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New Family: How one can heal from a traumatic upbringing


Families can be a blessing. They can offer you unceasing love and a safe place to come home after contending with a world that’s in part marked by tragedy and malevolence. Families should offer this, and I hope most families do offer this.   However, some people are born into families that do not offer the love, safety, and security that the word “family” would imply.

Families of origin are tricky because people do not choose them. They do not choose their mother, father, siblings, grandparents, foster parents, or the people with whom they spend their developmental years. It is of course my hope that people’s experiences in their families of origin families are loving and supportive.  However, there are instances when that does not happen and the attention and care one would require from a family is absent. Moreover abuse, neglect, or abandonment may be present instead. If this is someone’s experience, then it would stand to reason that his or her perception of “family” may not be very positive. The closeness that the word “family” implies would seem incongruent to people coming from a family of origin that neglects, abuses, or traumatizes them. If this is their understanding of “family,” then how could they expect that others outside of their “family” could treat them any better?

Mistreatment in one’s family of origin can lead to attachment issues later in life. Psychologist John Bowlby researched the importance of children’s caregivers responding to their needs in a caring and supportive way. Without this sensitivity, children are at risk for developing insecure attachment styles which can lead to feelings of mistrust, fear, and avoidance towards others. This will likely bring significant challenges to the children’s eventual relationships with others later in life.

When people grow up in traumatic familial environments, it makes me question how strong a genetic bond may really be between children and their parents. I’m sure most people would say that of course there is a naturally strong attachment between children and their biological parents, and I don’t necessarily disagree with this. I only wonder how bonded parents could be to their biological children if they are neglecting or abusing them.  

So, what is a person to do when their biological family of origin mistreats them?  Are they meant to grow up without a semblance of a family? They could try, but I’m sure they would find it incredibly difficult. People are not meant to live without close connections. We need to feel loved, supported, and bonded to people we care about in order to live well. Therefore, simply living with the family that one was arbitrarily assigned to at birth is not the correct answer to me.  

My solution to this is the idea of a “new family” – one that a person voluntarily selects. If people were born into an unloving biological family, their sense of family does not have to begin and end there. They can develop a new family. These could be friends, coworkers, mentors, or romantic partners or other people they meet later in life with whom they develop an attachment. They can choose whom they invest in by who treats them well and whom they feel supported by. 

If people are able to individually define who and what their family entails, I believe they are much more able to live with a sense of safety and security in their lives, maybe just as much as people who are born into nurturing families from the start. To me, “family” is whom we love, whom we devote ourselves to, and whom we spend our time with. These experiences of closeness to and acceptance by others are essential to people’s health. Humans are social beings and are able to find family any way they can. This brings me hope that even people who are born into traumatic, neglectful, or abusive families do not have to continue having these unloving experiences with others later in their life.  They will get their family. They may just have to make one.

What Does it Mean to be Made in God’s Image?

by Dr. Jermaine Thomas, Psy.D. in Active, Articles, Blog, spiritual health Comments: 0 tags: faith

“Like every other human being, I am a splinter of the infinite deity.” – Carl Jung

“Grant, Lord, that I may know myself [so] that I may know thee.” – St. Augustine

Introduction

Devoutly religious people, particularly conservative Christians, often demonstrate their humility by professing their lowliness in relationship to God. For example, if one is complemented for an achievement, such an individual may not simply express gratitude for the acknowledgment (e.g., simply say “thank you”), but say something like, “I can’t take any of the credit. It was nothing but God.” Other common phrases include, “I’m nothing without God,” or “I’m nothing but a lowly sinner, God deserves all the praise.” Often, the purveyors of such statements are beset with incredibly low self-esteem because implicit in the aforementioned phrases is the notion that acknowledging one’s own efforts is a mark of frowned-upon pride or self-exultation. Furthermore, it is believed that God looks down upon those who hold themselves in high regard. Essentially, the pervasive attitude among many conservative Christians is that God is to be given all of the glory and to accept praise for one’s efforts is a moral transgression. Given this trend, I’m writing this essay to declare that such excessive humility is in error.

Human Beings are Divine

The following passage is not commonly belted from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, but it’s worth highlighting that in Psalms 82:6, humans are referred to as “gods.” The psalmist states that “‘You are ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High'” (Psalms 82:6). Furthermore, in John 10:34-36, when Jesus is being lambasted by his fellow Jews for declaring that he is the Son of God, and he implies his divinity, he goes on to say: “‘Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are ‘gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came — and the scripture cannot be set aside — what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” Both of these passages indicate that human beings are divine. Surely, each person is a divine entity characterized by limitation, no doubt, but they are divine nonetheless.

God and Humans Differ in Magnitude, Not Substance

One can see that in the above mentioned passages regarding the divinity of human beings, people are referred to with a lowercase “g” when describing them as “gods.” The Godhead is referred to with a capitalized “G.” This then suggests that the difference between God and human beings is a matter of magnitude, not substance. In other words, it’s as if God is the ocean, and human beings are droplets of water that emanate from that ocean. Hence, it’s written that we are made in God’s “image” (Genesis 1:26). Humans are the Imago Dei. Understanding this can change how people speak or act towards themselves, as recognizing one’s divinity elevates one’s value and status. Given this idea, the next question that is understandably begged is, what does it mean to be made in God’s image?

