of kindness. What do you think would happen? Could it affect us all in a positive way?
The date could be set one year in advance to make sure that many get the message, but as information can spread like fire in the right circumstances maybe it would not be necessary to wait that long.
So, would somebody be interested in an experiment like that? What can each and all of us do by simply being kind towards others?
Why not try? We got nothing to lose.
I am a 29-year-old girl from Norway where I work as a psychologist. On my free time I love to read, travel and experience new things. I also like taking photos and creative activities like scrapbooking and decoupage. My personality? For those of you who know the BIG 5 personality test, I am high on Openness, Conscientiousness, middle on agreeable and on extroversion/introversion. It basically means that I`m a flexible person, work hard, usually don`t make a fuss and love to be with others, while also needing to be alone to think and calm down. I also want to add that I love the Italian language, my family, Haruki Murakami, good music and my friends. I am VERY emotional, but calm when I have to be. Earlier I had a tendency to put other`s needs first, believing that I wasn`t worthy of any attention myself. Luckily I have grown in heart and mind since then, and learnt that being there for others mean taking care of your own needs first.
This blog is a blend of my personal story (called narrative or the sound of..) topics related to psychology and just random things I find interesting. I work daily as a clinical psychologist, and most of my clients have been abused and neglected in heartbreaking ways. Many of my posts will cover subjects related to trauma and dissociation. I am quite open and honest in my posts, because I believe it might make us psychologist less mysterious.
Most of the psychologist I know are kind, intelligent people. Some with their own stories, but all with a genuine wish to help. In this blog I want to share what I know about overcoming challenges and following your dreams.
Since more and more people have started to read this blog, I unfortunately found it necessary to password protect some of my more personal posts. If you want to read them, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on twitter (@ninjafighter), instagram and Facebook. I also have two other blogs that are dedicated to psychology and the “Kindness project” that I started one year ago, You find them here: Free psychology and The kindness project.
In the last blog I post interviews with different people. I ask them questions about good things they do, and my hope is that their answers will inspire others to do be kind towards others. I have also invited guest bloggers to share their stories on “Free psychology”. They are brilliant writers, so feel to explore their story on this blog. I am always open to invite more bloggers who want to write, so feel free to contact me at any time if you`d like to write about topics relevant for the blog.
I started my blog three years ago, and it has grown so fast I almost can`t believe it. I am really proud of it, and grateful because I have made new friends and found other blogs that I like.
I want to thank all my readers and offer some encouragement to everyone who suffers or have done so in the past. I have been in the deepest valleys myself, and felt emotional pain so intense that I was afraid of it.
I hope this blog might prove that the fight for a better life is worth it.
- What Are the Different Types of Psychologists and What Do They Do? (psychology.about.com)
Finding good memoirs describing multiple personalities is rare. This managed to portray accurately how it is to live with dissociative identity disorder, and the therapy that helped.
Annora’s intensifying bouts of amnesia caused her husband to seek marital counseling for them; whereupon, the therapist observed even more abnormal behaviors in Annora. She was subsequently diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), also known as Multiple Personality Disorder. Buried inner conflicts began to morph into external trouble and at first these troubles seemed to lack sense and organization. With the help of her therapist, Annora battled her disorder and the pieces of the puzzle came together to reveal a carefully hidden secret so devastating, that even Annora was not aware of it. We Are Annora will rivet readers as the story unravels clues which climax into a surprise ending.
Marrow’s choice of first-person narrative successfully pulls the reader into this page-turning true story which so richly demonstrates the human will to survive amidst a crippling disorder that is still so misunderstood. Throughout the pages of this book, struggles of fear and hope, love and hate, confusion, and utter clarity give the reader an “insider” perspective of the challenges faced by traumatized people with DID. Hence, the reader acquires a better understanding of the difficulties suffered by multiples and the potential for true healing.
