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The Great Depresh

The Great Depresh

Last night I tuned in to Gary Gulman’s HBO special “The Great Depresh.” It was a 74 minute comedy special featuring a mixture of his stand-up routine and documentary elements from his life.

Gary Gulman: The Great Depresh 2019 Trailer

As a therapist and as someone who has had my own experiences with anxiety and depression, I’d say that Gulman nails it with his descriptions of both. He deftly brings humor and levity to the most serious of topics: that depression in extreme cases ultimately leads to suicide.

Gulman ends up back at his childhood home with his mother after a particularly pernicious episode with depression that zapped his ability to seek out a new apartment in NYC after his lease came to an end. He talks about how his depression started in childhood and explores his young life as the only child of a single mother growing up in Massachusetts.

The disparity between his own experience and his mother’s recollections are stark and, by today’s standards, of concern. His mother refutes any suffering on Gary’s part, emphasizing how his annual school photos portray “such a happy boy.”

One illustration he used highlighted the difference in the internal thought process between not being depressed and being in the thoes of depression. While a depression-less state allows us to smile at a beautiful sunset, depression can cause us to project our own misery onto the sun with thoughts like “yeah, you’re giving up too, I don’t blame you.”

Gulman talks about his long journey with medications and his rationale for taking them is compelling: any side effect is better than the crippling effects of major depression.

Braving the murky territory of psych-wards and electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), Gulman speaks to his own experience and skillfully normalizes and de-stigmatizes both.

He also confesses to attending years of therapy and how he feels it has benefitted him. He articulates his struggles sharing with friends and colleagues his own mental health challenges for fear that it would make them uncomfortable. This is both relatable and unfortunate.

What I love most about this piece of work and admire about Gulman is his vulnerability in pushing this conversation about mental health further forward. So many creative people in the arts deal with mental health challenges and often we find out about it too late.

Let’s keep talking about it. Mental health awareness matters.

The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist

The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist

This past week I read The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist by Debbie Mirza, a life coach and author in Colorado. I have a significant amount of experience with covert narcissism and feel that this work is a solid exploration of how this mental health disorder looks in relationships.

Covert: not openly shown

Passive Aggressive: displaying behavior characterized by the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive, passive way

Mirza states “the covert narcissist hides their dark attributes because they want people to like them.” In overt narcissism the assumption is often already made that others like, admire, or feel jealous of them.

Some additional important differences are:

  • while not empathic, covert narcissists can appear this way as they have learned how to act empathically
  • they often appear to be humble, kind, or generous (as with other types, image is very important to them)
  • while they tend to lack long-lasting friendships, they are rarely without a partner
  • they give you subtle messages that cause you to question yourself – over time this leads to a tremendous amount of self-doubt as you learn to ignore your own intuition

The Three Phases of Relationship with a covert passive aggressive narcissist are also explored in depth, and she provides a lot of clear examples of what these relationships look like, sound like and can feel like through each phase.

A few additional take-aways for me were the tendency for the covert-PA narcissist to project their own issues onto others, instead of taking ownership and accountability for themselves, and the fact that they “have no interest in making this a great relationship” as exemplified by their inaction when conflict arises.

Gaslighting, flying monkeys, hoovering, intermittent reinforcement, deflection, blame, minimization and other control and manipulation tactics are also well defined in this book. Control and manipulation are the names of the game with a covert passive-aggressive narcissist.

In her last chapter she offers a few suggestions on how to heal after such a relationship and she stresses the importance of boundaries, getting support, and coming home to the wisdom of your own being. This is often a process, considering that these relationships tend to cause a significant amount of self-doubt and uncertainty about trusting oneself.

I highly recommend this book.

If you have been in a relationship with a covert passive aggressive narcissist or think you might be in one, reach out for support today. These individuals can cause a significant amount of psychological, emotional and physical suffering in their victims.

Kristen Neff’s Self Compassion

Kristen Neff’s Self Compassion

 

I recently wrapped up my reading of Kristen Neff’s book Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found myself introducing my clients to ideas and exercises that I read about as I went through the book. Neff has a gift for writing and I particularly liked the way she combined her research with her personal experiences in a way that made much of the book both relatable and rooted in the scientific process.

One idea that seems to be coming up for me repeatedly, and which this book reinforced, was the importance of shifting from a “we’re all incredibly unique” mentality to a “we are all largely alike” mentality. Perhaps as a result of the time in which I was raised, I have always believed that we are all different, but I am coming to see the truth and value of the fact that we are really all similar. We all want to be happy, we all have skills at which we excel, we all deal with the same landscape of emotions, and we all must contend with life’s challenges on life’s terms. We all are wired for connection and tend to feel happier when we are in a state of connectedness, and we suffer when we feel disconnected from others. When I first came across this idea, I cringed, but the more I am exposed to it the more it makes sense to me: we are not really that unique after all.

Another idea that Neff explores is the myth of self-esteem. Once known as the holy grail of success, Neff accesses the inherent flaws with the pursuit of self-esteem and espouses the idea that self-compassion is a far worthier pursuit (a sentiment with which I agree).

Many of the exercises are relevant to myself and those with whom I work in my private practice. Anyone who struggles with a strong inner-critic or inner perfectionist would benefit from some of the tools Neff shares. My personal favorite is a manta to be utilized in moments of suffering and it goes something like this:

 

This is a moment of suffering.

Suffering is a part of the human condition.

May I be kind to myself in this moment, in the face of my own suffering.

What can I do, in this moment, to express care and compassion for my own challenging experience? 

 

I highly recommend this book. Have you read it? What did you like?

Putting On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

Putting On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

I am currently in the process of reading Kristen Neff’s book Self Compassion and just came across, seemingly for the millionth time, the reference to “putting on your own oxygen mask first.” In case you haven’t heard this frequently used in-flight instruction demonstrating the importance of self care, I am here to break down why it is simply the greatest psychology metaphor of all time.

Psychotherapy and Exploring The Self

So much of what we psychotherapists are doing with our clients is exploring The Self: the self as separate from family of origin, from partners, parents, friends, children, and siblings. So often, the reasons that elicit the need for psychotherapeutic services are relationships gone wrong. Early childhood trauma, parents that were too self absorbed or uneducated on the basic needs of infants and young children or the lifelong impact of not meeting those needs, and unsatisfying or abusive adult relationships often leave individuals feeling confused, stuck, and anxious and lead people to seek help.

As we look at what has transpired within these relationships, and how they have become sources of pain, we also begin to look more closely at the self of the person who has sought our help. Together, we begin to inquire. Who is this person? What are the needs of this separate self?

What we often find is that the self has needs, desires, and ways of being that are distinct and unique. Taking good care of that separate self is one of the chief tasks of adulthood. Hence, the analogy.

We, as adults in relationship with others, must become good stewards of our own experience so that we can, in turn, be good caregivers to others. 

An Experiment for Cynics

Don’t believe me? Here’s an experiment: for the next week, avoid doing anything simply because you enjoy it. Commit only to doing things that are in the service of others: your kids, partner, friends, colleagues, etc. Notice how you feel at the end of that week (if you can make it that long!). Exhausted? Irritable? Angry? Resentful?

How are the relationships themselves? Strained? Tense? One-sided?

When we care for others at the expense of caring for ourselves, ultimately, relationships suffer and everybody loses. A burned-out, overworked and anxious employee is hardly in a position to offer the same level of clarity, creativity and critical thinking as someone who has a balanced work/play/rest lifestyle. An exhausted, energetically depleted mother can not give the same level of presence and empathy to a struggling child as a mother who is rested and well cared for.

Back to The Metaphor

The instruction given at the beginning of every commercial flight states “in case of an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting someone else.” This clearly illustrates how caring for yourself is paramount in order for you to truly care for others. Breathing is a symbol for life, for being. Inhabiting a human body requires regular care and maintenance: rest, food, water, touch, movement. If we don’t tend to the needs of the body we get sick. Tending to the needs of the psyche/soul also sustain life, infusing it with meaning and understanding, allowing us to make connections, grow and evolve. Taking a holistic perspective requires that we view ourselves as consisting of many parts: mind and body; soul and spirit.

As adults, we afford ourselves and those in our care the opportunity to experience true generosity and abundance when we are able to tend to our own metaphorical gardens. Otherwise we run the risk of showing up for relationships empty handed, without resources and craving that someone else will fill us up. Not only can this lead to disappointment by expecting from others what they may not be able to give, but this caring for ourselves also serves as a protective function. When we do show up for relationships in desperate need for affection and attention, we open ourselves up to victimization by predators who may give us something, but ultimately take more than what’s offered.

Essentially, this metaphor encourages us to help others. It stresses the importance of being able to be there for others in their time of need. But who are you going to help if you can’t breathe?

No one.

With the demands of domestic life we may lament our lack of time for formal spiritual practice. Let’s not forget, though, family life, if we exploit it, is spiritual practice of the most valuable kind – Sarah Napthali

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The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up

Over the holidays I was exposed to the documentary film Minimalism, which is about simplifying life through letting go of material things. This film has since come up in quite a few conversations I’ve had over the past few weeks and the concept of finding more happiness with fewer things seems to be striking a chord with many.

After seeing the movie, I recalled that the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo had been recommended to me last year, which seemed to be in alignment with the values set forth in the Minimalism film. Additionally, the book offered the promise of a life transformation along with some practical ‘how-to’ instruction. I tore through the book last Friday, and truly enjoyed its readability and simple instruction. I would suggest it for anyone looking to make a little space and/or a big change!

In addition to the clearcut instruction: “discard first… keep only things that will spark joy in your life,” Kondo also invites us to consider the meaning of our possessions in our lives – both at the time of procurement and in the present moment. As a way to further explore any resistance that we may have to letting go of certain items, we are instructed to inquire what is the item’s true purpose, and has this item already fulfilled its role in your life?

One of my favorite passages is this one in which Kondo reflects on her relationship to her things, and her early challenges with trust and sharing her emotions: “Because I was poor at developing bonds of trust with people, I had an unusually strong attachment to things.” I wondered as I read these words how common of an issue this is for us in today’s society when hoarding has become a phenomenon affecting as many as 5% of the world’s population.

Another element of this book that is near to my heart includes cultivating appreciation for our belongings, honoring them for the beauty, protection, or efficiency that they bring to our lives. As gratitude is a practice scientifically proven to combat depression, including our belongings in this process can help us to further strengthen the neural pathways of appreciation and boost our serotonin and dopamine, which ultimately can improve our relationships with ourselves and others.

Happy Reading!