To be made in God’s image means that whatever attributes God has, a human being has as well, although to a limited degree (remember droplet of water versus the ocean). For example, God is a creator, a destroyer, a wielder of mercy, and an arbiter of justice. Furthermore, he solicits praise, and when He creates something – a day in Genesis for example – he calls it “good.” God recognizes his accomplishments (Genesis 1), and He welcomes recognition from others, evidenced by His desire for praise (1 Chronicles 16:25). Given that we are made in God’s image, we ought to therefore operate as God does by recognizing the fruits of our labor, make favorable comments concerning our work, welcome and show appreciation when someone compliments us.

Conclusion

In conclusion, God is “worthy to be praised” (1 Chronicles 16:25), and so are you. Knowing this can do wonders for your self-esteem and also shift the way in which you relate to others, as everyone is a reflection and emanation of God. This year, I encourage you to think about what it means to be made in God’s image and to relate to yourself with your divinity in mind. If you’re particularly incredulous and retort that simply because something is written in the Bible, it doesn’t make it true, you get no argument from me. However, if you act as if the idea of being made in God’s image is true, I encourage you to see what happens. I think that you might be surprised by the impact that the endorsement of such an idea may have on you psychologically.

Your Year In Review


Over the past 4 years Spotify, a music streaming app, has featured “Spotify Wrapped—A Year in Review.” In December Spotify compiles the data of what you listened to on the app over the past year and produces a chart of your most played songs, favorite artists, and what genre of music you often frequent. I recently had the thought that we could benefit from conducting a year in review for ourselves—not just for our music taste but for our whole selves—our experiences, our emotions, and our relationships over the past year.

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I took time to reflect and wrote out a variety of questions to review my experience of this year. I found that taking time to remember and reflect on this year oriented me to what has been and what has come to be in a time that feels very disorienting.

We are often inclined toward making resolutions at the end of the year. Resolutions can be exciting and hopeful. They also can be a band-aid over the hole of what we don’t have or feel like we’re missing. What if this year we embraced reflection before making resolutions? What if we acknowledged and named our experiences before we tried to change them? What if we took time to mourn the losses of this year and allow ourselves to tell the story of the loss before trying to fill it up with something else? This type of story-telling reflection can be well utilized in therapy, in fact, there is a whole style of therapy called “narrative therapy.”

Below are the questions I wrote out to spark reflection and story-telling about this year. These questions can be answered on your own, with a trusted person, or with your therapist. 

What was I expecting to happen in 2020 this time last year?

How did that go?

What was lost?

What was gained?

What words would I use to describe my personal experience this year?

How did my experience of work, school, or caregiving change this year?

What was the last “normal” event or experience I had pre-pandemic?

Who did I meet or grow closer to this year?

Who did I lose or drift away from this year?

What music or media was a companion to me this year?

What books did I read, or what books did I start and not finish?

How did my relationship to my faith change?

What has been my experience of the holidays this year?

What stories would I tell a young person about me from this year?

The answers to these questions tell a story—your story. In reviewing your answers to these questions, it is my hope that you can create space for yourself to tell the story of this year and how you managed to get through it. 

Hope for Christmas: The Psychological Meaning of the Christmas Tree


Given that the Christmas season is upon us, I felt compelled to write a short piece on the meaning of the Christmas tree. Over time, certain traditional symbols have become so commonplace that we can sometimes forget to think about their meaning or origin. Like most symbols, the Christmas tree is polysemic, which indicates that it is replete with a multitude of meanings. Given that this is the case, this article will not be an exhaustive meditation on the meaning of the Christmas tree. However, I hope that this commentary will give you something to think about during this holiday season. 

Prior to the advent of Christmas, pagans would decorate their homes with evergreen fur branches in order to remind them of the coming spring while in the midst of winter. Over time, Christians adapted this tradition, and the evergreen tree has since become the perennial symbol of Christmas. For Christians, the evergreen tree came to represent the Tree of Life that is alluded to in the Garden of Eden. Moreover, it came to represent nativity and everlasting life with God, even while surrounded by death. Unlike many other trees or forms of vegetation, evergreens maintain their needles and foliage in the wintertime, which is a reminder that life is to still be found even when mired in bleakness and death.

If you’re experiencing overwhelming darkness this holiday season, I hope that you’re able to look to the Christmas tree as a symbol of hope that light persists even amid the darkness.


References

Cooper, J. (2019). The history of the Christmas tree. Why Christmas? https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/trees.shtml

What is the Blues All About?


Summer days are gone. Autumn has begun.  For many, this time of the year signals the launch of fall festivities, savory treats to indulge along with deliciously comforting fragrances that are sure to cozy you into the change in season with grace and poise – caramel apples, pumpkin spice donuts, mint hot chocolate, spearmint, eucalyptus. While this time of the year is indicative of shorter days, longer nights, and the arrival of winter. It is, for others, the start of an accompanying risk of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. 

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Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depressive disorder that strikes at the shifting of the seasons and is marked by changes in mood that vary from mild to severe (DSM-V., NAMI). Some may refer to it as winter depression, very different from the winter blues, as it can be debilitating and very overwhelming, shaping daily functioning, productivity, and overall wellness. Approximately five percent of adults in the U.S. experience SAD (APA) during predictable months of the year.  While people commonly experience depression symptoms during the cold fall and winter months, some people experience symptoms of SAD during the warm summer months (Melrose, S).

What are the symptoms of SAD?

It is important to note that symptoms of SAD may vary across several different factors, however common symptoms of SAD include alterations in mood – such as sadness, hopelessness, numbness, irritability – furthermore, changes in sleep, appetite, energy, loss of pleasure and interest in activities once enjoyed, or in cases that are severe, suicidal ideation (APA).

