This is PathwaysVoice, our blog of interesting comments, observations, news, and helpful insights into the world we see around us. It is our effort to support, care, guide, and motivate each of us on our individual paths.
Jill P. Weber Ph.D.Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy … because you can’t move on to something better until you let yourself grieve While managing a divorce or breakup, many women tell me that they drive themselves crazy with the realization that their former partner “seems fine” and has apparently moved on. They obsessively criticize their own very normal grief processes, asking themselves: “What’s wrong with me that I’m so upset?”; “I should be further along by now”; “How is it that he seemed to love me so much and now it’s as if we never knew each other?”; “How can he be fine when I feel so miserable?”; or, “How could we have been so close and now I’m a stranger to him?” Keep in mind: A flight into health is typically temporary. Many women experience profound loss and despair when a romantic relationship comes to an end. Whether it’s a breakup or a divorce, it’s typical for women to fully experience the heartbreak. Even if they initiated the split, they’re still in pain. It’s troubling when going through this natural process to see the man you were in an intimate relationship with apparently moving on easily, while you are stuck with hurt and sadness. Research shows that women do experience greater pain and heartache after a breakup than men. However, and this is important, although women typically take longer to heal, they do eventually completely get over the relationship. Men, on the other hand, often go into an immediate “flight into health,” appearing fine, even happy. Eventually this façade wanes as the loss sinks in over time. And if they don’t fully work through the loss, they find themselves stuck repeating the same negative relationship dynamic with new partners. Grieving is a natural and healthy component of letting a relationship go. When we don’t allow ourselves to feel the hurt caused by the absence of someone we cared about, we deny, avoid, and suppress. Eventually the hurt grows and transforms into behavioral or emotional dysfunction. Part of grieving is thoroughly understanding the good and the bad in the relationship—within our partners and within ourselves As I describe in Breaking Up & Divorce—5 Steps, we must accept our loss in order to cultivate positive, new prospects in the future. And if we don’t do this work, we are bound to repeat the same mistakes in our next relationships. It is more challenging in some cases than others, but there are straightforward steps one can take to speed up the healing process and intelligently prepare for a new romantic relationship. If you are grieving the loss of a romantic partner or a marriage, remind yourself that grieving eventually opens a door to new growth and happiness. I can’t tell you how often I have seen healthy grieving after a divorce or romantic loss eventually lead to healthier patterns—and more fulfilling unions. Grieve, but at the same time be kind to yourself in the process. Don’t think, “What’s wrong with me that I’m still upset?” Remind yourself that you are upset because you deeply cared for someone who is no longer in your life. It would be bizarre, robotic, or inhuman to care for someone so deeply, let them go, and never miss or long for what you no longer have. There is a future for you out there: Sadness will give way and you will be prepared for something better. Jill Weber, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, DC and the author of Breaking Up and Divorce 5 Steps: How to Heal and Be Comfortable Alone. For more, follow...read more
Susan Noonan MD View From the Mist Losses that require a grieving process. I had an interesting conversation the other day about the losses we all experience when receiving a diagnosis of mental illness such as depression or bipolar disorder. Yes, losses. At first glance it seems unfair, given that there is such a large burden to carry with the illness. But it does happen and is something we need to acknowledge and deal with, otherwise the effect of these losses will come back to haunt you. What do I mean by losses? Well, it could be the loss of time from your life while you were ill; loss of opportunity from school, work, or life; loss of the life you would have had if you were not ill; loss of relationships, a spouse, friends. There could be financial losses from high medical expenses or modifications to your job or a job loss; perceived loss of standing in your community; or loss of self-confidence and self-esteem. And other losses I haven’t listed here. That seems quite overwhelming. But some people who have depression don’t think of these as losses. They think that they don’t deserve certain things in life, so when a loss happens it’s what they expect for themselves. Their lives are miserable, and they don’t perceive loss of time or opportunity as a loss. It somehow doesn’t apply to them. They feel that they are not deserving of a spouse or friendships, so losing those people is not perceived as a loss. It’s what they expect. And with depression, self-confidence and self-esteem are generally impaired as a part of the illness. The person’s thought processes are so distorted that he/she does not realize it has happened. So what do you do? The first thing to do is to acknowledge that you suffered one or several of these losses. Then you must go through a type of grieving