I Wish You Enough

There is a poem attributed to author, Bob Perks, which goes like this:

“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright no matter how gray the day may appear.

I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun even more.

I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive and everlasting.

I wish you enough pain so that even the smallest of joys in life may appear bigger.

I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.

I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.

I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final goodbye.”

We are rarely fully satisfied with what we have. Whether it is love, money, friends, or toys, we always seem to want more. We are content with what we have until it is no longer new. It becomes commonplace, and we want newer, bigger, and better things. We are happiest when we don’t want.

I’m reading The Big Tiny, by Dee Williams, which chronicles her journey of downsizing from a spacious single-family house to an eighty-four-square-foot tiny house on wheels. It caused me to wonder if I could live a minimalist life. Could I strip myself of materialistic possessions as a trade-off for financial freedom, time with family and friends, and peace of mind? I’m not sure.

Did you know that the self-storage industry has skyrocketed in the last 20 years? Americans need 2.3 billion square feet of extra space just to fit their stuff. Our homes on average are three times the size of the average household 50 years ago. But it’s not enough. We have more cars per person, eat out twice as much, have big-screen TVs and multiple devices, yet we are not happier.

Have you heard the term “hedonic treadmill”, also known as hedonic adaptation? It is the tendency of humans to return to a set point of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes, once our needs for food, shelter and water are met. As a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. You may have heard studies of people who have won lottery jackpots who are initially thrilled, but who say that they are no more or less happy than before winning the lottery a few years later. The happiness boost doesn’t last that long or wasn’t as intense as you’d imagine.

But here’s the thing. The anticipation of more is what makes us happy. The anticipation phase causes an increase in happiness chemicals. When the allure of the acquisition fades, it no longer boosts our happiness quota. We need something to replace it. This perpetuates the hedonic treadmill.

I’m told that in Buddhism, suffering is caused by craving. One element in the state of enlightenment is eliminating craving, being free from desire, being content, and being sufficient within oneself.

I feel challenged to want less. I want to learn to control my impulses and stop purchasing things, eliminate clutter, do more of what I love, spend more time on the things I love. Cravings for more will come and go, but the moments will pass.

What is enough for you?

What’s Your Conflict Style?

President Trump and presidential challenger, Joseph R. Biden Jr., held a debate on Sept. 29 that was described as a chaotic disaster. The candidates were instructed to stick to the subject of the question, “to encourage deep discussion of the leading issues facing the country.” The debate descended into chaos almost immediately. Voters overwhelmingly called the debate’s tone negative. President Trump was described as having bullied, bulldozed, and obfuscated his way through the 90-minute showdown. President Trump took every opportunity to speak over the former vice president. Over Trump’s interruptions, Biden responded by mocking the President, calling him a “clown,” a “racist” and “the worst president America has ever had.” Biden largely responded to Trump’s interruptions with eye rolls, head shakes, chuckles, and “C’mon, man” comments. He never lost his temper — but he made glaringly clear how little he thinks of Trump. Biden responded to a series of Trump interruptions by saying: “Will you shut up, man?”

This exchange is not unfamiliar to me as a Marriage & Family therapist. I often witness couples in conflict expressing themselves in the worse possible way as they re-enact their arguments in my office. I saw a Facebook post illustrated by a football referee calling fouls, intending to be humorous, that pointed out problems in the debate. Unfortunately, this is often what I see in the first session of couple’s therapy.

  1. Personal foul; attacked the opponent instead of his argument.
  2. Circular logic; argument has no supporting evidence.
  3. Defense demanded more proof after the offense successfully proved their point.
  4. Attempted proof by intimidation. Player failed to understand the difference between refuting a point and just shouting it down.
  5. Player provided no source.
  6. Play caught in an echo chamber. They refuse to accept any facts contradicting their own bias.
  7. Coincidence illegally substituted for proof.
  8. Illegal use of a word that does not mean what they think it means.
  9. Player here just to create trouble. Player is ejected with prejudice.
  10. Refused to accept any solution that was not absolutely perfect.
  11. Offensive foul, false dichotomy. There are more than two options.

Moderator, Chris Wallace struggled to maintain control. He repeatedly admonished Mr. Trump for speaking over Biden and disregarding the rules both sides had agreed to. My role as a therapist is not unlike a referee as I attempt to provide structure and guide the communication toward a productive and helpful engagement.

This debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues. Common debate ground rules are:

  1. Treat each other with respect. Name-calling, accusations, verbal attacks, sarcasm, and other negative exchanges are counter-productive and won’t be tolerated.
  2. The purpose of discussions is to generate greater understanding. Dissenting views accomplishes this goal. However, in expressing viewpoints, you should try to raise questions and comments in a way that will promote understanding, rather than defensiveness and conflict in others.
  3. Communicating is both about sharing different views and actively listening.
  4. Keep the discussion and comments on the topic, not on the individual. Don’t personalize the dialogue.
  5. Remember that it is OK to disagree with each other. Let’s agree to disagree.

According to the marital researcher, Dr. John Gottman, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are considered to be the destroyers of relationship satisfaction and can be the slippery slope that leads to divorce. These Four Horsemen are: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling (which occurs when one partner shuts down).

Through his research, Dr. Gottman determined that newlywed couples who displayed the Four Horsemen were, on average, more likely to divorce 5.6 years following the wedding. In contrast, couples who didn’t have escalating conflicts but exhibited emotional disengagement divorced 16.2 years after the wedding.

Couples who present to therapy often display the Four Horsemen during conflict discussions. Therapists are trained to help couples find more adaptive means to communicate during these occurrences. In the face of the Four Horsemen, these therapists help clients learn and implement the antidotes to these destructive patterns of interaction:

Criticism – Gentle Start-Up

Defensiveness – Take Responsibility

Contempt – Build a Culture of Appreciation

Stonewalling –Self-Soothing, in order to stay calm and engaged

If your relationship conflict begins to resemble a Trump v. Biden debate, it is time to seek counseling.

Are You A Courageous Person?

Physical courage is overcoming a fear of death or physical harm. Firefighters, soldiers, and police officers are brave. Moral courage is acting against social behavior such as facing a fear of social ostracism, i.e. confronting a peer group over a racist joke. Psychological courage can be the most intimidating form of courage. It is the strength to confront the truth of ourselves and our behavior and is found when we make ourselves vulnerable to others. It is terrifying for most of us to share our private stories of fears, faults, and embarrassing moments.

13-year-old Brayden Harrington spoke shortly before Joe Biden accepted the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention on August 20, 2020. I was impressed beyond measure by this adolescent boy’s bravery to do so. Brayden stutters, and finds a companion in Joe Biden who also stutters. Brayden made a moving speech even while struggling to get the words out. Joe Biden had talked about being mocked and humiliated as a child by classmates and a nun, but overcame it. Most stutterers would decline the invitation to speak on a national platform, exposing a vulnerability to people who could also mock and humiliate him. But he did so with a smile and won the hearts of many.

I recently read a Facebook post from a woman who had been drugged, raped, and abandoned on the side of a road. On this, the 7th anniversary of the trauma, she told her story on a public platform. Again, I was impressed beyond measure at her bravery in speaking her truth. Her truth elicited similar stories of abuse from readers who had suffered rape, kidnapping, and domestic violence.

As a third example of courage, I have witnessed rigorous honesty within AA meetings. People in recovery are refreshingly honest in sharing their stories, from their weakest and most humiliating moments to the stories of hope that keep them sober. They share what is true and accurate as they come to accept and admit the hard-truths to themselves and others. This type of self-examination is truly brave.

There are benefits to vulnerability:

  1. A sense of social connection. If you share your vulnerabilities with people and are met with acceptance, you experience a sense of belonging. Shallow relationships become richer.
  2. Emotional support. Sharing your joy, sorrows, and frustration can lessen your pain.
  3. Encouragement. Those who hear your story can offer you encouragement to stay strong and endure.
  4. Practical help. By sharing your struggles, you gain access to resources.
  5. Health benefits. People with strong social connections recover quicker and have a longer life expectancy.

There are also downsides to vulnerability. Too much self-disclosure to the wrong person at the wrong time could be damaging.

Being psychologically courageous can bring new opportunities for healing and life satisfaction.

Suicide Prevention

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. All month, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans, and it’s getting worse. From 1999 to 2018, the suicide rate has increased by 35 percent, according to the CDC. People of color have higher rates than other groups, such as American Indian and Native Alaskans, who have the highest suicide rate among all Americans. And there are rising suicide rates among black youth, especially boys. Their suicide rates are increasing faster than any other racial/ethnic group.

Dr. Jonathan Singer, president of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), makes a distinction between suicidal thoughts, attempts, and deaths. “There is an assumption that there is a linear relationship between suicide ideation, attempts, and deaths, but there’s not.” And not everyone who has suicidal thoughts or attempts has a mental illness. Many people who had attempted or died by suicide did not have a known pre-existing mental health condition at the time of death.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline, suicidepreventionlifeline.org, offers these recommendations:

Ask: Research shows people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks after them in a caring way. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation. In a recent workshop that I attended, we were encouraged to normalize suicidal thoughts and ask directly, “It is normal for many people who feel the way you do, to consider suicide. Is this true for you?”

