Silencing Your Inner Critic

Photograph by Nathaniel Welch

Just minutes into her interview at the white-shoe law firm, Elena heard the voice, that voice, in her head. They see right through me. Biting the inside of her cheek, she gazed at the faces around her. I’m not one of them, it said. I’m a lightweight. It struck Elena, a recent law-school graduate, that she was the only woman in the room with the dark wood paneling and marble floors, the only face that might not belong in a colonial-era portrait gallery. She fumbled through the next three questions.

By the 30-minute mark, Elena was able to slide in a mention of her rank at the top of her class and her hands-on experience in immigration law. At last, her confidence was kicking in. That’s when a partner in a blue pinstripe suit waved Elena’s résumé in the air, and in a carefully neutral voice asked, “How wonderful that you’ve been involved in pro bono work for Honduran immigrants. Is that where your family’s from?” Unsure of his intentions, Elena gulped and nodded. That was an unlawyerly response, her inner voice complained. Now I’m definitely not going get a call back.

The second Elena stepped out the door, her internal critic was all over her. I’m blowing this, it said, and built a persuasive case for why her future in law wasn’t going to pan out, including a rehash of all the blunders she’d made in the last few interviews and the time her torts professor only half-jokingly told her that she was too emotional to be a litigator. I’m done.article continues after advertisement

Like many accomplished people, Elena feels she owes a lot to her inner critic. Her self-discipline, she believes, comes from the “succeed or suffer” mentality of that driving, sometimes derogatory taskmaster. The critic helped her win cross-country races, become the first in her family to go to college, and to pass the bar exam. It helped her seek out the support of teachers and bosses in the same way she always sought the approval of her ambitious, hard-driving mother. Most important, from Elena’s perspective, it has always helped her home in on her faults and weaknesses before others detect them.

But over time, the self-critic can take a toll.

Your Own Worst Enemy?

Photograph by Nathaniel Welch

Too old, too fat, too lazy. A terrible parent, daughter, son, partner, citizen. Clueless. Thoughtless. Never good enough.article continues after advertisement

“You can’t ever stop ‘cracking the whip’ on yourself for fear that if you don’t, the disapproval and rejection that seems imminent will become your reality,” explains psychologist Leon Seltzer of Del Mar, California. “The stress is unremitting.” As a result, “When you do something well, you won’t jump for joy but merely breathe a sigh of relief: You’ve escaped from being criticized or censored.” But that relief lasts only until the next expectation presents itself. It’s the perfect setup for anxiety and depression.

Elena suspected that her internal critic might have been harsher than most, but she had always seen it as a net positive, especially as it pushed her through college and law school. But in the real world, where the path to success isn’t so well defined, it seemed to carry a different message. It made her feel she didn’t have the right pedigree or background, or maybe even the necessary competence. I’m an imposter, it said, whenever she entered the minimalist confines of a top-tier law firm. Not as smart as I think I am. After her fifth rejection, a previously unthinkable idea popped into her mind: Maybe she should just return to the family restaurant business, the life she had worked so hard to leave behind.article continues after advertisement

Herein lies the koan-like paradox of the inner critic: It attacks and undermines you to protect you from the shame of failure. For many, this is a link that dates back to a time when they feared the disapproval and rejection of caregivers. It’s no coincidence that an internal critic’s words often sound as if they’re coming from an authoritarian parent: The critic may literally be an echo of a parental figure’s voice. When you internalize its judgments and expectations, Seltzer says, you “join it in demanding that you always do more, and better, than you may be doing now.”

Shame, sometimes called the “master emotion,” is the feeling that we’re not worthy, competent, or good—that we are, in a sense, rotten at the core. Beating ourselves up is a preemptive gambit to inoculate ourselves from external shaming. Sometimes, the message is: Shame on you if you don’t work really, really, really hard. Or, Shame on you if you’re not tougher, smarter, and better than you were last time. But sometimes, as Elena found, the message is: Shame on you if you fail, so don’t try.

There’s one thing the inner critic doesn’t offer: Room for growth. All too often it sends us back to a zone where we find ourselves safe, but also stuck.

Answering the Voices

People with a strong inner critic tend to have one thing in common: However great their success, they don’t feel it’s genuine. “Achievement may feel conditional, even fortuitous,” Seltzer says. “The inner critic won’t let them see their past achievements as ‘real’ for fear that, if they do, they’ll slack off and end up a ne’er-do-well.” So they may push themselves more, with diminishing returns, driven more by fear of failure than inspiration.

The solution isn’t to shut down the critic, suggests research by Ethan Kross, of the University of Michigan’s Emotion & Self Control Lab, and his colleague Ozlem Ayduk, of the University of California, Berkeley. It won’t work; the voice will return no matter how hard you try to suppress it. Nor is it always effective to analyze the emotions it rouses; that opens you to the risk of ruminating or reliving those feelings and getting stuck in a negative cycle. The best intervention may be to respond to its grievances from a detached perspective—almost as if you were another person.

Photograph by Nathaniel Welch

This technique, called self-distancing, is increasingly used in cognitive-behavioral therapy. To self-distance, one replaces the first-person pronoun I with a non-first-person pronoun, you or he/she, when talking to themselves (Elena, what happened is no reflection on your abilities. You were surprised by his question during the interview but now you know what to do. It’s called experience.)

Self-distancing can be combined with asking yourself “why” questions: Why does Elena, who is so confident in the classroom, feel like a sham in a boardroom? This grammatical shift works especially well in the heated moments when you’re beating yourself up most, Kross finds. Instead of feeling pain again, as when you recount an experience in the first-person mode, self-distancing allows you to pause, step back, and think as clearly and rationally as if it had happened to someone else.

Once emotions cool, “use story editing to stop reverting to that negative cycle over and over again,” advises Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia and the author of Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change. A story edit offers a way to reframe or revise a negative experience. If Elena’s critic disparages her about her performance in a job interview, her default reaction might be to listen to it, question her whole careerpath, and get trapped in a self-defeating thought cycle. Or, says Wilson, she could reframe the experience as a turning point: This is when you first learned how to handle curveball questions. In this revised version, Elena can see that a failure is not a reflection on her intelligence, character, self-worth, or anything else the inner critic is hardwired to protect. The critic’s story is no longer the only story.

Self-affirmation has also proven to be a useful offset to self-criticism. When we hear a voice saying we’re inferior or deficient, Seltzer recommends that we try to see the evidence that refutes it in our mind’s eye. Elena could redirect her focus to her strengths—her managerial talents, her improv-comedy hobby, her famous tiramisu, or her ability to put people at ease. Affirmations can revise the negative messages we hear—or think we hear—from the voices of parental figures unable to show that they believed in us enough, or from a naturally neurotic or self-doubting personality. And when the inner critic pipes up with counterexamples, we can label the voice: Oh, that’s just the inner critic again. In doing so, we—again—detach ourselves from the badgering fault-finder rather than reflexively identifying with it and letting it dominate.

No one intervention works for everyone. Some find success in addressing the critic directly, Seltzer says, and befriending it rather than treating it as the enemy within. This approach draws on the psychotherapy model known as Internal Family Systems (IFS), developed by Harvard psychologist Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. It views the person as containing a network of subpersonalities struggling for dominance, with the inner critic just one part of a multiplicity within, one that activates other parts, like the “taskmaster,” the “perfectionist,” and the “underminer.” The challenge, Seltzer says, is to see the critic as a protector that is on our side, looking out for our interests, even if it’s often misguided. If it’s making us feel that we’re not good enough, it’s only because it is trying to prevent us from the ego blow of not being good enough. We can learn to thank the critic for trying so hard to protect us—and then ask for it to step back.

We can help our self-compassion find its voice. In one exercise, often guided by a therapist, individuals are encouraged to remember when their inner critic was born, so that they can give their younger selves more sympathy and security than they received in the first go-round. Elena wouldn’t tell her 5-year-old self that she’ll never achieve her dreams; she’d reassure her. Ideally, a self-compassionate response emerges from this interaction and can, going forward, be called on as a buffer against self-criticism. In a study at University College London employing virtual reality, women with severe inner-critic issues simulated a scenario in which they had to console a crying child. In the next session, each adult was embodied as the hurt child and became the recipient of her own recorded words and gestures of compassion. Many reported experiencing a surge of long-overdue self-compassion and—at last—reprieve from their critic.

Photograph by Nathaniel Welch

A New Image

Margot felt sick about the incident at the playground. A moment after arriving with her 2-year-old son, she noticed that a group of teenage bicyclists had unlatched the gate behind her. “Hey!” she said, advancing toward them with hands on hips. “Read the sign! No bikes allowed!” In a flash she found herself exchanging heated words with five or six of the young men while their friends rode in circles around her wide-eyed toddler and other kids. Startled, Margot pulled out her phone and waved it in the air. The teens, who were black, froze and glared at her, a white woman, understanding her implicit threat to call the police, before pedaling toward the exit.