process. Some people begin with denial or become angry with the sources of their loss. Others find their depression worsening. These are not particularly helpful to your recovery from the loss. It is more helpful to sit with it for a while, think about it and come to some acceptance of the fact that you have experienced this loss. This involves coming to terms with the lost opportunities and time from your life. It involves acceptance of the fact that others have disappointed you, let you down, or were not supportive during your time of need. Then you will be able to move on, making your life the best you can from this point forward. What happens if you don’t do this? The pain from these losses will still be present in the back of your mind. It is a burden you will carry with you each day. If you try to suppress it, that will require much emotional effort and energy. It will surface on occasion and cause you more emotional pain, continuing to haunt you until you deal with it adequately. So, it’s important that you do allow yourself the time to grieve these losses. Then move...read more
Marilyn A. Mendoza Ph.D.Understanding Grief What Parents Can Do “The Three Faces of Eve,” an actual account of an emotionally disturbed young woman in therapy, was a popular book and movie in the 1950’s. It first introduced the public to the concept of multiple personality disorder or as it is referred to today, Dissociative IdentityDisorder. In Eve’s breakthrough therapy moment, she goes back to an early repressed trauma at the age of six of being forced by her mother to kiss her dead grandmother goodbye. It was her grief and terror that led to her initially splitting into two distinct personalities. While this is an extreme example of the trauma that death can cause in children, we as a society still struggle with how to deal with children when a loved one is dying. One of the hardest things for parents to do is talk to their child about death. Many adults are uncomfortable thinking or talking about death. This discomfort is only magnified for them when they have to talk about dying with their children. With good intentions, parents want to protect their children from pain. Yet death is a part of life that children do need to know about. Many parents try to convince themselves that children do not know what is happening when someone is critically ill or dying. Children overhear things and often know much more than we think they know. They are sensitive to their environment and can sense changes in routines, moods and attitudes of the adults around them. They may not know that death is permanent but they can sense that something very sad has happened. With in-home care, they see doctors and nurses coming in and out and know that something out of the ordinary is happening. It can be a very frightening and confusing time for children if things are not explained to them. Some parents will send their children away from home. Many times the adults are overwhelmed with responsibilities and do not feel they can provide adequately for the children. Others may send them away to avoid telling them that someone is dying. At this time, what children need is the comfort and security of home and close family contact. Sending children away may only serve to make them more anxious and distressed. The best way to help children deal with death is to provide information and comfort for the level of their development. When children are not given appropriate explanations, their imaginations often come up with things that could be much worse than the truth. What you say to a 3 year old is different than what you say to a 13 year old. For children younger than 5 years, they can be told the person’s body stopped working and that they can no longer breathe, eat, think or talk. Grade schoolers have a better understanding that death is final. They will respond best to information that is simple, concrete and direct. This is also the age group that is more likely to blame themselves for the death. It is important to give them reassurance that it is not their fault. Adolescents understand the full meaning of death. However, that does not mean that they are able to deal with the emotional upheaval that comes with it. Adolescence, in general, is a time of turbulent emotions. Recognizing and expressing their feelings following...read more
Ryan M. Niemiec Psy.D.What Matters Most? Learn a practical approach to stress from a leading scientist. I love the metaphor that the New Year is a book with 365 blank pages and it is up to us what we will write on each page of our new book. What experiences will be part of each page? Who will we be with? How might we create, have fun, or connect with others? As of the writing of this post, we are on the 6th page of our book this year. But, for many of us, this metaphor falls flat because we face plenty of stress, distractions, and challenges in 2017. This post is intended for those who are feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, or upset here in the first part of the new year. To start, I turn to the work of Stanford researcher, Kelly McGonigal, who has been researching the benefits of stress and how people can become more resilient. McGonigal frames the conversation in an interesting way – she says we need to “get good at stress.” This means to cultivate a mindset that stress is not a bad swarm of negativity that’s going to overpower and crush us. Rather, stress is energy that we can harness in the moment. We can direct the energy