Bringing Sustained Change
Perseverance is crucial for long term change and necessary to overcome challenges using new methods. Many of our clients have fallen into patterns, as we all do. Unfortunately, their “normal” way of dealing with life stressors has been maladaptive. Often, clients have created methods to deal with negative, uncomfortable, or intense emotions. Some of these methods work for a time in that they successfully alter the reality of pain. However, maladaptive skills such as rage, disassociation, disconnection/cut-off, and substance use are not a panacea and thus eventually fail. The cost of these maladaptive skills creates a new set of problems at worst. At best, it supports and maintains dysfunctional behaviors.
Getting Out of the Rut
One significant challenge in learning and applying healthy adaptive skills is to get out of the rut of the “same ol’” that has been practiced through the many years. These trained neurological pathways and practiced responses never simply dissipate. Only hard and consistent work through perseverance can bring sustained change. It can be difficult to maintain focus and utilize new adaptive coping skills. It opposes the tendency to rely upon the familiar even if the familiar is the crux of pain. As humans develop and learn coping skills during the different stages of development, they find a sense of what works for them and then they stick to it, until they face the new challenges that further development brings. Herein lies the crossroads. do people learn new adaptive strategies to meet the new challenges or do they revert to known coping methods?
Transitional Regression and Maladaptive Coping Skills
When people are faced with new challenges and feel overwhelmed or overburdened with the reality that development brings, then people tend to revert into behaviors that worked for them in an earlier stage of development. Clinicians call this reversion “transitional regression”. Reverting to an earlier stage of coping initially brings a sense of empowerment. It also provides a sense of comfort due to the familiarity of these coping strategies. However, regressing often brings even more stress and even shame. Reverting to coping skills of earlier stages that do not meet the demands that new development requires creates higher levels of stress and perceived incompetency. Moreover, this reversion into maladaptive coping skills can exacerbate vicious and familiar cycles. So people get stuck and they stay stuck.
The Torment of Sisyphus
To initiate change feels to many like the pain and torment of Sisyphus. This exacerbates the feeling of being stuck and encourages the continuation of maladaptive coping strategies. This can occur even if the familiar prolongs pain or causes new pain and discomfort. It is familiar and many equate familiar with safety, which unfortunately is not the case with maladaptive coping skills. As clients start to develop new coping skills and when they are beset by old haunts, new challenges, and painful emotions that arise from facing underlying issues, there is a significant challenge in not regressing to old behaviors. This brings us to perseverance and the importance of staying the course of new change and practicing functional and adaptive coping skills with diligence.
This week at Barn Life Recovery, we are working to raise our clients’ awareness of transitional regression. We are working to build and sustain behaviors that are conducive to their treatment and life goals, including the benefits of perseverance. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please give Barn Life Recovery a call today. We are the first treatment center in the state of California with a license to treat mental illness at a community-based level. Contact us now a learn to love life again!
Why Does Freedom Cost So Much?
Freedom has always had a cost and always will if any people have the intention to harm or demonize others or actively work to oppress and confuse or take actions to subjugate and hold dominion over people and their feelings. Entitlement can be a delusion that twists people’s expectations into demanding freedom for nothing. Why does freedom cost so much? Because we still attend and respond to fear in a way that dominates us implicitly and explicitly. We still allow the use of power to keep us in fear. Furthermore, those that wield it toxically might attempt to manipulate those around them so that their thinking becomes limited and actions become limited.
Fear and Prejudice
When we do not fight for freedom, work for freedom, or pay for freedom, life becomes choked. Influences from toxic discourses offer us familiar fear so we do not challenge it. It appears to us as a toxic authority figure that demands our assimilation. It plays on the fear of retaliation which acts as an unfortunately effective leash and muzzle. Fear and prejudice backed by authority offer us comfort in the forms of promises and alluring gifts. It then becomes painful and undesirable to question and challenge oppressive influences.
Barriers to Freedom
To understand freedom is to understand what keeps us from it. Fear and hatred are the oppressive dominant discourses that demand that freedom be paid. For nations, the price has been centuries of struggle, warfare, and bloodshed. For those of us that live in a nation of “freedom,” why then do we create barriers of fear and judgments and spit poison at those that do not wish any harm whatsoever? Is our own disgust and fear of ourselves so strong that we attempt to find identity through the degradation of others? With this level of intense projection, there also must exist delusion and ignorance or both.
Full of Bias and Judgment
When we buy into this toxic preaching – whether it’s broadcasted through the TV, perpetuated by friends or handed down through generations by family – we close off and become more rigid in our thinking. Sometimes it’s so rigid that we begin to actively act in ways that close off our own freedoms. The herd or mob now controls and influences us. One could argue that the most difficult fight for freedom lies within your own bias, prejudice, judgment, and worldview. When we are oppressed in our own minds we can be kept away from the freedom and blessing of diversity, the freedom of exploring cultures, and the freedom to be true to ourselves. When we are full of bias and judgment and feel as if others should not have the same freedoms as us, what is that if not letting fear and cowardice rule us? This is not freedom.
