Humanity

I recently listened to an episode of This American Life in which they were exploring the old adage, “you will understand when you are older.” In the final act, they are talking to a man in the early stages of dementia. He describes what it is like to go to his doctor and be asked questions like “Who is the president?” and “What day is it?” and worst of all, they ask him to draw a analog clock depicting a particular time.

The man, a former engineer professor, is bothered that he struggles so much with this task. His life before was centered around numbers. He sits down one day and deconstructs the issue. He figures out and later articulates to his wife, the difficulty is that they are three layers. The hours, 1-12 (even though there are 24 hours in a day), the minutes (which correlate with the numbers 1-12 but represent 5’s) and on top of that, the larger hand tells the minutes while the smaller hand tells the hour. No wonder I am 30 and still have trouble reading an analog clock!

Anyway, this was an amazing story but that was not what fascinated me the most. What caught my attention was that his wife of decades kept feeding him words and prodding him along. It reminded me of many therapy sessions with parents and children. This constant need for your loved one to achieve in a way that society can recognize. It broke my heart. Here are people, young or old, trying to find their way in their own words, as fragile and disjointed as it may be, and we as a society have lost our ability to simply wait.

The evidence of this impatience and obsession with boiling every part of a human into a number is all around us. The survey of your doctor, what stories post in your Facebook feed, or what makes me most sad, the number of smiley or sad faces an elementary child comes home from school with.

I wish I could remember who said this, but I heard someone say that the true tragedy of our society isn’t what law has been or will be passed or the absolute joke of candidates in this presidential election, but instead the loss of humanity. The loss and oversimplification of the infinitely complex experience of being a human being. Our children are not numbers and our loved ones are not defined by the words they struggle to find. And each one of us deserves patience and quiet loving support to find who we are today even if it appears to be drastically different from yesterday.

So next time you feel like filling in a word or take a test score to mean something about you or a loved one’s intelligence, ask yourself, “does this really mean something or do I just feel a general pressure from society?” Or if you are really up for a challenge, “what is it about this score, lack of ability, or mistake that makes me feel uncomfortable enough to correct this person?”

Voting is important and so are relationships

Scrolling through the news I am reminded of the date. The Presidential election season is upon us. And already, I have reached the point of avoiding Facebook 🙂

As a therapist, I am reminded of the stress that this season often adds to lives. While being reminded of the values we hold dear is nice, we are simultaneously reminded of all we disagree with. I see it’s effects in family relationships. We all have a few outspoken individuals somewhere between family of origin and in-laws. It can make already tense relationships seemingly unbearable!

In graduate school I watched a documentary entitled “Luna.” It was the story of an orca whale off the coast of Vancouver Island who had separate from his pod when he was young. In the story, several researches discuss and speculate the effects of this separation given that orcas travel with the pod they are born into for life. One scientist concluded, “it is one of the ways we know that orcas are intelligent. It takes a lot of work to continue to get along with the same pod for a lifespan.”

It is my hope for America that we can remember it is our ability to work through differences, have compassion for people we disagree with, and to regulate our anger that makes us an intelligent species.

Try four square breathing for example. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4, pause for 4, and repeat. Tricks like this help to keep you from blowing a gasket and saying or doing something that may hurt important relationships.

The Missed Point About Teens and Social Media

It is always encouraging to me when articles like this one hit the web. It is a sign that the the effects of social media are a continued discourse in our society. But these articles frequently miss one important point. The point is that more and more children and teens are spending time alone on social media with no parental involvement. It is not just what social media is displaying, it is that our children are receiving these messages alone and internalizing them. Children are no longer confronted by images on the TV that then can be discussed as a family or even a group of peers. Instead, the information they are digesting is frequently experienced alone.

If your teenage daughter is appearing to lack confidence or becoming more anxious or nervous, try to open up a conversation about the fact that social media is still media. Everyone is projecting what they want you to believe, not how things actually are. There are also a number of great videos on YouTube showing how much models are airbrushed. And keep in mind, problems can seem so much bigger when we are experiencing them alone. By opening up a conversation, you are not only bringing your teen back in touch with reality, but reminding them that they can talk about these experiences, that everyone is impacted by social media.

Pop Psychology

I saw this article titled, Why You Should Never Go Back To Someone Who’s Hurt You by Sophia Wu, from Huffington Post circulating through my Facebook feed. It’s a great example of a common pattern I see as a therapist. This describes what I would call, a pursue withdraw pattern. Both parties are participating in keeping this cycle going as the author points out. The pursuer so infatuated, continues to do so at all costs, and the other continues to withdraw at seemingly just the right moment. The result, sometimes for both parties, are feelings of depression, worthlessness, anxiety, and overall stress.

As a marriage and family therapist, I am most interested in the pattern and a little less interested in the symptoms. While some therapists may be quick to hone in on those difficult feelings of depression or anxiety and how to alleviate them, I see those symptoms as neon signs. They are pointing out to my client that he or she is stuck in a pattern that is not helpful or worse, harmful. Other important parts of themselves are being ignored in strong pursuit of this one person. LIfe is out of balance for this person and the effects are beginning to show.

What should the client do then? Well, I have seen some pretty extreme versions of this. I have seen whole marriages spent in this pattern. But it is never too late to try something different. Yes, it is that simple.

Patterns give therapists and clients many points to evaluate possibilities for change. Patterns can also offer a more playful way to look at these problems. For example, instead of deciding in this very moment whether a person should stay with the withdrawer or leave, what if they just decided not to answer the phone every time the person calls? How might that change the pattern? Or what if they began to fill their time with more people and activities that don’t magically disappear every time they need them?

Take an new art class, go out with some friends, do something to invest in oneself. All of these suggestions serve to change the pattern. They may not fix the pattern immediately, but they help to break up that obsessive focused feeling to do the same thing you have been doing. I firmly believe that though our minds may be inclined to get stuck in these patterns, our minds thrive on change and expanding our options. The small steps listed above could be enough for someone to gain back neglected relationships, self-respect, and give the courage needed to leave that relationship. I have also seen it go the other way, as the pursuer gains more self-respect and courage, the withdrawer feels attracted again. They feel the balance restored in the relationship.

When you tackle a pattern, you never know what can come of it. Sometimes it is far better than you ever imagined.