On Stardom and Mental Health

Individuals who are very talented artistically and achieve early success or fame are in a very vulnerable position. As artists, they tend to be extremely sensitive by nature—this is part of their genius and is sometimes a burden they must bear. Such individuals can develop a perfectionistic relationship with their craft, feeling harshly critical of themselves even when they are succeeding. They can become very reliant on outside feedback to affirm their worth, whether this feedback comes in the form of reviews, money, fame, or career advancement. An over-reliance on others for self-worth is a precarious position for any human being and especially for those with celebrity status. A bad review, a cancelled show, financial troubles, or the feeling that their career is fading with time or age can lead to tremendous anxiety. They may live under a constant worry that they could lose their success at any minute—and, with it, their sense of personal value.

Add into the mix the Hollywood culture and the relentless pressure of the paparazzi, which, dominated by envy, enjoy nothing more than seeing the successful fail and exploiting their human weaknesses. Envy is an ugly aspect of human nature and one that makes life in the public eye enormously challenging. There is tremendous pressure to keep up a false front and little room for celebrities to feel that they can be regular people with regular lives, admitting their failures, learning through trial and error, and seeking help when they need it.

For some, drugs and alcohol offer relief from these painful and stressful experiences. Drugs and alcohol can be used as a kind of synthetic solution to life’s problems, a way to numb anxiety and create immediate pleasure, which someone in this state of mind so desperately needs. When you have the experience of being able to successfully alleviate such painful feelings in a quick, immediate way, such a solution becomes difficult to resist even when one works very hard at it. One may have periods of sobriety, making use of rehab and support groups, such as those found in twelve-step programs. But addiction is a chronic, life-long disease with an up-and-down course that wears on both an individual’s psyche and his or her support system. Relapse is common, and is stressful and discouraging. Add into the mix clinical depression—which often goes hand-in-hand with addiction—and you have a perfect storm.

At its root, suicide reflects an individual’s profound feeling of helplessness in his or her ability to cope with the demands of life, as well as hopelessness that life can get better. With ongoing setbacks that are a normal part of chronic illnesses such as depression and addiction, it is possible to lose faith that there are enough resources (inside and outside) that can make enough of a difference to go on and keep trying.

As a society, we have a long way to go in our efforts to decrease the stigma associated with mental health and addiction struggles. So many people suffer from them, including our heroes and our idols. But beneath any successful persona is just another human being, as vulnerable, sensitive, and imperfect as any other—and so deserving of our patience, our respect, and our understanding.

This blog is written about Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This blog is written about Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

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On Tools to Fight Addiction and Depression—from a Suicide Survivor

I’ve been there; in that dark place that no one likes to talk about socially, the pit of emotional hell that feels impossible to crawl out of. I struggled with addiction and depression, which for me went hand-in-hand, for over a decade. I’ve sat with a shotgun in my mouth and finger on the trigger. I’ve swallowed a bottle of pills with a bottle of peach schnapps, hoping to end the pain I was feeling, only to have my stomach pumped. I know sadness that seems impossible to explain. Ultimately, I took a razor blade to my wrists and violently tried to end my life on November 10, 1997. I was fully intent upon ending it all; I saw no hope, no future, and no other way. Thankfully, I survived.

Every thirteen minutes in this country a person dies from suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When I heard about Robin Williams’ suicide, my heart broke, not because I knew him, but because I knew his pain intimately. No one can truly understand depression and addiction without experiencing them, and while no one’s experience with these issues is exactly the same, there are commonalities, such as hopelessness, futility, anxiety, and desperation. Depression and addiction alone can be life-altering, but when coupled together they often result in death.

I do not write this to focus on Williams’ death; his family has requested focus on his life. Yet just like Williams prior to his death, millions of other people have also had to live with depression and/or addiction. Our country needs to finally have an honest dialogue about mental health and addiction so we don’t hear of another incredible soul taking his or her life. The stigma that surrounds the diseases of addiction and depression leaves too many people in darkness, suffering the way Williams did and the way I once did. There are ways people can be helped; I am living proof of that. It’s been close to seventeen years since I have felt so depressed that I wanted to end it all, since I have thought there were no other ways to live, and since I have engaged my addictive behaviors.

Anyone suffering from depression and addiction need never suffer alone; there are so many resources available to help—understanding people, support groups, hotlines, health centers, and online communities. I understand how heavy the phone can feel when one is sick and suffering, but there is always someone on the other end of the line waiting to listen, to provide supportive counseling, and to connect the caller to life-saving resources. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at (800) 662-HELP (4357) are just two free and confidential hotlines. Recovery is possible with help.

When I got clean and sober, my life-affecting depression began to dissolve. But life on life’s terms has brought rough times for me when that depression has come back; today when it seeps in, I enlist the help of the following tools:

1.    Writing—By writing down your darkest secrets and fears, you expose them for what they really are—just thoughts, not facts, and the power of those thoughts is lessened when you get them out of your head.

2.    Talk to Someone—By sharing your experiences, thoughts, and fears with another person, you can allow yourself permission to be human and to allow another person you trust to bear witness to your pain. This is truly the first step in getting help.

