Intentionality and Happiness | How life choices are impacted by purpose

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When you reflect on the major life choices that you have been making over the past few years can you identify a theme?

what purpose are you trying to achieve?

Lately, I have been observing the interplay of intentionality and happiness… the relationship between the two variables is very often symbiotic or reciprocal = Increasing intentionality can lead to greater happiness and greater happiness can free us up to act with greater intentionality.

The interesting observation that I have found with friends and clients is that often these variables can be prioritized in a manner which makes them detrimental to each other = people favor happiness at the expense of intentionality or people favor intentionality at the expense of happiness…

The intention of this post is to encourage self-reflection – for simplicity’s sake let’s break this into three categories

1.) balance – my actions concerning intentionality and happiness seem to be in balance with one another – My level of intention serves to benefit my happiness, and my choices to be happy do not negatively impact my ability to live with intention.

2.) intentionality – I favor Intentionality at the expense of happiness – my life is predictable and consistent with a high degree of reflection and planning… threat, fear, impulsivity, chance, and chaos are minimal, but there is a deficit of joy in my life.

3.) happiness – I favor happiness over intentionality – I have joyous experiences and enjoy flexibility and spontaneity –  positive experiences and connections are bountiful, but there is a deficit in predictability, security, congruence, refection, and planning (and possibly purpose and fulfillment)

 

ultimately this surrounds the existential concept of fulfillment and of feeling congruent with the life we live (and corresponding actions)…

there isn’t an objective moral truth surrounding options 1, 2, and 3 – there is not an option which is universally ‘best’ … instead, there is an opportunity to choose and adjust your life accordingly based on your own subjective preference.

here are some over-generalizations concerning the existential truths and other value/belief systems relevant to each choice:

Intentionality – Fulfillment is attained by achieving concrete goals. The purpose is the final project more than the process of completing the project. The destination is more important than the journey. All choices, emotions, thoughts, and actions are reflected upon – the unconscious is relentlessly attacked with the goal of one-day achieving total control. Life is somewhat mathematical, and it is fulfilling to impact probability. Morals and Values tend to be more objective and less relative. There is a fulfillment in making the unknown known. linearity is effectively utilized. Understanding is more important than engagement in an experience. life it put into categories. The future is extremely important. The past is very important to investigate as doing such increases the probability of control in the future.

Happiness – Fulfillment is achieved during an experience. Emotions and abstractions are more important than concrete results and truth. The journey is important and often the destination is irrelevant. Spontaneity and intuition guide the actions of the moment. Because the truth is elusive an/or non-existent, reflection is often irrelevant. Commitment to the experience is favored over trying to control the experience. the unconscious is often labeled as intuition – and tends to be a great friend that is allowed to exist without a need to be fully understood. Everything is relative. engagement is more important than understanding. Life is free from categories. Neither the past nor the future is particularly important – the moment is favored. Control and progress are not important goals. potential future consequence and reward are not heavily contemplated.

Balance – Intentionality is used to maximise fulfillment and to create planned strategies that would significantly positively impact long-term happiness. Happiness is achieved whenever possible by allowing immersement and freedom in the moment – yet, the actions of the moment are influenced by a value system and are taken with a consciousness of the future. Intentionality does not overly disrupt the joy of the moment… and happiness in the moment does not disrupt fulfillment in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Relationship between Anxiety and Attention

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Attention is a learn-able skill

There are many famous quotes and affirmations spoken through the years that point to the humbling truth that most suffering never actually happened … of course this is only partially true as we can all speak to the suffering involved in having a high level of anxiety.

it isn’t that the suffering never happened, but instead that the reality which could have created the suffering never actually occurred – instead the suffering was the result of focusing attention on a reality that could happen in the future – the cortex loves to fixate the attention on the future so that it can engage its’ problem solving abilities in a effort to reduce the probability of suffering in that future.

Ironically it is this ‘future solution’ process which is often the source of our anxiety and resulting suffering.

much of the time the present moment is free from stress… it is actually quite benign or neutral much of the time. In these moments the cortex gets really bored… there are no puzzles to solve, no needs to create strategies for, no meaning to be made…

So then we imagine fictitious situations so that we can engage in strategy creation.