From the Back Cover
Annora grew up in an orphanage and so the preservation of her precious family was her number one commitment. But that commitment was threatened when, during marital counseling, Annora’s therapist began to recognize unusual and abnormal behaviors in her. Annora was subsequently diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, also known as Multiple Personality Disorder. But that wouldn’t stop Annora from declaring her sanity to her husband and begging him to find them a new therapist.
Annora reveals the complex issues of her experience in this easy-to-read story that begins with a car accident and travels through a world of horrifying challenges laced with enough hope and vision to pull her through. It seems that survival is in Annora’s genes and she is anything but a coward, though she accuses herself of just that. “Maybe having alters is just a coward’s way of putting my memories and emotions some place outside of me so that I don’t have to feel their pain.”
Perhaps, in some way, she was right.
Reading the book was hard, but I was so glad I did. I understood better how it must be to live life shattered after trauma, and how the dissociated parts can find their way to healing, understanding they no longer need to be afraid. Annora was truly an inspirational woman, and sharing her story takes courage. It might finally reduce some sigma and explain the condition in a way people can understand.
More about it on goodreads
The white mattress lies right in front of me, leaning into the wall. Small buttons run parallel along its surface, creating creases looking like small valleys. The soft white color soothes my mind. My son is nursing, and I am filled with gratitude. I can see his small hand milking an imaginary breast. His fingers are tiny, his thumb the shape of a triangle. Looking at his hand, I remember how his soft and warm skin feels when it closes around my finger when he is afraid and needs comfort.
Sometimes I stress. There is so much to do and too little time. I constantly crave stimulation, feeling bored without it. And then. Moments like these. When I remember what life is all about. When sensations arrive one at a time, making it possible to take them in. It makes all the difference, because focusing intently on one thing makes it easier for emotions to come forward and the body to react. Too much stimulation leaves no space for the unconscious. Like an overcrowded stadium of people, feelings drown in noise and slip away.
When I remember my past, the memories coming forward are all rich with details. Without sensations, I would probably never have remembered the events. I don´t have many memories, maybe because I spent so much time inside my head instead of looking around.
Living my life today, I try to use my senses more. When old, I want to feel I have lived my life to the fullest, and that means being present.
My son reminds me all the time of the importance of being in the now. His fascination of what he sees and touches makes me interested too. That brings a whole new level to everyday life, a true antidote to depression and negative feelings.
I want to write about covid-19 for the simple reason that it effects all of us. We are in an unique situation that brings uncertainty and fear to many, problems we thought were big before are for some lessened, as we slowly realize what a crisis can be. People loose their job, their security and are isolated, and that is really hard for lonely people. My sister had to be collected by our mum because she sat alone at home and struggled with not seeing anyone for so many days. What with all that where struggling before the society as we know it is changing. I am wondering how people are around the globe! Are they afraid? Will life become even harder in the aftermath? What will it do to us? I hope people are safe and have people to talk to if need be. Never be afraid of reaching out to those who are willing to help, because luckily many still want to be there for other, even if it’s harder to be there physical there still is talking over the phone or find support on the internet.
Dr Matthew Whalley, clinical psychologist
Dr Hardeep Kaur
Our world is changing rapidly at the moment. Given some of the news coverage it is difficult not to worry about what it all means for yourself, and for those you love.
We have put together this free guide Living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty.
We have included a mixture of psychoeducation about normal and excessive worry, lots of normalization, and a selection of practical exercises that you, your clients, or anyone can use to manage worry and maintain well-being in these uncertain times. Please feel free to share this widely.
Wishing you well,
Dr Matthew Whalley & Dr Hardeep Kaur
Download (UK English): Living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty (UK English version)
Download (US English): Living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty (US English version)
2020-03-22: We have had a number of kind offers to translate the guide. If you would like to contribute a version in your language please download the template below, and drop us a quick email (email@example.com) so that we can let you know if someone else has already begun a translation in your language (if they have, we can put you in touch so that the effort can be shared).
Download: Translation template
- German – proofing completed, waiting for final amends.
- Bulgarian – in progress.