3.    Exercise or Activity—Physical activity in any form, whether it is a simple walk, jog, or sporting activity, can help. Physical activity releases endorphins, which make you feel better about yourself and help to reduce stress and the effects of depression.

4.    Find a Therapist and/or Doctor—I found a skilled therapist to help me explore the why’s of my addiction and depression so I could build healthier coping mechanisms. Medicinal intervention can also be a life-saving method for many. Depression is a chemical imbalance within your brain, and, depending upon the severity of the imbalance, medication may be necessary to create a balance.

5.    Meditation or Mantra—Finding quiet time for my mental health is vital for me, especially because finding someone to talk to is not always possible. Thirty to sixty minutes of meditation three to four times per week is best for me, but even just five to ten minutes can help calm my mind and bring me peace. Or find a mantra, prayer, poem, or saying that you can repeat to help calm you.

6.    Support Groups—Twelve-step programs saved my life; I find so much support, love, and kinship in the rooms of the groups I turned to. Thankfully, there are groups for most any issue. In the meeting rooms you never have to be alone. I have never gone to a meeting and left feeling worse.

7.    Music—If I am feeling anxious, sad, mad, or just in a funk and cannot pinpoint what is bothering me, I turn on one of my favorite songs and sing my heart out. I also listen to bilateral EMDR music on my headphones when I am feeling anxious, cannot sleep, or just want to relax.

8.    Cry, Scream, and Feel—You have to let it out somehow. Feelings are just that—feelings—but they are not facts and they cannot kill you. Crying is cleansing for the soul. Screaming can allow you to release anger, frustration, and fear in a safe way. You must be able to release your feelings; untreated, they can eventually turn into depression.

9.    Reading—Books, articles, blogs, and other materials that help you to understand more about your particular issues can help you learn to cope in healthy ways. Personal stories help me best, as I can understand another person through their own journey and relate that to my own. I can guarantee there isn’t a thing you are dealing with or feeling that someone else hasn’t dealt with or also felt.

10.    Sleep—I know that when you are depressed, anxious, or dealing with something else difficult, getting a good night’s sleep is not always easy. By enlisting some of the above methods, you should find that sleep becomes a bit easier. Try to get the amount of sleep your body needs to function at your best. For most people, that is seven to nine hours.

These are just ten of the tools you can enlist to start breaking the cycle of whatever you are dealing with. I hope they can help you the same way they helped me, or get you thinking of other ways to help your specific situation. You do not have to suffer in silence; you are not alone, and you can survive what you are experiencing and learn to live a happy and healthy life. I promise—I am living proof.

The blog was written by Jennifer Storm, author of LEAVE THE LIGHT ON

The blog was written by Jennifer Storm, author of LEAVE THE LIGHT ON

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On the Loss of a Loved One to Suicide

Those left behind after a suicide go through a great range of emotions. If you were a caregiver of a person who was battling depression and lost their struggle, your emotions may have been capped with “What could I have done to stop it?”

Although we, as caregivers, can be there to reach out to those left behind, and to offer support to others suffering with depression, there is nothing we can do to erase the brutality of the deed itself. Our loved one chose to end his or her life. The hurt of those left behind was perhaps not considered or even that the act would be so final. Only the relief from the darkest darkness a human mind can ever imagine was considered by our loved one. We think, “What a waste,” but a life is never wasted. We are gifted in different ways by people and this was a person in our lives. We are better because he or she lived.

In the presentations to caregivers that I am involved with, we say that suicide is the sad outcome of the disease of depression. Just as people die because of cancer or heart disease or some other illness, people die because of depression. Some people will argue that suicide is different because the person had a choice, to which we can only counter, “Did they have a choice in getting depression in the first place? Did they have a choice as to what to do when the darkness consumed them?” They did not and they cannot be blamed for a disease that recognizes no economic, gender, age, or race differences. Depression kills and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we will be getting the necessary help to people all across our country who are facing the same darkness.

This post was written by Bernadette Stankard, co-author of DANCING IN THE DARK

This post was written by Bernadette Stankard, co-author of DANCING IN THE DARK

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Don’t Take Anything Personally—(and What to do When You Do)

In my book Out of the Woods I talk about how very ongoing recovery becomes. Issues don’t always go away—sometimes we just get better and faster—and funnier—in dealing with them. Here’s an example:

Two few weeks ago I made a big commitment to not take anything personally. It made sense. I felt so proud. But it was almost as if my new mantra, “Don’t take things personally” was sent out as a personal invitation to my character defects inviting them to a party.

Within hours the testing began. Suddenly I was feeling everything personally. Someone from my past crossed my path and the intersection triggered tons of my old stuff. I was particularly challenged by an old thinking habit that I thought I’d dealt with ages ago: “What About Me?” Not at all attractive and miserably uncomfortable.

But then I realized the value of long-term recovery: it becomes so hard to entertain those thoughts for very long. Not that they shimmer once and disappear but it’s hard to pretend that I am always the innocent and injured party.

In the same way that recovery can ruin your drinking, recovery can also ruin the pleasure of being right, and it crushes the dark joy of holding onto a resentment. A small voice now asks, “What is your part in this?”

