Addiction, Self-determination, Flow, Mindfulness, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, and Human Bonding

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Addiction, Self-determination, Flow, Mindfulness, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, and Human Bonding

What are the components of addiction? why is addiction less desirable? and what aptitudes help us to avoid addiction?

“Let’s Turn the conversation towards Efficiency and Away from Morals”

The Psychobiological and Relational causes of undesired, addictive, and compulsory behavior:

Flow (peak experience) – Humans are most fulfilled when: Goals are clear, there is regular feedback concerning progress towards the goal, and you have the aptitudes necessary to make the challenge at the sweet spot between too hard (anxiety) and too easy (boredom).

  • Implications – Many electronic devices contain software that was developed to create a sense of flow. This creates a radical craving to engage with the software.

 

  • Solution – We need to ensure public access to ‘flow’ promoting activities that increase biological, relational, and existential wellness. Historically this includes extracurricular activities such as the arts and sport. Self-discipline with also be necessary – such as not having your cell phone at dinner or while on hikes etc.

Implicit System Conditioning – Most human emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are controlled by the implicit system. Our implicit system is evolutionarily older and significantly faster (more intelligent) then our intentional and rational explicit system. This system is adaptive – ex. you couldn’t drive a car with you explicit system.

It is very important to note that most interventions in the past have focused entirely on an explicit override of the implicit system – for example, we attempt to ‘rationalize’ away from a person’s automatic emotional response to stimuli. Unfortunately, this is not how the brain works (If I give you a rational explanation for why something ‘isn’t’ disgusting this will have no impact on your automatic disgust response).

  • Implication – Most of us have been primed to have automatic behavioral responses (towards a vice) in response to various emotions or environmental stimuli. example of stimuli that often lead to drinking: anxiety (emotion) or watching a sporting event (environmental).

 

  • Solution – We can set up our environments which allow a mindful reflection on our emotional and somatic realities so that we can our observe our desired impulses, emotions, and sensations with calm attention and without action. We then can learn to feel our feelings without reacting automatically to them. Increasing our ability to tolerate intense emotional experiences will have a positive impact on our ability to avoid the compulsory behavior.

Brain wiring and neurotransmitters – there is some overlap here with the implicit system. “What fires together wires together” Experiences that happen together can wire together – this creates predictable emotional reactions to stimuli and can create associates that are not necessarily rational. 

Neurotransmitters help to control our psychological wellness – deficits and surpluses create issues ranging from depression to mania to attention issues to psychosis etc. Adding substances to a developing mind (or a developed mind) can have unpredictable effects on our neural chemistry. Additionally, substances can impact the brain’s ability to properly uptake, release, and create neurotransmitters – which then leads to deficits or surpluses.

  • Implications – Substances such as ecstasy have been shown to dramatically impact the production of important neurotransmitters.
  • Solutions – Modeling and appropriate structure – We can ensure that we are modeling healthy relationships (including abstinence when necessary) with behaviors that can be unhealthy for our biology. We also should have regular access to nutritional items that promote a healthy biology and a sense of enjoyment.

Human Bonding and Attachment – Many vices (especially substances) impact or interact with the brain area responsible for human bonding and attachment. This means that instead of seeking out a secure relationship with another human – the substance is used (ineffectively) as the relational surrogate. This often leads to isolating behaviors – which leads to dysregulation and depression – which leads to more substance use.

  • Implications – Many people will use pot or alcohol as a means of feeling less lonely and dysregulated – though this can feel helpful in the start – the process can create a feedback loop which leads to exacerbated feelings of loneliness and dysregulation without the substance.
  • Solution – Emotionally significant/vulnerable and authentic connection. It is easier to use electronics or to engage in a substance than it is to be vulnerable enough to share your true self with another person. It is hard to remain open, empathetic and compassionate in front of a person who is suffering or who is offering their authentic self in a way that we don’t yet understand (Our impulse is generally to fix or to categorize). When we grow in our ability to stay present, honest, openminded, and compassionate, we naturally dissipate feeling of loneliness… in turn we gain a felt sense of regulation (and we, therefore, are not in need of the vice to mitigate our fears).

