Psychological Healing

healthy woman standing on rocks

All Wound Up And Wounded: Some Thoughts On Psychological Healing.

 

It may be of some surprise that the word ‘wound’ is used to represent a cut, hurt, abrasion or more serious injury AND that same word can mean tied up tightly, coiled up, or bound as in “I was all wound up with stress.” We tend not to think of being wound up and stressed as an injury, or wound. However, on a psychological level, that is exactly what it is. In today’s jargon, the word ‘trauma’ is used, and aptly so. Trauma is Greek in origin and translates into English as ‘wound’ – as in hurt or injury. When we speak of trauma, we are talking about being all wound up with woundedness. It’s easy to get wounded in this world, both physically and psychologically. It happens to us all. Even positive experiences such as falling in love can wind us up and promote symptoms of trauma as suggested by the title of Elvis Presley’s classic rock ‘n roll song “All Shook Up.” In the song, Presley outlines some of the behaviors felt when shook up with love such as

 

“…I’m itching like a man on a fuzzy tree
My friends say I’m actin’ wild as a bug…”
and
“…My hands are shaky and my knees are weak
I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet…”
and
“…My tongue gets tied when I try to speak
My insides shake like a leaf on a tree…”

 

Behavioral symptoms like that, taken out of context, could point to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It’s almost impossible to arrive at early adulthood without having been shook up, or wounded, which are, essentially, traumatic experiences. Any number of psychological and emotional ‘shake ups,” or traumas, occur during childhood and adolescence from punishment to rejection to ridicule to embarrassment and more. Severe trauma such as being in an auto accident, critical illness, violence (as a victim or a witness), abuse, neglect and rape, can create significant psychological and emotional injury, or woundedness, the ramifications of which can spread over decades of one’s life. Even the process of being born into this world, the experience of transitioning from the warm womb to the bright and often cold world, the shock of separation from the umbilical chord, the first searing breath, can be traumatic. It would appear that we are all wounded, all wound up, all traumatized, to some degree. As such, the concept of healing becomes important to just about everybody.

A lot of healing is actually repair and restoration. The body has a remarkable inborn repair process to deal with injuries such as cuts and abrasions, sprains and breaks. One hardly has to do anything but clean it and bandage it; the body does the rest automatically. Even in more serious wounds, once it is dressed, the body’s internal repair process takes over. Significant damage to parts of the body, or the brain itself, has shown remarkable abilities to restore some functions, often through adaptations of existing structures and functions. Such is not necessarily the case with psychological and emotional repair due to the freedoms of individual choice. And, in fact, individual choice can actually hinder both bodily and emotional healing. For example, when a cut on the skin is in the repair process, it itches; scratching it does not help. Yet, one often finds themselves scratching at it, and working against the natural repair process. Emotional healing or repair often requires time alone to feel the hurt, to cry…And yet, one may choose to ‘party hearty’ and cover up the pain, which is not restorative or healing.

An essential ingredient of psychological and emotional healing can best be described with the analogy of obedience training of a pet dog. If you are not familiar with obedience training, the purpose is to train the dog ‘to heel.’ For the purposes of this analogy, let’s use ‘heal’ instead of ‘heel.’ The sound is the same, and there is actually a symbolic relationship between the two as the heel is considered a vulnerable area (i.e., achilles heel), and one, consequently, prone to being healed.

One of the most commonly used verbal commands in training the dog is ‘heal’ which when spoken means the dog should walk along side the master, or owner. A leash is used to pull and keep the dog along side the master at the same time the word ‘heal’ is spoken. Through basic conditioning, the dog learns what heal means. The dog comes to learn to walk alongside the master; the dog comes to learn that when the master stops, the dog also stops, and sits. If the master says ‘stay’ and walks a way, the dog learns to remain where it is, and not follow along. If the dog is well healed, the master can throw a piece of meat out in front of the dog, and it will not go for the meat until the master says okay. This metaphor of ‘walking along side the master” or “obeying the master” is an important concept of psychological and emotional healing. However, in this case, the ‘master’ is not somebody external; not some authority figure, skilled professional, famous celebrity or great guru. The master is the ‘still small voice within.’ It is one’s own intuition. It is the secret treasure in the chest. It is the core of our heart. It can be felt. It can be heard. And, it can be nurtured. It is a choice. Quietude is often required to align with one’s intuition. And quietude, like the physician’s prescription to ‘get plenty of rest’ when sick is a well-established and quite valid recommendation. Through quietude, calmness and stillnes, one can access their very subtle, delicate and extra-ordinarily sensitive intuition which can guide them holistically and ecologically.
One of the more important elements in healing, and being well healed, is self-restraint. Just as scratching the scab on a skin wound does not help but hinders the healing, so too there can be many, many actions, and reactions, that one feels compelled to take in the name of psychological or emotional repair but which may in fact cause more damage. As the American statesman Daniel Webster is noted to have said, “A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures.” Sometimes, not doing anything at all is far more helpful than doing something that is ‘thought’ to be appropriate, or even necessary. What we might think is right or helpful may be counter to our intuitive sense of what we need to do, or not do. Not doing, having restraint, can not only be highly restorative, it can be tremendously empowering as well. Conversely, there may be situations being avoided and to which the intuition is ever so softly prompting action.

