General and Psychology and Relationships and Therapy05 Aug 2019 08:51 am

The following is an essay I wrote for the staff at a transitional living facility for which I consult.

In general one is able to avoid shaming another person by using descriptive strength based language. Vague terms even when not highly critical of another can be shaming if they have a person feel labeled, pigeonholed or judged. Since our initial and primary goal is to have our students feel better about themselves, shaming is best to be avoided whenever possible.

Embarrassment, on the other hand, can be an acceptable and sometimes valuable therapeutic experience/tool.  Psychology has long recognized that embarrassment, while often not a comfortable experience, contains elements of pleasure and validation.

In our meeting yesterday both Abe and Cal gave examples of the possible positive aspects of embarrassment with the students. Abe gave a marvelous impersonation of Russ responding to one of Abe’s insightful observations/teachings in a therapeutically beneficial fashion. One of the skills we are working with Russ is to have him identify his being able to use his chess master prowess in other areas of his life, both in finding ways to use his chess acumen in other areas of his life and social interaction, and to find additional hobbies and interests that use a similar skill set.

Abe, while standing next to Russ noticed/sensed that Russ was using his chess mind while observing/socially integrating with the other guys. He leaned over and said to Russ, “so you’re doing that chess thing with the other guys right now aren’t you”. Abe physically modeled for us Russ’s response which we have all seen before. It was a perfect exhibition of pleasurable embarrassment, in which Russ showed a bit of discomfort with being found out, with the joy and pleasure of feeling seen and understood by Abe.

The “hidden pleasure” and therapeutic element of embarrassment often centers around this basic primal need for children/people to be seen, found, understood and appreciated. One of the first games children learn to play is peek a boo. In this game they get a jolt of endorphins and oxytocin rush almost each time mom reappears after being temporarily out of view/lost. 

This seen/not seen scenario gets played out primarily in games such as hide and seek, red light, Simon says, mother may I, etc. and secondarily in game such as tag, duck-duck-goose, 7 ups and red rover. The thrill of being seen is maybe even surpassed by the thrill of mom or dad chasing and catching you, or capturing you when you were an infant in the cradle and making noises that they were “eating you up” of snuggling and making noises into your stomach. 

There is a local middle aged Asperger man in Asheville who makes some very poignant observations of life on the spectrum and, therefore, human life in general. He likes to talk of the fact that he “never got” the true meaning of tag during his early of even teen years. He always felt that he was great at tag because he was never it. He ended each game feeling like he was the winner and was baffled at how often other kids were “it”. It was only in his late 20’s and 30’s that he realized that the whole purpose of the game was to be chased and caught by someone who wanted to chase and touch you and make you be it. Being “it”, was, as he discovered, a sign of being “caught” in friendship the same way that a child is chased and caught in mom or dad’s loving arms.

So, tag is the joy of being sought after and chased. Being “it” shows that you are desired and your friendship bond is appreciated. In peek a boo you are the treasured object to be cradled in the gaze of your parents and loved ones. 

Often times in psychology the emphasis of peek a boo is on an infants development of object permanence. In early perceptual stages infants do not understand that objects hidden or currently out of view continue to exist. So, in peek a boo, the child sees mom disappear and miraculously reappear every time she hides and shows her face.

Yet, the relationship aspect of peek a boo is often ignored or minimized in the analysis of the significance of peek a boo. As mentioned above the infants squeals of delight and writhes of joy are due not to only seeing mom, but by her seeing him. Even before a child understands the words, they definitely gleefully feel the meaning of “Peek a boo, I see you”.

No matter how old a person gets it is important for them to feel seen and understood in a supportive loving fashion. Many of our young adult’s joy of being seen has been injured by trauma, predatory behavior of peers, or by receiving a disproportionate amount of angry criticism  over praise and recognition.

This is why many of our kids are initially skeptical or resistive to our observations and teaching. Wariness can quickly escalate to power struggles when we replicate their experience of receiving an ample amount of criticism and frustration over a lack of functional proficiency. 

Strength based teaching where we focus our attention on Catching Them Being Good begins to reestablish their innate joy in the fulfilling of their basic need to be seen, understood and validated. The more therapeutically sensitive the skills and central messages are, the more powerful the impact on raising their self-esteem and sense of connection. Skill work that is observational and fun is in the best possible tradition of peek a boo, hide and seek, and tag. 