Anthropological Importance of Inclusion – We are a tribal animal. Our cortex developed to its’ current sophisticated state in response to the need to track an ever-increasing amount of social information (currently we max out at about 200 people). Exclusion from the group generally resulted in death for the vast majority of human existence – we tracked information to ensure inclusion (and to track ‘unsafe’ people). This reality has created a substantial fear response related to exclusion – this fear will propel us to make poor decisions to mitigate our fear.

  • Implications – We will often compromise our beliefs, emotional needs, intuition, and ration in order to protect ourselves from the fear associated with exclusion – this can mean that it feels terrifying to be without social media or to ‘just say no’ when the dominant group is engaging in unsafe behavior.

 

  • Solutions – Create emotionally intelligent communities that promote acceptance of differences and encourage open-minded and vulnerable communication. Through a compassionate dialogue, we can create a sense of culture which is best suited to the needs of the individual and the collective. Within this space of openness and acceptance, we reduce judgment and make it safe to express differences (therefore the culture will be inclusive of people who avoid behaviors that are harmful, though ‘normal’.

Faced paced society with ever increasing stimuli, social dynamics, and expectations with a corresponding reduction of health-promoting options – Currently, our society is not set up to be optimal for our psychological health. We are over inundated with stimuli, we lack sleep, we are responsible for monitoring more social dynamics than is possible, we lack access to nature, there is less access to arts and athletics, we are constantly encouraged to think about the future as opposed to the present moment, and we are often held to unrealistic expectations (such as the average workweek for an adult).

  • Implications – Often it can feel like the only way to ‘deal’ with our life is to disassociate from it, avoid it, repress it, or escape from it. Many electronics help us to completely leave (disassociate) from our current reality. Many substances produce a feeling similar to a state of mindfulness – you are absorbed in the present moment and free from the suffering found by attending to the past or the future. Lastly, many substances give us the permission to be who we want to be – inhibition. Both electronics and substances help us to deal with our anxiety resulting from feelings overstimulated, unrested, unfulfilled, and over-extended.
  • Solution – Intentionality and authentic prioritizing our life choices and values. We can enact intentionality and discipline so as to live within a set of values that promote our well-being.  health diet, appropriate boundaries, authentic expression, secure relationships, exercise, and access to nature are vital for our psychological well-being – these should not be compromised if we have the privilege to not be oppressed from accessing them (many, if not most, people in our world are oppressed from access to these variables).

Variables Impacted by Addiction

Freedom and Self-Determination. Reduced Intentionality – Increased automaticity

  • Remember Pavlov and the salivating dog (rang a bell every time the dog was fed – led to the dog salivating by the bell – even when no food was present)? As humans, we are constantly conditioned to have predictable and automatic responses to certain stimuli (this is adaptive). We can, therefore, develop automatic (and often unconscious) emotional, biological, cognitive and behavioral responses to substances, electronics, and other vices.
  • Conditioning Targets the implicit system to create unconscious associations with the vice (drugs, electronics, alcohol, shopping etc).

Experience: you have a huge problem and there is nothing that you can do about it in the moment – what vice do you want?(sibling lost all their money and they are on their way to your house to live with you)

  • Anxiety = conditioned to have a strong desire (sensation and emotion) for vice – often followed by an automatic behavior to engage in vice
  • The teenage brain is already in a state of re-structuring – pre-frontal cortex (executive control center) is less integrated into brain functioning. (this is an important time for the development of intentionality and good habits).
  • Solutions –
    • Mindfulness – focused attention on the present moment. The ability to notice without judgment and without automatic reaction. With mindfulness, we can observe the stimulus and our mind and body’s desired reaction to the stimulus. With practice, the pre-frontal cortex can override the automatic behavior (though the automatic emotion will likely stay mostly the same).
    • Willpower to engage in life intentionally despite a strong impulse to avoid or otherwise retract from discomfort. (without self-determination we are controlled by the external world and our urges)

Emotions and Body Awareness. reduction of sensory and emotional experience along with a reduced ability to tolerate emotions or sensory experiences.