Although many well-meaning friends can give various pieces of advice about what to do and not do, and some may be quite valid, and every community has many excellent healing professionals, offering a variety of modalities, techniques and methods, choices about what to do, and what to not do, are best based on something inside us, something subtle and delicate, something extra-ordinarily sensitive – something we call intuition. Alignment with that is to heal.


 

Love is Bad

red rose

In today’s adolescent vernacular, bad can often mean good. Even the word sick can mean good. You may have heard some kid saying something like ‘oh, yeah, that movie was bad’ or ‘that guitar solo was so sick’ meaning, actually, that they were quite good. Love is bad.

Our use of language naturally evolves and morphs from one generation to another. Each generation seems to invent new words to represent experience. Certainly, we have become accustomed to a plethora of new words as a result of computers, the Internet and social networking. The entire field of ‘texting’ has devised a slew of ‘words’ such as ‘lol’ that were unheard of a decade ago.

There are some words, important words, words which shape and frame our consciousness, which have been around a long time, and which have a myriad of different meanings. Love is one of those words. Depending on our experience with love, it can be bad, as in bad; or, it can be good, as in good. It can be an ecstatic experience, or one of anguish. But, is that really love?

We can say that love has many levels and many meanings; we can speak of erotic and romantic love, platonic love, familial love and we can even speak of a national love, the love a person has for his or her nation and for whom one would die. There are some common denominators amongst all of these types of love, namely that they are emotional states. Being emotionally based, this experience we call love is intimately connected with such emotional traits as attachment and possessiveness, which can lead to jealousy and even violence. One has to question the validity of a ‘love’ that in any way leads to violence, or, for that matter, anger, frustration, depression or anxiety, all of which are not uncommon experiences in the realms of ‘love.’ There is more popular music, poetry and novels written about the anguish and pain of love, both requited and unrequited, than the joys of love. Consider the lyrics in the popular 1980’s song “Love Stinks” by the J. Geils Band:

“You love her
But she loves him
And he loves somebody else
You just can’t win
And so it goes
Till the day you die
This thing they call love
It’s gonna make you cry
I’ve had the blues
The reds and the pinks
One thing for sure
Love stinks”

Love is bad, in the original meaning of bad. It’s sick, in the original meaning of sick. At least the love we think of, as love, is such. But, perhaps, we don’t know love. Perhaps what we label love is an emotional state of mind prone to anguish and torment which has nothing whatsoever to do with love. Perhaps what we have been calling love is really a kind of dependence, a kind of escape from ourselves and our own petty irritations and disturbances of mind. What better way to avoid our own lack of real love than to immerse ourselves into somebody else and call that love?

So, then, what is real love? Is it a feeling? An emotion? An idea? A concept? Or, is it something beyond all that, something so totally fresh, so totally alive, so completely blissful and so totally all encompassing, that we, in effect, block it out, deny it and fear it. Such a state of being could vaporize all our conceptions of who we are and radically change how we relate to others, and to our self. Such a transformation could cause tremendous havoc in our lives, and that would be bad; and so, perhaps, Love is, indeed, bad.