toward something productive. It has become commonplace to see writers in the blogosphere refer to stress resilience as “bouncing back” from a setback. That is correct, but a more useful frame is offered by hardiness researcher Salvatore Maddi who argues that stress resilience is about having “the courage to grow from stress.” This does not mean we should be unaffected and untouched by stress. It means we can use stress to awaken our core human strengths. Instead of telling people they need to learn to “bounce back” when a stressor occurs, we might encourage them to acknowledge and learn from the stress and discover how they might use their strengths to grow from it. Indeed, this takes courage: The courage to be you. The courage to trust your internal gifts. The courage to be wrong. The courage to be willing to change. As McGonigal argues, any effective stress management tool – especially those involving shifting our stress mindset – is going to involve three parts: LEARN IT. DO IT. SHARE IT. In other words: Learn the new information. Understand the concept and why it’s important. Do the activity. Practice it in your daily life – at work, home, and socially. Share the activity with others, such as family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and/or social media. Let’s play these steps out with one of the best exercises in the field of positive psychology: the activity known as “use your signature strengths in new ways.” Allow a new strengths mindset to unfold as you follow these steps. Learn it: Understand what your signature strengths are (take the VIA Survey if you don’t already know). Understand the importance of your unique signature strengths and how you have used them over the years. Read these two previous articles on this activity to learn more (Flourishing at Work and New Ways to Happiness). Do it: Use 1 of your signature strengths in a new way. EACH TIME you begin to experience stress today, tomorrow, and the next day, turn to the signature strength you have chosen. How might you use that strength (e.g., curiosity, kindness, leadership, gratitude) in...read more
Peter A. Ubel M.D.Critical Decisions How to Stop Over-Eating: Lessons From Brain Science Put our brains into the modern food environment, and you have a recipe for disaster. Our brains are hardwired to crave calorie-dense foods, this craving no doubt arising from our evolutionary time spent on the Tundra where calories were often scarce. But our modern food environment surrounds us with calorie-dense foods, forcing us to deplete limited willpower trying to keep our cravings from turning into over-consumption. Fortunately, brain science hints at several ways to reduce this pattern of craving and consumption. Let’s start with a part of the brain called the left dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, a region important for helping restrain ourselves from engaging in unwanted behaviors. Do something to disable the dlPFC (as the cool kids call it), and you will lose self-control or willpower. For example, psychologists often measure self-control using something called the Stroop effect, in which people are asked to quickly state, say, the color of a series of fonts. This seems like it should be pretty simple. In the Stroop task, however, every once in a while people get something like the following: When people see this word they are supposed to say “red” because the word is in a red font. But many people blurt out “green” instead, unable to inhibit the impulse. As it turns out, when researchers use a clinical stimulator to zap the dlPFC, people’s performance on the Stroop task declines. Here, in case you are interested, is a picture of one of these stimulators – don’t let a stranger persuade you to place one on your head! What does this brain zapping and Stroop tasking have to do with food? Well, when researchers disable the dlPFC, not only are people more likely to fail the Stroop Task, but they are also more likely to consume large amounts of unhealthy food. In addition, they crave these foods more, suggesting that craving is a function of self-restraint. At the same time, however, dlPFC interaction does not increase consumption of healthy food. Willpower depletion does not lead to over-consumption of all foods, just unhealthy ones. Finally, the amount of food people consume after dlPFC inactivation is strongly predicted by how well they do on the Stroop task. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of willpower. What can all of us do to build-up our willpower? Researchers still debate this question. (Truth be told, we researchers like to debate pretty much every question. It’s often our prickly, disagreeable natures that makes us successful scientists.) Some experts believe aerobic exercise can build-up willpower. Exercise leads to better performance on the Stroop task, and to more restraint around calorie-dense foods. So if you want to control your weight, you have another reason to exercise. Exercise not only helps burn calories, but might make it easier for you to resist unneeded calories. Not into exercise? Then the best bet for you might be to dampen your cravings by doing what you can to avoid visual or olfactory cues. In other words, the sight or sound of unhealthy foods might be more than your willpower can handle. In fact, when researchers “prime” people to think about, say, pizza, those people are less able to resist the urge to eat unhealthy food. This is isn’t shocking. Why else does Cinnabon work so hard...read more