- Russian – in progress.
- Spanish (South American) – in progress.
I am scared. I’m scared by right-wing leaders and political parties who are popping up in Europe in like viruses. For that reason, the psychology behind inequality must be talked about. This is a reblog from an article on psychlogytoday.
Economic inequality is at an all-time high in the United States. Some claim that decades of systematic legislation have resulted in the wealthiest three families owning more wealth than the bottom half of the country.
This trend is not reflected in other countries with developed economies: Out of all 36 countries with comparable economics, the US ranks last in equal income distribution. As a result, we have returned to Great Depression levels of income inequality, and for the first time in American history, the working class pay a higher effective tax rate than billionaires.
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The adverse effects of economic inequality are well documented. Across societies, higher rates of inequality are associated with a myriad of health and social problems including obesity, mental illness, decreased life expectancy, and higher crime rates. The World Economic Forum ranked income inequality as one of the most important trends driving global risks such as social instability and unemployment. And yet a recent poll shows that less than half of Americans view income inequality as a serious problem. Why don’t people care?
Political scientists, economists, and philosophers have wrestled with this paradox for decades. The answer to this question—at least in part—can be explained by understanding how people experience inequality in their daily lives. Here, we offer one slice of the explanation: the psychology behind inequality perpetuates an unequal system.
People disproportionally care about local inequality
In an age where we are spending more and more time online, it is easy to compare ourselves to others. Yet not all comparisons are created equal (pun intended).
I may care less about a celebrity buying a multimillion-dollar house than my neighbors posting pictures about their luxurious vacation in the Bahamas. This is because social comparisons are particularly salient when made to others in your community. In comparisons with similar people, inequality can drastically shift our behaviors.
In one particularly creative study, researchers examined how a neighbor winning the lottery shaped others’ financial behavior. They pulled data from the Dutch Postcode Lottery, a system that randomly selects a postal code and distributes new BMWs to all lottery participants in that area.
This creates a unique situation where nonparticipants (who did not buy a lottery ticket) are faced with upwards social comparisons to neighbors who just won a new BMW. The feeling of “keeping up with the Joneses” can be potent: Nonparticipants who lived next to winners were far more likely to buy a new car in the six months after the lottery, compared to those who lived in non-winning districts.
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Visible inequality perpetuates adverse effects
Recent work also reveals that concealing inequality (e.g., not knowing how much your colleagues make) allows cooperation to blossom. And yet we live in a world rife with obvious and blatant inequalities.
To explore how visible inequality changes people’s behavior, researchers at Yale University created mini-societies of individuals with varying degrees of economic inequality and wealth visibility. When rich participants knew their neighbors were poor, they became less likely to cooperate with them. Wealthy individuals chose to selectively play with rich partners, resulting in a “rich get richer” and “poor get poorer” scenario. In contrast, when wealth was invisible (and thus inequality was unknown), cooperation flourished.
These experiments reveal a contradiction of sorts. Instead of rebalancing the scales, wealthier individuals use the knowledge that others have less than themselves to perpetuate inequality—perhaps in part because those who are poor are believed to be less deserving.
Inequality increases risky behavior
Although social comparisons with others in your community are particularly influential in shaping how we act as consumers (e.g., buying fancy cars), these comparisons can also drive detrimental, risky behaviors.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wondered how constantly comparing oneself to top earners influenced people’s decision-making abilities. In one experiment, they asked their subjects to gamble, but each gamble differed in value and risk (e.g., 90% chance to win 28 cents or 5% chance to win $5).
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The researchers split participants into two groups. One group was told that past participants earned an average of 51 cents and the spread of earnings was relatively equal, while the other group was told that past participants earned on average 51 cents, but the spread of earnings was highly unequal.
When the distribution of earnings for past participants was very unequal, current participants took greater risks, presumably to try to achieve higher monetary outcomes. This relationship between inequality and risk taking is mirrored in the real world as well. People who live in states with greater income inequality exhibit greater risky behavior (e.g., greater participation in lottery gambles and payday loans).