The better we are at noticing and valuing their well intentioned, respectful and compassionate behavior the more lasting will be their improvements in positive self-regard. Similarly, the more frequent the repetition the easier it is for the student to incorporate (inculcate)   these new habits, attitudes and activities (hobbies and interests) into their daily life.

Our basic needs of belonging and being recognized as a unique and special human being are tended to in the games of childhood listed above. Those basic needs never go away, and our skills teaching becomes an excellent means to restore the joy and validation of being seen and valued. 

Yet, one’s ability to enjoy being seen, to overcome the risk and vulnerability “of becoming naked to others”, involves many factors such as trust, comfort and safety. One always must respect a person’s need for privacy and personal boundaries. Therefore, we should always move cautiously and with our observational eyes wide open and not try to push through resistances with an iron will. 

The more we create positive experiences for our students in the areas of mutual respect, positive self-regard and competency the increased likelihood they will be open to our invitations and guidance to replace old self-sabotaging habits with newer more efficient and life affirming ones. The hidden pleasure of embarrassment is only present when they want to be seen and found, and they take joy and solace in being known and appreciated by us.

Psychology and Relationships and Therapy19 Jan 2018 08:15 pm

The change process is a crucial element to almost everything we learn or improve upon. In two posts I wrote over seven years ago I observed that the change process takes place on three levels.

The first level is that of a behavior or habit that you want to change. The second dimension involves the psychological and emotional elements which support and maintain the habit you want to change. The third dimension is the biochemical/neurological wiring that the habit creates in your body and brain.

While you can acquire improvement by just focusing on learning a new habit, real change occurs (and mastery of a new habit usually only results) when all three realms are honored and respected. Pease read the following links to the old posts for examples and a deeper explanation of the roles that habit/behavior, emotion/psychology, and biochemistry/neurology play in the change process.

Components of Personal Growth and Development

Components of Personal Growth and Development: Part 2

So today I’d like to talk about the change process in slightly different terms. A comprehensive and efficient way for you to effectively make changes in your life is by reframing, replacing and rewiring.

Reframing means that one is encouraged to see things from an alternate perspective. The process of reframing allows one to stop being locked or rigid in the way one feels or thinks about their habit or bias. It opens them up emotionally and psychologically to news ways of acting and being in the world.

It makes sense that what we think and say greatly effects the way we feel. The way we think and feel impacts the choices we make regarding actions we take and how we respond to others. The way we act and respond forms our habits. The feelings and emotions we have when engaging in habitual activity creates our neural networks in the brain and secretes the biochemistry which is the basis of who we are and how we are wired.

Therefore, by changing our perspective and attitude we become more open and receptive to developing new habits. New habits Replace the old habits, and new habits done over time Rewire both our neurology and biochemistry.

An anxious person has anxious thoughts and feelings. These anxious thoughts and feelings have one engage in actions which exhibit anxiety. A person who thinks, feels, and acts anxiously will have an anxious biochemistry and be neurologically wired to behave in an anxious manner.

Oftentimes, people’s attempts to change something in their lives are limited or unsuccessful due to an over emphasis on one dimension of the change process or even completely ignoring the other two dimensions. Talk therapy often helps a person gain insight into why they behave or react in a certain fashion. Yet, gaining insight into why I get angry or have trouble sustaining an intimate relationship doesn’t, by itself, prevent me from getting angry or being toxic or self-sabotaging in relationships.

People often try to end a bad behavior through just will power. In the language of the social sciences a person attempts to extinguish the old behavior by pure will and determination. Examples of this are when a person makes a New Year’s resolution to stop smoking, eating too much, or spending too much time on the computer. Such resolutions seldom fare well unless the person is able to find a suitable Replacement for the old habit. The replacement chances of success are increased the more the new behavior successfully addresses the emotional and psychological needs that the old behavior fulfilled.

Sometimes attempts at facilitating change focus on the biochemical level. The most common form of such a biochemical intervention is the taking of non prescription or psychotropic drugs. Yet, we often try to affect our biochemistry through other means such as exercise, meditation, or diet.

Pharmaceuticals seldom solve a problem, but more often than not just mask a symptom or shift the problem to another area. Taking an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant seldom cures the anxiety or depression, but does provide relief or causes a temporary change in one’s biochemistry deadening one’s unwanted experience.

