Exploring the Creativity of Limitation: New Ways to Tell the Same Truth

My mother gets in the car and stares straight ahead.

Before I turn the key, I say, “Mom, want to put on your seatbelt?”

“What?” She has a sweet, vague look on her face.

“Your seat belt. You’ll need to put it on.”

I reach over her and drag down the seat belt. She nods and pulls it forward, towards the buckle. But she looses momentum and the belt slides back into oblivion. Now I have to unbuckle my own seat belt, stretch up and pull my mother’s seat belt forward again. This time I snap it in myself.

“How is work?” Mom says, when we are underway.

“It’s fine. I have an interesting new editing job, working on a romance novel.”

Mom smiles.

I stop at a red light and she asks, “How’s work?”

I grip the steering wheel but keep my voice calm. “Fine. I’m editing a romance novel.”

Three minutes later, she asks again. That’s when I realize; this is a great opportunity for me to exercise creativity. Having imposed limitations can be a catalyst for creative thinking. I set myself a challenge: How can I give my mother a new and truthful answer every time she asks me this question?

“How is work?”

“I am really enjoying reading this romance novel set in the early 20th century and figuring out how to make the characters more believable,” I say.

She smiles. I smile. Now that I’m viewing mom’s repetition as a trigger for my own creativity, I feel lighter, more open and loving. My mind is dancing about, constructing a new and interesting answer.  Now I am eager for my mom to ask me again and again, so I can share interesting information with my mother while expanding my art of creative expression

Creative Pick Me Up: Ask yourself a question and create ten different true answers.

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

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Disorderly Eating

Actor Robyn Cruze-Harrington looks back on the moment that changed the course of her 18-year battle with food.

“You are the big fat liar!” I declared, holding my fork mid-air. “I will eat this chicken. I will not purge, starve, binge, or harm myself any more!” Stabbing it with conviction, I began to chew with a half-smile, half-snarl. And just like that, 10 years ago, after many attempts to tackle my problem, my recovery began.

As a model and actor I knew the manipulation that went with the industry. I knew that most of the “glamour” was smoke and mirrors, but I wanted to be the exception. I was seeking perfection.

My friend Rebecca said to me one day, after I’d spent a Christmas holiday alone in a blackout from diet pills, “The difference between you and me, Robyn, is that I am not willing to kill myself to look good.” I was. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t care how close I came to death if it gave me a chance to be at the weight I believed I “should” be.

I vacillated between binge eating and bulimia, with a brief stop at anorexia. I was trying to create a sense of empowerment, a distraction from the reality that I had so little control in my life – over my mum’s health, over my parents’ rocky relationship and, most of all, over how other people felt about me.

If I starved, I binged to medicate. If I binged, I purged to medicate. Each time I binged, purged or starved, the aftermath was the same. My skin would crawl. My heart would race. I felt as if I were about to lose my mind. It made me want to spit on my own face and punch it unmercifully. Sometimes I’d just lie there – bloated, conquered, ashamed. Then I’d get angry. I’d promise myself I’d never do it again. It was the same every time; only the location differed.

I believed that being thinner made me more lovable. Everyone said it wasn’t true, but I saw how my friends got more attention for being thinner. Or did I?

Looking back, what I really saw were women who appeared comfortable in their own skin – and that was stunning to me. I had never known what that felt like. I believed that if I could just reach an ideal, then I could start living. But life was happening without me. I had wasted so much time.

This created an anxiety that made me scramble for quick fixes. I imagined the time it would take to wade through my illness and seek recovery. I floundered in that torturous sea for years, my head bobbing up and down as glimpses of the shores of recovery teased me.

It was not a particularly special day when I declared defeat. The night before, I had binged on marshmallows. I awoke covered in sweat. I’d given myself food poisoning and was vomiting in the bathroom of a friend of a friend, someone who’d graciously allowed an aspiring Aussie actor to stay in her Los Angeles home. I had lost my dignity to an illness that promised me perfection.

I started to review what had happened. I was 29, severely depressed, broke and clueless as to who I really was. And I was exhausted. After all, I had been fighting since I was 11 years old. I sat, breathless. And then, on that bathroom floor, I had a new thought: what if I just said no to my eating disorder?