Rising inequality causes people to take risker endeavors as they attempt to reach the top, but this may ultimately contribute to maintaining an unequal system. By examining the psychological impact of inequality, we can begin to understand the deeper mechanisms that contribute to the perpetuation of economic inequality. The question becomes, then, will we manage to do anything about it?
About the Author
Oriel FeldmanHall, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences at Brown University.
Norway is a world-leader in terms of engagement in voluntary work, with half the Norwegian population contributing in some way. These efforts benefit both individuals and society in general. It might seem strange that one of the riches countries in the world also has such high numbers when it comes to volunteering, but I find it logical. When you have met the most basic needs, for food, shelter and protection, first then you have the energy or possibility to devote time to other things. In Norway we have manageable working hours, earning enough to live a comfortable life. Off course we have poor people here to, but our social system protects those who cannot work for different reasons. Being a volunteer is good both for others, but also for yourself. I have been a volunteer several times myself, and there really is no feeling like doing something for others without expecting anything in return. Even if I help others in my job, that’s payed work, so It doesn’t always make me feel like I have contributed enough. Volunteering, on the other hand, I do at the cost of my own time that I could have used for recreation.
My son is soon one year, and I plan to take him with me doing volunteer work. In that way he will see the value of doing something for others and experience how that feels. We are so privileged to live here in Norway, so we should appreciate that and do what we can for those who need it.
I have not worked a lot with eating disorder, but I have encountered it. Eating disorders in males is often overlooked, and more knowledge about it is needed. BBC has now made a documentary focusing on eating disorders in men.
In a new BBC documentary Cricketer, Andrew Flintoff MBE will seek to understand the causes and impact of bulimia on his life, and why eating disorders in general are so hidden in men.He will meet experts and male sufferers and aim to return home with a new understanding of what it means to be a man with an eating disorder. Freddie is the cricket all-rounder who became one of Britain’s best-loved sporting heroes before forging an equally successful career on screen, most notably as a presenter of Top Gear. But Freddie hasn’t always coped well with the demands of life in the public eye.
As a new recruit to the England side in 2001, under constant scrutiny from fans, the press and his colleagues, Flintoff felt pressure to keep his weight down. It was an obsession that soon evolved into full-blown bulimia as he tried to keep up with his slimmer, fitter teammates. What started as a quick fix solution soon spiralled into something he battled with through his entire career and which he hasn’t fully dealt with to this day.
Up to one in four people living with bulimia are men. Their numbers have more than doubled in the last decade – but it is estimated that only 10% seek professional help for this devastating illness.
Freddie says: “If this resonates with one person watching, or through this we can show someone that there is help out there, then this is worth doing.”
Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content, says: “I would like to thank Freddie for opening up about his struggle with bulimia in this very personal film for BBC One. I hope this film will raise awareness about a subject that is all too often a taboo and make a difference to the way men talk about mental health.”
The documentary is part of the BBC’s ongoing commitment to mental health.
Finally, after one hour of breastfeeding and singing, my son fell asleep. I was ready to do the same, but by now I was too awake to fall into the Land of dreaming myself. So, I put on an audiobook, as I often do when I have the opportunity and continued listening to a biography about Anne Grete Solberg. It is fascinating reading. Solberg was shot by her ex-husband and lost her arm and almost died. She was also shot in her hip, but did fortunately not loose her foot. At the beginning of her stay in hospital she felt terrible, like her life was over. But, she had worked as a couch for many years and decided to apply the principles to herself. She wanted to set a goal that would make sense to here, and landed on becoming the coolest woman in Norway with one hand.
This goal became her motivator and savior. Every time she felt sorry for herself, she remembered how a cool woman would handle the situation and got herself together. With that goal in sight she gradually built herself up again; She learned to eat with one hand, decided to eat healthy, took a shower as soon as possible, even if that meant wrapping herself in a ‘suit’ so that water wouldn’t touch her wounds, and started to exercise. Ultimately, she also decided to participate in a marathon, a goal that seemed impossible until she did it.