Although the primary differentiating element concerning SAD symptoms is that it occurs seasonally, individuals experiencing SAD might also present with sustained depressed mood for periods greater than two weeks where there lies a propensity to develop lethargic depression versus irritability , which is why people experiencing this condition are prone to behaviors such as overeating and oversleeping.

How is it caused?

The evidence for SAD is related to the hormone, melatonin, which is discharged by the pineal gland that controls the sleep-wake cycle (Melrose, 2015). Lack of light stimulates the discharge of melatonin, grooming the body for sleep (Melrose, 2015). Simply put, as the fall and winter cold settles in, melatonin production in the body rises and people tend to be affected by this in ways that lead to increased feelings of lethargy, exhaustion, and sluggishness. 

Alternatively, researchers have found that individuals with SAD may have difficulty regulating their levels chemically, where the neurotransmitter, serotonin, is influential on mood (NAMI., Melrose, 2015). In conclusion, research also suggests the role of Vitamin D in serotonin activity where less sunlight contributes to the body’s response of less Vitamin D (Melrose, 2015).  Other factors found to increase a person’s chance of developing SAD include biological, environmental, and geographical influences. 

How is SAD treated?

SAD can be successfully treated in many ways, including counseling or talk therapy,  antidepressant medications, light therapy, Vitamin D supplementation or a combination of these.  Self-care is also an important component of treatment (APA., Melrose, 2015).  For those who experience SAD, it is important to: 

  1. Take advantage of available sunlight and monitor your body’s internal clock
  2. Get creative by tapping into your inner artist
  3. Develop healthy eating and sleep habits
  4. Exercise in the morning 
  5. Approach the cooler season with a positive attitude and reinforce it with self-affirmations
  6. Plan pleasurable, physical activities (outdoors if safe to do so) 
  7. Seek out a healthy support network through relationships
  8. Learn and practice relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, imagery, and deep breathing

References

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition

American Psychiatric Association 

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression research and treatment, 2015.

Perinatal Depression


Changes in emotions and mood swings may be expected during and for a period after childbirth. What may not be unexpected are symptoms of depression. Perinatal depression is depression experienced during pregnancy (antenatal) and up to one year after childbirth (post-partum). World-wide, the occurrence of perinatal depression is estimated to be between 10 and 13%, with slightly higher rates reported in the United States (U.S.). In 2018, one in five and one in eight women in the U.S. reported experiencing antenatal and post-partum depression, respectively. Women from all social economic, racial/ethnic backgrounds, and geographic locations in the U.S. reported experiencing perinatal depression. However, there are several factors that increase the risk of experiencing perinatal depression including a pre-pregnancy episode of depression, being younger than 19 years old at the time of the pregnancy, intimate partner violence, and limited physical support. In addition, having antenatal depression increases the risk for post-partum depression. Risks associated with perinatal include elevated potential for pre-term delivery, decreased mother-child bonding, and delayed cognitive/emotional development.  Identifying and addressing the symptoms of perinatal depression are important steps to ensure the current and future welfare of the mother and the child. 

Symptoms of perinatal depression include:

  • Persistent sadness, anxiousness, or feeling empty
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, or helplessness 
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities 
  • Fatigue or abnormal decrease in energy 
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions 
  • Difficulty sleeping (even when the baby is sleeping), awakening early in the morning, or oversleeping 
  •  Abnormal appetite, weight changes, or both 
  • Trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with the new baby 
  •  Persistent doubts about the ability to care for the new baby 
  • Thoughts about death, suicide, or harming oneself or the baby 

If you believe you or someone you know is experiencing perinatal depression, it is important to have the symptoms assessed by a qualified medical and/or a mental health professional to ensure the appropriate diagnosis and course of treatment. Once perinatal depression is confirmed, there are several options available to help alleviate the symptoms.

Treatment Options

Medication and psychotherapy are effective methods to address the symptoms of perinatal depression. Health care providers can assess your symptoms and coordinate appropriate treatment which may include medication and/or psychotherapy. Antidepressant medications may be prescribed by a medical provider after consideration of the medical history, the physical condition of mother and child, as well as the potential risks to their future health. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) are mental health strategies that have been effective in helping to address the symptoms.

Taking care of yourself helps to decrease the depressive symptoms. Components of self-care include eating nutritious food throughout the day, getting regular exercise to reduce stress, getting an appropriate amount of sleep, having time for yourself each day, and creating a support network. 

Joining a support group may be beneficial. Support groups offer the opportunity to discuss concerns with people familiar with and who have experienced like symptoms while decreasing the sense of isolation. There are support groups specifically for perinatal depression. Your health care provider can direct you to local groups, groups may be found by searching the Psychology Today database, and the Post-partum Support International organization has information on local chapters.

Perinatal Depression in the time of COVID-19

Limited information indicates there has been a substantial increase in women experiencing symptoms of perinatal depression during the pandemic. A Canadian study reported rates in excess of 40%. Stay at home mandates, worries about contracting and transmitting the virus to the baby, limits or bans on birth support, contracting the virus during the hospital stay, and having other young children to care for so there’s limited time for rest or relief are factors cited by women reporting depressive symptoms. In addition to the strategies listed above limiting exposure to media is suggested to reduce symptoms. 

Perinatal depression is estimated to affect more than 10% of women in the U.S. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking treatment are important first steps. There are effective treatment options to reduce the severity of the symptoms and the potential for future health risks for the mother and child.