There, sitting on a kind stranger’s floor, I understood for the first time that I could walk away. I didn’t know how I would achieve the happiness I longed for, but I realised that my eating disorder wouldn’t get me there.

This article first appeared in the July 20, 2014 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald

This article first appeared in the July 20, 2014 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald

This blog post was written by Robyn Cruze-Harrington, co-author of MAKING PEACE WITH YOUR PLATE

This blog post was written by Robyn Cruze-Harrington, co-author of MAKING PEACE WITH YOUR PLATE

Posted in Addiction, Addiction & Recovery, Addiction News, Author News, Blog, Eating Disorder Recovery, Emotional Eating, Family & Addiction, Personal Development | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Nobody is Perfect

Change has been the topic of several of my blog posts lately. I figure that it’s on the forefront of your mind, if you’ve taken the time out of your busy day to read a blog about psychotherapy. If you’re like me, you want to change so that you can have a better life — a life that works better, gives you more happiness, and helps you find more peace.

But if we really look into it, our pursuit of “a better life” — just like “change” — is a tricky business. It’s easy to get carried away with it, even in therapy. In our efforts to improve ourselves, we can get trapped in the pursuit of perfection. We can mistakenly believe that our limitations and imperfections are obstacles to our mental health, happiness, and peace of mind.

How many of us have imagined that if we were better looking, we would be happier? Perhaps for you it would be smarter, stronger, richer, funnier, or thinner. The pursuit of perfection can get pretty subtle and unnerving in therapy, too, especially a long-term therapy like psychoanalysis. It’s easy to get drawn into a misguided effort to become a perfectly functioning adult: always knowing the right thing to say, never getting our feathers ruffled, easily finding an ideal work-life balance, and never ever again getting drawn into our old worries, preoccupations, bitterness, or conflicts. Both on and off the couch, I have shed my share of tears anguishing over my imperfections and wanting so much to overcome them, to be done with them, frankly, to get rid of them.

It takes a lot of hard psychological work to realize that our pursuit of perfection is in vain. First of all, no one is perfect, no one has it all. And second, even if we could be perfect, it wouldn’t get us to where we really want to go.

You see, a healthy, happy, and satisfying life is based essentially in love — loving relationships with others, and even a loving relationship with ourselves. And at its root, love has very little to do with perfection. It is, as they say, a horse of a different color.

This wisdom is conveyed so beautifully in the children’s story, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” a tale that is both simple and profound. It has captured the hearts and minds of generations since it was written by Margery Williams in 1922. If you don’t know it, you’ve got to read it.

The story is about a little boy who is given a stuffed animal for Christmas, the Velveteen Rabbit. While it is a soft and lovely rabbit, it does not have the appeal of the more expensive, mechanical, and fancy toys in the boy’s collection. So it is soon forgotten, overshadowed by the other more exciting toys in the boy’s nursery.

The Rabbit, however, makes friends with another long forgotten toy, the Skin Horse, the shabby veteran of the nursery that had been the favorite toy of the boy’s uncle many years before. One day, as the two stuffed animals are discussing the Rabbit’s inferiority complex, the Skin Horse shares some wisdom. A toy becomes real if its owner really loves it.

Williams writes, “What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL.”

Oh, I just love this next part. “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

With the help of the wise Skin Horse, we begin to get it. We begin to understand that perfection may be fancy but it isn’t real and it certainly isn’t love. In some ways, perfection doesn’t encourage love either. In fact, it often discourages it. Like the Skin Horse suggests, the easier you break, the sharper your edges, the more you need to be carefully kept, the harder it is to love and be loved — and the harder it is to love yourself. Perfection has a kind of unexpected fragility. It doesn’t have the sturdiness needed for the rough and tumble of an ordinary, happy, and real life.

One of the capacities that we hope to grow in therapy, as well as in life, is acceptance. As much as there is value in changing for the better, there is also value in accepting ourselves as we are. A balance is needed; change and acceptance go hand in hand. If we grow to accept and love ourselves as the real, ordinarily good people that we are, then our efforts to change have the right orientation. No longer the pursuit of perfection, change becomes a self-improvement project built on a foundation of love.