  • What sensations are experienced in an elevator with a stranger (what does it feel like in your body)What emotions do you have as a result? What behaviors are we likely to engage in?
    • Now imagine all the experiences that a teen is going through – Away from home, love interests, making friends, meeting expectations, and figuring out who they are
  • After you have looked at a screen for 5 minutes where is your consciousness?
    •       What effect might this have on emotional aptitudes such as empathy?
    • Electronics and substances often disassociate us from our body (and relationships).
  • We must learn to continually be aware of and to tolerate our emotional and somatic experiences to achieve our ambitions – substances and electronics can rob us of the ability to develop this capacity.

What normal aspects of everyday life require a high level of emotional awareness and tolerance? Public Speaking 😉 Creating an emotionally intimate relationship.

Attachment and inter-regulation through Human bonding

  • New research is finding that substances and electronics target the same area of our brain used for human attachment and bonding (bonding is a primary need like water (orphanage example & cast away example)— the pull is extreme)
  • We are a social animal, and through millions of years of evolution we have developed a very sophisticated system of bonding with other humans that radically improves our ability to survive – Human connection is the #1 predictor of happiness (slope of a hill appears less steep, reduced amygdala activation in FMRIs when shocked)
  • We need to help our teens to bond with each other, with us, with the community
  • Electronics and substances mimic the feeling we get from positive human connection BUT they do not lead to lasting happiness and they do no facilitate regulation (human bonding is the cure for stress).

Conclusion – Our goal is to mentor our community towards becoming Self-determined, Emotionally intelligent, and Relationally able people. This doesn’t need to be a moral argument – Drugs and Electronics are not intrinsically bad or good… Instead, let’s change the discussion to efficiency – what are the most efficient means of developing the above Aptitudes?

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Do you Like your self when you are with this person?

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I had a client share an age old piece of wisdom with me a couple months ago –

he said that he often asks himself the following question when evaluating his relationships:

“Do I Like myself  when I am with this person?”

“do I like who I am when I am with this person?”

this can also be twisted around to be more strength-based or positive:

“With whom am I my best self… with whom am I the self that I enjoy most?”

 

I enjoyed how good of an evaluative tool this is for setting boundaries with people in your life and for identifying areas of personal growth and development.

Take all the people in your life that you allocate a reasonably significant amount of time with and ask your self the above question… you may find it interesting how many different selves you actually have (this is totally normal).

“Who are you with certain people… is that the person you want to be?”

 

Often times when we engage in this exercise we find that we spend a significant amount of time with people who do not enable us to present the self we enjoy most. The follow up question to be reflected upon for person growth is: WHY?

‘Why’ will often lead us to a core schema such as “you should feel guilty for not joining people in their unhappiness” or “If I am too different than I will make that person uncomfortable (which is ‘bad’) – so I should present a self which is most similar to the other person’s presented self.”

 

the Next question is “what do you want?” often a core schema will come and hijack this question with the automatic thought and resulting emotion (guilt or shame) that the question is selfish…

What boundaries do you have in place to ensure that you spend most of your time with the people who elicit your best self?

What relationships could handle your best self if you were brave enough to break the homeostasis and present your self differently?

What meaning do you take from the reality that some relationships will not be able to handle your best self? What actions do you want to take in response to this realization?

 

wow – doesn’t it feel relieving to imagine a life in which you spend the majority of your time with people who bring out the best you?

can you give yourself permission to have that life?

And again we land at a personal growth question… Why? or Why not?