So I reached for these tools as I found myself sliding down.

First: I began to pray for help. The first prayers were not elegant. They went like this: “Oh God what is this crap in my head? Help me. I hate this. Remove this. Come on, come on, come on…get this out of me. Hurry up.”

Second: I knew I had to tell on myself so I emailed my sponsor and a close friend. I told them my mean thoughts I was having about people.

Third: My prayer changed to, “Please help me. I think this is old family stuff and its getting attached to someone who triggers my old fear. I know this is mine but I can’t see how to change this. But I want to be free. Help.”

Then the magic began. I got on the train to New York City and turned on my Kindle looking for some distraction and there was another recovery book reminding me about Steps Six and Seven. Bingo.

Throughout the day in New York I kept saying: “I turn my will and my life over to you.” My yucky thoughts kept breaking through but I kept on praying. By the time I was back on the train to come home the grip was lessening

The next day I went for a walk and took my IPod Shuffle along. And what popped right up? A Joe and Charlie talk on Steps 6 and 7. I listened to the two old-timers talk about those steps and here’s what they had to say: God will remove what God can remove and God will do what I can’t do. But God doesn’t do what I can do, so do the opposite.”

“Do the opposite.” God will remove the defect if and when we start doing the opposite of the defect we want removed. Want lying removed? Start telling the truth. I wanted jealousy removed so I had to start being emotionally generous.

So here I am two weeks later. No, not fixed. But hyper-aware of a simple set of actions that I can take to shift a defect of character. And yes, I am still praying “hurry up, hurry up” because I hate discomfort. But I can see my part now and I have steps to take, and that, I am taking very personally.

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

This blog was written by Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS

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A conversation with LOVE IN THE LAND OF DEMENTIA author Deborah Shouse

A while back I had the notion that I would begin a series of interviews with authors. I wanted to talk with people who had written about themes I found compelling – love and courage and growth and self-awareness.

I connected with a couple of writers whose works had resonated with me and asked if they wanted to do an interview. My life is pretty full-on at the moment, so I won’t go as far as to promise this will be a regular series, but you will probably see some interviews from time to time.

The first of these is with Deborah Shouse, who has written Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. The book chronicles her mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s and Deborah’s very personal response to her mother’s disease.

I have some experience with the topic, as my father suffered from dementia before he passed away, and many of my peers are dealing with similar issues with their loved ones. However, what struck me most about Deborah’s book was not necessarily the subject of Alzheimer’s, but her own personal response to dealing with a frightening and emotionally-laden loss.

Instead of feeling burdened by the experience of caring for someone who had previously cared for her, she used it as an opportunity to further open her own heart and accept without judgment each stage of the disease. At its heart, this is a story of courage, connection, deep humanity and unconditional love.

* * *

K: I understand you kept journals throughout your mother’s illness; however, at what point did you make the decision to write a book and what prompted that decision?

Deborah: I started turning my journal entries into essays. I read one of these essays at a literary event and so many people came up to me afterwards, saying: “My mother has dementia… My father…My aunt…” I felt an immense connection with these caregivers and wanted to continue sharing my stories.

K: Each scene in your book is written with such immediacy and detail that I feel like I am right there beside you, experiencing everything along with you. How did you manage, as you were writing this, to put yourself back in that space and capture the emotional and material intricacies of what had happened years earlier?

Deborah: I used my writing to help keep me sane, balanced and enjoying the present moment. I would take notes of what Mom said and I would often journal after I spent time with my parents. For me, it was a way to focus on noticing the gifts and lessons I was so abundantly receiving. It was also a way to record Mom’s last years and share these meaningful experiences with family and friends.

K: You do a beautiful job of describing the effects of Alzheimer’s and, in turn, the effect of those changes on your family. Your mother gradually loses the capacity to perform the simplest of functions we take for granted, such as dressing herself or recognizing her loved ones, and her personality begins to change. While you mourn each loss, you also show an amazing capacity for accepting the changes and simply staying present in the moment and loving your mother as she is. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Deborah: This became my spiritual practice—accepting Mom for who she was right then. Of course, that’s what we all want—it’s the essence of unconditional love. Each time I was tempted to feel sad or upset, I allowed myself those feelings of loss and also looked for something positive. I always found it!

K: In one scene you give your mom a blanket and she stares lovingly at it and coos, “what a sweet baby.” This reminded me of when my own mom was dying of cancer and was heavily medicated. We gave her a teddy bear and she held it to her chest and spoke lovingly to it, calling it Trevor (her grandson’s name). It was both beautiful and heartbreaking. You then go on to say something that really resonates with me: “Maybe this is the lesson we are all to learn eventually. In the end, only love is left.”

Deborah: I learned so much about love from being with my mother and father during those days. My father showed me how to truly love and my mother let go of her rational rules and was really able to receive affection. Being with her, looking into my mother’s eyes for 30 minutes was a deeply connective experience.

K: I’m a big proponent of the healing power of storytelling, and you mention this in your book as well. In fact, it has influenced your career to some degree, has it not? Can you share your thoughts on some of the gifts of storytelling?