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 Addiction & Recovery, Addiction News, Author News, Blog, Personal Development | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

DARK WINE WATERS reviewed in The Library Journal

lj logoSimone, Frances. Dark Wine Waters:
Central Recovery. Jul. 2014.
224p. ISBN 9781937612641. pap. $15.95

Simone’s (Professor Emeritus, Marshall Univ., Huntington, WV) memoir begins when she meets her husband, Terry, after she takes a risk and calls a guy she’s never met out of the blue. The two connect immediately, and soon they are a couple. Eventually, however, Terry’s drinking turns the romance sour—but that’s not the end of the story. Simone characterizes herself as a co­dependent, addicted to her spouse as much as he was addicted to alcohol. Together they deal with Terry’s addiction, rehab, and relapse, again and again. Each time, Simone believes Terry is as committed to recovery as she is. “Denial is the hub of the addiction wheel; it drives every spoke of the disease,” she writes. The author carries the water/sailing metaphor from the first line of her story (“I live in currents”) through to the end, even referencing it in excerpts from her journal and in quoted words from her therapist. While aspects of the author’s account are bleak, it ends with her in a 12-step program for families, suggesting a hopeful outcome. VERDICT Readers with an interest in addiction and recovery memoirs will likely relate to Simone’s story.—Mindy Rhiger, Minneapolis

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

This blog is about  Fran Simone, author of DARK WINE WATERS

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

Are You Socially Anxious?

Psychologists have long been interested in the concept of attachment, which has its origins in childhood experiences, primarily with those who raise us. Being raised in a family where nurturance is combined about equally with structure creates what are called secure parent-child (or caregiver-child) attachments. The secure child, in turn, is likely to grow into an adult who is not afraid to venture into the world, and who is also capable of forming and sustaining intimate friendships and relationships. But what happens if something goes awry in this ideal scenario?

Anxiety and Avoidance in Real-World Relationships

There are two variations of so-called insecure attachment styles that can emerge from developmental years that are characterized by a great deal of rejection, ambivalence, or abuse. These are called anxious and avoidant styles, and they describe how we act in relationships.They are described well in an article published by R. Chris Fraley and colleagues at the University of Illinois (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2000, Vol 78, No. 2 p. 350-365).

What’s Your Style?

To get an idea of how well these two attachment styles describe you (or someone you are close to), respond to the following questions as each of them describes you, as follows:

0 = Not at all
1 = Describes me a little
3 = Describes me a lot

___ I worry that my loved one might end our relationship.
___ I think I love my partner more than he/she loves me.
___ I tend to feel anxious whenever I and my partner are not together.
___ I often feel unlovable.

Add up your score (from 0 to 12) to see how much the anxious attachment style describes you or your loved one.

Next, respond to the following questions using the same 3-point scale:

___ I don’t care to share my deeper feelings with others.
___ I hesitate to rely on my partner to do things for me.
___ I am uncomfortable with too much affection from my partner.
___ I value my independence.

Again, add up your scores to see how much the avoidant attachment style describes you or your loved one.

How Anxiety and Avoidance Poison Relationships

As you might imagine, it is likely that individuals who score relatively high on either “anxious attachment” or “avoidant attachment” styles will experience stress and difficulty in close relationships.

Anxiety: These individuals chronically worry about losing their relationship, especially by doing something wrong. They therefore put extra effort into it, can seek a lot of reassurance, and like to maintain a lot of contact. The more anxiously attached people in this group are often described as clingy, and at worst smothering. The fact that they can come on strong initially in a relationship can be appealing, but their insecurity eventually can become a burden on those close to them.

Avoidance: These men and women do form relationships, but depending on just how avoidant they are they also tend to maintain a certain distance. Their partners may describe them as aloof or self-sufficient, meaning that they are inclined to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves and not rely on a partner very much. For the person who has been in a relationship with someone who has an anxious attachment style the avoidant style can seem refreshing at first. Over time, however, the avoidant person’s reluctance to be truly intimate can drive a fatal wedge into a relationship.