 

This exercise begs for a connection with topic of authenticity. Authenticity is clearly a component, but upon reflection I believe that this is as much about being fulfilled and ‘happy’ with a presented identity than it is about being authentic. They are not necessarily, but can be, exclusive – for example if we changed the question to: “with whom are you most authentic?” you may arrive at a relationship which is honest and vulnerable, yet not totally enjoyable or fulfilling. Suffering and joy are both authentic, and relationships tend to have a resting baseline somewhere on the continuum between these two poles. If a relationship tends to have a baseline in the suffering territory, then you are likely presenting a self which is highlighting aptitudes, experiences, thoughts and emotions which are in synchrony with an energy of suffering.

This exercise is also not totally about fun or happiness either – as there are some people with whom we experience significant gratification in the moment only to feel shame upon reflection when we find that, though there was a sense of joy, the joy may have come at the expense of congruence. For example, the joy could have come at the expense of staying in-line with your own morals, beliefs or values.

So then a best self is both fulfilled, happy, and authentic. – Who are you imaging right now when you read this definition?

 

 

 

 

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Breathe before you help others to breathe

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You settle into your seat on the airplane and right before takeoff you hear the familiar mantra:

“In the event of pressure loss in the cabin, oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling above you… please safely secure your own mask before attempting to assist others…”

 

We all hear this and end up remaining mostly fixated on why the bag won’t inflate and what harm would come about if we prematurely turned on our electronic devises.

We often miss the symbolism of this rather wise communication = you can’t be expected to effectively help others if you don’t help yourself first… you can’t help others to breath if you are not breathing.

 

So then we are asked to slow down and contemplate this message for a minute and find our selves saying, “well of course – isn’t that painfully obvious?”

 

here though is the follow up question.. “why are none of us (or very few of us) following this wisdom if it is so undeniable?”

 

to clarify the question – “why are we not taking care of ourselves before engaging in activities aimed at fixing the problems of others?”

 

I would propose two possible answers: shame and our over-reliance on cognitive pragmatics

the hypothesis for this contemplative exercise would be that if we gain insight concerning our automaticity we may be able to use our consciousness to do something different in the future.

 

lets start with cognitive pragmatics as it sounds sophisticated though in truth the phrase was mostly just a product of my never ending desire to add poetics to prose.

 

what I am calling ‘cognitive pragmatics’ is a process in which we engage in problem solving strategies within our thought processes. This activity is really quite an addictive game and you don’t actually need to behaviorally do anything nor do you need to alter your being in order to win – to be successfully in the activity.

So then you get to feel the emotional benefits of winning without doing much of anything to change the reality outside of your own thought process.

What does this have to do with helping others with airplane masks? I am proposing that it may be that it takes significantly less effort to disassociate into your own head and engage in a deductive processes aimed at fixing the problems of others than it is to engage in efforts to change your being or your behavior = it is easier to strategize the process of assisting another with getting their mask on than to put your own mask on.

and now we arrive at a point of irony in that this use of cognitive pragmatics seems to be extremely illogical … but wow doesn’t it feel important?

let me give a quick parenting example: You and your partner are finding yourselves working later and later into the evening… you arrive home stressed and without any time for regulating connection before immersing yourselves into the nighttime routine of dinner making – teeth brushing – book reading – bed-timing. Your 5 year old starts becoming regularly disruptive at the dinner table – he starts getting up without permission and eating with his hands.

option 1.) cognitive pragmatics = on the way to work the next day you spend an hour contemplating a consequence and reward system to get your kid to stay seated at dinner time.

option 2.) Changing your own behaviors and being = you take steps to get home earlier, you make an effort to connect and regulate with your partner when your arrive home, you reorganize your priorities to increase fulfillment and reduce stress in your life, you make efforts to be present and emotionally balanced knowing that your kid is a sponge to your energy.

Which one sounds easier?