Later, Margot couldn’t stop thinking about the shock, fear, and outrage on the boys’ faces. Idiot! her inner critic screeched. There are a trillion better ways I could have handled that. Here I am, making the world worse.

Margot’s mistake was the sort that could be a springboard for self-growth, says Dolly Chugh, a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business. But if beating herself up over it is all she does, she’ll either conclude that she’s a bungling bigot at her core or she’ll do a 180 and insist that she is a good person and in the right. We tend to think of the self in a simplistic binary way, Chugh says—good or not, honest or not, fair or not. It’s a false dichotomy, of course, but many of us hew to it unconsciously.

While most people see their core self as good, some take the opposite tack. When certain individuals are confronted with their unethical misdeeds, like ostracizing others, they begin to see themselves as “bad,” or even less than human. To compensate for a mistake and restore a positive self-image, someone like Margot might work to be more socially conscious. But sometimes wrongdoers, especially those who feel powerless or disconnected from others, internalize a bad self-image, according to research by Northwestern University’s Maryam Kouchaki and others, and come to believe that they’re damaged at the core. When this shift occurs, they’re likelier to commit subsequent offenses.

Taking refuge in the “good-person” self-image that most of us have, Chugh says, is not a solution, either: It leaves us with no room to fail, which means no room to grow. All we need is someone or some situation to suggest we’re not sufficiently fair, ambitious, responsible, motivated, maternal, paternal, or good, and our defenses go up, leading us to deny, self-justify, deflect, and minimize blame. It’s one thing to be self-critical; it’s quite another for others to criticize us.

Instead of “good” or “bad,” Chugh suggests, we need to start thinking of ourselves as good-ish, a term she introduces in her book, The Person You Mean to Be. Good-ish embraces the idea that the self is error-prone and conflicted, yet strives to be better. It’s a rejection of a fixed “good person” image—like the one the inner critic pushes us toward—in favor of the idea that we are a work in progress. Good-ish encourages us to take risks, make mistakes, and, most important, learn from them. The emphasis is not on who you are, but who you’re becoming.

To make this shift, Chugh advises that people activate a new, growth-oriented inner voice that stands opposite the self-critic. Elena’s inner critic might insist that she’s bad at interviews; Margot’s might call her stupid. But a growth-oriented voice could respond with self-compassion and forgiveness for a mistake, followed by encouragement: What can you learn from this?

If Margot had channeled a growth-oriented voice instead of her inner critic, the playground episode could have ended in revelation instead of recrimination. That voice would have asked the crucial questions, What were the boys seeing and hearing in the interaction? Why do you think you reacted that way? What was their perspective? In embracing such a mindset, she’d lay the groundwork for self-improvement rather than dwelling on feelings of self-loathing or defensiveness. That voice, Chugh says, could have also asked her what she’d do differently next time; if she would have responded the same way if the boys were white; or whether an African American mother would have done what she did. “Then, hopefully, she’d share her reflections with others,” Chugh adds, because that’s how personal growth leads to social change.

Wilson calls this sort of incremental self-growth “do good, be good.” If we consistently act the part of the person we’d like to be, we can methodically work to overcome the parts of ourselves that hold us back. Say your protective and disapproving critic prevents you from being the sort of person who speaks up more. In the past, Wilson says, it might have told you that you’re just not the type, or that you’ll come across as attention-seeking and embarrass yourself. A growth-oriented voice, once it’s been embraced, can instead pipe up and tell you to seize every opportunity to be heard—to speak up at meetings and parties, to step to the microphone during Q-and-A sessions, or to make small talk on public transportation, even if it initially seems tedious or unpleasant.

“The day will come when you’ll think, I guess I am that type sometimes,” Wilson says, “and you’ll be more likely to speak up next time, and the time after that.” Eventually, it will feel more natural to engage people or to share your reflections and insights, because you’ll start to see yourself as more outspoken. It begins with a conscious choice to let the growth-oriented voice speak louder than the critic.

Hearing the Choir

Every morning as Paul waits for the elevator at his son’s preschool, he’s confronted by a sign with bright red lettering: “Did you know that seven minutes of stair climbing a day protects your heart?” Paul, who is 60 pounds overweight, hates that sign. “Every time I see it, my knee-jerk compulsion is to look at my reflection in the elevator door. I see an elephant.” That’s just the first moment each day that Paul’s inner voice shames him about his weight. The next comes when he squeezes himself into the crowded elevator, avoiding eye contact for fear he’ll see revulsion. “But do I take the stairs?” he asks. “No.”

Photograph by Nathaniel Welch

Paul isn’t alone in his self-sabotage. People who are self-critical about their fitness and body image are often less likely to follow motivational health prompts, which typically spur not action but shame and self-threat, a study at the University of Pennsylvania revealed. Those prompts are read as criticism from the outside—exactly what an inner critic fears and tries to protect us from. Paul doesn’t want to see himself, and certainly doesn’t want others to see him, as unfit or in need of nudges.

In limbo between self-criticism and self-defense, there’s little room for self-improvement. But we can escape the trap by transcending, or shifting our focus beyond the self. After all, self-criticism and self-transcendence are opposing forces—one inward-looking and inhibiting, the other outward-looking and expansive. There are many ways to transcend—through meditation, time in nature, religious faith, ecstatic dance, and creative pursuits. But we can also rise above by affirming our core values, such as care for family, friends, and the causes we believe in.

Could people like Paul use self-transcendence to get out of their own way? In the Penn study, subjects received daily text messages with instructions to reflect compassionately on other people or to tap into their own connection with a higher power, followed by health prompts urging them to be more active (stair-climbing included). And indeed, in the weeks that followed, the transcenders’ fitness trackers showed that they exercised more than a control group. Turns out, these messages were like Trojan horses: With them, targets became less guarded, and the self-improvement advice penetrated and was followed; without them, the advice was rejected.

Could self-transcendence work as a counterforce when self-criticism and shame hold us back? If Paul were able to activate a voice in his head to think benevolent outward-looking thoughts—his hopes for his ailing mother, his concern for Syrian refugees, his love for the 4-year-old holding his hand, and the desire to keep up with him—he might find himself less resistant to, or less threatened by, reminders to improve his health. Outward compassion, it seems, opens the door to the self-compassion and patience we need to help ourselves. Perhaps Paul wouldn’t push back so hard when his wife urged him to exercise, or she’d find ways to strategically pepper those nags with thoughts that helped him think beyond himself.

Self-transcendence may also free us to grow in areas in which we lack self-confidence. For Elena, as for many women, one such impasse is networking. “I know schmoozing would help my job search, but it makes me feel desperate and phony, like I’m using others to get ahead,” she says, contrasting how fake she feels in networking sessions compared with her genuine enthusiasm for less contrived social situations. But research finds that when reluctant networkers are directed to think beyond themselves—to see how making connections contributes to a greater cause, like increasing female presence in traditionally male fields or helping coworkers or clients—they can overcome the aversion.

For Elena, a shift in focus from inward to outward empowered her in a way her inner critic couldn’t, even in its most hard-driving, guilt-inducing, moments. Thinking about her future, she asked herself, “What if my performance isn’t just about me, but everyone who is like me—a first-generation woman of color going into law?” In this new script, the plot is no longer driven by self-doubt, fear of shame, or a vestigial dread of parental disappointment, but by a higher purpose.

After all, it is one thing to heed an inner critic and live in the suffocating space between self-threat and self-motivation. It is another thing to align your star with something greater. “I was pursuing corporate law because I saw it as an obvious touchstone of success,” admits Elena, who has now set her sights on a career in human rights. On the old path, she says, she was reluctant to take a risk. She didn’t feel authentic or confident. “But when it comes to helping others overcome their personal obstacles,” she says, “I fight like hell.”

Submit your response to this story to letters@psychologytoday.com. If you would like us to consider your letter for publication, please include your name, city, and state. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

Pick up a copy of Psychology Today on newsstands now or subscribe to read the the rest of the latest issue.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: wavebreakmedia/ShutterstockPsychology Today

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Advertisements

3 Reasons Why Anxiety Is Good For You

Worrying isn’t always such a bad thing.

Posted May 20, 2019

In 1947, W. H. Auden published an obscure poem called “The Age of Anxiety” — a title that has resonated through the years as a perfect distillation of the uncertainties of contemporary living. Perhaps we’re hearing that phrase even more often these days, as the United States has come to be known as the most anxious nation on Earth. As of late 2017, almost 20% of American adults had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder over the preceding year. The lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders in the American population is even higher, at over 31%. Several studies suggest that anxiety has been on the rise over the past few years, too: the American Psychiatric Association recently released a poll showing that our anxiety increased measurably between 2016 and 2017, and again between 2017 and 2018.