Anxiety and Avoidance in the Cyber World

We know how attachment styles operate within the realm of real-life relationships. But what about the cyber world? After all, Web-based communication is now an integral part of most people’s lives, including establishing and maintaining “friendships” through social media sites such a Facebook. Do we have any idea if the above attachment styles play a role in the world of cyber-relationships? And if so, how? Finally, is it possible that these two attachment styles could interact in any way?

Researchers operating out of two universities in Israel have ventured to begin to answer these questions. Their research is the first of what will hopefully be much to follow, so that those who use social media to connect to others can better understand possible differences in the cyber behavior of those in their social network.

In a study reported this year in the journal Computers in Human Behavior (Vol. 38, pp. 127-135) 354 participants with a median age of 27 volunteered to join a temporary Facebook network and then, for a period of time, to share information about themselves–including their attachment styles–and their use of social media. They all completed the Experiences in Close Relationships questionnaire, which the above questions are modeled after. They also provided information on how many people they had invited to be their “friends” through this Facebook network, and how many of these friendships had been initiated by others. They also provided information about how much time (in hours) they spent the previous week interacting with others via this network, and if they had initiated any new friendships in that week. Last but not least they indicated whether or not they communicated anything of an emotional nature via the web, such as how they themselves were feeling or how they felt about something.

What They Found

This research employed complex statistical techniques, but here are some of the more significant findings in a nutshell:

• Those people who scored low on both avoidance and anxiety tended to have the broadest cyber networks. In other words, they initiated more friendships, accepted more friend invitations, and spent more time communicating with friends. These individuals were most open to connecting with others via the cyber world. They are the most likely individuals to become a social media hub, and the researchers labeled them secure.

• A decrease in avoidance was associated with an increase in willingness to share information with others, including information of an emotional nature. In effect, the avoidance attachment style appears to work in the social world much as it does in the real world, with avoidant individuals being the least disclosing and having smaller social networks.

• People high on the anxious attachment style indicated a willingness to communicate with network friends but not when it involved emotional content. One possible explanation for this is that people with an anxious attachment style are inclined to fear abandonment and/or rejection. This may be why they hesitate to risk sharing information that might lead others to reject them. They are, in other words, playing it safe, emotionally speaking, on their social network.

Take a moment, now, to reflect on the above descriptions of how a person’s attachment style gets played out in real life and in the cyber-world. Do you see any consistency between the two, either for yourself or someone who you consider close to you? Do you know anyone who you would consider “secure” meaning that they are “comfortable in the own skin” — not overly worried about being rejected, and willing to be open about their thoughts and feelings? Would you say that these individuals are social “hubs,” both in real life and cyber life? Finally, are there any ways in which you would like to change the way you relate to others, within either or both of your social networks?

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post






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

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What’s My Book About?

Recently I attended a session at a writing conference which focused on ways to publicize and market a book. Since my first book was about to be published I was all ears. The workshop leader addressed marketing essentials. First and foremost a writer needs to determine her book’s value to readers. Don’t ask, “What is my book about?” ; instead ask, “What is my book’s value? Here’s what I wrote. My book seeks to help loved ones of alcoholics and addicts and survivors of suicide to not only recover, but to thrive.”

It’s estimated that there are between 25 to 30 million Americans with addictions to alcohol and drugs which means approximately 120 million family members are affected. That’s a huge demographic. For the most part, these 120 million strong have been a very quiet group. I believe that we remain silent because of the stigma associated with the disease, despite the fact that addiction is a brain disease and should be treated like other diseases. Do family members whose loved ones have cancer shy away from the topic? No. Consider how effectively The Susan G. Komen Organization, a global initiative advocates for a cure for cancer and better treatment options.

Like cancer, addiction affects family members big time. We suffer because of this disease. Although the details of our individual stories may differ, our backstory, labeled “co-dependency or enabling”, is the same. In our misguided attempts to stop the addict from using, we control, deny, manipulate, threaten, minimize, rationalize, rescue, nag, argue, plead and prod. None of that works, but lacking the tools and resources of recovery, we can’t break free from this crazy making. We’re caught in addiction’s insidious cycle, just as our loved ones are trapped in the downward spiral of their disease. We need to break free. One powerful way to do so is to share our stories, especially the good news of our recovery.