Be There: Individuals are more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking to someone who listens without judgment. Give them permission to speak their truth.

Keep Them Safe: Take away access to weapons. Some studies have indicated that when lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline, and frequently suicide rates overall decline.

Help Them Stay Connected: Studies indicate that helping someone at risk create a network of resources and individuals for support and safety can help them take positive action and reduce feelings of hopelessness.

Follow Up: Studies have also shown that brief, low-cost intervention and supportive, ongoing contact may be an important part of suicide prevention, especially for individuals after they have been discharged from hospitals or care services.

I saw an interesting Facebook post on suicide prevention. “It’s suicide prevention month and just a reminder that affordable housing is suicide prevention; livable wages are suicide prevention; universal healthcare is suicide prevention.” The point is that prevention is wider than the individual. Prevention is also addressed on a systemic level.

On the upside, for every one person who dies by suicide, 280 people move past serious thoughts about killing themselves. Of those who attempt suicide and survive, more than 90 percent go on to live out their lives. There is power in communication. Sharing positive stories has a beneficial effect. Studies indicate that the reporting of individual suicidal thoughts following recovery is associated with a decrease in suicide rates. Suicide prevention centers on hope. People need hope to increase their will to live. It is important to share recovery stories.

Cringeworthy Moments

The definition of cringeworthy is something so embarrassing, awkward, or upsetting as to cause one to cringe. Imagine you are having a fine day, going about your business, when you are suddenly hit with a memory, and let out a gasp at the stupidity of the incident. Your body may have an immediate and involuntary physical squirm. That’s a cringe. And that is part of the human experience. None of us get through life without these moments.

It seems that not a day goes by that I don’t recall something that I have said, done, or thought that makes me cringe. How could I have said that? Done that? Or thought that way in the past? The memory may be decades behind us or have happened that day. But no matter how long ago the incident occurred, we still cringe with embarrassment, shame, remorse, and humiliation. How can we be less affected by these intrusive and sometimes painful memories?

I saw a Facebook post that said “If you ever find yourself cringing at something you did in the past, it means you have grown as a person.” This post made me chuckle, but it also gave me a sense of relief over my cringeworthy moments. When the memories return, I can appreciate them as signs of growth. The idea that these memories mark my growth as a person rings true. I have learned from these moments. They have taught me to do things differently.

Lia Kvavilasvili, a psychology researcher at the University of Herfordshire, studies what she calls “mind pops”. These are thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere. She finds that memories are often triggered by something in the environment that takes us back to an incident. She also finds that interrupted moments stick with us longer than those that feel completed. For example, if we don’t have an opportunity to explain or correct the initial incident. And, our emotions dictate what our brains decide to hang on to. The stronger the feeling, the stronger the memory. The brain is saying, “Something important happened. Make a strong memory.”

Pam Haag, Ph.D., encourages people to talk out the embarrassing moments. She wrote, “Embracing the cringe—for example, by sharing stories with friends of your biggest relationship failures or gaffes, or your worst professional moments—is a gift to your fellow humans. It sends a message that despite all of the imperfections and mortifications of the human condition, we survive. We’re flawed, and still worthy of care, love, consideration, and attention. This is a more humane, and humanist, way to think about personal failure than to try to spin it, (or) suppress it.”

I propose that any cringeworthy incident that occurred before the age of 21 is to be forgiven. Youth is about learning and making mistakes.

I also propose that anything that we have said, done, or thought that was taught and entrenched in a particular environment or ideology, and from which we had no other knowledge, should be forgiven. We are allowed to change over time.

And, I propose that we reflect on the things that make us cringe. Was anyone hurt? If so, we should make amends. Making amends is freeing.

We can never be free of our past selves, so it would be best to learn to be objective about the past and develop self-acceptance. Embrace your humanness.

What Causes Addiction and Who Will Recover More Easily?

I attended a training recently by Mark Sanders, LCSW, CADC, on best practices in mental health and substance abuse treatment. He raised some interesting points about dependence and recovery.

What makes for a better outcome for those people who have developed substance dependence? I learned that people who have greater resources before the problematic substance use will have greater resources for recovery. People with success before addiction – education, employability skills, healthy family support, and positive group affiliation – will have an easier time of recovery.

Which people will have more difficulty with recovering from addiction? People who slip through the cracks of the helping profession. Some people go back and forth between chemical dependence, mental health, criminal justice, and child welfare systems without recovering. This can also include multiple medical hospitalizations and periods of homelessness. Gabor Mate, M.D. says that drugs don’t cause addiction any more than a deck of cards cause compulsive gambling. There needs to be a pre-existing vulnerability. For some people, the seed of addiction is planted years before they use.