Solberg is an example of how far we can come, no matter our circumstances. She used her thoughts and visualization technique to cheer herself on, and allied herself with people who wanted to fight with her, to achieve her goals. She felt all kinds of emotions, but did not dwell on them until she became depressed, she acknowledged them but then moved on.
Trauma can happen to all of us. Life will throw challenges on us all, I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t suffered some loss. Building yourself up again is never easy, but it was good to listen to a story about somebody who did it.
There are a lot of good books about trauma, and this is one I really found helpful and interesting. I would recommend it for survivors and helpers, since everyone will find useful information and tips in it.
Video presentation of the book can be found here
“I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that paints such a complex and accurate landscape of what it is like to live with the legacy of trauma as this book does, while offering a comprehensive approach to healing.”
–from the foreword by Bessel van der Kolk
A pioneering researcher gives us a new understanding of stress and trauma, as well as the tools to heal and thrive
Stress is our internal response to an experience that our brain perceives as threatening or challenging. Trauma is our response to an experience in which we feel powerless or lacking agency. Until now, researchers have treated these conditions as different, but they actually lie along a continuum. Dr. Elizabeth Stanley explains the significance of this continuum, how it affects our resilience in the face of challenge, and why an event that’s stressful for one person can be traumatizing for another.
This groundbreaking book examines the cultural norms that impede resilience in America, especially our collective tendency to disconnect stress from its potentially extreme consequences and override our need to recover. It explains the science of how to direct our attention to perform under stress and recover from trauma.
With training, we can access agency, even in extreme-stress environments. In fact, any maladaptive behavior or response conditioned through stress or trauma can, with intentionality and understanding, be reconditioned and healed. The key is to use strategies that access not just the thinking brain but also the survival brain.
By directing our attention in particular ways, we can widen the window within which our thinking brain and survival brain work together cooperatively. When we use awareness to regulate our biology this way, we can access our best, uniquely human qualities: our compassion, courage, curiosity, creativity, and connection with others. By building our resilience, we can train ourselves to make wise decisions and access choice–even during times of incredible stress, uncertainty, and change.
With stories from men and women Dr. Stanley has trained in settings as varied as military bases, healthcare facilities, and Capitol Hill, as well as her own striking experiences with stress and trauma, she gives readers hands-on strategies they can use themselves, whether they want to perform under pressure or heal from traumatic experience, while at the same time pointing our understanding in a new direction.
” Widen the Window is a comprehensive overview of stress and trauma, responses to it, and tools for healing and thriving. It’s not only for those in high-intensity work, but for everyone.” –Mindful Magazine
“This high-octane book could give you back your life. When we experience dysregulation, we have to reclaim our core capacities and develop them to serve our health, performance, and quality of life. Liz Stanley expertly maps an inner adventure through training our attention and ability to stay grounded in highly stressful situations. Time to live the life that is yours to live, one hundred percent.”— Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., author of Full Catastrophe Living and creator of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
“Our ‘suck it up and drive on’ culture has seriously impaired both our country and ourselves. It is imperative that we find a way to heal so that we don’t just survive but thrive. Liz Stanley give us the tools we need to create a better way of being, both individually and collectively. This book is a must-read for everyone who cares about our future.” — Congressman Tim Ryan, author of Healing America
“Our frantic culture generates trauma and stress that limit our capacity to live full and healthy lives. Widen The Window is a clearly written guide into our shocked physiology and a time-tested, practical method of regaining power over it, through awareness and attention.” —Gabor Maté M.D., author of When The Body Says No: Exploring The Stress-Disease Connection and In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts
“Like all things in life, it is how we manage—not just cope—with the pressures that envelop us all. Dr. Stanley has written an exceptional book of understanding, relating to and controlling stress and trauma.” —Chuck Hagel, 24th Secretary of Defense
About the Author
Elizabeth A. Stanley, PhD, is an associate professor of security studies at Georgetown University. She is the creator of Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT)®, taught to thousands in civilian and military high-stress environments. MMFT® research has been featured on 60 Minutes, ABC Evening News, NPR, and inTime magazine and many other media outlets. An award-winning author and U.S. Army veteran with service in Asia and Europe, she holds degrees from Yale, Harvard, and MIT. She’s also is a certified practitioner of Somatic Experiencing, a body-based trauma therapy.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
In the summer of 2002, I worked incessantly to complete my Ph.D. dissertation on deadline. My faculty advisors at Harvard had already set my defense date so I could begin a prestigious fellowship starting in September. Everything seemed on track for a successful start to my academic career. Well, everything except for that one minor detail I’d neglected to share with my committee: Of the ten chapters and appendixes in my dissertation, I still needed to write seven of them.