Deborah: The more we share our stories, the more we realize how connected we all are. Caregivers often feel isolated. Ron and I have been able to share our stories all over the world and we’ve learned how deep our similarities are. In Turkey one man said to me, “Your story is my story.” That kinship, that sharing of the heart, means so much. Plus, there’s often a social stigma with dementia. The more we share the richness of this journey, the more support we’ll get for those who live with Alzheimer’s.

K: I know that many people who have been through challenging experiences, such as the complicated loss that occurs with Alzheimer’s, report that the experience changed them in some positive ways. While living through your mother’s illness and death was clearly very painful, did it leave you with any gifts?

Deborah: I feel so lucky I got to travel with my mom on this journey. My gifts include widening my understanding of love, opening myself to slowing down and patience, surrendering into accepting a person just as they are, learning to be in the present and appreciate the gifts of the moment.

K: Writing and publishing a book is a monumental journey. Now that this is behind you, what is next?

Deborah: I am working on a book about creativity and the caregiver’s journey. The book will focus on creative activities to do with your loved one who has Alzheimer’s and will also offer ways for caregivers to creatively frame this tender and challenging journey. I welcome ideas from your readers. What creative activities have you explored with a person who has dementia? And how do you keep yourself connected and creative?

K: Thank you, Deborah, for taking the time to share your thoughts with us today. I wish you all the best on your next endeavor.

* * *

You can find Deborah’s book here. She donates a portion of proceeds to charity and to date has raised over $80,000 for Alzheimer’s programs and research.

In addition to her book, Deborah writes a weekly love story column for the Kansas City Star. Together with her husband, Ron, she travels all over the world to perform her writings to audiences in places as far flung as New Zealand, Nova Scotia, Puerto Rico, England, Ireland, Chile, Costa Rica, Italy, Turkey, Ecuador, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. An amazing lifestyle, to say the least!

This blog is written by Deborah Shouse, author of LOVE IN THE LAND OF DEMENTIA

This blog is written by Deborah Shouse, author of LOVE IN THE LAND OF DEMENTIA

This interview was conducted by Kristin Brumm and first appeared in Wanderlust

This interview was conducted by Kristin Brumm and first appeared in Wanderlust

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Is Online Video Gaming a Haven for the Insecure?

Online gaming, along with social media sites such as Facebook, have proliferated exponentially, both in terms of their numbers of users and their sophistication, especially among youths and young adults. With respect to online gaming, the erstwhile “first person shooter,” as well as interactive games played in the same room by two friends, have given way to a vast international network of players. This network, in combination with the sophistication of the games available on it (many for free) have commanded a large audience, some of whom who devote large amounts of time to it. This has led some to express concern that this cultural trend is dangerous because it lessens people’s face-to-face interactions and leads to social isolation. Is that true?

Attachment Styles and Why They Matter

Attachment is an important psychological concept that owes its origins primarily to work conducted by psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth and dating to the 1960s and 1970s. By observing the interactions between parents and their children in different situations, Bowlby and Ainsworth developed a theory of how children utilized that relationship. They found that some young children did not hesitate to venture into the world, explore it, and interact freely with others, especially when their parent was in sight, but also when the parent was out of sight. They labeled these children secure.

In contrast, some children either displayed anxiety, or else demurred, when it came to interacting with others, for example in situations where a stranger was present, or when the parent left the room they were in. Bowlby and Ainsworth labeled these children insecure and suggested that this insecurity was a handicap when it came to developing the skills necessary to succeed in a social world.

As research on attachment continued, two discoveries emerged. First, it appears that the attachment styles that were observed in young children do not automatically diminish, much less disappear, as we age. On the contrary, attachment styles that are developed in our early years tend to endure into adulthood, where they continue to color our social interactions.

Second, psychologists have gone on to identify two variations of insecure attachment. Anxious attachment results when a parent (or other primary caregiver of a child) behaves inconsistently, so that the child is not sure if he or she will be accepted or rejected, praised or ridiculed, at any given time. That child may then develop an expectancy that those they are close to cannot truly be counted upon at a time of need. As adults anxiously attached people are inclined to seek a lot of social contact, though depending on how anxious they are they can also be clingy in relationships, seeking frequent reassurance, and worrying that a loved one will leave them.

attachment results when a child’s primary caregivers are more or less neglectful. What emerges is a child — and later an adult — who expects others (even those who profess to love the) to be undependable. Rather than being clingy or seeking constant reassurance, these men and women are inclined to prefer to be self-sufficient and not count on others very much. Others often describe them as aloof and self-sufficient, when in reality they are reticent to commit to longstanding relationships.

Do you know someone whose behavior in relationships fits one of the above descriptions, more or less?

Insecurity, Social Skills, and On Line Gaming

In a study that is currently in press (Kowert, R. & Oldmeadow, J. Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 39, 2014) researchers from Germany and Australia collaborated in an effort to cast light on this issue of whether online gaming can be detrimental to social development. To do so they recruited 409 volunteers who reported a history on online gaming. The sample ranged in age from 18 to 39 and included 256 men and 153 women. First, they took a test designed to determine a person’s attachment style: secure, anxious, or avoidant. They were then asked to provide information on their use of online gaming, including:

• Did they identify with statements such as “I see myself as a gamer”?
• How much time, on average, did they devote to online gaming per week?
• What was their motivation for playing? How much did they play online games for “entertainment” as opposed to “social comfort,” meaning playing when feeling stressed, anxious, or sad?