Some people fall through the cracks due to unresolved trauma. Complex trauma includes multiple layers and years of traumatic experiences. These experiences could include neglect, abandonment, unresolved grief, multiple placements, parental substance abuse, adult emotional unavailability, multiple losses, exposure to domestic violence, or other types of abuse.

Illicit drug use is an effective coping tool, until those substances create negative outcomes.

• They numb emotional pain

• They medicate psychiatric symptoms

• They provide constant companionship

• They are predictable

• They provide relief from trauma and abandonment

What can we do to help people along the path to recovery? The first thing we can do is give them hope. We can assist them in finding stable housing, employment, a stable therapeutic relationship, meaningful daily activity, and significant interpersonal relationships, including peer-based support. If we can give them hope and practical assistance, they can more easily recover.

What Causes Addiction and Who Will Recover More Easily?

I attended a training recently by Mark Sanders, LCSW, CADC, on best practices in mental health and substance abuse treatment. He raised some interesting points about dependence and recovery.

What makes for a better outcome for those people who have developed substance dependence? I learned that people who have greater resources before the problematic substance use will have greater resources for recovery. People with success before addiction – education, employability skills, healthy family support, and positive group affiliation – will have an easier time of recovery.

Which people will have more difficulty with recovering from addiction? People who slip through the cracks of the helping profession. Some people go back and forth between chemical dependence, mental health, criminal justice, and child welfare systems without recovering. This can also include multiple medical hospitalizations and periods of homelessness. Gabor Mate, M.D. says that drugs don’t cause addiction any more than a deck of cards cause compulsive gambling. There needs to be a pre-existing vulnerability. For some people, the seed of addiction is planted years before they use.

Some people fall through the cracks due to unresolved trauma. Complex trauma includes multiple layers and years of traumatic experiences. These experiences could include neglect, abandonment, unresolved grief, multiple placements, parental substance abuse, adult emotional unavailability, multiple losses, exposure to domestic violence, or other types of abuse.

Illicit drug use is an effective coping tool, until those substances create negative outcomes.

• They numb emotional pain

• They medicate psychiatric symptoms

• They provide constant companionship

• They are predictable

• They provide relief from trauma and abandonment

What can we do to help people along the path to recovery? The first thing we can do is give them hope. We can assist them in finding stable housing, employment, a stable therapeutic relationship, meaningful daily activity, and significant interpersonal relationships, including peer-based support. If we can give them hope and practical assistance, they can more easily recover.

What’s Your Private and Public Face?

Personally, I want our political and religious leaders to aspire to be ethical, trustworthy, and decent individuals who will make every effort to be a servant of the public. Leaders are held to a higher standard of personal behavior when they seek public offices with civic and leadership responsibilities. Unfortunately, many leaders fall short of this expectation, particularly when their private-self is made public. Those of us who are not in the public eye also have private and public personas.

You may have read of Jerry Falwell Jr’s leave of absence from the Christian institution Liberty University, at the request of the board. The board asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence as the president and chancellor of the university following a questionable photo that was posted to Instagram. The photo shows Falwell with his pants unzipped and his arm around a young woman. Falwell defended himself by saying “It was all in good fun.” Many people believe the photo to be hypocritical and indecent, which is contrary to the school’s strong moral code of ethics.

Although our personality is relatively fixed, personalities are multifaceted. When at home we can let our guard down and express ourselves freely with immediate family members and trusted friends. Yet in public, we choose carefully how and what to reveal. It is normal and healthy to adapt to our environment and its expectations of us. We may speak differently when in the presence of our spouse, children, friends, co-workers, or our boss. We certainly should watch our behavior and speech when in the presence of cameras. We have aspects of ourselves that we do not like and try to hide from everyone, and perhaps even from ourselves.

How much of ourselves should we reveal in personal relationships? Self-disclosure is necessary to build close relationships. As relationships grow closer, so does the amount of self-disclosure. People tend to share more when others share first. How we share, what we share, and when we share it are all factors that will influence our relationships. We will need feedback to determine whether we’ve shared too much.

In Japan, “Honne” is a person’s true feelings and desires. And “Tatemae” is the behavior and opinions one displays in public. According to Wikipedia, Honne may be contrary to what is expected by society or what is required according to one’s position and circumstances, and they are often kept hidden, except with one’s closest friends. Tatemae is what is expected by society and required according to one’s position and circumstances, and these may or may not match one’s Honne. In fact, there’s a quote attributed to the Japanese that there are three faces: “The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends and your family. The third face, you never show anyone. It is the truest reflection of who you are.” Each face reveals a different aspect of your character.