 

lets move onto the bigger one – shame

“breathing air is selfish when there are so many in the airplane without any air” = this seems wrong, but there is a part of us that ‘feels’ like we are in emotional agreement.

“meeting all of your own needs when there are so many others out there that are not having their most basic needs met is selfish” = OK now we are getting closer… for some reason this statement feels particularly true. And if it is true to us, then we would feel shame in meeting our own needs.

“It is wrong for you to have abundance when there are so many people without enough” = “It is an act of justice for you to impoverish yourself so that all abundance is is equally distributed.” = now we have arrived at a very common and frequently verbalized belief system… despite the fact that most of us carry this belief to some extent, is there actually any logic in this idea?

What if it was true that their is actually plenty of air for everyone and the best way to distribute this air is to breath abundantly yourself so that you have the health and clarity to help others to breath with abundance?

what is your emotional reaction to that suggestion – what do you feel? Perhaps we are thinking about religious suggestions – perhaps we are angry because fairness isn’t being talked about – perhaps we do not believe that this philosophical examination is integrating other ideas such as power and privileged – perhaps we have begun a rant about how all those with abundance are exploiting other people…

and perhaps we are ashamed that part of us knows that we need to breath in order to help others to breath.

 

the longer I am a therapist the more I find an old wisdom to be most true = it is my being which is my most important and effective tool in the therapy room. My knowledge and skill with techniques and theory is useful, but in truth quite small in comparison to my ability to maintain a presence which is open, balanced, regulated, authentic, accepting, and in the moment.

I do not always make life choices which are congruent with this observation = I sacrifice my state of being in an effort to fix problems = and in sacrificing my state of being I find myself less effective at solving problems. 😉

Breathing then becomes the most selfless thing you can do for other people.

 

this morning writing this blog was what I needed… I just put on my own mask.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Hope in a space of Hopelessness

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Quick summary: In this post I will offer a metaphor that sheds light on a common misperception of hope – being that hope is SONY DSCconnected only to concrete outcomes… that hope is a belief that things will one day be what they are not ever to be. Instead perhaps there can be hope for a positive abstraction… hope that what is is how it should be
Let me start with a story…
In the open wilderness of Utah there was black bear happy awake and eager. The lush riparian habitat of the lower mountain valley was rich with spring time vegetation smells. Splashing carelessly in a creek the bear bowed down to fill its belly with rich fresh and cold mountain water. From the bank a fern seed gently dropped into the creek flow and drifted casually until it found itself resting attached to the moist beard of our young bear. Quenched the bear slowly trotted off hypnotized by an intriguing scent flowing to his nostrils from a great distance. With excitement the bear accelerated with instinctual certainty to the mating smell and as he ran the moisture evaporated from his coat leaving the seed cradled is a matt of drying hair.
The land changed from huckleberry bushes to junipers and then again to sage plants. Through dust and tumbling dry bushes the bear continued forward. That night brought an atypical rain that gave life to a sandstone creek bed. The bear joyously bent down to rehydrate and the delicate fern seed found itself cradled in the soft slow movement of the water… flowing forwards with openness the seed came to rest on the bank under the shade of now dead juniper tree.
The following day a mild sun cast its indirect light on the earth warming the seed to open in birth…
What is the hope for this fern?
The point is that having hope doesn’t always involve a belief that everything will be as we want it to be… hope often ends up being a faith in what will be.
This seed will not live in the lush riparian habitat to which it was meant for… in such a foreign and unforgiving environment the fern will grow in ways different than it could have expected.
Having hope that the fern will live as it would by the wet banks of forest creek when it in fact the seed is nestled in the sandy soil of a seasonal creek bank is to hope for the most unlikely… such can diminish our hope in hope and ultimately lead to a sense of despair.
Instead then, when the environment in chaotically unfitting, we hope that what comes to be is exactly as it should be.