Most problems are too easy… so we gravitate towards unsolvable or complex problems.

the problem is that our Limbic system and our brainstem do not know that the fictitious situation are not actually happening… so while the cortex is having a great time playing a make-believe game in the future, our emotional system is reacting as if the fictitious situation were actually happening to us.

let me give you an example:

Imagine that you went to work tomorrow and you bumped into a co-worker that you have always struggled with… imagine them saying to you that thing that you know they think about you, but have never said to you directly. Now imagine that your boss enters into the conversation and takes the side of your co-worker…. what would you do?

pretty uncomfortable right?

why are you uncomfortable? in reality you are simply sitting somewhere reading this… it’s quite pleasant perhaps?

When our attention is placed in these fictitious futures we find that we are the source of our anxiety – we (our at least our Cortexes)are the source of our suffering.

This is why you hear so much talk about Mindfulness (many posts on the subject if you look in my archives)

Mindfulness is a mechanism to harness and heighten our ability to focus our attention

With practice we can increase our ability to put our attention where we want to – such as right now in this present moment… where it may be quite pleasant

With practice we can learn to observe when attention is stuck on a fictitious future… and come back home … to now

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

Fear, Competence, Values and Anger in Parenting Rambunctious Children

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This post will investigate how our perceived parenting competence impacts our fear and resulting emotional and behavioral reactions. We will focus on how fear can lead us into parenting interventions that are not consistent with our parenting values.

I was offering a parenting coaching intervention in a couples context the other week and I arrived at an interesting finding.

The couple has one very creative, sensitive, expressive, intuitive, and impulsive child that needed parental intervention to ensure the relative safety of various environments and people in those environments (the child needed help not playing to rough and chaotically). The parents needed help as their intervention methods were very different, and the fathers more authoritative method made the mom uncomfortable.

Values -I started the intervention by assessing values… in order to do so my goal is always to create as much felt safety as possible by genuinely entering into a place of significant curiosity and acceptance. My hypothesis was that there was a bit of value, belief, and ethical dissonance between the couple which resulting in differing parenting schemas (it is very hard to have a united parenting front when there are two widely different sets of beliefs as to how to parent a child). … as we deconstructed the parenting values and beliefs to there foundations we arrived at a welcome conclusion – the couple had essentially the same parenting values and same desires for how they would ideally re-direct misbehaving children.

Family of Origin – We then looked into family of origin themes to isolate how the two partners were parented themselves as children. This part promoted greater bonding and understanding between the couple, but still did not explain the intervention style of the husband… this intervention did however elicit some emotions for the father as the process uncovered his deep dissatisfaction with his intervention style.

Emotions – Next step was Somatics (body’s reaction) and Emotions – and we arrived at the answer. I oriented the clients into a more mindful place by directing them to differentiate from the parenting story I was going to have them recall. I told them that we all have a tendency to become enmeshed with our emotions while retelling a difficult story, but for this exercise we would be a curios mindful observer of our emotional and physiological states while retelling the story – we were going to observe with as little judgement, explaining or defending as possible.

The story was one that all of us with young children have experienced many many times. The young boy gets over excited at the playground… he misinterprets the non-verbal signals from a child he is playing with – he plays too rough and there is a worry that the other child might get hurt. Dad swoops in quickly and assertively to separate the children then relays to his child how dangerous he was playing. Dad appeared very angry while educating the child.

The emotion that the couple first identified were anger. Anger was what the couple believed to be the problem.

I share this next sequence of deconstructed emotions to normalize for all of us what it is like to parent in these difficult instances.

The emotional experience of the Dad (‘kind of’ in order)

Anxious or nervous: That he is in a situation were there is a high probability that his son will need a parenting intervention that he believes he is not competent enough to enact.

Embarrassed: that his child is more frequently the rambunctious one.

Fear: that the other child will get hurt

Fear: that he will not be able to successfully intervene with his son.

Fear: that his wife will think poorly of him

Sad and Shameful: That he is intervening in a way that is incongruent with his values (his parents were very patient, calm, and compassionate)

Terrified: that his wife (his primary connection) is non-verbally displaying disappointment and fear related to his authoritative parenting intervention.

Hopeless, Confused, and Flooded: that he does not have the confidence in his ability to regulate his son and thereby improve the probability of more empathetic play.

Angry: because his fight or flight system has been activated. His system is terrified as he feels disconnected from his attachments figures. (Quick note: social threat impacts our brains (and the fight or flight system) the exact same way as a physical threat. So the fear of being rejected by your partner impacts us the same way as the fear of being attacked by a tiger.

 

During this time both myself and his partner offered deep warmth and compassion.

Next we moved on to the solution

Solution Focused: We then switched to a solutions focused’ish’ intervention to identify unique outcomes = when the above story-line happened but there was a different result. The couple relayed numerous examples of successful outcomes and commented on how dramatically better things have gotten with the parenting now that they are more securely connected to each other (emotionally vulnerable and supportive… attuned… compassionate… present etc.)

Now if you look at the chain of emotions above you may be able to identify the ideal place of intervention… Anxious and Nervous.

The cascade into anger started long before the child started playing too rough… it started when they arrived at the park and the father started feeling anxious do to his self-perception of his parenting competence.

Unique outcome: In instances where the couple was successful the Dad was self-aware of his emotional state (mindful), vulnerable enough to turn towards his wife for reassurance (brave), and the wife was able to give him very quick regulation through validating their connection to each other (bonded).

yes it is sometimes that simple… we just need the courage to tell our partner we are emotionally overwhelmed. And our partners need the courage to trust that offering love and connection is sometimes all we need in order to be able to utilize an effective parenting intervention.

Yes, sometimes parents need help with behavioral strategies, but more often then not they simply need emotional support so that they can be regulated enough to intentionally and effectively utilize the parenting intervention that they already know (they just don’t have access to those methods when they are overwhelmed and dis-regulated by a sea of emotions.)

During an intervention such as this I tend to use a lot of self disclosure – I have two very rambunctious and passionate boys – I can related very much to wanting to over control their behavior to ward off the possibility of them getting so chaotic that I fear i wont be able to successfully intervene. in these times I Don’t need academics or education of strategy… I simply need to be loved and a hug works really really well for me. I am expansively grateful that I am married to a really good hugger that knows me very well.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Parenting Paradigm | a level system to conceptualize parenting strategies

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I was in a couples therapy session guiding an enactment surrounding an argument the couple had surrounding a parenting issue over the weekend. Both parties were having a difficult time understanding (cognitively) the other person’s position – though all my work focuses on maintaining connection through encouraging emotional openness, it was clear in this instance that a pragmatic solution was also necessary. The couple needed a paradigm of parenting to reference in order to deduce if they were meeting the parenting expectations of the system. Until this was created, the couple would continue to have conflict in response to differing subjective perceptions.

The short of the story is that one partner (dad) traveled out of town for leisure for a few days and upon returning wanted to watch a sports program for a couple hours. The other partner needed some personal time and left the children with dad to go on a hike. She was upset that upon returning from his trip he didn’t dedicate more fully to parenting – He believed that he had as his partner was able to take some respite and go on a hike. They were clearly both right…

I then deduced a level system of parenting in my head to help them understand the dissonance. Dad was offering what I will call level 2 parenting while Mom was desiring him to offer level 4 or 5 parenting. Without an explicit level system they were both subjectively correct = he was parenting adequately by his definition and he was not parenting adequately by her definition.

There are two variables that could be looked at – Behavioral interactions and Emotional Involvement

Please note:

  • This is not about morals or “good and bad” parenting – all levels can be appropriate in different situations and at different developmental stages of the child.
  • Depending on the age of the child, Parents can come up with the desired “Average Level” – example if the parent oscillate between 3 and 5 then they would average level 4 parenting for the day

Level 1 parenting: Basic Safety – the most basic Basic safety in offered to the child

  • the parent makes basic efforts to ensure that the child will not die by ensuring that the environment is free from variables that would likely cause death.
  • ex. does not put the child near dangerous animals or insects, does not leave the child near dangerous environmental features such as a river or a cliff, does not leave the child susceptible to weather related hazards such as being left out in the cold rain.

Level 2 Parenting: Basic Needs Available – The basic needs of the child are made available for the child (but not directly offered or prepared for the child)

  • The parent ensures that the child has access to food, shelter, clothing, water, bathroom, hygiene needs, and appropriate body temperature.
  • Ex. The parent provides access to food in the pantry but does not prepare meals, the parent buys a toothbrush for the child but does not help in brushing teeth, or the parent provides access to clothing but does not help the child get dressed.

Level 3 Parenting: Basic Needs Provided Directly – The parent takes direct responsibility for meeting the basic needs of the child, and engages the child to ensure the need is met.

  • The Parent assists the child in successfully accessing and completing tasks related to food, shelter, clothing, water, bathroom, hygiene needs, and appropriate body temperature.
  • Ex. the parent will prepare meals for the child, the parent will assist the child in properly brushing their teeth, the parent will ensure that the child is appropriately dressed before leaving the house.

Level 4 Parenting: Engagement and Entertainment – The parent engages the child directly to facilitate shared entertainment.

  • The parent will spend quality time with the child having fun.
  • Ex. The parent will play a board game with a child, or build legos, or play house, or play sports.

Level 5 Parenting: Growth and Bonding – the Parent engages the child with the goal of facilitating the individual growth of the child or relational maintenance/development.

  • The parent engages the child in a way which intentionally increases the connection/bonding between the parent and the child. The parent engages the child to intentionally to assist them in growing a skill or trait.
  • Ex. the parent intentionally takes the child to an activity that has significant meaning or is of particular interest to the child. The parent makes themselves emotionally available to the child’s life – both the joys and the suffering. The parent instructs the child on the development of a skill that the child is eager to learn. the parent takes the child on an experience that facilitates spiritual, developmental, existential, familial etc. growth.

This helps the parents to communicate what the needs of the system are for the day

For example “Honey I really need to get some work done today so I am planning on doing some level 2 parenting (putting the kids in from of the TV) – Then tomorrow we can spend the day doing level 4 parenting (take them to the Zoo). And I was hoping that i could spend sometime at night talking with our son about how his friend is moving to another town (level 5).

Or to use the example of the couple above “Honey when you get back from your trip the kids really need some level 5 parenting from you and I will be quite exhausted so I want us to save all the level 2 parenting (TV time) for me.” or even better, “Hey honey thank you so much for watching the kids while I take some personal time – when I get back you can count on me for lots of level 5 parenting.”

 

 

 

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

Early Childhood Questions to Promote Bonding

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I compiled the below questions to be used in an adult couple relationship to help facilitate bonding. When our partners see the depth of our true selves and know the intricacies of our narratives pertaining to our childhood, they are better available to be emotionally helpful. To be known and emotionally held by our partner produces a sense of felt safety which promotes independence, increased stress/pain tolerance, increased hopefulness, increased resilience, increased regulation, increased connection and increased courage.

The below questions are in someways similar to the ‘Adult Attachment Interview (AAI)” with the major difference being that I have infused: existentialism, cognitive theory, narrative theory, and others. Additionally, the purpose of this is somewhat different – the goal of the AAI is to assess attachment styles – the goal of this questionere is to create an experience which: promotes bonding, lends to practicing attunement, helps facilitate a coherent self-narrative, and increases grace in a relationship by adding depth and understanding to the reasons to why our partners ‘are the way they are’.

As a therapist I set up the exercise the same way I set up most of my attunement based interventions – direction on how to set up dyadic guided enactment that promote bonding can be found here:

Attunement Exercise

the simple short explanations/directions are: be in the moment and focus on the emotional expressions of your partner by favoring affect over content = try and understand how they feel in the present moment and express compassion, kindness and warmth – do not correct or over-focus on the plot.

This exercise is also suited to help you and your partner in offering more grace to each other – by understanding the origin of behaviors, beliefs, and values we can offer more acceptance and less judgemental reactivity to our partners.