Even though changes in biochemistry caused by increased exercise and healthy diet inherently involve the introduction of new habits, their long term success depends on the emotional and psychological needs also being addressed and met. While exercise biochemically elevates mood and provides needed energy, these benefits will have a hard time overcoming a highly stressful lifestyle, or a personal psychology dominated by self-hatred. Activities such as exercise or diet, which are inherently biochemical interventions, need frequent and consistent repetition if they have any hope of becoming durable and reliable facets of successful change.

Reframing, Replacing and Rewiring are essential and interrelated elements in the change process.  When it comes to the learning and mastery of a skill or talent it is best accomplished through the integration of habit, mind, and body. Reframing tends to the psychological and emotional elements through providing the necessary shift in perspective and attitude. Replacing deals with the actual habit, allowing the ritual to become part of our body memory no longer being dependent on conscious awareness. When one habit is replaced by another the new one becomes reflexive and our default mode when we aren’t consciously monitoring our behavior.

A reflexive habit becomes wired into our neurology. Each time we engage in the habit our body deepens the groove, the neural pathways, carved out by the behavior. Each neurological event elicits a corresponding biochemical experience. A new habit, therefore, Rewires us both neurologically and biochemically.

In therapeutic situations I have found it highly beneficial to pay close attention to the processes of Reframing, Replacing and Rewiring. A new book, The Parental Tool Box, written by my wife and I will be released at the end of this month. In each and every chapter we explore parenting strategies and techniques which help create a mutually respectful and rewarding home environment.

The various tools provided all incorporate aspects of Reframing, Replacing and Rewiring.The tools provided are not magic wands but means by which both parents and their children can find increasing joy and harmony in their interactions with each other.

Poetry and Psychology and Sports and Therapy12 Apr 2009 02:00 pm

When I was young I developed a strong love of physical activity and sports. Though small and rather un-athletic by nature I quickly developed formidable skills. My favorite sports were basketball and baseball. While size isn’t as important in baseball as basketball it still was a huge handicap in my youth. Before the age of 16 a lack of physical strength puts you at a huge disadvantage in most competitive sports such as baseball. As an example I was a very good pitcher and shortstop, but the lack of strength had to be compensated for in the speed of my pitches and my throws across the diamond.

Until people got to know me I was always discounted and viewed as an underdog in games and contests. I soon began to love shocking people and proving their perceptions of my abilities wrong. Instead of fearing competition, I always viewed it as an opportunity to succeed. In basketball I would use this to my advantage. My adversaries, being bigger and more athletic than I were supposed to win. I, therefore, had nothing to lose. When I had a chance to win I was excited by the possibility, my talented opponent, on the other hand, often choked on the pressure of the expectation that they win.

I was 4’8″ and 83 pounds when I went into high school. Though  I grew a foot in high school I remained very undersized in basketball and small for baseball. In baseball I became an excellent fielder and could throw the ball as far as anyone I played with. In pitching I had a wicked curve ball and a lot of other junk to compensate for my lack of a blazing fastball.

Yet, in both sports I flourished in competition. I practiced many hours and became sure of my skills and abilities. I relished the opportunity to make the big catch or get to the grounder in the hole, or to make the last shot or the decisive steal in a basketball game.

By the age of 12 my ability to hit the game winning shot earned me the nickname of “game”, for as the ball left my hand I would yell out “game” as the winning shot made its way to the basket. Did I make every game winning shot? Of course not. Yet, I did hit the majority of them and I always looked forward to taking the last shot as an opportunity for success.

My personal experience of the benefits of viewing crucial moments in sports as an opportunity for success rather than a potential failure has been validated by the experience of others. The fear of failure is at the heart of the term “choking” in sports. Those who feel the pressure of the moment are always bewailing their lack of success. One can often sense this tensing up and choking when watching an event of television. You can see the pressure on the faces of the players and in the hesitant manner in which they execute their plays.

Though my confidence and excitement at the prospect of succeeding powered me through all basketball contests through my college years it did fail me in much of my adult life. In baseball I was always confident and loose when it came to all skills except batting in which my fear of being injured by a pitch over rode my confidence of making the big hit. My fear of being hit by the ball limited my batting skills and I never excelled at that aspect of the game.

Likewise playing basketball as an adult became more of a social event, in which I became concerned with the reactions of others. So, in situations in which my teammates supported and believed in me I continued my old tradition of being a clutch player making the winning shot or defensive stop. Yet, my performance suffered when my teammates did not support or trust me.