My story recounts a loving marriage challenged by the disease of alcoholism and ended with my husband’s tragic death. It describes my process of recovery where I faced my fears, released my demons, reclaimed my voice, and wrote my story. Stories can help us heal. I am grateful for the opportunity to share mine and hope that it will be of value to my readers.

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

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

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A Recovery Quilt

When I celebrated my fifth year of recovery my friend Miriam made a quilted wall hanging for me to mark that anniversary. She was five years ahead of me in recovery. Quilting was one of the passions that she’d reclaimed thanks to recovery and she was –much to her own surprise—very good.

Recovery QuiltThe quilt panel that she made for me she called “Stages of Recovery.” It is a vertical panel that links four quilted squares on a deep burgundy background. The panels represent four stages of recovery and they begin at the top with a distinct checkerboard of black and white panels. This top square, Miriam told me, represents the very start of recovery and the black and white necessity of not using your addictive substance. The stark contrast is about following the rules and doing what you are told.

The panel just below that is another square with a strong black base with side columns of pure white but with a deep pink band across the top that dips down to touch the back squares. “This is your pink cloud phase,” Miriam said. “This is where you are so happy to be in recovery; things are starting to get better; you see the gifts of the program and you just want more.”

The next square down on my “stages” quilt is a square that includes neat rectangles made of black and white and pink prints. It’s pretty but not regimented like the stark black and white square at the top. This third square has something new: Now there are also deep gray squares scattered among the printed ones and a solid charcoal gray square at the very center. This square represents the gray of recovery and how the gray of life arrives.

But the bottom –and last quilt square– is the shocker. The bottom piece is made up of many small squares seemingly tossed at random. Some are black and white and there’s even some gray, but mixed in are more squares of candy red, bright blue, acid green, deep purple, tangerine orange and a dull mustard yellow. This square is totally messy but it is deeply and happily colorful.

For years I disliked that last square. The other sections with their deliberate and limited palates were graphic and sharp—and orderly– but this last square with its messy mix of too many colors always bothered me. But that bottom square—representing the “messy but colorful” part of recovery –is what “Out of the Woods” is all about. Messy progress. Happiness. No perfection.

Women in recovery need each of these stages and we need them in that order. When we are new we need to submit to and embrace strict rule following. “Don’t use-no matter what.”

Then, as recovery starts to “take” we are embraced in and humored through our “pink clouds” but they too run their course. The gray enters our recovery and we find that it’s a time when the right sponsor and good recovery friends matter a lot. Discernment is a skill we have to develop in these gray years. Our recovery becomes our own; we make choices based on recovery principles but our choices may not look like someone else’s.

Finally, in that later, colorful stage, we will have fewer “shoulds.” We might leave the marriage that in early recovery we worked so hard to save. Or we might have a baby –with or without a partner. We might leave our law practice to be an artist while our best friend gives up her successful pottery business to go to nursing school. There are no right answers, but life is built on a strong base of deep recovery.

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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How to Gain Strength Through Difficult Experiences

As I think about the process of psychological growth, I really like the three ingredient recipe of grace, truth, and time that I wrote about in last week’s blog post. But the more I think about it, the more I also realize that there is one more essential part of the recipe that I forgot to mention. It’s so obvious that it’s easy to overlook. It’s like having a list of ingredients for a delicious soup but not mentioning that you have to put them together in a saucepan, turn on the heat, simmer, and stir. Yes, psychological growth takes grace, truth, and time. But it is not a passive process. It doesn’t just happen. Metaphorically speaking, the recipe only works if we get into the kitchen and start cooking.

Psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion emphasized the idea that the mind only gets stronger through experience. We don’t develop mental strength by osmosis any more than we develop physical muscle by reading books or watching Youtube videos. Cookbooks have their place, but at some point, we’ve got to try out the recipe. Learning may begin in the classroom, but it only takes root when applied in real life.