References

Alessandra Biaggi a,n , Susan Conroy b , Susan Pawlby b , Carmine M. Pariante bJournal of Affective Disorders 191 (2016) 62–77 Identifying the women at risk of antenatal anxiety and depression: A systematic review

Rebecca M. Pearson, PhD; Jonathan Evans, MD; Daphne Kounali, PhD; Glyn Lewis, PhD; Jon Heron, PhD; Paul G. Ramchandani, DPhil; Tom G. O’Connor, PhD; Alan Stein, FRCPsych Maternal Depression During Pregnancy and the Postnatal Period Risks and Possible Mechanisms for Offspring Depression at Age 18 Years Original Investigation jamapsychiatry.com

Brenda L. Bauman, MSPH1; Jean Y. Ko, PhD1; Shanna Cox, MSPH1; Denise V. D’Angelo, MPH1; Lee Warner, PhD1; Suzanne Folger, PhD1; Heather D. Tevendale, PhD1; Kelsey C. Coy, MPH1; Leslie Harrison, MPH1; Wanda D. Barfield, MD1 Vital Signs: Postpartum Depressive Symptoms and Provider Discussions About Perinatal Depression — United States, 2018 US Department of Health and Human Services/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention MMWR / May 15, 2020 / Vol. 69 / No. 19

National Institute of Mental Health. Perinatal Depression. Retrieved from Maternal%20depression/20-MH-8116.

Pregnancy Anxiety and Postpartum Depression During COVID-19. The uncertainties of the situation have presented challenges for our families. Dr. Dawn. Psychology Today.

Perinatal Depression Treatment Options BC Reproductive Mental Health Program. BC mental health and addition services. August 2011.

Moms Are Not OK: COVID-19 and Maternal Mental Health. Margie H. Davenport1*, Sarah Meyer1Victoria L. Meah1Morgan C. Strynadka1 and Rshmi Khurana2   Front. Glob. Womens Health, 19 June 2020  https://doi.org/10.3389/fgwh.2020.00001

Logic or Emotion? Which Mental Faculty is Superior?


Introduction

Many people believe that rationality or logic is the supreme mental faculty and that it ought to be viewed as superordinate to emotion. This notion dates back to antiquity and was made most explicit in Plato’s famed dialogue, Timaeus. In this piece, Plato describes how humankind was first created by a supreme deity who crafted humans into spherical heads devoid of sub-cranial bodies. He argued that humans were fashioned in such a way because the head was considered the seat of rationality and logic, and that a head devoid of the rest of the body was the perfect human form. However, as these heads traveled along the earth’s jagged surface, their physical integrity became compromised, and they suffered ongoing disfigurement. As a remedy to such a problem, the subordinate gods, also known as demiurges, created sub-cranial bodies to attach to these heads, but these bodies were believed to have been imbued with instinctual appetites and emotions. Plato and his acolytes believed that such bodies were impediments to the rule of the idealized faculty of reason. This isn’t a surprise given that he was a philosopher, and traditionally, philosophers tend to elevate logic above all else. Given that emotion (i.e., anger, sadness, anxiety, grief, disappointment, etc.) and bodily appetites (i.e., hunger, sexual desire, etc.) were associated with the lower parts of the body, as opposed to the elevated head which was associated with idealized rationality, emotions and bodily states came to be viewed as lower human attributes and problematic annoyances. It was believed that humans would be better off if they could simply dispense with their emotions and bodily urges and operate as pure rationalists. Consequently, ancient people who subscribed to the platonic view believed that death was considered the preferred state. This belief was held because death, or the complete disintegration of the body, would enable individuals to divorce themselves from their lower nature, which was believed to be mediated by their sub-cranial physical forms. Ultimately, the idea was that after death, people would return to their original perfect form as disembodied rational souls.

Although most modern people don’t literally subscribe to Plato’s origin myth about the perfect human form, it would appear that they act as if they do when they say things like, “logic over emotions,” “mind over matter,” or they enjoin people to “think and not be so emotional.” Clearly, rationality can be helpful, as we all benefit from what is arguably the most laudable manifestation of rationality — modern science. Through science, we can divorce the objective world from subjective or emotional projections, and it’s why many modern people no longer view epilepsy as demonic possession, but rather the haywire misfiring of neurons. Thus, rather than attempting to exorcise people, medical professionals prescribe anticonvulsant medications or perform neurosurgery. I mention this because I am by no means a foe of rationality, but I contend that the notion that emotion is inferior to rationality is erroneous. I believe that emotion, bodily appetites, and logic are all necessary faculties that ought to be held on the same plane. Within this article, what’s to follow is a disquisition on how rationality and emotion are both of equal value, and I argue that people ought to aim at integrating these faculties into a united whole, as opposed to elevating one faculty at the expense of the other.

The Problems Associated with Pure Rationality 

For people that view rationality as superior to emotion, they ought to consider the fact that establishing a moral ethic devoid of emotions would be incomplete and result in nothing more than a shallow and cold utilitarianism. A paragon of this position is Sheldon from the show, Big Bang Theory. He is a cognitively astute hyper-intellectual but woefully devoid of social grace due to his underdeveloped emotional capacity. His social foibles and people’s disapproving responses to him suggest that the part and parcel hallmark of a sound moral ethic is the generation of correct feeling as opposed to correct thought. For example, one can act in an incredibly moral way without being able to articulate the “correct” reasons for doing so. 