Source: Michael Jagdeo / Pexels

For the few, lucky human beings who don’t immediately understand what it’s like to feel anxious, consider the feeling you get at a job interview: your palms are sweaty, your stomach is in knots, you feel agitated and fatigued at the same time, and you can’t concentrate. You haven’t slept well in days. Your muscles are tense and achy, which makes you irritable with the people you talk to. Highly anxious people have to cope with these job-interview-level feelings every day. Anxiety is very different from fear, too: while fear could be described as the feeling you’d get while facing down a man-eating tiger, anxiety is the feeling you might have while wandering through the jungle, wondering if there is a tiger hiding behind the next tree.

But as difficult and unpleasant as daily anxiety can be — as those who have panic attacksobsessive-compulsive disorder, or social anxiety disorder know all too well — anxiety can also be good for you. (No one benefits from chronic or excessive anxiety.) Situational anxiety, if it’s proportionate to the circumstances in which it arises, can have quite a positive impact. As long as you are able to keep your anxiety levels in check, using the self-care methods that work best for you, you should be able to experience its benefits.article continues after advertisement

First and foremost, anxiety is built into our primate origins as a warning system. This is why it’s so hard to shut anxious feelings off: they are hard-wired into our neurons. Anxiety helps us detect and attend to potential threats so that we can avoid danger. In the short term, anxiety can keep you at a heightened state of alert, allowing you to react more quickly when urgent dangers arise — like when you’re driving anxiously in the rain, and you find yourself responding immediately to erratic changes in traffic patterns. Even vague, unfocused anxiety can function as a soft alarm bell for longer-term dangers: if you’re feeling unsettled within your marriage or romantic relationship, for instance, your low-level anxiety may be calling your attention to a problem that you aren’t fully attending to. And the warning properties of anxiety may also help you focus your thoughts on big decisions, like buying a house or deciding whether or not to move to a new city. Imagine feeling absolutely no anxiety over life-changing choices like these; the odds are, you’d breeze through the decisions in such a facile way, with minimal thought or consideration, that you’d end up missing something important.article continues after advertisement

Situational anxiety is also good for enhancing motivation and boosting performance levels. Just before crunch time — say, at a college sporting event — a fair amount of anxiety can be a very positive thing. Research indicates that student-athletes who feel anxiety are able to perform better in their events — and on college exams! — than those who denied feeling worried. (Sometimes anxiety can improve your memory, as well.) This makes intuitive sense: if you’re anxious about an upcoming event, like a test or a race, you may be motivated to work harder to get ready for it. And when crunch time arrives, the physiological features of anxiety — the action of your adrenal glands and sympathetic nervous system — can improve our ability to carry out athletic feats, or give us a burst of strength. Cognitively, we also benefit from an increase in alertness and presence in the moment. At significant moments when performance becomes an issue, the right amount of anxiety will help us do that much better.

Lastly, in addition to its cognitive and physical benefits, anxiety also conveys a psychological one: an improvement in empathy. Remembering the stressful times you’ve been through may help enhance your perspective on others when they have similar difficulties. It can offer you insight into what the significant people in your life may be feeling when they, too, start to worry. Recognizing anxiety in others should thus inform your ability to respond appropriately, with gentleness or understanding. It’s also been said that the capacity for taking another person’s perspective, and to offer empathy, can improve one’s leadership abilities. Think about it: a sensible awareness of the many things that might go wrong, the resulting tendency to think more prudently, plus the deep ability to sense the needs of the people who depend on you, may in fact be a solid recipe for responsible leadership.

So in the end, the anxiety you feel may not actually be so bad for you, after all — as long as you can distinguish between appropriate, situation-specific anxiety and chronic, flooding worries. Recent research supports this view, indicating that the ability to experience stressful life events as challenges — not dangers or hazards — your anxiety may convey a burst of energy or an uptick increase in motivation. Perhaps instead of telling yourself not to worry, you should ask yourself if you are worrying the right amount.

References

National Institute of Mental Health (2017, November). Any anxiety disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml

Clark, J. (n.d.) How can adrenaline help you lift a 3,500-pound car? Retrieved from https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/arts/circus-arts/adrenaline-strength1.htm

Collier, J. (2018, September 5). Anxiety in the West: Is it on the rise? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322877.php

Jones, O. (2012, July 6). How America became the world’s most anxious country. Retrieved from https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/america-the-land-of-the-anxious-and-the-home-of-the-stressed

Keller, J. (2019, January 15). Research suggests Trump’s election has been detrimental to many Americans’ mental health. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/news/research-suggests-trumps-election-has-been-detrimental-to-many-americans-mental-health

Smith, D. (2012, January 14). It’s still the ‘age of anxiety.’ Or is it? Retrieved from https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/14/its-still-the-age-of-anxiety-or-is-it/

Star, Katharina. (2019, March 18). The benefits of anxiety and nervousness. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/benefits-of-anxiety-2584134

Weisberger, J. (2018, May 31). The upside to anxiety: 3 reasons why anxiety is actually good for you. Retrieved from https://www.talkspace.com/blog/upside-to-anxiety-reasons-why-good/

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Mindfulness Meditation Helps Resolve Many Sex Problems | Psychology Today

Source: shutterstock

Great sex and meditation have a good deal in common. Several researchers have shown that one type of meditation, mindfulness, helps resolve several sex problems. It focuses practitioners’ thoughts intently on the present moment.

The Sex-Meditation Connection

Both sex and meditation involve taking breaks from daily routines and responsibilities. Both include deep diaphragmatic breathing. Both encourage emptying the mind of extraneous thoughts and focusing attention on the present moment. And both help free the mind from daily hassles.article continues after advertisement

Meditators accomplish this by sitting quietly and focusing intently on their breath, or on a word or phrase (mantra), or on a simple activity (walking, slowly chewing one bite of food). Lovers free their minds by engaging in mutual erotic touch while focusing intently on one another (though they may fantasize about other partners). Both expand spiritual connections—meditators to the world around them, lovers to their partners. And after both, meditators and lovers emerge feeling calm and refreshed, better able to cope with life’s challenges.

But emptying the mind isn’t easy. During both meditation and lovemaking, random thoughts—some possibly disturbing—inevitably dart in and out of consciousness. Meditation teachers urge students to accept their thoughts without judging them, no matter what the content. They say: “Your thoughts are not you. They’re like dreams. You can’t control them and are not responsible for them. Don’t judge your thoughts. Simply observe them, then let them go as you return to your breath, mantra, or mindfulness activity.”

Sex therapists concur, encouraging lovers to observe their erotic thoughts and fantasies nonjudgmentally no matter what their content, and then gently let go of them as lovers return to focusing on giving and receiving pleasure. Just as random thoughts during meditation don’t mean anything, neither do the vast majority of thoughts and fantasies during sex.article continues after advertisement

A Head Full of Ideas

In Bob Dylan’s song “Maggie’s Farm,” includes the line: “I got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane.” Many people can identify. They have heads full of sexual beliefs that may not exactly drive them crazy but produce sufficient stress to cause problems. Stress/anxiety/worry triggers the fight-or-flight reflex that constricts the arteries in the central body, limiting blood flow to the gut and genitals and sending it out to the limbs for self-defense or escape. Reduced blood flow through the genitals compromises sexual responsiveness, function, and satisfaction. But deep relaxation, the kind produced by meditation, opens the arteries that supply blood to the genitals and enhances sexual function and pleasure.

In recent years, several sex researchers, notably Lori Brotto at the University of British Columbia, have harnessed the power of meditation to treat a broad range of sex problems:

Child sex abuse. A team led by Brotto enrolled twenty adult survivors of childhood sexual trauma in a program shown to aid recovery, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). CBT helped them reframe their stories away from the horror of abuse toward self-forgiveness and personal empowerment. Half the group also learned mindfulness meditation and practiced it daily. After one month, both groups reported less sexual distress, but the mindfulness group reported greater relief and better sexual functioning.article continues after advertisement

Low libido. Another Brotto team recruited 117 low-desire women. Forty-nine were placed on a waitlist. The rest participated in three 90-minute classes over six weeks that discussed the causes of low libido and offered instruction in mindfulness meditation. Between classes, the women practiced mindfulness daily at home. After six months, the treatment group reported significantly greater desire, arousal, and lubrication, easier orgasms, and greater satisfaction.

Investigators at Willamette University in Oregon analyzed eleven studies of mindfulness involving 449 women who complained of low libido and arousal and orgasm difficulties. “All aspects of sexual function and well-being—exhibited significant improvement.”