In mid-June, I finally quit my full-time job to finish it. Early one August morning, after weeks of pushing myself to write sixteen hours a day without any days off, I carried my coffee mug into my study and turned on the computer. I opened my draft, reread the paragraph I’d finished late the night before, and started writing.
I was halfway through my first sentence when I puked all over the keyboard.
After running for paper towels to clean up my mess, it quickly became apparent that my vomit was permanently lodged under some of the keys. (The space bar was especially hard hit.) No amount of wiping it up could rectify the situation.
I brushed my teeth, washed my spew-speckled arms, and found my shoes and my wallet. Outside, I threw the keyboard into the trash can and climbed into the car. I drove to a shopping center and parked. It was seven fifty in the morning. When Staples opened at eight, I was the first one in the door.
New keyboard in hand, I was back at my computer finishing that first sentence of the morning by eight thirty.
SUCK IT UP AND DRIVE ON
To be clear, I didn’t have a stomach bug or food poisoning. Rather, I’d been living for years with relentless bouts of nausea and lack of appetite.
Here’s a snapshot of me-and my overscheduled, extremely compartmentalized, and rigorously well-organized life-circa 2002: I was compulsively driven to achieve. I was addicted to demanding workouts, to maintain my body’s physical prowess. I was incessantly cheerful at work, while experiencing radical mood swings and crying jags at home. My mind raced with thoughts about my never-ending to-do list and “what-if” worst-case scenarios. My body was hypervigilant and tense from projecting an external aura of self-confidence while internally bracing against when the other shoe would drop. I was severely claustrophobic and hypersensitive to crowds, traffic, loud noises, and bright lights. Between insomnia and terrible nightmares, I rarely slept.
In retrospect, I see that the message that my body transmitted to me that morning was clever, dramatic, and spot on: At that moment, I was literally sick of this (expletive here) project and I desperately needed a break.
However, I didn’t have the time to think about that right then. I had a dissertation to finish, and I was running out of time.
And so I overrode this rather extreme signal from my body and just kept writing.
I delivered my completed manuscript by deadline. I successfully defended my Ph.D. dissertation and started my fellowship on schedule that fall.
I was also an anxious, workaholic wreck.
So how did I get here? How did I end up literally puking out a Harvard Ph.D. dissertation? Why did my body present me with such an extreme signal that morning? And why was my (mostly unconscious) default response simply to ignore and override that signal and keep pushing?
In many ways, finding answers to these questions has motivated my work over the last fifteen years. Perhaps not surprising, since I’m a political scientist who teaches about international security, in 2002 I made sense of the Keyboard Incident as my body waging an insurgency against my mind’s drive to perform and succeed. Of course, inherent in this explanation is its own recommended cure: counterinsurgency. In other words, just dig in, access deep wells of willpower and determination, and power through. Otherwise, it’s just mental weakness and laziness, right?
For many decades, I considered my capacity to ignore and override my body and my emotions in this way to be a good thing-a sign of strength, self-discipline, and determination. And from one perspective, it was. But as I’ll explain in this book, from another perspective, this default strategy was actually undermining my performance and well-being.