Interestingly, neuroscientists and psychologists have actually found that when people enter the world, emotions are necessarily primary, and thoughts later become secondary mechanisms used to justify them (Heidt, 2012). I say that emotions are necessarily primary, because in the most rudimentary stages of development, children are not particularly rational thinkers or verbally fluent. This is why when a child enters the world, the right hemisphere of their brain is more developed than the left (McGilchrist, 2009). The left hemisphere is where the biological substrates for language develop (i.e., Broca’s and Wernicke’s area), whereas the right hemisphere plays more of a role in unarticulated emotional understanding. According to the neuroscientist Ian McGilchrist, compared to the left hemisphere, “the right hemisphere has by far the preponderance of emotional understanding. It is the mediator of social behavior. In the absence of the right hemisphere, the left hemisphere is unconcerned about others and their feelings” (McGilchrist, 2009, p. 58). For example, when rearing a child, the aim is to raise a well-socialized, compassionate, and socially interested person. In order to do this, parents attempt to foster the child’s understanding of the emotions of others at a tacit or felt level because they know that children have difficulty understanding these matters by way of rational speech. Allowing a child to witness a sibling cry when they have hurt them so that they have a felt experience of causing another pain, is an effective deterrent against future unchecked aggression. Additionally, putting such a child in time out so that they can associate social disapproval and isolation with unacceptable behavior is another means by which parents can create the right feelings within their rationally underdeveloped children. 

As a related side note, people who develop psychopathy are often devoid of empathy and what civilized society has deemed the right feelings (Haidt, 2012). Such individuals lack the normative neuronal activity in the medial ventral prefrontal cortex (mvPFC) of their brains, which is a structure that gives someone the sense of what they should value when confronted with a dilemma (Hu & Jiang, 2014). The mvPFC also mediates the experience of gut feeling when making a decision (Hu & Jiang, 2014, p. 1). Additionally, psychopaths have an underactive amygdala, which is a neuroanatomical structure that mediates the experience of fear and anxiety (Hu & Jiang, 2014). For example, here’s what happens when a psychopath is asked what’s the correct choice to make when presented with the following dilemma: “There’s a scenario in which people are going to die, but you can save five lives if you murder an innocent person (a utilitarian position), or forgo murdering someone and let the five people die (a deontological view). Which option would you choose?” In this situation, the psychopath is more likely to choose the former option (utilitarian position) as the correct choice without much emotional anxiety. Such an individual would fail to feel the pangs of their conscience when murdering an innocent person, as they believe that it is more morally sound to save as many people as possible, despite having to murder an innocent person to so (Hu & Jiang, 2014). It has been reliably found that people who have damaged or underactive medial ventral prefrontal cortexes and amygdalas typically choose the utilitarian option, whereas people who do not choose the deontological one (Hu & Jiang, 2014). 

For most people, our emotions tell us what it is that we ought to value, and pure intellect fails to do this. When we are equipped with the correct feelings, our intellect or rationality can then be recruited to help us to satisfy our sense of what is most important. Moreover, what determines what is most important to us is facilitated by our emotions. For example, if one values not taking the lives of innocent people, one will utilize their intellect to ensure that this does not happen. However, if one is divorced from their emotions, taking the lives of innocent people might be considered a worthwhile means to an end if it results in the attainment of another seemingly valuable goal, such as securing additional money, for instance. 

Emotions Motivate Thoughts and Actions

In most people, it is their ostensibly rational thoughts that act in the service of their emotions (Haidt, 2012). Some people believe that they are acting out of pure reason when they are making decisions, but it is their emotions that are motivating their presumably sound articulated beliefs and actions. To put it another way, emotions mobilize people’s actions. For example, if a husband asks his wife to wash the dishes, but she fails to do so because she indicates that she was bogged down by other tasks, he might grow resentful. Unbeknownst to his wife, he becomes upset with her, but given that she is unaware of this, she then asks him to take out the trash. Although the husband has the time to do so, he chooses not to take out the trash for two days. When his wife asks him why he took so long to take out the garbage, he may then create a logical and plausible story for why he failed to do so. He might respond to her question by saying something like, “I was too tired after looking after the kids,” or “I wanted to wait until the trash bag was completely full before taking it out because I want to conserve the plastic we use in light of the plastic pollution problem that plagues our natural environment.” The latter explanation may be even more persuasive if his wife is an environmentalist, and thus she would be less likely to say anything else to him about it. However, if one scratches beneath the surface, we would come to find that in all actuality, he failed to take out the trash because he was upset with his wife for not honoring his request days ago, and he wanted her to know how he felt by not doing something that she asked. This is an example of his seeming rationality acting in the service of his emotions. Given that it’s very difficult to rid oneself of emotions, it would be in the husband’s best interest to honor his emotions and tell his wife that he was feeling disappointed that she did not wash the dishes, and that it’s really important to him that the dishes are washed before the next morning so that he doesn’t end up acting out his resentment. The aforementioned point is crucial because we know that helping people to articulate their emotions and the reasons for them, also helps them to tame their emotions and forestalls their unchecked or unfettered expression. I believe that logic and emotion are to be considered interoperable. I by no means look to romanticize emotions and devalue the intellect, or vice versa. Both processes can operate as a check and balance to the other. There are times when emotions need to inform reason, and at other times, reason needs to inform emotions. Both parts complete the whole, and wholeness ought to be the aim when it comes to living a satisfying and functional life.