). A third Brotto team enrolled ten men suffering erection difficulties in a four-week mindfulness-based treatment program that included information about ED, counseling, and mindfulness meditation practiced in therapy sessions and daily at home. Most of the men reported significant improvement.

Men in distress because of their porn consumption. Creighton University investigators took thirty-eight men convinced they were porn addicts to a rustic retreat center for eight days. They spent thirty-two hours in cognitive behavioraltherapy. During CBT sessions, the researchers endeavored to correct participants’ sexual misconceptions, such as:

  • Sexual thoughts and fantasies are wrong, harmful, and sinful.
  • Only bad people masturbate.
  • My porn watching proves I’m evil.

The therapists endeavored to correct those mistaken beliefs:

  • There’s nothing wrong with sexual thoughts and fantasies. Everyone has them. They’re perfectly normal and a key element of great sex.
  • Almost everyone masturbates, particularly men who feel stressed. Unless it interferes with life responsibilities or partner lovemaking, there’s nothing wrong with it, even frequently, even daily.
  • Virtually every Internet-connected man on Earth has seen porn, many frequently, some daily. Viewing it doesn’t make you evil. Porn is a cartoon version of men’s fantasies of effortless sexual abundance.

The researchers also taught participants mindfulness meditation, which they practiced several times a day. After the retreat, their sexual anxiety and porn viewing decreased significantly.

Breaking Vicious Cycles

Anxiety contributes to many sexual problems. That’s why “Am I normal?” is one of the most common questions sex experts get. It’s a leading query on the site I publish, GreatSexGuidance dot com. Many people feel nervous about their fantasies, bodies, libidos, sexual repertoire, and ability to negotiate functional sexual relationships. That nervousness causes stress, which, as mentioned, impairs sexual desire and function.

When sex experts correct people’s misconceptions, sometimes that’s all that’s necessary to resolve their issues. But quite often, sexual issues cause chronic stress not relieved just by learning the truth. Sometimes, people need the truth plus tools to relieve their sexual stress. That’s where mindfulness and other relaxing activities help: deep breathing, hot baths, massage, yoga, tai chi, dance, hiking, and other exercises. They break the vicious cycle of stress-dysfunction-more stress-worse dysfunction and replace it with refreshing calmness.

Sex unfolds most pleasurably when people feel calm, centered, and focused on pleasure—their own and their partners’. Even those free of sex problems can benefit from deep relaxation. For more, search: mindfulness, meditation, or the relaxation response.

References

Bossio, J.A. et al. “Mindfulness-Based Group Therapy for Men with Situational Erectile Dysfunction: A Mixed-Methods Feasibility Analysis and Pilot Study,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2018) 15:1478.

Brotto, L.A. et al. “Pilot Study of a Brief Cognitive Behavioral Versus Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Women with Sexual Distress and a History of Childhood Sexual Abuse,” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy (2012) 38:1.

Brotto, L.A. et al. “Pilot Study of a Brief Cognitive Behavioral Versus Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Women with Sexual Distress and a History of Childhood Sexual Abuse,” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy (2012) 38:1.

Brotto, LA. et al. “Mindfulness-Based Sex Therapy Improves Genital-Subjective Arousal Concordance in Women with Sexual Desire/Arousal Difficulties,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2016) 45:1907.

Brotto, L.A. and R. Basson. “Group Mindfulness-Based Therapy Significantly Improves Sexual Desire in Women,” Behavior Research and Therapy (2014) 57:43.

Brotto, L.A. et al. “A Mindfulness-Based Group Psychoeducational Intervention Targeting Sexual Arousal Disorder in Women,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2008) 5:1646.

Hallberg, J. et al. “A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Group Intervention for Hypersexual Disorder: A Feasibility Study,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2017) 14:950.

Patterson, L.Q. et al. “A Pilot Study of Eight-Session Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Adapted for Women’s Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder,” Journal of Sex Research (2017) 54:850.

Patterson, L.Q. et al. “A Pilot Study of Eight-Session Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Adapted for Women’s Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder,” Journal of Sex Research (2017) 54:850.

Stephenson, K.R. et al. “Effects of Mindfulness-Based Therapies for Female Sexual Dysfunction: A Meta-Analytic Review,” Journal of Sex Research (2017) 54:832.Psychology Today

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Is Ignoring Someone to Use Your Phone Acceptable? | Psychology Today

Girl being phubbedSource: Thaninee Chuensomchit/Shutterstock

Some ninety-eight percent of people born between the late 1990s and early 2000s own a smartphone and spend around 4 hours per day using this, claiming it to be their most important possession (Young, 2017). Smartphones are more than just phones, functioning more like mini computers, containing our contacts, photos, bookmarked web pages, along with allowing us almost constant contact with others. Indeed, when we asked people why they used their smartphones 77% reported using social media as the main reason and 62% reported messaging as the main reason thus suggesting that smartphones are what might be termed relationship facilitating devices (Graff & Fejes, 2019).article continues after advertisement

Not surprisingly then, people often pay great attention to their phones, ignoring people around them as a result. Such behavior has become known as ‘phubbing’ which is a portmanteau of ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing’ and refers to the practice of using one’s phone in a social setting while simultaneously ignoring someone in your company.

What causes people to phub?

One cause of phubbing might be the extent to which a person is internet addicted. Quite clearly, if a person is addicted to using the internet, then they will be motivated to use their smartphones more, which would ultimately be related to phubbing.

Secondly, phubbing may be related to a person’s fear of missing out (FoMO) on conversations or events which might be happening in a different place or location. In order to allay any anxiety over this fear of missing out, individuals are driven to constantly check their phones, resulting in phubbing.

Thirdly, self-control would seem to be something which might also be related to phubbing behavior. A phubber may lack the ability to control or even monitor their smartphone use. Phubbing is related to smartphone addiction and people who are addicted to using their smartphones will use them even if it is dangerous or discourteous to do so and therefore the same would be the case for phubbing also.article continues after advertisement

Varoth Chotpitayasunond and Karen Douglas from the University of Kent in the UK, investigated these three factors which might predict phubbing (Chotpitayasunondh & Douglas, 2016). Their study included 276 participants, who completed the following measures:

  • The phubbing questionnaire which measured phubbing frequency and frequency of being phubbed, ranging between less than once daily to four or more times per day. It also measured phubbing duration and duration of being phubbed ranging from less than 15 minutes to more than two hours. Finally, it measured perceived social norms of phubbing with items such as ‘do you think that phubbing behavior is typical amongst people around you?’ and ‘do you think phubbing behavior is appropriate?’
  • Smartphone Addiction Scale, containing items such as ‘not being able to stand not having a smartphone’, ‘missing planned work due to smartphone use’, ‘the people around me tell me I use my smartphone too much’.
  • Internet Addiction Test, containing questions such as ‘How often do you find you stay online longer then you intended?’ ‘how often do your grades or school work suffer because of the amount of time you spend online?’ ‘How often do you form new relationships with fellow online users?’ ‘how often do you lose sleep due to late night logins?’
  • Fear of Missing Out Scale ‘I fear others have more rewarding experiences than me’, ‘I fear my friends have more rewarding experiences than me’, and ‘I get worried when I find out my friends are having fun without me’.
  • Self-Control Scale ‘I am good at resisting the temptation’, ‘I have a hard time breaking bad habits’, and ‘I never allow myself to lose control’.

article continues after advertisement

What the researchers found

Firstly, the researchers found that self-control negatively predicted smartphone addiction, in other words, the lower the level of self-control, the higher the level of smartphone addiction, whereas Internet addiction, and fear of missing out positively predicted smartphone addiction, the higher the levels of internet addiction and the more people feared missing out, then the greater their degree of smartphone addiction.

In terms of phubbing, they found a relationship between smartphone addiction and phubbing, meaning the more one is addicted to their smartphone, the more likely they are to engage in phubbing. Similarly, they found a relationship between phubbing behavior and being phubbed, meaning that the more a person is phubbed, the more likely they are to engage in phubbing.

Is phubbing normal?

However, perhaps the most curious finding is that the more a person engaged in phubbing behavior and the greater extent to which they are phubbed were positively related to the extent to which people perceived phubbing as just normal behavior. Just a casual look around in a bar or at a café or restaurant and you see people using their phones, ignoring their surroundings and the people around them. Therefore, has this behavior become normal and acceptable?

Reciprocity

The researchers in the current study suggest that phubbing occurs as a result of observing phubbing going on around us, and by engaging in phubbing ourselves. When we see and experience phubbing behavior around us, we become more likely to judge such behavior as socially acceptable. Being phubbed oneself increases the likelihood of phubbing. If you are with someone and they get out their phone, then observing this behavior encourages us to mirror and copy it.