A Philosophical Antidote for Anxiety

crater lake

A philosophical antidote for anxiety. Anxiety is a symptom of a thought process that is fundamentally based on a philosophy of life. Everybody has a philosophy of life though it may not be conscious, and it may not be genuine. That is, it may be a world-view internalized as a child from the surrounding adults. If a child hears “life sucks” enough, then that child internalizes a world view that… life sucks…

One of the more common philosophical underpinnings of anxiety is that things don’t work out; that little problems are big, unsolvable dilemmas; that small obstacles are huge, insurmountable blockages and that the smallest mistake made is equivalent to the largest failure ever committed, by anyone. These philosophical underpinnings generally manifest as ‘catastrophizing’ thought patterns. If you thought a catastrophe was about to occur, you too would be anxious. However, a catastrophe is, in fact, not about to occur, despite our internalized dialogue to the contrary.

Perfectionism is another philosophical underpinning, which generates anxiety. If we are about to approach a task such as, say, a public presentation, and we believe any mistake is a sign of failure, then a lot of energy goes into preventing that failure from happening, which manifests as anxiety. It should be noted that physiologically, anxiety and excitement are almost identical. The only difference between the two is that with anxiety, we anticipate negative outcomes and with excitement we anticipate positive outcomes.

We think in words and pictures; those words and pictures are not so much based upon what we are experiencing or anticipating in the world but rather how we interpret and translate, i.e., how we filter, that experience or anticipation through our philosophical lens. If we believe that little problems are big headaches, difficult to handle and which can easily become evidence of our lack of skill and capacity, we tend to become very anxious. If we believe big problems are challenges that can be an opportunity to exercise our creative problem solving skills and make us feel competent, we tend to have very little anxiety, and bit more excitement.

Anxiety can actually be a pathway to begin examining our internalized thought patterns and our fundamental philosophy of life, or world-view. Sometimes, anxiety is normal and natural. For example, if you were driving at night, in a heavy rainstorm, with lots of traffic, a bit of anxiety would be helpful. It would keep you alert and aware of potential dangers. Excessive anxiety in such a situation could actually increase the danger and risk of an accident. That excessive anxiety could be arising from internal dialogue and mental pictures of catastrophe, based on a philosophical world view that…. life sucks, that insurmountable obstacles occur, that huge unsolvable problems are inevitable or that “the sky is going to fall!”

When irrational anxiety arises, it requires rational, logical thinking to counter it. This kind of thinking is often referred to as evidentiary or scientific thinking. We need to look objectively at what is going on in the situation, as well as our own competencies and capacities. We need to override the catastrophizing thoughts with evidence to the contrary. Our philosophical world view, built up and maintained by our history of internal dialogue and mental pictures may be deeply entrenched; we may be emotionally attached to it and actually believe it is “the truth.”

In fact, our world-view is not the truth; it is simply what we have been taught to think about the world in which we live. Growing up is, in part, letting go of our childish world-view and adopting a more realistic, adult oriented philosophy of life. As stated in 1 Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but, when I became a man, I put away childish things.” An argument could be made that excessive and irrational anxiety is a childish thing. We can grow up. We can change. We can build a sound philosophy of life not based on childhood experiences and catastrophizing or perfectionism but rather based on our potential, our capacities and our competencies. As the great American psychologist William James said: “The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.”

Dialing Down Anxiety

rough waves on coastal shore

 

There is little debate that most anxiety is a symptom of internal cognitive/psychological machinations. That is, we are thinking in a way that is generating the anxiety. We think in both mental pictures and internal dialogue and depending on what we are telling ourselves, and what we are seeing, we may generate irrational anxiety. We often do not hear what we tell ourselves, or see those internal mental images, consciously; but they nevertheless exist as a subconscious process and have tremendous power over our moods and emotions. As an example of just how powerful our mental imagery can be, imagine sucking on a lemon rind. You may find yourself salivating, from nothing more than a mental image, an imagination. Anxiety too is a chemical response produced by imagination. Those imaginative images in our mind may not be true at all, but they nevertheless produce neurochemicals – and anxiety.

Since imagination can produce anxiety, it is reasonable to assume it can also minimize or reduce anxiety. So, the following is an exercise using imagination in a way that may help diminish anxiety responses when they arise. You may need to practice this exercise initially while not anxious to get the hang of it. But, once you are familiar with it, you can do it easily at the onset of anxiety.

Imagine a dial; a large dial with a movable needle pointing to a scale between 10 arcing to the left and 0 arcing to the right. In the middle is 5.0. Imagine increments from 0 beginning with 1 and then 2 and then 3….up to 5. From 5, see the dial’s increments divided even more definitively, such as 5.5 to 6 to 6.5 to 7. From 7 see it with even more divisions such as 7.25, 7.5, 7.75, 8, 8.25, 8.5, and 8.75. And then from 9, it goes 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, and 9.4 up to 10. Imagine this dial in detail with color and texture. You can make the needle and the numbers any color, and any texture, you like. Develop a mental picture of this dial and become very familiar with it. 10 represents very high anxiety/panic levels. 0 represents extreme relaxation and calmness.