Bion believed that the kinds of experiences that strengthen us are experiences that challenge us. Just like the body must be taxed to develop physical muscle, so the mind must be taxed to develop mental muscle. In everyday life, challenging experiences are not hard to come by. Our rudimentary efforts to seek pleasure and avoid pain don’t take us very far. Real life challenges us, frustrates us, flummoxes us, and disappoints us. Often, our knee-jerk response to such challenges is to turn away from them in search of an easier way. But if we are to strengthen our minds, we must turn toward them. By turning toward challenging experiences, we give ourselves the opportunity to grow ourselves into the kind of people that can deal with challenging experiences well.

With this general principle in mind, let’s take the next step. If developing mental strength through challenging experiences is generally what we’re after, what specifically are we working to strengthen? I would like to highlight two specific strengths that are extremely useful in life: the capacities to delay gratification and bear frustration.

Delaying gratification is essentially the capacity to wait while staying engaged in a productive process. The context might be financial investing, therapy, a long-term relationship, parenting, or learning a new skill. Inevitably, difficulties arise in these sorts of experiences. The market has its ups and downs. Relationships go through seasons that are lean and stressful. A smart long-term strategy may not yield success at first. It is important to determine whether or not such difficulties signal a problem that cannot be solved or if they reflect ordinary challenges that, with persistence, can be overcome. After all, it isn’t wise to stick with a fund or a relationship or a strategy that doesn’t have a reasonable chance of working in the long run. But we also don’t want to abandon a good strategy prematurely. As the saying goes, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.”

If we can stick with working at something that, at some level, we know is potentially good for us—even if the benefits don’t come right away—we give ourselves the chance to have a double gain. Not only do we receive the benefit of that particular investment, we develop a greater capacity to be a long-term investor. A person who can commit to persistently working without immediate rewards has the opportunity to grow something really substantial over time—both on the outside and on the inside.

The capacity to bear frustrationgoes hand in hand with the capacity to delay gratification. Developing the capacity to bear frustration means that we stay engaged with the feelings that emerge while we are delaying gratification. After all, painful feelings will come up in that psychological space: frustration, disappointment, anger, hopelessness, as well as other painful feelings. We develop mental strength when we face such feelings and try to work with them rather than run away from them.

To put it simply, we strengthen our minds when we add a middle step between impulse and action. Rather than acting on our impulse to quit, we take the step of staying with the process and our feelings in it. There’s a lot of growth that can happen in that middle step. We feel our pain, and we think about it. We get acquainted with our feelings and find that they do not overwhelm us. That’s what I mean by mental muscle. We develop the capacity to carry a greater emotional load.

There’s nothing like watching a first rate soccer team in action to know how these mental capacities make or break us. One of the reasons why we admire a team that can come from behind is that we intuitively understand the mental toughness that is involved in such a process. So much of long-term success in sports —and, frankly, in life itself—is mental. Beyond the physical training, we’ve got to dig deep to play the mental game well, too. This means that we must work to develop the kind of mind that can cope under pressure—the kind of mind that can get in the game when we are behind or even stay in the game when we are losing our lead. When we can overcome our impulse to give up, we develop skills for a lifetime. When we can bear the painful feelings that arise when we are struggling, we gain strength not only for that moment but for all the moments that will inevitably challenge us in the future.

A strong mind can only be developed in the crucible of challenging experiences. The recipe of psychological growth that includes grace, truth, and time also involves mental strain and effort. To state it in the positive sense, if we want to get cooking, we’ve got to learn to stand the heat by getting into the kitchen.

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


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Addiction to Scary Thinking     

I’ve been much more aware of my thinking as recovery progresses. The slogan, “I came for the drinking but stayed for my thinking” is very true. Even with all—or most—addictions removed it’s my thinking that causes me trouble. I write about this in “Out of the Woods”, and I found it was true all through the writing of that new book.

I find that the habit is a sneaky one. I just just slide into telling myself scary stories: “He will leave me”, “They won’t like me”, “I’ll get fired” or this or that bad thing will happen. The end of the story is always the same though: I am abandoned and I am defective.

But today –a perfectly good day—while I was walking around the track at the gym I realized that my mind wanted to scare me. I kept trying to shake the thoughts and redirect them but it was harder than ever. And then I got this idea: These persistent thoughts that seem to want to derail me are like cravings. I understand cravings –I’ve dealt with alcohol and food, and this is what they feel like.