It seems that phubbing is changing the way we interact socially. However, more research is still needed on the way in which phubbing has had an effect on the quality of social interactions. Furthermore, we need to know more about the way in which people might phub. For example, is it OK to divide our attention between our phone and someone whose company we are in, or is it OK to engage in mutually agreed phubbing? Overall, it seems as though phubbing is on the increase, and we need to understand the effects of this in more detail.

References

Chotpitayasunondh, V. & Douglas, K. M. (2016) ‘How “phubbing” becomes the norm: The antecedents and consequences of snubbing via smartphone’ Computers in Human Behaviour, 63, 9-18.

Graff, M. G. & Fejes, F. (2019) ‘Attachment and Phubbing’ In preparation.

Young, K. (2007). ‘98% of gen Z own a smartphone.’ Retrieved from https://blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-day/98-percent-of-gen-z-own-a-smartphone/Psychology Today

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Fall in Love With a Person, Not an Idea | Psychology Today

Source: Stockpic/Pexels CC0

Evan was a 27-year-old medical student, who had first encountered Emma, a 23-year-old kindergarten teacher, during trivia night at a local bar. After a brief chat, Emma happily gave Evan her number. While only knowing minor details about her—what she looked like, where she worked, and her alma mater—Evan found himself constantly thinking of her, eventually mustering the courage to send her a message. Emma responded warmly and struck up a conversation with him. With each message received, Evan would agonize over the exact response to send back: What could he say that would keep her attention, while also making him seem desirable, likable, interesting, and worthy? He would frequently message his friends asking for their input into crafting the exact perfect response, but the more he would fret, the more strained his responses seemed, and the less interested Emma became, eventually not responding altogether. Though they only exchanged messages over a short period of time, Evan was distraught, feeling deeply as though he had lost someone irreplaceable. Though friends tried to comfort him, reminding him that he hardly knew her, Evan felt heartbroken just the same: He had fallen for an idea, not a person.article continues after advertisement

Why do we do this?

Through our life experiences, the way we are nurtured, and our genetics, each of us develops a set of standards we have for romantic partners. These “ideal partner preferences” put forth a benchmark from which we evaluate the person before us in terms of suitability. These attributes not only help us to ensure we choose the right person to be our partner by comparing them to our ideal standards, but they also help us evaluate whether our partners continue to be “right” for us as the relationship progresses. Indeed, research has shown that the more our romantic partners match our ideals across several traits, the more positively we see them.

These ideal traits differ for everyone. One person may have an ideal for how attractive their partner should be, while attractiveness may not be as important to another—though, curiously, there has been no difference found between importance of attractiveness shown by gender, contrary to popular thought—but we nevertheless use these ideal standards as a guiding light.

If, upon first meeting, we only glean surface characteristics about a potential partner that match our ideals—as exemplified in the case study above—we may blind ourselves to aspects of that person which would otherwise pull him or her away from the ideal we have in mind. In fact, when we first encounter a potential partner, our brains are wired to look at them through rose-colored glasses, such that we ignore faults, flaws, and even red flags, because from an evolutionary perspective, we are also wired to find a mate. This is primarily because we are a social species who receives large protective effects from emotional intimacy, and we are also a rarity in the animal kingdom, because we derive not only product (in the form of children), but pleasure from sexual intimacy, as well. In short, we need others to survive, and being around them tends to feel good, too.article continues after advertisement

As we feel a deep yearning to connect with a potential partner, if we see them in the truest of lights from early on (aka before our brains have a chance to bond, connect, and invest), it would be difficult to justify to ourselves coupling with someone while overlooking their annoying habits and social allergens, positioning them far from our ideal. In this sense, this initial overly charitable and positive perception we have of a potential love interest is meant to be protective, and while we fall in love with presumably who our partner is, we downplay the negatives and amplify the positives.

When we see someone from afar and only take in their surface qualities which happen to match our ideals, it’s easy for the mind to “fill in the blanks,” particularly if we are prone to excessive fantasizing. Coupling these factors with being uncertain that our own feelings will be reciprocated, we may begin to naturally alter our own behavior to try to match what we assume our love interest’s ideal partner preferences are. This is a long-term losing proposition, however, for as time goes on, as people, we each need our partners to see us, know us, and accept us for who we really are (something known as the “self-verification principle”), and masking our true selves can lead us down a bad path known as the “Marriage Shift,” described here.

While some masking of ourselves is natural in the initial stages of getting to know someone, when we significantly alter our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to essentially feel wanted by another person, there is much to lose. The truth of the matter is, happy and healthy relationships involve two people who deeply know each other and choose to be together, just the same: If you find yourself bending your behavior to fit into someone else’s assumed mold, you’ll never know whether the “real you” might just be the idealized partner they have been looking for! As cliché as it sounds, for long-term success when dating, have the courage to be yourself and to fall in love with an actual other, knowing them “warts and all,” not just the idea of someone, projected outward from yourself.

Facebook Image Credit: golubovystock/Shutterstock

References

Eastwick, P. W., Finkel, E. J., & Eagly, A. H. (2011). When and why do ideal partner preferences affect the process of initiating and maintaining romantic relationships? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(5), 1012-1032.

Eastwick, P. W., Luchies, L. B., Finkel, E. J., & Hunt, L. L. (2014). The predictive validity of ideal partner preferences: A review and meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 140(3), 623.Psychology Today · by Mariana Bockarova, Ph.D., is a researcher at the University of Toronto.

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Is Ignoring Someone to Use Your Phone Acceptable? | Psychology Today

psychology Today

Girl being phubbedSource: Thaninee Chuensomchit/Shutterstock

Some ninety-eight percent of people born between the late 1990s and early 2000s own a smartphone and spend around 4 hours per day using this, claiming it to be their most important possession (Young, 2017). Smartphones are more than just phones, functioning more like mini computers, containing our contacts, photos, bookmarked web pages, along with allowing us almost constant contact with others. Indeed, when we asked people why they used their smartphones 77% reported using social media as the main reason and 62% reported messaging as the main reason thus suggesting that smartphones are what might be termed relationship facilitating devices (Graff & Fejes, 2019).article continues after advertisement

Not surprisingly then, people often pay great attention to their phones, ignoring people around them as a result. Such behavior has become known as ‘phubbing’ which is a portmanteau of ‘phone’ and ‘snubbing’ and refers to the practice of using one’s phone in a social setting while simultaneously ignoring someone in your company.

What causes people to phub?

One cause of phubbing might be the extent to which a person is internet addicted. Quite clearly, if a person is addicted to using the internet, then they will be motivated to use their smartphones more, which would ultimately be related to phubbing.

Secondly, phubbing may be related to a person’s fear of missing out (FoMO) on conversations or events which might be happening in a different place or location. In order to allay any anxiety over this fear of missing out, individuals are driven to constantly check their phones, resulting in phubbing.

Thirdly, self-control would seem to be something which might also be related to phubbing behavior. A phubber may lack the ability to control or even monitor their smartphone use. Phubbing is related to smartphone addiction and people who are addicted to using their smartphones will use them even if it is dangerous or discourteous to do so and therefore the same would be the case for phubbing also.article continues after advertisement

Varoth Chotpitayasunond and Karen Douglas from the University of Kent in the UK, investigated these three factors which might predict phubbing (Chotpitayasunondh & Douglas, 2016). Their study included 276 participants, who completed the following measures:

  • The phubbing questionnaire which measured phubbing frequency and frequency of being phubbed, ranging between less than once daily to four or more times per day. It also measured phubbing duration and duration of being phubbed ranging from less than 15 minutes to more than two hours. Finally, it measured perceived social norms of phubbing with items such as ‘do you think that phubbing behavior is typical amongst people around you?’ and ‘do you think phubbing behavior is appropriate?’
  • Smartphone Addiction Scale, containing items such as ‘not being able to stand not having a smartphone’, ‘missing planned work due to smartphone use’, ‘the people around me tell me I use my smartphone too much’.
  • Internet Addiction Test, containing questions such as ‘How often do you find you stay online longer then you intended?’ ‘how often do your grades or school work suffer because of the amount of time you spend online?’ ‘How often do you form new relationships with fellow online users?’ ‘how often do you lose sleep due to late night logins?’
  • Fear of Missing Out Scale ‘I fear others have more rewarding experiences than me’, ‘I fear my friends have more rewarding experiences than me’, and ‘I get worried when I find out my friends are having fun without me’.
  • Self-Control Scale ‘I am good at resisting the temptation’, ‘I have a hard time breaking bad habits’, and ‘I never allow myself to lose control’.

article continues after advertisement

What the researchers found

Firstly, the researchers found that self-control negatively predicted smartphone addiction, in other words, the lower the level of self-control, the higher the level of smartphone addiction, whereas Internet addiction, and fear of missing out positively predicted smartphone addiction, the higher the levels of internet addiction and the more people feared missing out, then the greater their degree of smartphone addiction.