The Path to Freedom
The path to freedom starts with awareness and the ability to challenge one’s own bias, prejudice, and fear. These actions will bring the necessary awareness to be able to question the authorities that govern our societies. We can also question and challenge those negative voices of judgment and fear-fueled worldviews that keep us trapped from our own values and morals free from hypocrisy. It continues with the choice to behave and earn discipline through actions and perseverance. The path to is wide once we have the capacity to challenge our own biases, fears, and prejudices. It becomes manifest when we engage in the discipline and task to continually fight those external and internal struggles that beckon us to make decisions – not from freedom but from familiarity and fear.
The responsibility to attain and maintain freedom is ours. Begin the path with awareness. What fears, prejudices and biases are so stout in your life as to make you rigid and a prisoner of your worldviews? Where did your prejudice and bias come from? How was it transmitted to you? If you can identify this then ask yourself if these are the views you hold because you believe in it or did you come to believe it because you were saturated by toxic influences. Are your actions congruent to the respect for others’ freedom as well as understanding the sanctity and sacredness of your own potential freedom?
A Time to Give Thanks
It’s the time of year when families all over the country are getting together once again. We look to give thanks and enjoy the year’s harvest as well as each others’ company. In honor of Thanksgiving, we are exploring gratitude this week at Barn Life Recovery. With this in our minds, we turn once again to one of our favorites, David Whyte. Some of you may remember Mr. Whyte from a blog we did on disappointment back in March or so. Here are his thoughts on gratitude from his book, Consolations. We hope you enjoy them.
An A Priori State of Attention
Whyte writes: “Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. [It] is not necessarily something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life.”
He adds that “[g]ratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living participating human being is privilege; that we are miraculously part of something rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape.”
The Full Miraculous Essenitality
He continues: “To see the full miraculous essentiality of the color blue is to be grateful with no necessity for a word of thanks”. Whyte is talking about experiencing the essence of something here without adding our own baggage or preconceptions. “To see fully, the beauty of a daughter’s face is to be fully grateful without having to seek a God to thank him. To sit among friends and strangers, hearing many voices, strange opinions,” he expands here to promote connection. Whyte goes on, “to intuit inner lives beneath surface lives, to inhabit many worlds at once in this world, to be a someone amongst all other someone’s, and therefore to make a conversation without saying a word, is to deepen our sense of presence and therefore our natural sense of thankfulness that everything happens both with us and without us, that we are participants and witness all at once.”
Participation and Witness
“Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness. We sit at the table as part of every other person’s world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what Is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege. Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative might mean we are simply not paying attention.”
Barn Life Recovery would like to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving. If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health issues, please don’t hesitate to give us a call today. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, or just overwhelming feelings, Barn Life is here for you. We have been where you are now and we’re ready to help. Our staff is standing by to guide you through the admissions process and help you with any questions. It’s not too late to love life again!
A Quick History
Count up the number of therapeutic modalities currently used in psychotherapy worldwide and they probably number in the hundreds. The psychiatrist Irvin Yalom would say that all psychotherapeutic modalities must inevitably deal with the Four Existential Givens of life. On the other hand, behavioral therapists might say all modalities deal with our behavioral responses to stimuli. The founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, first derived this idea in 3rd Century BC Athens. Later Stoic Epictetus spread this idea further, stating, “It is not events that disturb us, it is our responses to them.” This notion inspired the entirety of what is now called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Freud would have said the influence of unconscious drives can explain all human behavior. Furthermore, bringing such drives to consciousness for the purpose of working with them adaptively is the purpose of therapy.
A Point of Departure
In the 1950s the psychiatrist Eric Berne, who trained for years in classical Freudian psychoanalysis, became dissatisfied with Freud’s focus on the individual in therapy. As a result, he began to develop a way of working with human behavior that involved analyzing social interactions. In this, Berne was part of a leading edge of therapists in the mid-20th century who were focusing on relational therapy, or more formally, Intersubjective Analysis. This is a fancy way of saying that humans are relational and therefore understanding those around us and being understood by others become primary drivers of human emotional health, growth, and change. It was, in fact, out of this movement toward relationships that the discipline of Marriage and Family Therapy was born. Even Freud recognized that our family relationships are crucial influences on our emotional health, as is the state of our various other relationships, particularly our intimate relationships.
Transactional Analysis: Three Basic States
Berne used a number of ideas from traditional psychoanalysis to organize Transactional Analysis. He postulated that all humans think, feel and behave out of three basic ego states: Parent, Adult, and Child. Depending on the given situation a human finds themselves in, and depending on that human’s relative state of emotional maturity, she or he will function adaptively in one of these three ego states or a fluid, blended state. Difficulties arise when the ego state I’m operating from does not really fit the situation I’m in.