Long-term recovery gives me these new “light-bulb moments” Today’s was: If I view these thought patterns as an addiction and if I approach the change as if I am dealing with cravings then I can apply Twelve-step principles here too: When cravings strike what have we learned to do?

Well, we can: “Move a muscle change a thought”, and we can pick up the phone and tell someone, and we can decide to not “pick up” the thought for one day, one hour, one minute at a time. And always, we can pray for this “craving” to be removed.

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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The Secret Ingredients to Lasting Change

Because we all want to make changes that last

To illustrate this dynamic, one of my patients once told me of a sculpture of Sisyphus, pushing his boulder up the mountain, just as the story goes. But this sculpture added a new dimension to the image. There, on the other side of the boulder, was another Sisyphus, pushing the same boulder back down the mountain. We work against ourselves.

So what is the secret, then, to overcoming these resistances and making changes that last?

In February of 2006, I had the good fortune to attend a worship service celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the Graduate School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, my alma mater. Dr. John Ortberg, also an alumnus, preached a moving sermon about the essential aspects of growing. To an audience of Christian therapists, he spoke poetically and pointedly about the joys and frustrations of helping people change, about how meaningful it is to be part of their healing process, and how difficult the work can be. His sermon was centered on three essential features of the growing process—a formula that he borrowed from another well-known Christian therapist, Dr. Henry Cloud.

Ortberg began by talking about the first two ingredients—grace and truth. He described grace in the traditional Christian way as “unmerited favor,” and by this he meant that we human beings really need to have an engaged, nonjudgmental support team available if we are to do the hard work of growing. We need family, friends, and wise guides to listen to our struggles and take them seriously. We need understanding of how scary it is to change, encouragement when we fail, and recognition when we try.

But Ortberg went on to say that grace alone is not sufficient; we also must engage with the truth. He used the concept of truth in the same way that psychoanalysts use the concept of reality. We must face the truth about ourselves; we must deal with reality as it is. As a thinking Christian, I love that he promoted the idea that God is fundamentally on the side of the truth. I prefer to picture God not as a magician taking us away from the problems of the world but as a parent who lovingly holds us accountable to facing the truth about ourselves. Ortberg went on to say that the combination of grace and truth is essential. Grace without truth would never lead to substantial change; and truth is nearly impossible to face without grace, for it is too hard and too painful, and so we would otherwise do all we could to avoid it.

I would have been quite satisfied if Ortberg had stopped there. I would have left the worship service feeling like he had spoken about something substantial in the psychological and spiritual journey. I would have felt that he had validated an approach that I had understood and tried to practice in my life and work. But he went one step further. The next step was such a wonderful surprise, it made me gasp. I’m not kidding. He said that there are three essential ingredients to lasting change and growth: grace, truth, and…time.

I exclaimed to myself silently, “Time!” That’s the ingredient we so often wish to leave out. That’s the bit that cannot be left out. It’s the secret to yeast, to a good marinade, to fine wine. It is the key to making a lasting and deep love relationship, to fighting an illness, to grieving the loss of a loved one, to maturing in faith, to making peace, and to growing up. Time is essential to change.

Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein said that psychological change happens slowly over time—step by step, bit by bit. Like learning to walk, we fall down and get up, fall down and get up again. By patiently giving ourselves new experiences, it becomes possible to make an internal psychological shift. We give ourselves the opportunity to learn that change is not disastrous. Through successive experiences of both failure and success, we learn that we can survive.

In this way, the change process involves re-wiring our whole belief system. Through the experience of surviving small changes, we come to believe something new about life and about ourselves. We come to see life as less dangerous. We come to see ourselves as more capable. And that combination—seeing the world as less dangerous and ourselves as more capable—is a whole new ballgame. It allows us to face change with less fear and resistance. It allows us to see change as something good and desirable. In this new mindset, change can become a lifelong process to be embraced rather than avoided. And that mindset is the real key to making changes that last.

This blog ran previously in Psychology Today online

This blog ran previously in Psychology Today online





This blog was written by Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D., author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

This blog was written by Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D., author of WISDOM FROM THE COUCH

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