In terms of phubbing, they found a relationship between smartphone addiction and phubbing, meaning the more one is addicted to their smartphone, the more likely they are to engage in phubbing. Similarly, they found a relationship between phubbing behavior and being phubbed, meaning that the more a person is phubbed, the more likely they are to engage in phubbing.

Is phubbing normal?

However, perhaps the most curious finding is that the more a person engaged in phubbing behavior and the greater extent to which they are phubbed were positively related to the extent to which people perceived phubbing as just normal behavior. Just a casual look around in a bar or at a café or restaurant and you see people using their phones, ignoring their surroundings and the people around them. Therefore, has this behavior become normal and acceptable?

Reciprocity

The researchers in the current study suggest that phubbing occurs as a result of observing phubbing going on around us, and by engaging in phubbing ourselves. When we see and experience phubbing behavior around us, we become more likely to judge such behavior as socially acceptable. Being phubbed oneself increases the likelihood of phubbing. If you are with someone and they get out their phone, then observing this behavior encourages us to mirror and copy it.

It seems that phubbing is changing the way we interact socially. However, more research is still needed on the way in which phubbing has had an effect on the quality of social interactions. Furthermore, we need to know more about the way in which people might phub. For example, is it OK to divide our attention between our phone and someone whose company we are in, or is it OK to engage in mutually agreed phubbing? Overall, it seems as though phubbing is on the increase, and we need to understand the effects of this in more detail.

References

Chotpitayasunondh, V. & Douglas, K. M. (2016) ‘How “phubbing” becomes the norm: The antecedents and consequences of snubbing via smartphone’ Computers in Human Behaviour, 63, 9-18.

Graff, M. G. & Fejes, F. (2019) ‘Attachment and Phubbing’ In preparation.

Young, K. (2007). ‘98% of gen Z own a smartphone.’ Retrieved from https://blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-day/98-percent-of-gen-z-own-a-smartphone/Psychology Today

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Our Anxiety Is Rooted in the American Way of Over-Analyzing | Psychology Today

Source: By Mivolchan19/Shutterstock

As most people are aware by now, mood disorders like depression and anxiety are on the rise, and are even being seen as “diseases of modernity.” Western cultures in particular see the highest rates of anxiety-related disorders compared to Eastern and other non-Western cultures. So what’s to blame for the influx of anxiety and stress?

There are likely several factors at play. Many people have pointed to the rise of smartphones and the erosion of meaningful social connection, growing levels of sleep-deprivation, and an overall increase in sedentary lifestyles. But we’re not satisfied with these answers, partly because these trends aren’t unique to Western living; they’re happening everywhere. We suspect the issue goes deeper—down to the level of our basic psychological functioning.article continues after advertisement

Our heightened anxiety has its roots in the way we think. More specifically, how we think—our default style of cognition—is different from the way it is in most other places in the world. We’re analytic thinkers, meaning we see the world in a linear fashion, carving out separate events and peering at them through a lens of cause and effect. We are rule-bound and systems-oriented and we are drawn in by focal events. We care less about context. You know the old saying, “can’t see the forest for the trees?” That’s us: We Westerners are tree-obsessed.

In contrast, the majority of the world’s population (around 85 percent and comprising mostly of Eastern culture) are holistic thinkers. They see the world non-linearly, recognizing the contextual and overlapping features of a given event or situation. Most phenomena, to them, consist of complex interconnections that fit together in greater harmony.

A simple example highlighting the difference in cognition comes from what researchers call the “triad test.” Suppose you’re presented with a dog, a rabbit, and a carrot, and then asked which two belong together. The analytic thinker chooses the dog and rabbit because both satisfy the internally held rule of “animal category.” The holistic thinker, on the other hand, chooses the rabbit and carrot because of the interconnected and functional relationship between the two: A rabbit eats carrots.article continues after advertisement

A consequence of analytic thinking is that its adherence to rule-based reasoning breeds a type of hyper-rational mindset. We believe every problem has a solution. It’s simply a matter of analyzing, solving, striving, looking, doing, working, acting, thinking. Because our world can be logically reduced to a set of basic cause-and-effect principles, we think answers can always be found. Even answers to problems related to personal anxiety. Ironically, it’s the constant striving for answers and solutions that makes anxiety worse in the long run. Solving for anxiety through calculated, analytic-based reasoning just doesn’t work. You can’t analyze your way out of an anxious state.

To understand how these two thinking styles link to differences in anxiety, we have to look at the philosophical and historical traditions of East versus West. In many Asian cultures, holistic thinking traces its roots back to ancient Eastern philosophies, most notably Confucian and Taoist traditions. The teachings of the Chinese classics, the I Ching and Tao Te Ching, continue to shape the holistic cognitive style of East Asian populations today. It’s a remarkable feat of cultural transmission occurring across eons of generational change.

(Quick aside: A similar enculturation process holds for us in the West. Our thinking of hyper-analytic style can be traced back to the atomistic philosophies of the Ancient Greeks like Socrates and Plato.)article continues after advertisement

And there are two prominent Eastern teachings in particular that help to explain the Western anxiety trap. The first is a principle called Wu Wei. A famous Taoist concept, it’s roughly translated as non-action. It says that we shouldn’t hurry to action. We shouldn’t constantly strive towards “doing” in attempt to resolve an issue, since things will resolve themselves if left alone. Ironically, the lesson here is that often the best way to resolve our stress and anxiety is, well, to not do anything at all. (You can see how this opposes our Western bias.)

Here’s the good news: Westerners can reach Wu Wei by turning up an intuitive style of thinking and turning down an analytical, deliberate style thinking. Recent advances in cognitive psychology are showing that this shift can be done through routine mental exercises.

The second principle embodies a collection of Taoist virtues, which are loosely translated as naive dialecticism. This is the essence of the yin yang. The defining aspect of dialectic thinking is that things in life have mutual dependence, and two sides of an apparent contradiction reveal a greater harmony and truth. In other words, two things can be mutually opposed, and at the same time, mutually connected. You can be, for example, in an anxious state and still have perfect control of your situation and your life. Thinking in this way allows a person to tolerate contradictions and to accept the uncertainties that inevitably present themselves.

In fact, dialecticism is such a powerful buffer against negative emotions that we’re seeing its teachings come through in one of the fastest growing Western-based clinical therapies: dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). The goal of any DBT treatment is to find a balance between acceptance and change strategies; to be tolerant of one’s current state and emotions while still striving towards personal growth. It’s effective in resolving the dialectic (i.e., finding the balance) and avoiding certain extreme positions that amplify destructive emotion states.

Remarkably, for many people struggling with anxiety and stress, DBT has shown to be a superior form of therapy than, say, cognitive behavior therapy and even drug interventions.

Even though these differences between East and West are deeply rooted in both cognitive functioning and historical learnings, we’re not doomed to live forever in our Western-biased anxiety trap. We can break out of it. The mind is highly plastic, capable of rewiring itself based on changing inputs from internal and external experiences. That means we can, in fact, think more like Easterners. We can engage in certain practices like the art of non-action and dialecticism and have it positively impact our mental well-being.

So what are you waiting for? You need to do, well, nothing. Nothing at all.

Nick is an applied behavioral scientist. Come on over to The Behaviorist to learn more fun things about psychology and behavioral science.Psychology Today

How Mindfulness Can Reshape Negative Thought Patterns | Psychology Today

Italy mountainsSource: pixabay

“Our life is like a silent film on which we each write our own commentary.”

—Unknown Zen Buddhist Master

“T’is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” 
—Shakespeare

We spend most of our lives thinking or lost in thought. The average human has 17,000 thoughts daily. Around 90% of them are repeat-thoughts! (these numbers go down, however, if you’re an experienced meditator) Unfortunately, we tend to believe the stories underlying these often excessive thoughts, although they may have little basis in reality. Mindfulness can help us relate more skillfully and wisely to our own thought patterns. Here’s how.article continues after advertisement

A common issue is that we often get stuck in thinking patterns that reduce the quality of our lives. I call these patterns mental tapes because they usually have roots in the past. (Now, most of us are streaming music instead of listening to tapes anyway!) These tapesoften originate from when we were younger, more vulnerable, less mature, and less competent. Let me clarify before, however, that thinking patterns are complex and this isn’t the only way mindfulness can help reshape thought patterns; just one common and effective way (I’ll cover others in future posts).