I encourage the use of self-reflection to better know yourself. What is your public face? What do you reveal to your family and closest friends? And finally, what character traits do you hide from others, even yourself?

Making Impossible Decisions

With a new school year beginning during the Covid19 pandemic, parents are caught in a dilemma. Should I send my child to school or keep them home? One mother said, “I can’t get past the guilt. Guilt if I’m not letting my kids connect with other kids, vs. guilt that I send them and they get sick and have long-term health consequences. Parents are wired to be protective, but they wonder if it’s better to protect their academic and socialization needs, or their medical health.

Some decisions are easy. A simple pros and cons list will help you formulate an easy decision. Research shows that applying a reasoning process, like a pros and cons list, is the best way to make relatively simple decisions.

But other decisions are complex and stressful. If no choice is clearly better than another, and you are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils, then you are faced with an impossible decision. And,  if that choice will directly affect the welfare of your child, you cannot feel satisfaction about either choice. Unfortunately, you have to accept the fact that there is no sure proof answer.

Sometimes we can get caught in our heads analyzing the decision to the point of paralysis. If we have exhausted the research and still can’t decide, then it may be time to apply emotions. What are your emotions and body telling you? Pay attention to your feelings and body sensations. Do you feel lighter and more relaxed with a particular choice, or does it make you feel more tense?

It is not fair to pass this important decision to someone else. However, talking it out with others might bring clarity. Other people may reflect back what they hear and might help you articulate and clarify your thoughts.

Once a decision is made, reinforce your hard choice by citing the reasons why that choice is right for you. Your situation is unique based upon personal resources and your community. Know that you made the decision based upon the information you had at that moment in time.

Take heart in knowing that every decision you make can be temporary. You can change course based upon evolving information. What is the infection rate in your community? Is it slowing or getting worse? How prepared is the school? Do they have enough space, teachers, personal protective equipment? Do they have a solid plan to safeguard the bus, the lunchroom, and the classroom? Can they enforce social distancing for children?

Once you’ve made a decision, don’t dwell on the possible outcomes of the choice you didn’t make. The “what if” game is counterproductive. Most of us are not psychic and can’t know the future. At some point, you have to trust yourself and commit to your decision until you are faced with new evidence and information. You have the right to change your mind.

Learn to live with a certain amount of fear. Fear is an indicator that we care deeply, and we’re facing the unknown. You are certainly not alone with fear during this COVID pandemic. Let your fear prompt you to utilize safety measures.

Someone’s Gotta Say It, “Get Your Will In Order”

As of the date of writing this column, July 19, 2020, the U.S. has 3,698,161 confirmed Covid19 cases and 139,659 deaths, according to the CDC. We don’t know if illness or death is just around the corner for us. And yet, according to a 2019 survey by Caring.com, 57 percent of U.S. adults do not currently have a will or living trust. At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, we thought that older people were more at risk for Covid-19 infection. But now, especially in states where Covid-19 cases have been rising in June and July, the median age has been dropping. 20- to 40-year-olds are now the highest age bracket to become infected. The percentage of millennials who have a will or living trust is exceptionally low. Only 1 in 5 of 18-34-year-olds have an estate plan in place.

At the start of this Covid19 pandemic, online companies that help you create your own will, saw an explosion in new customers. Boston-based Gentreo saw a 143% week-over-week increase in people filling out wills, according to the company, while San Diego’s Trust & Will saw a 50% uptick in customers.

We may have saved money for old age and hope that the people we love will make sound decisions on our behalf. But most of us have not fully prepared. Our family and friends should know our end-of-life wishes, and we should have the necessary paperwork to back-up those wishes.

End of life planning can seem morose, depressing, and maybe scary. We don’t want to think about our mortality. We procrastinate, we don’t believe we have enough assets to make it worthwhile, we believe it is expensive to create a will, or we just don’t know where to start. However, we need to have more conversations about our end of life preferences before it’s too late.

Wise people will have prepared a living will, also called an advanced directive, regarding their end of life wishes rather than leaving it to the doctors or family members to guess. If we are wise, we will also have declared a power of attorney for who will make decisions for us in the case of an emergency. For help with a living will, I recommend a tool called “Five Wishes” that can be accessed through http://www.agingwithdignity.org. And, I strongly recommend you read Understanding Healthcare Decisions at the End of Life at nia.nih.gov. This guide includes questions to ask your doctor and medical staff, practical advice on issues you may face, family involvement, working with medical staff, and more.

We will certainly die. Perhaps of Covid19, and perhaps not. Creating a will can provide some peace of mind in all this COVID chaos.