At some time when you are most relaxed and comfortable, visualize this dial and note where the needle is pointing. Perhaps it is pointing to 2. This is a calm and relaxed state and the anxiety meter is indicating such. As you see the needle at the 2 level, note what you are feeling in your body. What does this level feel like? Let this feeling flood over you…really FEEL it.

The next time you feel anxious, visualize this dial and note where the needle is pointing. Perhaps it will point to 7.75 on your anxiety meter. Then, because it is YOUR imagination, you can lower the needle to 7.25 and then 7.0 and then 6.5. Each time it lowers a notch, take a deep breath. Slowly, you can bring the meter down to a 5 and maybe even a 4. As the meter gets closer to the 2 level, the calm and relaxed feeling associated with that level will increase, as the anxiety level associated with 7.75, or wherever you may have placed it during an anxiety attack, will decrease.

The key to success with this method is to focus on the dial and seeing it move slowly downwards notch by notch taking a deep inhalation and exhalation of breath with each movement to a lower notch. If the mind is focused on the imagery of the needle moving to lower numbers, it won’t be able to entertain the irrational imagery and internal dialogue generating the anxiety…and the anxiety will diminish, as the needle moves down to lower numbers.

It certainly cannot hurt to give it a try; it is simple, safe, non-medicinal and free.

Are You In Need of Eustress?

iao stream

 

Eustress is good stress. It is a term coined by Dr. Hans Selye, a Canadian medical doctor, in the 1950’s. We often think in terms of stress as being bad as in “I’m all stressed out.” But, if we had a life of no stress at all, we’d be bored, lethargic, unmotivated and apathetic. We need some stress in our lives. We might say that good stress, eustress, is the “spice in our life.” Of course, some people prefer more mild spice whereas others may like it hot. Each person has their own threshold for their optimal level of stress. What is eustress for one person could be “distress” for another. Distress is the word used to represent those pressures, tensions and strains upon us that can make us ill; it is the “bad” stress.

Stress, either eustress or distress, is not entirely caused by external situations such as pressures on the job or conflicts in the home. Stress is caused as much, or more, by how we interpret our situation. Still, if we are experiencing distress, we are likely not happy, healthy or performing are our best. Some of the symptoms of distress can be moodiness, irritability, depression, insomnia, excessive worry, poor memory, feeling overwhelmed, loss of appetite, decreased sex drive, substance abuse and pessimism. Though these symptoms may be caused by problems other than distress, they are, nevertheless, signs that something is not quite right.

If you are experiencing distress and telling yourself you need to get rid of or reduce your stress, perhaps that is not the best approach. It’s difficult, if not altogether impossible, to visualize a negative. It works a lot better to visualize a positive, which would be to increase the eustress in your life. What does that look like for you? What is positive stress for you? Stress reduction methods are important, such as relaxation techniques, watching a pleasant movie or something as simple as a walk in the park. But, those are not necessarily eustress activities. Eustress activities are stressful; they add some tension and pressure to our life. But, they are fun. They are exciting. They are uplifting.

Some activities that can generate eustress include: learning something new, engagement in a meaningful project, travel to a new place, meeting new people, stretching yourself outside your comfort zone. Of course, all of these can generate anxiety as well. However, anxiety and excitement are very similar. Physiologically, i.e., the body response such as sweating, increased heart rate, faster breathing, etc, it may be difficult to distinguish between anxiety and excitement. What makes a situation anxiety producing or exciting has a lot to do with how we interpret the event. Just understanding that stress can be positive and healthy, that we actually need some stress in our lives, can transform what we was distress into eustress. And, of course, the amount of stress we subject ourselves to is important. Eustress can become distress if it is prolonged. Exercise is a good example. A one-mile walk can be eustressful; but, if it should become a 10-mile walk, it may become distressful.

Stress management is part of our overall health maintenance. It is a topic of considerable importance in the medical field, as well as in business, for we all know that stress causes both physical and mental health problems. But, let us remember that we don’t want to eliminate stress. We want to keep our distress down, and our eustress up.