Other Key Concepts of Transactional Analysis
I can’t adequately summarize Transactional Analysis briefly, but beyond the idea of the three Ego States as the building blocks of personality, it involves some other key concepts:
- Script: A story we have learned and internalized about ourselves. Negative stories about ourselves or others tend to result in dysfunctional social outcomes. The script itself tends to be out of our conscious awareness.
- Games: We all have our scripts and with them, we engage in various “games” that generally involve winners and losers. Games in Transactional Analysis have been defined thus: “a series of duplex transactions which leads to a ‘switch’ and a well-defined, predictable ‘payoff’ that justifies a not-OK, or discounted (less-than) position.” In a transactional game we act out our internalized script and things go well for a little while. Ee receive the “strokes” we expect to get from acting out our script instead of being vulnerable and authentic, until things inevitably go south – the “switch” – and then we get the “payoff.”
- Strokes: The pleasant or familiar thoughts and feelings we receive from playing out our social games with our internalized scripts.
- Switch: The moment when our internalized script’s utility breaks down. This is usually when the script prevents us from expressing our authentic identity in that moment. We begin to feel sad, confused and angry.
- Payoff: The usual, expected result of our game, wherein we end up feeling a loser, or less-than.
Autonomy and Authenticity
The mature, ideal goal for any game in Transactional Analysis is “I’m-OK/You’re-OK.” That is, we both “win.” This results only when all the processes outlined above are within conscious awareness, which is the point of TA therapy. Naturally, this can take a while. We all have many scripts we have internalized from childhood or adolescence which are often quite dysfunctional. More generally the goal of transactional analysis is autonomy. In other words, awareness, spontaneity, and the capacity for intimacy. In achieving autonomy people have the capacity to make new decisions thereby empowering themselves and altering the course of their lives. This week at Barn Life Recovery, we are discussing the building blocks of TA therapy with our clients. What games do we play to live out our scripts and avoid authenticity and true intimacy? How do we do this? How does doing this make us feel?
Joy and Chaos
No doubt you’ve seen, or experienced for yourself, the state of limerence. The chaotic, sometimes even terrifying thoughts and feelings. The often irrational, even crazy behaviors. And most of all, the abject despair when our feelings of attraction are not returned. All of this is part of the limerence experience. Limerence is a precise term defined by, essentially, one crucial aspect of in-love/infatuation/romantic attraction: the psychological aspect. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term for her 1979 book, Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. It describes a concept that had grown out of her work in the mid-1960s, when she interviewed over 500 people on the topic of love. Tennov described this state of being as involuntary. However, it is, in fact, only involuntary insofar as the limerent person is unaware of what is driving them.
The Origins of Limerence
I would like to suggest evolutionary biology as the basis of limerence. Limerence promotes the possibility of procreation. It almost always brought a child as a result in the days before widespread family-planning resources. One hundred thousand years ago there were plenty of ways for humans to perish. Therefore, it was crucial for the survival of children that both parents stuck around. However, at about 3-7 years into a limerent relationship, the dopamine cycle responsible for limerence begins to drift back toward normal. Procreation achieved, with a child of an age to survive, the people in this limerent pair-bond begin to re-enter reality. They begin to see each other as who they really are, instead of as distorted fantasies of someone who will assuage or satisfy all inner needs – the emotional trick evolutionary biology plays on us to get us to commit to pair-bonding and procreation in the first place.
From Dopamine to Serotonin
Once the dopamine cycle fades, the serotonin/oxytocin cycle takes over. These endorphins foster feelings of contentment, trust, and groundedness. Very different from the rush of pleasure and terror fostered by the dopamine cycle. The reality is that dopamine cycles and serotonin cycles cause very different feelings that do not, in fact, go together much. At this point, people in a limerent bond have a choice to make. They can leave the bond to find another limerent experience involving a strong dopamine hit to the brain’s reward centers. Or, they can refocus their emotional and intellectual attention on their current partner with the goal of knowing them for who they really are. This can be a challenge, as many of us have discovered. The reward for doing it, though, is substantial. It offers a peaceful, contented relationship that allows for and fosters the emotional growth of both partners.
This week, Barn Life Recovery explores limerence with our clients. If limerence fosters procreation for the purpose of raising a child to survival age, the serotonin cycle that comes after supports an intimate environment between partners fostering emotional growth and maturation and far deeper feelings of attachment. We explore the various irrational and emotionally questionable aspects of limerence: the fantasies, the intense highs and lows, the deep unhappiness limerence can cause. How might we become much more aware of the state of limerence? How can we become aware enough to manage these forces that drive us, and instead be the driver instead of the driven?
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. We specialize in mild to moderately severe mental illness, co-occurring disorders and addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some help refocusing, please don’t hesitate to give us a call today.