I will start with a personal example of an old mental tape. I used to worry unnecessarily about my professional growth as a budding psychotherapist, writer, and professor. The first time I remember this was when I was in 6th grade and had to write my first research paper. My teacher was strict and didn’t provide the guidance I felt I needed. As loving as they were, my parents didn’t know how to help me with research either. Back then, I couldn’t stop worrying about it. I barely slept the night before it was due. My 11-year-old self needed a lot of research guidance, compassion, support, and patience; no wonder he worried so much. Fast forward to now—even though I write well, teach well, am on track to finish my doctorate in a year, and have always completed what I needed to, I still often get swept up in the “worry about completing future tasks” mental tape from when I was 11!article continues after advertisement

That old mental tapefrom 6th grade surfaced recently. Around a month ago when I went to the movie theater with my wife, I had a subtle yet long-lasting burst of anxiety about all I needed to complete that week. The mental tape was back, consisting of the predictable old thought pattern, such as, “I need to finish this and that,” “will I be able to do it?” and “all I have to do is hard and stressful!” “why is my to-do list always so long?” “”what will go wrong if I don’t perform these tasks well?” This unnecessarily interrupted my focus and enjoyment of the movie. This was an old mental tape from my past—a mere repeat, a meager obsolete replay, that tried to convince me it was only related to what’s happening now. Each time I identify the old tapeand its source, it gets weaker. I know this cognitively, but this awareness has not always prevented me from feeling stuck and lost in it.

Mindfulness practice has allowed me to disconnect from this outdated mental tape. How? By compassionately observing my own mind. Mindfully I can realize that throughout my whole life, I have almost always managed to complete the tasks at hand, and even if I didn’t for some reason, I manage well anyway. Mindfulness can help reality kick in. Just like a lake produces a mirror-like image when it’s still (reflecting the surrounding trees and sky), in mindfulness practice, these truths arise naturally as we learn to wisely and compassionately observe and calm our minds.article continues after advertisement

So how can this help us with our old mental tapes that have unnecessarily brought us down? If you’ve been in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), your therapist likely has helped you identify cognitive distortions and actively challenge them. CBT therapists assume that thoughts directly causes feelings. Therapy is thus about “correcting irrational thoughts,” which will automatically lead to happier emotional states.

Mindfulness and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy offer an alternative to traditional CBT. From a mindfulness perspective, my feeling overwhelmed with responsibility originates from an old mental tape of ruminative thoughts about not being able to complete responsibilities, and all my old fears about what could have happened when I was in the 6th grade, the first time faced with a research paper. Since that mental tape has repeated itself countless times since it developed a connection to neural networks in the brain facilitating its proliferation since. Mindfulness offers this awareness and allows me to do something different. Fortunately, our brains are quite plastic; they can learn, adapt and change no matter how old we are.

So, to change this habit, when I notice that I am simply re-experiencing replays of old thought patterns—“hearing old tapes playing”—I can assess their legitimacy in the now, and step into Ontological Mode of being. This can naturally discredit their basis in reality, as I have always completed what I needed to (letting the facts naturally inform, guide, and nurture the irrational thoughts fueling the obsolete mental tape) so I can enjoy the present moment.

Taking it a step further, I can also see the “old tapes playing” mindfully, as merely mental events, like rainy clouds passing through the sky, not take them seriously and simply stay present in the here-and-now, which is indispensable in Ontological Mode of Being. Realizing that negative thoughts can be triggered by low moods and vice versa, I can notice my emotional states, the thoughts they generate, and continually and gently remind myself that thoughts aren’t reality. From this vantage point, it can be interesting, potentially fascinating to notice the thinking patterns that certain moods engender, instead of mindlessly following their story-line as if they were a truth with a capital T.

In my practice, I mindfully choose to consider the evidence that I have always completed what I’ve needed to. This enables me not to buy into the old conditioned thought pattern (tape) that doesn’t accurately reflect me, and update it with a more meaningful and flexible one that captures all my strengths, accomplishments, and wisdom. I know I complete all my tasks by merely seeing the facts and looking at how far I’ve come. This also helps me savor the present.

You can look how far you’ve come too. You can do the same with mental states or mental tapes that can unnecessarily bring you down, and find refuge in the moment or the current task at hand… What are your most common tapes? According to Dr. Ronald Siegel, among the common (we can give them funny labels) are “I blew it again” tapeor “no one cares about me” tapeor “I suck at everything,” tape. Even more basic are “obsessing” or “criticizing,” tapes. We all have them, even when they are often baseless.

This post may seem easier in principle than practice. Every time to practice it gets easier. It is never too late to practice, practice, practice. Through the compassionate, calm, and wise observation you cultivate in mindfulness practice, you can undercut the old tapes by watching them play out and redirecting your precious attention to now and the facts. I created this meditation to help you mindfully observe your thoughtsDr. Ronald Siegel’s is also effective.

Lastly, if your mental tapes feel too deeply ingrained for this post, EMDRtherapy, which I’m trained in, can also help reprocessing past upsetting memories. Bottom line: instead of conditioned habits writing my story for and dictating my mental patterns, it’s also time for us to write our own commentaries and live fully in the moment.Psychology Today

http://www.bevillandassociates.com

Does Bullying Cause Suicide? | Psychology Today

Bullying is a truly horrific phenomenon that has a wide array of terrible consequences. One of these terrible consequences is an increased risk of mental health issues and even suicide, for both the person bullied and the person perpetrating the bullying.

But does this mean that bullying actually causes suicide? This is an incredibly complex question. There seems to be a lot of confusion about the relationship between bullying and suicide. News stories focusing on the tragic suicide of young children and teenagers often point to instances of bullying. The focus on these individual stories can easily lead us to believe that there must be a causal relationship between bullying and suicide. After all, we keep reading stories in which bullying occurs and a suicide follows.article continues after advertisement

These deaths are all horrible tragedies, and the bullying these children experienced is unacceptable. But we do have to be careful about how we report on the relationship between these phenomena. When news stories report on a suicide preceded by instances of bullying, the two concepts become inextricably linked in readers’ minds and the conclusion that follows—that bullying leads to suicide—may not be entirely scientifically accurate.

Source: Shutterstock

A proper understanding of the relationship between bullying and suicide is essential. If we believe that bullying is a sole cause of suicide, then we might spend a lot of time and effort on bullying prevention strategies as suicide prevention, only to find that bullying is only one of many factors that increase suicide risk and a focus on bullying alone is not enough to avert more suicides. In other words, our focus may become misplaced and we may ignore other important causes that must be addressed in order to truly lower the risk of suicide.

Focusing only on bullying as the cause of suicide also implies that a young person’s suicide is entirely the fault of his or her schoolmates. Instilling guilt in children following the death by suicide of one of their classmates is not an acceptable approach to dealing with the aftermath of a suicide or of preventing future suicides. Stopping bullying is essential, but blaming children for an acquaintance’s death is not the proper approach.

So what do we know about the relationship between the two? As stated earlier, we do know that involvement in bullying, either as a victim or a perpetrator, raises the risk of suicide. In addition, even witnessing bullying can lead to feelings of helplessness and poor school connectedness, which can be a risk factor for mental health issues (although it is not a sole cause). On the other hand, most youth involved in bullying do not display suicidal behavior, even though bullying may be one of many risk factors of suicidal behavior.article continues after advertisement

It’s always important to keep multiple risk factors in mind when talking about suicide. Saying that bullying is a sole cause of suicide is not only incorrect but can even be harmful. This is because such a “single-cause” mentality perpetuates the notion that suicide might be an understandable and acceptable response to bullying. In addition, this kind of thought process can lead to sensational reporting, which we’ve already seen in several instances noted above. It also takes attention away from other important risk factors that are less “sensational” and less easily reported on, such as mental illness, substance abuse, poor coping skills, and family dysfunction. Yet these risk factors deserve just as much attention as bullying and must be central components in any adequate response to suicide risk. For all these reasons, it’s absolutely essential that we not overstate the relationship between bullying and suicide. There is of course a relationship, but it is not what we may be led to believe by much of the media coverage on the topic.

Despite all of this, it is still of course the case that bullying does happen and is a risk factor for mental health issues and even suicide. Given all this, it is essential that schools do everything they can to reduce the incidence of this damaging behavior. What should schools be doing to prevent and respond to bullying? There are several strategies schools can employ that help with both stopping bullying and improving students’ mental health. For example, universal programs that increase school connectedness are effective for both bullying prevention and enhancing mental health in schools. Teaching coping and life skills, including resilience and tolerance of others, can also be effective for both bullying prevention and mental health promotion. Schools should put comprehensive policies and anti-discrimination rules in place, form a committee to review and update them regularly, and ensure that these rules are being enforced in a way that’s obvious to students and their families. Since students with different genderor sexual orientations and from different cultural backgrounds are more likely to be bullied—and to have higher risk of attempting suicide—school staff should be taught about vulnerable populations and how to protect them.article continues after advertisement

Perhaps most importantly, schools must show that they are taking every incidence (including cyberbullying outside of school) extremely seriously and remaining consistent in their response. If the response is not clear and consistent, students lose trust in the school and their sense of connectedness can erode. Working on the whole school climate is essential: A positive school climate can create broad protective factors for students that help with both bullying and suicide prevention.