Next, they measured these volunteers’ social skills, meaning how emotionally expressive or sensitive, as well as socially sensitive and socially expressive an individual identifies him/herself as being. Emotionally/socially expressive individuals are friendly and usually have a fairly extensive social network. In contrast, socially/emotionally sensitive individuals are often described as shy and less able to maintain extended verbal interactions.

Challenging the Stereotype of Gamers

What this research yielded challenges to a significant extent the popular belief that “excessive” online gaming is psychologically harmful, or that “gamers” lack social skills. What they found was that social skills were not predictive of devoting more time to online gaming. The authors conclude that “sensitivity” — or shyness — by itself did not account for an individual’s inclination to spend more time on line.

In contrast to the findings on social skills, the data on attachment styles led to different insights. Of the two varieties of insecure attachment, those who identified themselves as having anxious attachment styles were more inclined to utilize Internet connections, including gaming, and to do so because it was a source of social comfort. Meanwhile, those with an avoidant attachment style also utilized on line gaming more, but not for social comfort as much as for the sheer entertainment value.

In summing up their findings these researchers suggest that, rather than being psychologically harmful, the cyber world may actually provide “spaces to serve critical attachment functions.”

Attachment Styles and Social Media: How Might They Work?

The results of this study suggest that it is possible that those whose childhood experiences led to either anxious or avoidant interpersonal styles may be able to turn to the cyber world to satisfy some of their needs? But is this necessarily harmful?

Those who may be familiar with my previous posts on the subject of social media will see that these results are in fact compatible with my previous posts on how and why we use social media. Between social media sites such as Facebook and the kind of online gaming that is widely accessible it may be possible to help satisfy some psychological needs that might otherwise go unmet. For instance, the man or woman with an anxious attachment style can utilize Facebook to establish a “safe” network of interpersonal connections. He or she may also turn to on line gaming as a means of repeatedly connecting with the same “team” of gamers. In contrast, the person with an avoidant attachment style can control his or her interpersonal connections on Facebook through what he or she posts there, as well as what he or she chooses to respond to. Similarly, the avoidantly attached can elect to join a different “team” each time they log on to a game.

The question, then, is this: Are these uses of the cyber-world to satisfy attachment needs for the anxious and avoidant among us detrimental or not? Let’s start a dialogue.

This post was written by Dr. Joseph Nowinski, author of HARD TO LOVE

This post was written by Dr. Joseph Nowinski, author of HARD TO LOVE

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post

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Celebrities and mental illness: Why having it all isn’t everything

Written by Eva Kis

Published August 13, 2014

Published: August 13, 2014

On the screen and stage, Robin Williams was a frenetic blur of joyful energy and wit. But behind the smile lurked something we don’t associate with celebrities: depression. Over and over, the sentiment expressed by fellow actors and fans following Williams’ suicide Monday was the disbelief that someone so full of life could end his own.

We tend to think famous people are immune to mundane problems such as depression and substance abuse, which Williams also struggled with. They have money, power and adoring fans — what’s there to be sad about? But it’s not that simple, says Mandy Eppley, a professional counselor.

“Influence through affluence does not change the biological components of depression, nor does it change the emotional and spiritual aspects of depression,” she says. “We have a superficial view: ‘If you have good things, you shouldn’t be struggling.’ That is not the nature of the human journey.”

In the case of mental illness, the trappings of fame can be just that, according to psychotherapist Dr. Jennifer Kunst. Creative people are especially vulnerable, even more so when fame finds them early. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain took his own life at 27, and child stars often make the news for their public struggles as their careers flag.

“As artists, they tend to be extremely sensitive by nature,” Kunst says. “Such individuals can develop a perfectionistic relationship with their craft, feeling harshly critical of themselves even when they are succeeding.”

Relying on the feedback of others to assess self-worth is a precarious position for anyone, Kunst says. Bad news — a negative review, financial trouble or the winding down of a career — “can lead to tremendous anxiety. They may live under a constant worry that they could lose their success at any minute — and, with it, their sense of personal value,” she says.

Williams had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, often referencing it in his comedy. (“I went to rehab in wine country, just to keep my options open,” he told the Television Critics Association in 2013.) And though he was sober for two decades, he relapsed in 2006 and sought treatment, then checked himself into rehab again just last month.
“We are a culture that glamorizes pleasure and avoidance of the difficulties of life,” Eppley says. At the extreme, celebrity status can mean celebrating without any moderation. “[Drugs and alcohol are] an easy way for people to cope initially. I think for some people, the addiction just sneaks up on them because they were just having fun with their friends.”

Kunst adds: “Addiction is a chronic, lifelong disease with an up-and-down course that wears both on an individual psyche as well as his or her support system. Relapse is common and is stressful and discouraging.”

Despite struggling with these common problems, because celebrities are under constant watch by tabloids they’re not given the chance to be regular human beings.
“There’s [a lot of] pressure to keep up a false front and little room for celebrities to feel that they can be regular people … admitting their failures, learning through trial and error and seeking help when they need it,” she says.