If you are going to be doing this exercise without a therapist there will be one of you answering the questions while the other one asks the questions. This will take almost 2 hours to complete and it is not necessary to finish the exercise in one sitting. In fact, fatigue should be noted, and if either partner is feeling full or overwhelmed, then it is a good idea to take a break.

Note on Semantics: There are many different combinations that make up our ‘primary caregivers’. In this post I use Mom and Dad, but following the answer to question one we must be aware that there could be: only one primary, three or more primaries, two moms or two dads, a grandmother and a mom, an older sister, or an uncle and an older brother etc. Kindly make sure to use the pronouns are appropriate to the person answering the question (ex. don’t say ‘dad’ if Grandma was the 2nd primary).

 

Early Childhood Questions to Promote Bonding

  1. Did you have siblings growing up and what was your relationship with them? Who were your primary caregivers? Where did you live?

 

 

  1. What were you like as a child? Was there anyone in particular who you felt really knew you at a deep level?

 

 

  1. What was your relationship like with your mother (primary) as a child? As a teen? As a young adult? What did your learn from your mother about parent/child relationships?

 

 

  1. What was your relationship like with your father as a child? As a teen? As a young adult? What did your learn from your Father (primary) about parent/child relationships?

 

 

  1. What was the parenting style of your caregivers? In what ways were your two primary caregivers’ styles the same and in what ways were they different?

 

 

  1. What aspects of your caregiver’s parenting style do you want to use with your own children? What styles to you feel strongly about not repeating with your children? Why?

 

 

  1. What were the most important rules that you were expected to follow growing up? Why do you believe that those rules were important in your family?

 

 

  1. What were some of the most important beliefs that guided your family’s actions when you were young? What behaviors, daily routines, values, and goals were important in your family? What did ‘Successful’ mean in your family = what was rewarded as a success in your childhood? How did your caregivers measure their own success?

 

 

  1. What did you learn about balancing work and recreation from your childhood?

 

  1. Tell me about friendships in your childhood? How did you perceive your caregivers friendships?

 

 

  1. What were some of the traditions unique to your family during your childhood?

 

 

  1. What happened in your childhood when you were sad or scared? What did your caregivers do when you were uncomfortable? Does this question bring up a specific memory?

 

 

  1. What happened in your childhood when you were excited or joyful? What did your caregivers do when you were expressing happiness? Does this question bring up a specific memory?

 

 

  1. How was love expressed between your parents? How was love expressed to you? Can you tell a story which symbolizes an effective way of expressing love to you – a time, or set of experiences when you felt really loved in your childhood?

 

 

  1. How were your needs addressed when you were a child such as: making sure you had clean clothes, healthy food, access to recreation, access to education, experiences with friends, spirituality, safety, medical assistance, help with hygiene etc.? Who took care of you and in what ways were you responsible for taking care of yourself? Were you responsible for taking care of anyone?

 

 

  1. What did affection, nurturance and supportiveness look like in your family? How were you comforted most effectively as a child? Can you tell me a story that symbolizes how affection was displayed in your family?

 

 

  1. What did conflict look like in your family? How did the adults handle conflict amongst themselves? How did the adults handle conflict with the children?

 

 

  1. How were emotions expressed in your family? What are some of the beliefs that your family had concerning having and/or expressing emotions? Were there any emotions that were not permitted? Is there a story that comes to mind about emotional expression?

 

 

  1. What was your experience of loneliness, neglect, and/or rejection as a child? What childhood stories come up when you hear this question?

 

 

  1. How did fear show up in your childhood? How were you affected by fear? What were you afraid of?

 

 

  1. Tell me about an experience that was particularly important to your development as a child… an experience that served to shape who you are?

 

 

  1. Tell me about an experience that was important in shaping the way that you relate to other people? How does this show up in your current relationships?

 

 

  1. From your childhood, and namely your parents’ relationships, what did you learn about variables such as: trust, romance, friendship, vulnerability, teamwork, support, emotionality, honesty, sexuality, and conflict resolution?

 

 

  1. Through all these questions have you arrived at any themes?

 

 

  1. How did your childhood shape your current answer to the questions: What is the purpose of life, what is the purpose of a parent, and what is the purpose of a relationship?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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