Of course, I’m not alone in this conditioning. It’s a common way of relating to experience that many people call “suck it up and drive on” or “powering through.” Contemporary American culture in general-and warrior culture in particular-prizes this approach to life. We’ve all heard and perhaps even admire stories of people overcoming extreme adversity or simply pushing through challenges and setbacks with perseverance to succeed. And, as I’ll explain shortly, many conveniences of our modern world exist almost entirely to facilitate our suck-it-up-and-drive-on addictions. Nonetheless, although the self-determination to power through stressors in this way can be admirable-and during certain immediate life-or-death situations is absolutely critical for survival-this way of approaching life can have some dark consequences over the longer term.
In my life, my habitual reliance on suck it up and drive on not only allowed me to meet my dissertation deadline. To name just a few other examples, it also allowed me to achieve a top-5-percent ranking at a physically demanding military qualification course while still recovering from a massive injury to my Achilles tendon; run a marathon in just over four hours (in barely-above-freezing rain, of course!) seven days after accidentally impaling the claw end of a hammer one inch into my right heel; and attain basic proficiency in a new foreign language while working 120-hour weeks before my U.S. Army unit deployed to Bosnia after the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords.
At the same time, I lived for many years an awkward double life: the outward appearance of success (as our society usually defines it) and the inner sense that I was a failure, struggling secretly with symptoms and barely holding it together. As willful as I was, it would eventually take losing my eyesight and leaving a marriage to finally understand that there’s an easier way. This book is about how I healed that division in myself-and how you can do the same.
THE GOALS OF THIS BOOK
In the course of my personal quest to understand my self-described mind-body insurgency and the devastating effects it was having on my life, I detoured into a parallel professional quest to understand how life adversity, prolonged stress exposure, and trauma affect us-and influence our decision making and performance. Along the way, I created a resilience training program for people working in high-stress environments, called Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT), about which I’ll say much more later in the book. I also collaborated with neuroscientists and stress researchers to test MMFT’s efficacy among troops as they prepared to deploy to combat, through four research studies funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and other foundations. In addition to training and certifying others to teach MMFT, I’ve taught MMFT (pronounced “M-fit”) to hundreds of troops before their combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as many other military leaders, service-members, and veterans. I’ve also taught MMFT concepts and skills to thousands of individuals in other high-stress environments, including healthcare providers, intelligence agents, firefighters, police officers and other law enforcement agents, lawyers, diplomats, social workers, students, teachers and academics, inmates at a maximum-security prison, disaster relief workers, athletes, members of Congress, senior government officials, and corporate executives.
On my journey to wholeness, I engaged in many different tools and therapeutic techniques, including several kinds of therapy, yoga, meditation, and shamanic and mind training. Since late 2002, I’ve maintained a daily mindfulness practice. I’ve also completed many long, intensive periods of silent practice, including time as a Buddhist nun at a monastery in Burma. Finally, I sought several years of clinical training and supervision, culminating with certification as a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, perhaps the best known of the body-based trauma therapies.
Despite this wealth of experience, I often found that no one could explain to me, concisely and coherently, how or why particular techniques worked (or didn’t)-or why my responses to them often differed significantly from others’.
Thus, my original intention in creating MMFT-and the first goal of this book-is to share the road map that I discovered with you. I aim to share some of the core scientific and intellectual concepts that undergird MMFT. To be clear, however, this book is not the MMFT course-it covers additional topics not addressed directly in MMFT, but also by necessity it can’t replicate all of MMFT’s experiential practices. I’ll draw on recent scientific findings to explain how to train yourself to be more resilient before, during, and after stressful and traumatic events. My hope is that after finishing this book, you’ll understand your own neurobiology better and thereby make better decisions-without experiencing unnecessary anxiety and without criticizing your imperfections or choices along the way.