Suicide in America

Robin Williams actually typifies suicide, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control data from 2011:

• Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

• One person takes his or her life every 13.3 minutes

• The highest rate is among white people, aged 45-64, who live in the West.

• Men are over four times more likely to kill themselves.If you or someone you know is struggling, get help. You can chat online with a trained volunteer at www.IMAlive.org, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This blog is written about Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This blog is written about Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This article first appeared in the NY Metro.

This article first appeared in the NY Metro.

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Alcoholism, Author News, Family & Addiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Would You Rather Be Right or Would You Rather Be Happy?

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ~Lao Tzu

Internally, deep down, many people have the experience that they are damaged, broken, “not good enough,” or simply “not enough.” Such thoughts and the beliefs that fuel them usually have their origins in the messages received from others starting early in life. How we react in the present is strongly influenced by childhood experiences and internalized beliefs.

These beliefs and the resultant feelings are often so distressing that we protect ourselves by keeping them unconscious. Occasionally, there may be some vague awareness of their existence, but due to the discomfort they generate they tend to remain hidden—from oneself, as well as from everyone else. They also affect (or perhaps infect) most all ongoing relationships.

One way in which beliefs and feelings of inferiority are disguised and kept at a distance is through the defense mechanism of reaction-formation. Reaction-formation protects against too-painful thoughts and feelings by turning them into their opposites—for example, presenting an attitude of arrogance to compensate for underlying feelings of inadequacy—I’m not “less than” others because I am “better than” others! This occurs whenever we judge others in a negative way: we are implicitly putting them down, making them inferior, and by comparison elevating the way we see ourselves by virtue of being “superior” to them—in a given circumstance, related to a particular quality, or in general.

Feelings of superiority often manifest in the need to be in control over people and situations. The need to control can also be a way of unconsciously compensating for feeling out of control. Attempts to control exist on a broad continuum, from aggressive and overt—threatening, intimidating, arguing, demanding, and asserting, to indirect—manipulating, steering, suggesting, and cajoling. Frequently, the need to be in control takes the form of a need to “be right.” For some personalities (most of us know at least one), it is standard procedure to exert control through the need to be right, believing and acting as if they know what’s best, regardless of the situation.

For someone who is emotionally attached to the need to be right, all divergent perspectives, ideas, suggestions, and actions must be “wrong.” The need to be right convinces him or her of the correctness of his or her approach, while attachment to this end serves to justify the means used to facilitate it. When this dynamic is acted out it creates suffering for those caught in its wake—most often, partners and family members, including children.

Obviously, words can inflict considerable harm, but there are also many nonverbal ways of making clear that others are wrong. A disapproving glance or an exasperated tone of voice expresses dissatisfaction and sends a clear message that can be hurtful, and that hurt can have staying power. Especially for children, these kinds of experiences damage their developing sense of self—they cut like a jagged piece of glass, bleeding off self-worth. Every such glance and utterance is an act of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) emotional rejection and abandonment; a psychological betrayal of parent to child—though it also does serious damage to intimate partner and other adult relationships. The need to be right can go horribly wrong.

However, the suffering caused by this behavior also extends to the perpetrator. Acting on the incessant drive to be right requires considerable energy—it can be exhausting. Attachment to being right is a form of mental and emotional slavery. There is tremendous stress inherent in having to be right all the time. Even when those invested in control have an inkling that this is unhealthy, even if they feel guilt or shame subsequent to acting out their need to be right, they are nonetheless impelled to continue to repeat it.

Because this pattern occurs automatically and habitually, the key to changing it is to become consciously aware of the need to be right and one’s attachment to it. Through the practice of mindfulness, suffering can become an experience that indicates where one is stuck. It is in letting go of the attachment that we can unchain ourselves from a need to be right.

Several years ago I was told the story of an ongoing argument between a husband and wife. The actual subject of the argument is much less important than the process. As was often the case, the husband was certain he was right but couldn’t get his wife to back down and agree. The only thing they could agree on in this matter was to seek the counsel of their pastor.

The husband knew that the pastor would side with his position and designate him as “right.” As they shared their dramatically different perspectives, the husband made mental preparations to declare victory. To his considerable surprise, the pastor didn’t take sides, gracefully sidestepping the dichotomy of right/wrong, and the zero sum game that goes with it. Rather, he asked matter-of-factly, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”

The elegant simplicity and remarkable depth of that question is stunning. It unlocks the door to an awareness that this can be a conscious choice. While being right is sometimes accompanied by happiness, in many scenarios the goals of being right and being happy are mutually exclusive. The need to be right, and by extension, to control people, situations, and outcomes, regularly obstructs the ability to be happy—insofar as happiness is a function of contentment and peace of mind, also known as serenity.

As the Tao Te Ching describes in verse 74:
Trying to control things
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut yourself.

And then blood gets all over the place and it’s a big mess!

Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Which is more important? Which is healthier? Which brings you closer to those you love and care about? Which moves you toward to the person you are meant to be—your true self? Looking at the two options through this lens can make the choice very simple.