Emotion and Rationality are Tools

According to the philosophy of pragmatism, the degree to which something is true is predicated on how well it works in the real world. Often, supposed rationalists attempt to persuade people of a particular view by using only their reason or logic. However, if this strategy fails to be successful, it may be an indication that the wrong tool is being used for the job at hand. Therefore, their position is not true enough to have any positive impact in the world according to pragmatists. In light of this, it may then be that the appropriate tool is an emotional one, as opposed to a logical one. Often, if you affirm someone’s emotions, it attenuates the potency of their feelings, and it makes the person more amenable to logical correction or instruction. For example, if a friend tells another friend that she recently discovered that her boyfriend cheated on her, and in an attempt to exact revenge, she’s going to flatten her boyfriend’s tires, it likely wouldn’t be helpful for her friend to say the following in an ornery tone: “I think it’s best that you calm down and not do that! I don’t think it’s going to solve anything, and you’ll probably have to pay hundreds of dollars for vandalism, which I think is just silly. It’s especially not a good idea given that you only work part-time, and you don’t really have the money to foot what will likely be a hefty bill.” Presumably, the confidant of the betrayed woman would be saying these things in an attempt to appeal to her friend’s capacity for reason or logic, but such a response would likely be met with resistance and may even make her friend angrier because the rational interventions that she was looking to employ was ill-timed. Given that this is the case, it would probably be more helpful for the friend to say the following in more of a calm and prosodic tone: “Hey, it makes perfect sense that you want to get revenge on your boyfriend. He hurt you deeply, and you have a right to be angry. Shoot, there’s a part of me that even feels like I want to help you slash his tires. With that being said, I’m worried about the legal ramifications of you vandalizing his property, so let’s think of something else. Tell me what’s been going on between you two, and maybe we can devise some other strategies for getting through this together, okay?” The likelihood is much higher that the betrayed friend will respond more favorably to this response because her emotions were understood, which had the effect of lessening their intensity. Due to this, she’s more likely to have a tempered and well-reasoned response to her boyfriend’s infidelity. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, most people who purport to be purely rational are a lot more emotional than they lead others to believe. However, it’s important to note that this is not a character failing of some kind, as emotions necessarily inform and motivate our articulate beliefs and actions. In light of this, it then stands to reason that if we want to change another person’s mind, we must first appeal to their emotions before we are able to make any inroads with respect to their beliefs and behavior. As the scientific literature concerning psychopaths illustrates, it is the correct feeling that leads to a civilized and harmonious society, not logic divorced from emotions. With this in mind, it behooves our society to encourage people to clearly articulate their emotions, and their reasons for them, if possible, so that people can communicate effectively with others who are looking to understand their viewpoint. As the clinical psychologist, Jordan Peterson, once poetically articulated – it is the logos or divine speech that created habitable order out of chaos at the beginning of time (John 1; Genesis 1). Given that humans have the ability to use language, we can participate in that sacred creative process by learning to clearly articulate our emotions to others by using our capacity for logical speech. Psychologically speaking, we can manufacture the way in which our world functions with our words. If this is done properly, like God at the beginning of time, we can look upon it and say that it was “good” when the task at hand has been completed (Genesis 1). 


References
Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. Vintage Books.

Hu, C. & Jiang, X. (2014). An emotion regulation role of ventromedial prefrontal cortex in moral judgment. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, (8). doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00873. 

McGilchrist, I. (2009). The master and his emissary: The divided brain and the making of the western world. Yale University Press.

Addiction and Isolation in the Time of COVID


“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”

― Herman Melville

A pandemic in the time of a pandemic, “COVID-19 and addiction are the two pandemics which are on the verge of collision causing a major public health threat.” (Dubey, 2020). During the Covid-19 pandemic there has been an alarming rise in substance use and overdoses. “The coronavirus disease is causing an insurmountable psychosocial impact on the whole of mankind. Marginalized communities, particularly those with substance use disorders (SUD), are particularly vulnerable to contract the infection and also likely to suffer from greater psychosocial burden.” (Dubey, 2020) This “psychosocial burden” is a cause for concern for those struggling in substance abuse and recovery.

While we all are suffering in some way right now, the most vulnerable of us, as always, are suffering the most. A major factor in the increase in drug and alcohol use is isolation. And, isolation is a major risk factor in relapse. What makes this so difficult is that we as a society are encouraged to isolate now more than ever. The conflict comes then while we are supposed to be isolating, as much as possible; we are now isolating those who need the support system the most. Since the invaluable support groups are not encouraged to meet in person, many 12 step and recovery groups have moved online. While positive that they are occurring, the social component of the groups is what draws people in. Online forums and zoom meetings are good, but they do not hold up to the quality, human connection, and positive influence of an in person group.

This world wide pandemic has been difficult to navigate for everyone, however we need to be extra aware of those who are struggling or who have struggled with substance abuse and addiction. I ask, please reach out to those who you know have struggled in the past or are struggling now. Many who may seem to “have it under control”  are under new stressors, challenging even the best of coping skills.  In this novel time we should be reaching out to a friend or family member and checking in on them. We can all use a caring person in our life right now, it just takes a minute to send a text or give someone a call.

For those reading this and are thinking ‘well, ll I have noticed I have been drinking more’ or have increased frequency of drug use, please consider this.  Many who may have historically been “just a social drinker” or “recreational user” may even have noticed an increase in their use. Reach out and talk to someone as well. This is an unprecedented time in our history, stress is at an all time high.  It will not hurt to reach out and talk to someone, maybe it can alleviate just a little of that stress that we are all feeling.


Dubey, M. J., Ghosh, R., Chatterjee, S., Biswas, P., Chatterjee, S., & Dubey, S. (2020). COVID-19 and addiction. Diabetes & metabolic syndrome, 14(5), 817–823. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsx.2020.06.008

Better Than Before


We all want another chance to get something right, or to be granted a do-over.  The one question that continues to be paramount is: How do we get through this time?  A time that appears to have no set end.  Every report, conference, appointment has been completely refocused to include the impact of COVID-19 on our society, bodies, business, finances, families, churches, communities, race, culture and emotions.  Most Americans have experienced heightened anxiety, low mood, loneliness and isolation.

When I first started learning therapy skills, I learned the power of reframing.  I took a workshop that was about interventions. We had to describe the picture we saw as the presenter placed a different frame over each picture.  I started thinking about this exercise a couple of days ago and thought, in order to make this better, we have to think about this time differently.  We need to REFRAME this.  How can we not only survive this, but thrive through this so that at the end we are better than before?  I struggled to this of this differently.  This is only a reset, so that we can rest, so that we can recommit.  Let me explain what I mean.

Reset – Reset can be viewed as a re-entry to the state of zero, or to start over, or to be given another chance.  To start afresh.  I thought, the year has already started, that was our reset.  We made commitments to ourselves, we started new schedules, started a new journal and thought through the old.  We said farewell to Auid Lang Syne (Scottish for days gone by).  We let go so that we can enter in.  We embraced what could be and set our hearts to engage in new possibilities with great anticipation.  Our goals were set, our schedules were set, we were engaged and then all of a sudden it all came to a halt.  In Using a different frame:  We have been given the gift to reset again.  What a treasure and what a wonderful opportunity.  In resetting, we can clear out the last three months and try one more time.  What was not there prior, we can now add.  We can start anew and embrace the beginning once again.

Lexapro is my first medication when I was depressed and had various anxiety disorders. it only helped a little but since I was undergoing intensive therapy it was not enough in my opinion. Check out more info about Lexapro medication.

Rest –  During this period of time we have also been given the gift of rest.  I think about this more in terms of respite.  Although we were only in the 3rd month of the year, some of us were deeply engaged in completing our goals and well-set to move through to the summer with great anticipation of warmth and beauty.  We were running hard and moving fast. All of a sudden it all stopped.  In Using a different frame:  I picture respite as a little slice of joy.  I see myself resting near a pond with my toes in the warm water, the warmth of the sun on my back and the sound of beautiful birds chirping in the background. I lean back to get the full warmth of the sun as I listen to the most beautiful sound that only God can create – Birds chirping, the warm wind blowing and the thought that I’m in the best place ever.  This is what the scripture means in Hebrew about entering into His rest — His rest.  Everything about respite was created by Him. Even this small slice of time in which we are resting, and becoming comfortable with what is so odd, with what we cannot control.  Take a deep breath and enter into His rest. Hebrew 4:10 – For whoever enters into His rest, he also ceases from his own works, as God did from His.

Recommitment – The commitment we made at the beginning of the year, a couple of months ago seem so far away.  In Using a different frame:  This is an opportunity for a recommitment to self.  One of the promises that we don’t want to break is a promise we made to the self.  The promise of want to do better, be better and live better.  Some of us had already picked up bad habits.  We had fallen back into the late arrivals, the bad eating, the loss of sleep, the loss of connection with others.  In the 3rd month, this started to look like the old schedule we wanted nothing to do with.  This period of time gives us the opportunity to recommit to self.  To do what we said.  It also gives us the opportunity to recommit to family.  What a wonderful word.  It is always and has been complex but yet deep.  It has been layered, but yet beautiful.  Family is this amazing group of people that we all have been gifted with who teach us so much.  Family teaches us about how deeply we can love, and how often we can forgive.  This is a recommitment to our faith, as well.  The very essence of who we are and why we are.  It is a reassurance of what we stand for and who we are.

Yes, we will get through this.  What appears to be suffering, fear and sadness, we will get through it.  We will come out of this and we will be better than before as we use this time to reset, rest and recommit!

COVID-19 – The Worry of Violence From An Economic Crisis: Just Another Day For The Poor


  • “The opposite of poverty is justice.” Bryan Stevenson, lawyer and social justice advocate
  • “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” Nelson Mandela
  • “He that oppresseth the poor, reproacheth his Maker; but he that honoureth Him hath mercy on the poor.” Proverbs 14:31

As the federal and state sanctions unfold, in response to the Coronavirus, I find myself grateful that our nation and city are taking steps to flatten the curve of the outbreak. In so doing, it can prevent widespread panic, economic crisis, and subsequently, thoughtless violence. However, while I feel grateful, I realize I also feel afraid. And while I am sure I am not alone, rather I am joined by many Americans across the country, I also realize that my fear of unchecked panic turning violent feels eerily familiar. I think, “When have I felt this before? This fear of leaving my house, and coming in contact with people?” Then I remember, “Oh. My childhood.”

Growing up in a moderate- to high-crime neighborhood, fear was a common feeling. Not to mention, being a female and a child/youth meant I was part of a population that was vulnerable to certain crimes. I would not have admitted it then, because the fear was masked by its defensive cousin: anger. However, no matter how the fear was presented, it was a sort of oppression–“mental pressure of distress” (Oxford Dictionary). In this state of fear, I learned from various sources that “I can’t cross the front gate”, “I shouldn’t look at people when I’m walking down the street”, and “even if I feel like someone is going to touch me [perversely or violently], I should hit them”: this way, I would be aware of the real dangers I faced, and the damage to me would be minimal.