The mantra that “association is not causality” cannot be repeated often enough because in instances like the connection between bullying and suicide it is persistently ignored. Journalists must be taught to take greater care in how they report on correlations between two phenomena so that their readers do not infer that one is the direct and unique cause of the other.

With the relationship between bullying and suicide remaining complex and in some ways unknown, it is essential that schools not focus narrowly on bullying prevention as a sole means to prevent suicide. Rather schools should be focusing more broadly on helping students build and cultivate protective factors. These kinds of interventions hold the greatest promise for building a foundation of resilience among young adults everywhere.Psychology Today

How to Deal with an Anxiety Attack

What to do when anxiety threatens to take over.

It first happened in the fall of 1978, during a meeting of the psychology department. The professors were engaged in a full-fledged fight—yet again—and all I wanted was for them to stop.

Suddenly, I felt I was going to pass out. My heart was racing so fast I couldn’t count the beats. Something in that awful fighting had triggered an anxiety attack the likes of which I’d never felt before. As I tried to come up with a plan for escape, the room suddenly quieted and looked at me.

I opened my mouth but no sound came out. My eyes darted helplessly around the room, taking in the horrifying sight of so many others looking at me. I struggled to breathe.article continues after advertisement

After what seemed like ages (but was probably only 10 or 15 seconds), the perplexed group went back to their fighting as I was left still clutching my chair, opening and closing my mouth like a fish out of water, having never uttered a sound.

And so began my journey into the hell of panic disorder.

What Most People Don’t Know About Anxiety

Unfortunately, my experience with anxiety is not unusual. Anxiety disorders are among the most common forms of mental struggles, with nearly 40 million adults being affected each year in the U.S. (that’s roughly 20%).

If you are reading this and suffer from anxiety, let this be a reminder that you are not alone. In fact, every third person you ever meet is going to suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or ACT in short) and other evidence-based treatments offer valuable tools and techniques to effectively deal with all forms of anxiety. But while anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only 37% of those affected receive treatment.article continues after advertisement

That is just not good enough.

There seems to be a widespread false notion about what anxiety is and what can be done about it. And apparently, the answer for most people is “nothing”.

“Nothing can be done about anxiety. You either have it, or you don’t. And if you have it, there’s not much you can do about it. This is how it has always been, and this is how it will always be.”

This notion is not only wrong, but it’s also dangerous because it leads millions of people to needlessly suffer without hope for betterment. As a psychotherapist who has treated countless of people with anxiety over the past decades, and as someone who has personally struggled with panic disorder for many years, I knowthe role of anxiety in our lives can lessen. The burden can be lightened and anxiety can assume its more proper role of warning us against real danger.

To change the unhealthy role that anxiety sometimes plays we need to learn how to address anxiety in day-to-day situations, so instead of running from our fear, we can face panic situations head-on. And in order to learn how to do just that, we first need to talk about baseball.article continues after advertisement

How To Deal With An Anxiety Attack

Step 1: Let Go of Rules

Suppose you want to learn how to play baseball. It’s useful to learn the basic rules before you get on the field, like how the game is played, and how points are scored.

However, once you are on the field, relying on the rules no longer helps you. It doesn’t help you to think about “how to hold a bat”, or “at which specific angle you need to take a swing” while you are facing the pitcher. The more you engage these analyses, the more likely you are going to miss the ball because you are too caught up in your own head.

You can try this out at home right now. Stand up and walk across the room, but with every single step think hard about the exact rules of walking. How do you lift your feet? In what order? And which part of your sole touches the ground first?

The more you focus on the “right” rules of walking, the more unstable your walk is going to be. And this is exactly what it’s like dealing with anxiety.

It’s useful to learn the basic processes first about what anxiety is, and how to effectively address it. However, once the anxiety sets in, focusing on the “right” thoughts and actions will not help you. In fact, entertaining these thoughts will keep you stuck in your own head and further pull you into your anxiety.

Dealing with anxiety is not a matter of following a specific set of rules. The rules can at best bring you to the edge. Instead, effectively dealing with anxiety requires you to let go of these rules and allow yourself to have “imperfect” thoughts and actions, so you can put your attention where it matters.

Step 2: Embrace Opportunities to Practice

When we are struggling there is often an “oh no” quality to the flow of events. “Not now”, “not again”, “this is too much”, “why me”, or “when will this end”. It’s as if some moments belong and others don’t, and we are winning when we get the “good” ones, and we are losing when we get the “bad” ones.

In actuality, however, all moments belong. All moments are opportunities for growth, especially hard ones. When else can we work on dealing with difficult thoughts and feelings?

We can practice the skill of dealing with anxiety through meditationtherapy, or workbooks. But ultimately, the best place to practice these skills is in the context of anxiety itself.

We can practice in the context of a small anxiety storm, such as when we’re stuck in traffic. We might then notice judgments of others, a childish pull to throw a tantrum, rising emotions, and physiological reactions. And while we notice this inner struggle, we also notice that there’s more going on in the present moment.

We hear the sound of the song on the radio, and we notice the children in the car next to us. And we recall that we are going somewhere and that being stuck in traffic is part of this bigger journey.

As those smaller moments are mastered, we can even practice in the context of a large anxiety storm – perhaps when experiencing waves of anxiety right before standing to speak in front of a group. This, again, is an opportunity to notice what comes up.

We notice the familiar cacophony in our head, the pull to run away as if we could run from our own bodies. We feel the beats of our heart and the sensations of our physiological reactions.

And we notice something more than just ourselves. We see the faces of the human beings in front of us, and we recall that we stood up on the stage to say something in the service of others. We direct our attention to what we came to do and let go of all the rest even as it thunders on.

Gradually, gradually, we can learn what to do inside the storms, small, medium, and large. Bring on “not now” or “not again” or “this is too much”. They are just thoughts to notice. Bring on sensations. They are but your body reacting. And bring on life. Successfully dealing with anxiety comes down to practice, and whenever difficult thoughts and feelings come along, you find yourself in an ideal opportunity to practice.

Step 3: Meet Your Anxiety With Curiosity

Would it be possible to be genuinely interested in your experience of anxiety? I mean really genuinely interested?

You can learn to explore your anxiety, without having to run from it. You can even set limits on the time and situation, by making a commitment like this:

“I am going to go to place _____ where I will likely have an anxiety attack, and I will stay there for _____ amount of time.”

And then go there with no secret outcome in mind. None. Your goal is NOT to have any less anxiety. Your goal is NOT to feel it so often that something different will happen.

Instead, go there out of genuine interest in what this anxiety even IS. Stay present with yourself and look carefully, with an attitude of genuine interest, curiosity, and openness at your own experience. Like a scientist discovering a new planet … or when you were a small child looking at the clouds.

Exactly what thoughts show up? Note them. Name them. Watch them. What bodily sensations? Where do they begin and end? How do they ebb and flow? What emotions to feel (watch closely and name each — there are far more than “anxiety”!) What are you pulled to do?

If you are not sure you can do this, set the timer so short that you are 100% sure. One minute. Or even just ten seconds.

You can evaluate how you did by this standard: Were you psychologically present, and were you open to what came up? Not passively open like “I can tolerate this”, but really curious and open. Like a little boy playing with a weird bug. A sure measure is this: Are you now more or less willing to do it again?

If you can do it for ten seconds, can you do it for one minute? If you can do it for one minute, can you do it for ten minutes? If you can do it at the drugstore, can you do it in the mall?

Painful emotions, difficult thoughts, odd sensations, unwelcome urges — none of these are 100% under your control. Sufficient force can take away your behavioral control. You can lose your freedom; you can lose your comfort. Only a few things are under your absolute control. What do you care about and will you choose to be present or not to your own experience? Those are things no one can take away, so long as you are conscious.

Don’t give it away. Don’t let your anxiety fool you into thinking that you have to give away your presence and caring. Only you get to choose those parts.

The anxiety may go away or it may not. What matters is whether you will show up to your own experience and restart doing the things you care about but stopped doing because of anxiety. Walking that walk is how you regain your ability to say “yes” to life. When you learn how to do that, your anxiety is no longer in charge. You are.

Psychology Today