To have faith that there is meaning in meaninglessness

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Reflection and Psychotherapy

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Reflection is the ability to hold a stimulus in the present moment without reacting automatically. In a state of reflection, a person can notice or observeSONY DSC the presence of a thought or feeling that they are experiencing… noticing or observing can then lead to two different reflective actions; either the person can continue to observe the stimulus (thought or emotion) without judgment or the person can choose to use judgment as a means of guiding their next action (“what do I want to do as a result of this thought or feeling?”).

Without reflection, a person would believe that their actions can be controlled by their environment. This is because of the unconscious belief that the environment MAKES us feel or think a certain way… further, when a certain emotion is felt or a thought is experienced we carry the belief that we MUST react a certain way.

Emotion Examples would be:  “he made me hit him because he made me feel disrespected.” (emotion governed behavior externalized)… or … “He made me stay at home in my despondency because of how disrespected he made me feel.” (Emotion governed behavior internalized)

Thought examples would be:  “He made me hit him because he was being unfair.” (Thought governed behavior externalized)… or…  “I could not go to the same function as him as he is not fair.” (thought governed behavior internalized).

I will go out on a limb and say that the ability to reflect may be the single most important component to mental health. With reflection we become emancipated from automaticity… we are no longer governed by thoughts or emotions as reflection serves as the tool to dis-identify our core self from attachments.

This is where the confusion sets in as people interpret the message of attachment as essentially disputing the validity of emotions… this is absolutely not what I am suggesting. Emotions exist… trying to rationalize them away is a form of avoidance that ironically leads to a life in which there is a dramatic increase in unconsciousness.

To accept a stimulus one must allow the stimulus to exist… denying the existence of a stimulus (such as an emotion) is a form of forced unconsciousness which could be said to be the exact opposite of reflection.

If I can allow myself to feel the sadness which does exist… If I can hold the emotion in a state of non-judgmental reflection, then the burden of that sadness will lessen as I do not fuel the sadness with resistant action (defensiveness, aggression, substance use etc.) or with over identification (ex. “I am the sadness” instead of “I am feeling the presence of sadness.”

As mentioned earlier there are two results of reflection…

The first is intrinsic … reflection is a state of allowing; it is a state of acceptance and presence which allows the clarity and completeness of the moment.  In this moment there is serenity as everything simply is…

The second is instrumental … in a state of reflection a person is given the freedom to choose what actions they would like to engage in as a result of the emotion or thought they are holding in calm observance.

This creates the following sequence: environmental stimulus – automatic thought based on beliefs – reflection (can influence resulting emotion occasionally) – automatic emotion (usually this is automatic as well though with an advanced reflective ability it is not always) – Reflect on the emotion – Choose action based on what would feel most authentic in the relative moment.

The sequence without reflection is generally: environmental stimulus – thought and emotions surface mostly outside of conscious awareness (the person is generally aware of the secondary emotion – ex. “I am pissed” but not conscious of the preliminary emotion = ex. “I am embarrassed.”  Additionally the thoughts tend to be viewed with dogmatic dichotomies ex. “this is the only valid belief concerning this stimulus.” – automatic action or behavior results.

Note: this is not to say that an automatic reaction is never authentic… in fact the resulting action could possibly be exactly the same despite the sequence used, but reflection allows choice, which increases the probability of authenticity (an action which is congruent with the core self).

I have been toying with the hypothesis lately that all effective psychotherapy interventions are essentially doing the same thing… increasing reflective ability and decreasing automaticity.

The reason that this result would be most impact by the therapeutic relationship is that perhaps increasing reflection necessitates a reflective, safe, and accepting space… this would possibly answer why technique (CBT, EFT, DBT, narrative etc) has shown to have very little impact on outcomes… the most important thing that the therapist is doing is holding space.

More on this later

In being a soft reflective water unrippled by judgments we allow the observer to placate the waters of their own existence…  and reflection grows

In reflection we find the existence of dialectics and in this space of co-existing opposites acceptance becomes authentic.

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.