This blog was written by Dan Mager, MSW, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

This blog was written by Dan Mager, MSW, author of SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Addiction News, Author News, Blog, Chronic Pain, Family & Addiction, Pain Recovery | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Writing from the front lines of alcoholism

Frances Simone is a professor emeritus of Marshall University’s South Charleston campus. Central Recovery Press recently published her memoir, “Dark Wine Waters: My Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows.”

She talked to the Gazette about the book, which recounts the dynamics of co-dependency in dealing with her husband Terry’s alcoholism, from its earliest beginnings to the progression of his disease through all its stages.

She recounts his attempts at treatment and subsequent relapse, his suicide on Christmas Day in 1996 at the age of 48, and her own recovery through a twelve-step program.

Simone will sign copies of the book at Taylor Books, 226 Capitol St., from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday.


fran_simone__03_4x3x300dpiQ: Why did you want to write this book?

A: What I really wanted to convey was, first of all, what it was like to be inside of that kind of relationship without having the tools of knowing how to deal with it.

In the introduction to the book, I talk about the fact that as I was writing it I realized I made so many mistakes. The way I behaved. But I wasn’t in any kind of program or recovery to know what to do. So, when I did finally get into that and learn the tools, that’s kind of the message I guess that I would like to come out of this. Even when you have a tragedy like this you can recover and have a decent life, a good life which I think I have now.

And I think stories help people heal. That’s another reason I wrote it.

One figure I read was there were about 25 to 30 million alcoholics and addicts in the United States. And if you extrapolate from that the family members, you’re talking about maybe 100 million folks that are dealing with some kind of addiction.

It’s a huge number of loved ones and family members who are dealing with addiction, watching people that they love kill themselves through drugs and alcohol. I’m hoping that my book will speak to them.

Q: How did you meet your husband?

I moved here as a single mom after a divorce. I had just gotten my doctorate at Duke. Terry moved here with a group of people from Texas. We met shortly after we came here and fell in love.

He apparently had been a heavy drinker since college. And I was not aware of that. There was a lot of drinking and drugging and stuff going on in that period of time. So, there were a lot of heavy drinkers and I didn’t think much about it.

It was totally out of context for me because in the Italian family where I grew up we had wine for dinner occasionally and it wasn’t an issue.

He was also a binge drinker so it wasn’t happening all the time.

He was a very gifted attorney. It was just this back and forth where things would happen and then we’d have these periods of time where everything was great.

Q: You say you “made so many mistakes.” What do you mean by that?

A: We would just keep going back and forth, I would bring it up that he was drinking. He did go into treatment at a center in North Carolina. Then he came out but he relapsed fairly quickly. He was a functioning alcoholic — he never lost his job or the family or any of that.

So, I just did all the wrong things. Either nagged or withdrew. It was just all of this co-dependent behavior. I didn’t know how to handle it. So I did what the recovery people would say were like all the wrong things. My situation is everybody else’s situation. It’s all about trying to control what you can’t control.

Q: You talk about putting on your “God suit” to get your husband to stop drinking.

A: That’s like I knew everything. I was omnipotent. I knew what he needed to do. If he would just do what I told him to do everything would be OK. So, I was very prideful and very arrogant.

We just kept on and on. I never stopped believing that he would get well. He was never a mean or nasty drunk. He was never abusive. He was a very sweet, mild-mannered guy. When he was drunk he simply just wasn’t there. It was like he’d disappear. So this went on and on and on.

Q: What happened after his suicide?

A: For the first year I was kind of pretty numb. There was a lot of grief and sadness. But I did join a widows’ group that someone was sponsoring here in town. That was helpful. Then I went to several conferences and support [groups] that dealt just with suicide. That was really helpful. You get through it. And I journaled a lot because I’m a writer and that was very helpful, too.

Q: You also have a son who had an addiction problem. In dealing with that, you eventually got yourself into a 12-Step program for families. How has that helped?

A: I would say I’ve been involved in that probably for the last eight years or so. One of the things that we talk about it in there — it kind of sounds like a cliché — but they do talk about sharing your experience, strength and hope. That’s what we do. That’s been helpful to me. My son’s in recovery. But I’m still committed to go and share my journey with newcomers, with people who are coming in and they’re very distraught and don’t know what to do.

Q: What are some of the things you have learned from being in this fellowship group?

A: You have to back off and let the folks that are behaving in a negative way experience the consequences of their behavior. And that’s a very, very hard thing to do. Particularly, at least I have found, with children, with your kids, because your DNA or your instinct is to help them. So that line between helping and enabling I think is a very, very thin line, What you learn is how to negotiate that line. And it’s not always easy, obviously.

Q: Who do you think the audience is for your book?

A: Loved ones in relationships with addicts and alcoholics and also professionals who deal with addicts and alcoholics — those are the people I would like to be my audience.

I hope that people who read the book will realize that even in the face of a very tragic situation that they can recover. And that there are programs and organizations and that there’s help out there and that people can recover and lead healthy and happy lives. But it takes a lot of work.