The majority of my adult life I have spent my time working with “at risk” and problem oriented youth who have been removed their home and been placed in group homes or various other treatment facilities. In most of these children their is a tendency for them to focus on and perceive almost every performance situation as a failure. The more severe the child the quicker and more frequently they view themselves and their actions as failures. In a given situation they will panic or give up way before anyone else in the room even senses that a potential failure even exists.

Much of my efforts with these children revolves around having them see the positive side of possibilities. My goal is to replace performance anxiety and negative prophecy with a joy of opportunity. Instead of feeling failure, I try to engender an appreciation of identifying an opportunity for growth and improvement. Though it is true that we seldom learn without making mistakes and that personal growth is dependent on improvement, it is often hard for us to look at poor performances as an opportunity for future success and as a natural part of the growth process.

Yet, the growth in self esteem and success of the children I work with is often directly related to their ability to see social and academic performances as an opportunity for success rather than a breeding ground for failure. Once they no longer have the expectation or feel the pressure to be perfect, they are able to accept the assistance and benefit by the criticism of others.

In my personal life I’ve generally done a good job in terms of viewing personal mistakes and interpersonal conflicts as opportunities for growth rather than failures or dead ends. This willingness to not only accept but revel is life’s imperfecions and challenges has rendered me a relatively happy person. It allows me an opportunity to enjoy the endless process of improvement while keeping my expectations high.

While my personal and social life has been a constant source of joy and happiness I must admit my view of the world and humanity in general has lagged behind. Though it is easy for me to appreciate life’s imperfections it is hard for me to view the path of humanity in a positive light. Instead of seeing our mistakes and wicked policies as opportunities for learning I have a tendency to dwell on our inhumane acts and violence. I guess it is because I focus on what has been lost and what tragedy awaits our fear and stupidity rather than acknowledge what we’ve accomplished and what could be accomplished in the future. It is hard for me to accept mass murder, war, genocide and torture as bad decisions made by fears of failure and poor self esteem rather than evidence of impending doom. My trust of myself and individuals is far greater than my trust of groups and collectives. Many of the people I’ve worked with personally have engaged in actions as heinous as any government, yet I’ve been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I’ve been able to help instill a healthier view of themselves and others.

In modern capitalism you have a system which promotes and rewards such pernicious qualities as greed, wastefulness, self-centeredness, hatred, elitism, deception, exploitation, fear and mistrust. This is not to suggest that other social systems would be free of these qualities, but only to point out that our current system accentuates, fosters and rewards these characteristics.

It seems logical to me that we need to move towards a world in which its societies limit fear and a sense of failure by focusing on what we can gain rather than what we could lose. We need to build social structures which emphasize opportunity and personal growth and de-emphasize perfection and the prospect of failure.

Yet, maybe it is only I who needs to change and begin to see the opportunities the world is moving towards and focus less on the bad choices we have made.

One thing is for certain, and that is the areas for growth in terms of human society are vast.

The following lyric and song are pertinent to this topic.

Go to Music section and go to Opportunity Lost CD and click on mp3 icon to hear song.

Opportunity Lost

I’d like to feel a part of this life
I’d like to have a child, home and wife

Each time I settle down I gaze so far ahead
I see the pendulum swing this way and back again
I feel lonely riding the crest of the wave
‘Cuz my friends just keep bobbing left in its wake

Some like to dream others work till they drop
Some complain with zeal others swallow till they pop

If life’s a mystery than solution is such a chore
For what’s found ends the quest mystery demands more
I just love to smile feel the sun on my face
I wish the human race could be run at a comfortable pace

As the tidal wave approaches I move far ashore
I plead with my friends to fish no more
As I lie in bed awake yeah, feel my body aching
For I sense disaster coming soon

I stumble thru the darkness feel for the door
Hope the knock I hear is not just the winds mighty roar

Everybody’s fervent prayer hanging heavy in the air
If we try hard we can make it come true

Let the winds take you away don’t fight it now its OK
I pause to see what’s coming I shudder at opportunity lost

Let’s not waste our time with hating when we should be celebrating
I’ll share my fondest wish with you

Everybody’s fervent prayer hanging heavy in the air
If we try hard we can make it come true

Let’s not wast our time with hating when we should be celebrating
I’ll share my fondest wish wish with you