Part of why my journey took years is that there is no quick-fix way to achieve these transformations. Rewiring the brain and body to improve our performance and build resilience requires an integrated training regimen and consistent practice over time. Just as muscle growth and improved cardiovascular functioning require months of consistent physical exercise, the benefits that can result from mind fitness training require consistent practice over time, too. With consistent practice, we usually see some shifts relatively quickly, while others take longer to manifest. However, you can’t just achieve them from reading this book. Thus, I don’t want you to take my word for anything in this book-I want you to practice and observe these dynamics in your own life. Rewiring the brain and body is an embodied, experiential process. These are basic laws of nature; there are no shortcuts.
This book draws on a lot of evidence from high-stress occupations, such as the military, firefighters, police, medical personnel, and other first responders. That’s because much of the peer-reviewed empirical research about stress, resilience, performance, and decision making has been conducted with these groups. Likewise, at other points the book may seem a little heavy with clinical findings about people who’ve experienced abuse or trauma. Nonetheless, especially if you don’t work in a high-stress profession or don’t believe you have a history of trauma-and may not feel particularly connected to either category-I want to emphasize: If you are a human being living in today’s world, this book still pertains to you. Scientific evidence about how our minds and bodies work, and how we make decisions before, during, and after stress and trauma, applies to everyone.
However, I don’t just want this book to help you understand and manage your stress better. My second goal is to engage you in a wider reflection about the way that we, individually and collectively, approach stress and trauma. As I’ve noted, the mind-body insurgency I experienced in 2002 was an outgrowth of my conditioning-and thus, it embodied some deep familial, societal, and cultural beliefs, values, coping strategies, and habits. In this book, I hope to expose such underlying structures, which aggravate our stress and trauma and undermine our performance and well-being. These underlying structures not only affect the strategies we individually rely on to cope with our stress-or not. They also affect the way we interact in our families and relationships; nurture and educate our children; train, incentivize, and reward our employees; and organize our companies and public institutions. They even affect the way our nation interacts with the rest of the world.
Are these strategies aligned with and capable of delivering the desired results? Our culture seems to want it both ways: We want better performance, resilience, and even happiness, yet we don’t want to examine the wider blind spots that impede their development. Some of this wanting it both ways manifests in how many of us feel like we don’t have choice-that we’re powerless in the face of job stress, health problems, rapid technological change, or toxicity in the news. Yet it’s possible to change how we interact with these things, to relate to them from a more empowered stance. Ultimately, to feel like we have agency requires clear intentions, consistent practice of the skills that help us develop awareness and self-regulation, and deliberate choices about how we prioritize different aspects of our lives.
Trigger warning: This Post might be triggering for some, please do not continue if you are very upset at the moment.
As a therapist. I want to help others, ultimately healing wounds. But, healing isn’t always easy. Getting better is complicated and sometimes scary. To look back at what caused the hurt, means going there again, risking the old feelings flooding you.
For that reason, it can help to prepare as much as possible. Before going back, it’s necessary to be sure that the memories won’t overwhelm you . When fear arises, there are ways to make going back safer:
First: The body and mind does everything it can to protect itself, and no matter the circumstances, you have survived so far . Second: You do not have to face the past all at once: it’s possible to work with some things and see how that goes before digging deeper. For example, if you have several traumatic memories you might start with a memory you’re aware of, that is unpleasant to think about, but not so much so that you can’t imagine thinking about it. In some cases it is recommended to think about the worse scenario, like when someone with OCD thinks about touching a dirty toilet, but with complex PTSD there is usually several traumas that hasn’t been integrated yet, and therefore taking it slowly might be wiser.
Third: It is possible to learn tools and test if they will help you cope with challenges in the now. Every time you use a new coping mechanism, it will be easier to use it next time, so by practicing new skills again and again, it can feels safer to work with underlying issues. Also: fear is normal, it wants to protect us. It’s good to know that something inside of you only wants the best for you, that fear has had its function and still will be there to protect you. It is no shame in withdrawing every now and again, sometimes it’s okay to rest and not do everything at once.