This bog was written about Fran Simone, author of DARK WINE WATERS

This bog was written about Fran Simone, author of DARK WINE WATERS

This article previously appeared in the Charleston Gazette

This article previously appeared in the Charleston Gazette

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Addiction News, Alcoholism, Blog, Family & Addiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Do You Want to Understand the Mysteries of the Unconscious?

Outreach is an important topic these days in psychoanalysis. As I have explored in a previous post, there is a growing sense that psychoanalysts must reach out beyond the privacy of their offices and professional journals if their profession is to survive.

But beyond self-preservation, there is a deeper question that psychoanalysts must ask: Is the world actually interested in what we have to say? In other words, do psychoanalysts have something of value that people need and want to hear?

On June 9, 2014, I had the privilege of speaking at Interesting Talks-London, the largest non-technical meetup.com group in the world. I had planned to visit London for the launch for my book, Wisdom from the Couch. In researching possible venues to promote my book, I looked into Freud’s Bar, an outreach program to the public sponsored by local psychaoanlytic societies. This research took me to meetup.com where I stumbled upon organizer Matt Kendall and his wildly successful group.

Interesting Talks-London has over 8,000 registered members. Matt has a simple formula with an incredible yet proven track-record of success. He offers one or two events each week, always in Central London and usually in a church basement that seats 70 people. At each event he has an invited speaker come and give a two-hour interactive talk about a topic their choice. The topics include hypnosis, business, persuasion, negotiation skills, self-development, dating, careerbuilding, and even magic. After the talk there is chance to chat and network with all the attendees in a pub across the street. He charges a mere $10 for admission and the events frequently sell out. Each talk is videotaped in high definition for use on his website. Even before meeting him, I was convinced that Matt Kendall was an organizing genius.

I was delighted that Matt accepted my offer to give a talk. I was none too keen on the fact that he expected me to organize small-group discussions during the two-hour lecture. I hate small-group discussions. I did not tell him this, of course, because I was eager to do all I could to make this a success. After all, I was a no-name psychologist from Los Angeles, speaking about a topic that I thought might be somewhat intimidating or off-putting to the average Joe and Jane. I was worried that nobody would show up. This anxiety was connected to a deeper fear that the book I had just published would fall flat. Would anyone really be interested in what I had to say?

Matt and I worked together to come up with a compelling title and description for my talk. We called it “Understanding the Mysteries of the Unconscious” and I gave myself a tall order: I promised (in writing) to help people understand why they do the counter-productive things they do and why they don’t do the productive things they want to do. To my great surprise, the talk sold-out with 20 people on the waiting list.

Even though Matt’s events often are well-subscribed, I was stunned. So, when I began my talk, I asked everyone, “Why did you come?” And they gave the same basic response: “The topic seemed so interesting. I don’t know anything about the unconscious. I wanted to know more about why I sabotage myself.” I began to feel that I might find a positive answer to my fundamental question.

I began my talk by sharing my motivation for writing Wisdom from the Couch and then read a few of the first pages. I talked a bit about the nature of the unconscious and what makes psychoanalysis different from other therapyapproaches. Then I gave them the first (dreaded) exercise. I said, “Now I want you to break up into small groups, just turn around right where you’re seated, and brainstorm some ideas about how we even know that the unconscious exists. Think of the unconscious like gravity or wind. We can deduce that the gravity and wind exist because of their effect on things. What evidence is there of the unconscious in everyday life? (pause) Go!”

The room erupted in a burst of electric energy as 70 people turned to one another to engage in conversation. I got goose bumps. That was the moment when I realized that psychoanalysis might actually offer something that people want and need in their lives.

At the pub afterwards, I chatted with some of the attendees and discovered that London is a very lonely place. Matt’s meetup.com group has been successful because these folks long for contact with like-minded people and do, in fact, want to develop and grow themselves. This revelation was both poignant and refreshing.

Many cities in the world must be like London. I know that here in America, people are becoming more and more dissatisfied with the limitations of the quick fix models that flood the popular psychology market. In last week’s Time Magazine, Kristin van Ogtrop wrote a piece called “Self Helpless,” offering a funny but scathing critique of the self-help industry that preys upon the weaknesses of overachievers. She suggested that the net result is that people feel badly about themselves but are given no real help to do anything about it. With this in mind, I think it is worthwhile to ask ourselves, is there a more useful kind of self-help book, blog, or talk? Something that gets beneath the surface of things.

Now, I’m not saying that psychoanalysis is the answer. But I was encouraged in London that there might be a need and a hunger for the wisdom that psychoanalysts have to offer. For me, this wisdom includesunderstanding the value of humble self-examination and critique; our unconscious resistance to change; the destructive role of greed, jealousy, and envy; the need to accept our human limitations while developing the courage to do what we can do; the benefit of changing our orientation to balance self-interest with the common good; the value of slow growth over time; and above all, the centrality of love. If psychoanalysts can speak and write about such things in an accessible, user-friendly way, it turns out that people will come.

Click on the picture to view the video of the lecture

Click on the picture to view the video of the lecture







This blog is written by Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This blog is written by Jennifer Kunst, PhD, author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

This blog originally appeared on the Psychology Today website

Posted in Author News, Blog, Mental Health, Personal Development | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment