There are many reasons for feeling disconnected from one another, reasons that many seek to understand in psychotherapy. There may have been trauma in the past, be it in childhood or adulthood, leaving you too scared to stick out your head and risk to be injured again. Even when you have merely learned that revealing your true thoughts and feelings is somehow “wrong” and uncomfortable, you may shy away from connecting with others.
As research suggests, it is well worth our time to explore the negative events of our past. Positive events should be left unexamined to avoid overthinking and putting distance between ourselves and our precious positive experiences. But such distance brings a new persepective when it comes to negative events. Not only do we find relief when we share something “dark” with a compassionate listener. We also find confidence, clarity and resolve.
On the other hand, you might find it difficult to connect because you try too hard. Codependency and “people who love too much” come to mind. Somehow you might have picked up that focusing on others while overlooking yourself works best. For example, when a child only gets attentention when she takes care of a parent, she might become a people pleaser or an overly eager partner. Eventually she might simply forget about her own feelings and needs. This type of forgetting comes with a big price tag. We probably end up projecting our needs while feeling compelled to fulfill them in others, which, in reality, cannot be done. The price of this impossible task is exhaustion which often manifests as resentment or depression.
When we are on our own, seeing such projections is difficult; stopping them even more so. It can be one of the most powerful events in our lives when we see our own needs clearly in therapy. I can attest that the discovery of my own needs was the birth of my true individuality, which, ironically, led to true togetherness. I came to life the moment I could relate to my own self in a positive way. As I felt myself, I could relate to another person with an open, receptive heart, allowing for a healthy flow of give-and-take. I began to feel more connected than ever before.
Relating to our own selves and doing so compassionately also entails the setting of healthy boundaries. When we are more in touch with other people’s needs than with our own, the other can take us over as an alien does with a host in a science fiction story. No real human intimacy can come about when we are taken advantage of because authentic relationships depend on reciprocity. Learning to self-care includes the practice of saying “No.” While New Age gurus propose that we need to say incessantly “Yes” to everything, good psychotherapists explore the option of “No” and “Yes.” As we learn to say “No” to a taker or someone who inadvertently asks too much of us in a given moment, we learn to say “Yes” to ourselves. We need to experience that we matter. Only those who feel their lives matter are receptive enough to connect with others for the sake of mutual empowerment.
Sometimes psychotherapy does not uncover trauma, discomfort or a lack of self-compassion, but there is still terrible loneliness or endless fighting. Relationships with a seemingly good foundation still end up in divorce and disaster when the couple is unable to communicate properly. Many of us copy our parents’ communication style which may be inadequate for modern relationships. The truth of the matter is that relationships today are much more complex than they have ever been and that the demands on the partners are very high. We have become accustomed to complaints and derogatory jokes about men and women coming from different planets. “She just doesn’t understand,” “He cannot listen and tries to solve my problems instead,’ “We don’t have any fun anymore,” “I don’t feel seen or appreciated,” “Where is the romance?” It takes a rocket scientist to build a good connection these days. Or an open-hearted client conspiring with an open-hearted psychotherapist.
Psychotherapists are in a supreme position to teach the “How” of building connections as connecting is what we do within a therapeutic relationship. Couples therapy is a viable option. Often it does not take long to teach pertinent “building blocks” of connections, as I like to call them. While we are too close to our own problem and misjudge the importance of a small, but essential component, a therapist can point out and start practicing immediately the skill that is missing. Active listening and validation are learned skills. Learning how and when to express ourselves can rekindle a failing relationship. A therapist with an open mind is ready and prepared to offer knowledge, to train and help practice.
In the end, we may just realize that it takes two to tango and that our partner hates to dance. Sometimes there is nothing we can do as the problem lies outside of our own control. To acknowledge an impasse may desolve the impasse or initiate an exit. When we are supported and challenged to be the best person we can be, we can heal faster. With a set of new skills, we can also find a new beginning a lot sooner than we might fear.
- Everyone wants happiness in our lives. The more the merrier they say. How does happiness play a big part of our life?
I am glad you ask. Most people think of happiness as “feeling great” and that’s indeed an experience of which we can never get enough. Happiness is much more to me. It’s my answer to all of life’s questions, miracles, and conundrums. Life goes up and down, and I want to be present with everything it brings. I want to show up as a complete person, engage with an open heart and mind, with my senses open, feelings available, thoughts flexible, and my actions in alignment with the way of life. Life is big, so it needs a big response. I say “Yes” to whatever life throws at me, whether it feels good or bad, whether I want it or not, whether it gives me pleasure or pain.
2. What is the different between the mind resting and the mind having thoughts?
Mind resting usually doesn’t mean to have no thoughts, but to slow down thoughts and give each thought less meaning. Resting is going into the body and allowing things to be as they are. When I rest my mind, I grant myself not to compete and worry, not to regret and doubt. I grant myself to respond to life as a whole instead of to the little pieces I make life out to be. I let go of my categories, of what’s right or wrong, what’s useful or not, who’s beautiful or ugly. I go with “what is” instead of what I want life to be. I am letting myself be okay with the world the way I find it.
3. When we relax people tell you to try and clear your mind. Is it possible to close your eyes and forget about everything so your mind gets a break?
Yes. While relaxing usually means to slow down, you can let your mind be totally alert and have no thoughts. It’s a meditative state of mind. I love it. It’s part of my practice.
4. What is the difference between meditation and does it all benefit the same way?
Meditation is not just relaxing, but to be keenly aware of the present moment while not interfering with mental activities that revolve around our little self. While meditation is beneficial to almost all people, some people who suffer from mental illness are not helped by it. To become peaceful and still can be frightening to those who need social support urgently and to those who have intrusive thoughts.
5. Is it possible to be happy all the time even in difficult situations?
Yes, but only in the sense of “being here and fully engaged.” I do not reject my presence when it presents itself as difficult to me. I do not ponder “Why me?” or dwell on “That’s not fair.” Life is full of difficulties and I am here to respond to these difficulties the most creatively, most lovingly, and most constructively that I can.
6. What is authentic happiness? Can you see it in the smile or in someone’s eyes? How long does it usually last?
Authentic happiness is relating to the entire universe. When someone relates and leaves nothing out, you can see it in the face and posture. There is a presence about a truly happy person, a look that says “Yes,” to oneself, to others, and to the world. It may come with an open smile, a smile that isn’t pretentious or hiding difficulty, but a smile that accepts and is at peace with what is.
7. In your article ” Are You Too Hard on Yourself?” I thought about myself! I’m someone who loves to work even after a long day of work I come home and clean, cook, and take all the responsibilities at home. The only I stop is where I go to bed. Why is it that we tend to take control instead of letting the brain rest?
I think it’s wonderful that you love your work. You make things happen! What you might be missing is creative non-action, a way of being that does not involve your intervention. Taking control is good. But we need to realize that we cannot put life in a box and contain it with our action. Life is wild. It’s hard to sit down and realize that most of life is out of our control. Sit still and let yourself feel anxious about this.
8. Can you read someone’s feeling by their facial expression?
We can all see a lot in others’ non-verbal expression as we are wired to pay more attention to what someone displays in the face than says with words. I just have more training in this as I formally studied non-verbal behavior and as I am a psychotherapist. I may see more because I want to see more. I want to be fully present for other people and, of course, for my clients.
9. When difficult situations happen, how do you deal with it without stress and anxiety?
I am unequivocally on my side. I am my best friend and can lean onto myself always. My stress level is low because I don’t expect myself to be perfect. Nobody is. I accept my imperfection and know that the best I can do is to stop trying to be perfect. I just want to be kind and learn and grow. A tree can do it. It is being a tree and growing in the meantime. Be like a tree!
10. What is something you do to destress and relax yourself?
I go for walks in nature. If I don’t have access to a park or forest, I listen to natural sounds on recordings, surround myself with house plants and pet my dog. I learn from Mother Earth as she touches me in so many ways. Then there is exercise. I might not always like it, but I sure like the way I feel afterwards. My practice includes meditation. I ask myself many times a day, “Am I conscious?” It wakes me up while it puts me at rest. Funny, right? But that’s life. Be well and thank you for this interview.
According to Leo Tolstoy, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” As a clinician I find the same goes for depression, which may be what Tolstoy meant in the first place. We know depression hurts. It’s not good for us to try to function with a low mood as our effectivity is greatly diminished, not to mention our subjective well-being, overall health, and longevity. But what triggers a depression differs very much from person to person. Loss of a loved one, trauma, stress, childbirth, the feeling of not belonging to a social group or to this world, failure, drugs, a medical condition are just some of the causes. And the way depression unfolds also differs very much from person to person, that is how long and intense our depression is, whether or not it goes hand in hand with anxiety, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, loneliness, sleeplessness, ruminations, lack of focus and fulfillment, et cetera.
The uniqueness of every depression should not surprise us. After all, human beings are unique in so many aspects. There is no exact replica of you on this planet! As people are unique, their depression is unique as well (one could argue the same for happiness, but that’s another article altogether). Given the uniqueness of each depression, how is it that we so readily gravitate to the one-size-fits-all approach of the antidepressant pill? Please do not misunderstand. As a clinical psychologist I have seen plenty of people who have benefitted from psychotropic medication. However, the relative usefulness of the pill should neither cause us to mistake it for a miracle drug nor reduce our individuality, our personal circumstance and needs. We deserve to be seen as a Mensch and responded to as a Mensch. While this is always the case, it matters most when we are down, especially when feeling down amounts to a depression.
Instead of jumping to conclusions and answering to depression with any preconceived approach – be it a pill or a particular psychological approach — we are much better served when we take the whole picture into consideration: the person we see in the moment; the depression and conflicts within the developing life story; health behaviors as reinforced or ignored by his or her environment; the person’s spirituality, intentions, and potential.
Good psychotherapy begins with the humble experience of not-knowing and curiosity. Only out of an on-going exploration comes a much needed variety of interventions that are fit to meet the most pressing and current needs of a depressed person. I want to share some interventions that are relatively new, at least for the psychological academia. Some of the interventions can be applied readily; others may require psychotherapeutic collaboration.
The question is simple enough: what can we do to elevate the depressed mood? To be clear here, we are not to escape every bit of sadness or bad feeling. Often the simple rule applies: to get over it, go through it. Tolerate discomfort by keeping things in perspective and by standing by you as your best friend. However, if your mood is truly depressed, zapping your energy and hijacking your mind with negativity, it’s time to intervene. For example:
SPEND TIME IN NATURE
Eighty percent of Americans live in cities. The polluted air, gray tones, loud noises, fast tempo and city-life in general can be exhausting, gradually leading to depression. The solution can be simple. Many of us reap the benefits of spending just 30 minutes a week in a park. It is astounding how much the human mind-body receives by seeing soothing shades of greens and blues, by hearing natural sounds of birds and flowing water, and by inhaling so called “phytoncides” (aromatic compounds emitted by plants), the latter working like aroma therapy. Walking in nature relaxes the mind amidst of an environment that wants nothing from us. Also, when done mindfully, rhythmic walking is meditation which elevates most people’s mood. If parks are unavailable, potted plants, natural sound recordings, essential oils, blue and green walls in our homes are frequently uplifting too and might inspire us to:
Researchers have long discovered that exercise is so powerful a natural antidepressant – stimulating the production of neurotransmitters and hormones – it might even replace the drug altogether. Even oxytocin is elicited when we move, a hormone that helps us create social bonds and thus reduce feelings of loneliness. Our mind is not a disembodied entity. In a highly individualistic manner the body ought to be included when we answer to depression. Because moving can be a challenge when our mood is low, psychological support and motivation are often essential.
LET GO OF COMPACT CARBOHYDRATES, ESPECIALLY REFINED SUGAR
Sugar ought to be classified as a depressant drug. Sure we are born with a sweet tooth, but only to digest fruits and vegetables. It is curious how easy it is to let go of carbs after the withdrawal period is over. Be brave and let that ice-cream habit become extinct….
SLEEP AND SLEEP WELL
Depression can be both: cause and consequence of sleep-related problems. In either case, assuring regular 8-8.5 hours of sleep often lightens our mood. Recently scientists have found that subjecting ourselves to blue light emitted by electronics before bedtime is commensurate with drinking a powerful caffeinated drink. In addition, soothing sounds from loved ones, including pets, can make us feel securely interconnected.
It is safe to assume that a more natural life — in terms of diet, movement, social connectedness, sleep, mindfulness, and coping with challenges – elevates the mood. Realizing what “more natural” means for us personally ought to be as unique a journey as the phenomenon of depression in itself. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions on the subject.
Dr. Polard is a psychotherapist practicing in the Los Angeles Center for Zen Psychology. You can contact Dr. Polard at 310-455-0928 or DrAPolard@verizon.net
“Copyright 2016 by Andrea F. Polard.”
I want the best for myself and my family–naturally. Why settle for less? We live in a society of plenty; all we have to do is go for it and ask for exactly what we want, in department stores, restaurants, on the love market, and of course from doctors. An almost inaudible, but powerful voice inside of us may tell us to reach for the best and only for the best.
Is this a good choice though?
Malcolm Gladwell, who made unconscious, intuitive decisions a popular topic with his book “Blink,” insists that people who have their individual taste buds satisfied are happier for it. Researchers, he pointed out, have found that there is no such thing as a perfect Pepsi or coffee type or tomato sauce. There are only perfect Pepsis, coffee types and tomato sauces. There are clusters of people who like a particular taste of a given product, for example a cluster liking sodas very sweet, another medium sweet and yet another a tad sweet. When food corporations honored these more varied ideas of “perfect,” they beat their competitors by large margins and made fortunes. So, corporations get richer and individuals happier with the perfect choice–a win-win situation.
When I go to a specialty store, I may ask for exactly what I want: a single shot of espresso with equal amounts of heated almond milk. Do I like this? Sure. Does it make me happy? No. It is a nice pleasure which may grow into a habit. Pleasure is good in good measure, but even in measure it isn’t happiness. It cannot touch the human heart the way love can. It certainly does not bring inner peace as tickling our senses makes us want more of particular things and less of non-particular Being. Getting precisely what we want can spoil us to such a degree that we become insensitive to the simple pleasures of life, the less-than-perfect experiences, the subtle tastes of the mundane.
Besides, when I go to a supermarket, I may resist going to the coffee aisle, fearing the avalanche of choice in cylindrical form which may burry me alive. I feel overwhelmed with the abundance. And actually, research confirms: less can be more. Gerd Gigerenzer, author of “Gut Feelings” which delivered much of the science for “Blink,” says,
“Choice is good, and more choice is better, says global business credo (…) But this is not how the human mind works. There is a limit that often corresponds to the magical number seven, plus or minus two…”2
This applies even to dating. Don’t wait around comparing hundreds of specimens to find the ideal one. People with fewer choices have just as happy or unhappy relationships. I reckon what matters most is not a pool of people, but if I have the guts to jump into the pool (commitment) and the ability to swim (love).
Fact is, less is often more. We get to be overdiagnosed and overtreated as doctors are increasingly afraid of being sued. To our detriment, they just might prescribe useless tests and harmful treatments out of fear of repercussions instead of using common sense.
Gigerenzer distinguishes between “maximizers” and “satisficers”.3 Maximizers are people who weigh their choices very carefully. They are the ones who spend a lot of time to choose the perfect program on TV and an item in a department store. Satisficers, on the other hand, are the ones who engage in a more limited search and readily accept what they deem “good enough.” Who do you think is happier? Studies say, by far the satisficers. They have more optimism, higher self-esteem and life-satisfaction than the maximizers who tend to be more depressed, full of regret and self-blame.
So, let’s kiss perfectionism good-bye. It does not cultivate open-mindedness and a flexible consciousness as I describe in my book “A Unified Theory of Happiness: An East-Meets-West Approach to Fully Loving Your Life.”4 Quite the opposite: it narrows the mind, making it judgmental and cranky.
What can we do besides understanding these insights about the workings of the mind? Maybe we should begin with something very small in order to cause a ripple effect or to get a foot in the door of our unhealthy perfectionism. For example, next time when visiting a restaurant, order something under a minute and observe how you feel. Most of the time, you will end up liking the dish –unless you chose hell’s kitchen. In the less likely event that you don’t like it, shrug it off. This could have happened even if you had searched the menu for hours. Go on training your mind to let loose and thus begin to trust that “good enough” is still “good.” It is your life that will become better because appreciation of “good” is simply the best.
2) Gerd Gigerenzer (2008). Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious. New York: Penguin Books, p. 31.
3) Ibid, p. 6.
NOTE: If this post in any way “spoke” to you, and you believe in might to others also, please consider sending them its link.
Images from One Dollar Photo
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