Then, things changed.  As I journeyed from the inner city via CTA to a better high school and college education, I noticed a different type of oppression: one centered around race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (SES). It was no longer a physical issue, it was a mental one. I did not have the words to describe it then, so I initially tolerated the microaggressions silently: my peers turning away dismissively when I would begin to speak in group discussion, and chuckling comments like, “I’m sorry, can you say that in English?” when I was clearly speaking English. Seemingly unprompted, I became more aware of my Latina-ness, and the “inequitable distribution of power” (Wyatt & Hardy, 2008) I experienced as a person of lower SES and of color.  I was unaware and unprepared for this kind of danger.

This experience of loss of power–“the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events” (Oxford Dictionary)–subsequently exposed me to feelings of inferiority. Dr. Kenneth V. Hardy describes the positions in this struggle as 1) the privileged and 2) the subjugated (Hardy, 2016). And, let me tell you, feeling inferior: MADE. ME. ANGRY. I played reels of violent responses in my mind. But over time, I built a thickness of skin and learned to speak, and write, and hold my ground relentlessly. Psychotherapy and the prayers of persistent parents shaped my perseverance. Yet my anger did not resolve. To cope, I often shamed myself, believing that this aggressive predisposition did not fit my childhood experience. I would tell myself, “I came from an intact family, my parents were involved and supportive, and Christian values were a high priority in my education”. My mind would circle back to the question, “So, where did the aggression come from?” After wrestling with this for years, I have since been able to ask a more telling question: “when (or, in what instances) was anger experienced? And from where did I learn how to respond?”

As an adult, I have gained life-changing insights from my training in patterns of behavior and Life Styles–“This expression does not refer to a particular way of life, but to how different aspects of the personality [emotional and cognitive organization] work together” (Oberst & Stewart, 2005, p. 19). I have come to understand that in my early years of anger and fighting, it was often for the purpose of 1) protecting others, or 2) exerting my own physical/mental power in response to others’ imposition of power over me (i.e. self-defense, or perceived unjust use of power by peers or authority). I can now argue that my aggression was the start of a passion for social justice. So instead of shame, I receive empowerment, and invite wisdom to guide me to healthier responses. Therefore, as I currently fear the outbreak of violence, introspect my own history with anger and violence, and study patterns of behavior, the question begs, “what will make people violent in a time like this?”

And the answer is the same: Poverty. Inferiority. Loss of power.

Poverty is not merely the absence of money, it is a psychological state of powerlessness. The Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) posits that “scarcity experienced as a result of economic instability and poverty reduces already limited cognitive resources, resulting in detrimental behaviors and ineffective decision-making ” (2011). IRP additionally exposes that poverty has also been linked to higher risk of illness (2013). This means that unhealthy decision-making and risk of illness in the poor or under-resourced is not based on biological inferiorities, rather, it is based on the psychological oppression of the experience of powerlessness. Further, people of color and the underrepresented (to varying degrees, and despite income status) encounter a similar psychological experience of powerlessness. And finally, I would argue that this reveals that ANYONE, despite privilege or skin color, is capable of violence if they experience loss of power, increased panic, and extreme financial distress.

So, what is the connection between this and the state of the world regarding COVID-19? To name a few: the mental-emotional state of uncertainty, desperation, hopelessness, and fear. If you are not currently in poverty (in terms of wealth, health, or privilege) but fear it, count yourself blessed. You are ahead of the curve and you still have power. But if this is just another day of fear, violence, high risk of illness, and inequitable power for you, and/or you are in poverty, know that your mind does not have to be. There is hope and power lying inside each of us, even if it is inequitable. Faith and early experiences have taught me of resilience: ultimately, that WE. WILL. SURVIVE. Therefore, I urge you to use your influence to inspire peace (versus violence), understanding (versus power-struggle), conscientiousness (of the poor, and of privilege), and solidarity in our collective struggle.

Stay connected and wash your hands.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

“Stop your fighting — [Be still] and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:11

References

Hardy, K. V. (2016). Anti-racist approaches for shaping theoretical and practice paradigms. In M. Pender-Greene & A. Siskin (Eds.), Anti-racist strategies for the health and human services. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Institute for Research on Poverty (2011). The Psychology of Poverty. Fast, Vol. 28 (1), 19-22. Retrieved from https://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/focus/pdfs/foc281e.pdf

Institute for Research on Poverty (2013). [Fact Sheet] Poverty Fact Sheet: Poor and In Poor Health. Retrieved from https://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/factsheets/pdfs/PoorInPoorHealth.pdf

Oberst, U.E., & Stewart, A.E. (2005). Adlerian Psychotherapy: An Advanced Approach to Individual Psychotherapy. New York, NY: Routledge.

Oppression. (n.d.). In Lexipro Powered by Oxford.  Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/oppression

Power. (n.d.). In Lexipro Powered by Oxford. Retrieved from  https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/power

Violence.  (n.d.). In Lexipro Powered by Oxford. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/violence Wyatt, R.C. (Interviewer) & Hardy, K.V. (Interviewee). (2008).  Kenneth V. Hardy on Multiculturalism and Psychotherapy [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from Psychotherapy.net website: https://www.psychotherapy.net/interview/kenneth-hardy

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago