Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

Growing up we hear many messages about feelings. Some people are raised in an environment where no expression of feeling is permitted and “rub some dirt on it” is the response for everything. Others are raised in homes where feelings run around as freely as the persons residing there. Neither is healthy.

People have asked me, “How do I learn to just not be angry?” or “What can I do to just get over it?” My answer to those questions has been this, “Anger and other feelings serve a valid purpose in our lives. We don’t want to ‘just get over them.’ We want to feel them, process them, and then be okay with moving on from them. The problem comes when in response to the feeling we behave in an ineffective way.”

Running from or freely throwing around how we feel can cause serious complications in our lives. By avoiding the feeling, we are denying ourselves one of the most important aspects of being human. We are alive and with that comes an array of good and bad feelings in reaction to what is happening around us. Not permitting ourselves to feel leads to a bottling up of feelings that can then be stored out of our consciousness. Those stored feelings of anger, regret, loneliness, hopelessness, anxiety, etc. can eventually reach a point of explosion and the result may be something we are not prepared to handle. I have heard people say, “I don’t know what happened, I just snapped.” I can give you an idea of what happened… You allowed yourself to not feel and built a pile that was bound to come toppling down at some point.

Now, we can also carry our expression of feelings to the extreme which can backfire as easily as not expressing them at all. When feelings are flying around untamed people and things can be damaged. For instance, if your loved one is always sharing his/her feeling about everything that occurs, it can create a barrier in the relationship. A thought can then be created that you must “walk on eggshells” every time you are around that person because that person will certainly let you know how he/she feels. This can sometimes be expressed in physical ways which we all know is not appropriate.

We must learn to notice our feelings – even the ugly ones – feel them and then determine what we are going to do to respond. Are we going to talk with a friend or family member? Are we going to let ourselves cry? Are we going to write about it in a journal? Sometimes our feelings warrant doing nothing more than noticing. Sometimes they just want us to know they are there and to not be judged, but accepted.

Perhaps I use a bit of reverse CBT with clients in that I encourage them to first become aware of the feelings they are experiencing, notice them, but not get stuck in them. After this, I suggest they observe the environment for evidence that supports the feeling while not judging themselves, the feeling, or the process. Once the feeling is brought to awareness and the situation has been explored, they can then back up to discover what the thought was that preceded that feeling. A thought precedes every feeling, but the feelings are often most noticeable because they create a physiological response that is hard to ignore.

If a situation provides evidence that the thought and subsequent feeling are rational, nothing needs to be done. However, if there is little proof to suggest that the thought we are having is a healthy, rational thought given the situation, we must then work to change that thought or our feelings are not going to align well with what’s going on around us. I see this all the time with individuals who struggle with all types of mental health concerns. What happens most often is that the thinking and feelings are not always in line with the events that have occurred.

Regardless, we all must become aware of our feelings and not be afraid to express them in a healthy manner when needed. We must accept that no one is exempt from having feelings. We are all humans with very real feelings, but if we bottle them up or toss them around too lightly, we can be setting ourselves up for situations or problems we then are unsure how to manage.

One more thought… Know that it is never within our control to determine how another person feels. While our actions may contribute to the development of a feeling, it is ultimately the other person’s decision how they choose to feel as a result.

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I was talking with someone recently regarding the difficulty of understanding why certain children act out, when others do not…even when those children have been exposed to the same environmental factors. I was explaining the genetics behind particular behaviors or particular predispositions to behaviors and attempting to further solidify my own understanding of said subject.

The nature versus nurture debate is one that has been prominent since the study of psychology began. Can we say we know for certain whether a child’s behavior is solely based on biology or solely based on environment? In some cases, yes. For instance, when from birth a child struggles with a feeding disorder or another complication that can be directly linked to his or her physical makeup. In other cases, it’s much more difficult to determine.

As I was speaking with this person, who is currently studying psychology, I shared my explanation that when children are born, they are made up of years of biology. They receive characteristics of their parents’ bloodlines and many things that then occur in the environment can have a particular affect on these children. While Child A may see abuse and stand tall against ever becoming an abuser, Child B may be more inclined to become manipulative, abusive, or hostile. This is, in my opinion, closely related to what is considered a person’s biological predisposition. Does it mean that the environmental factors are not taken into consideration? Certainly not. Of course, both of these children would be witnessing abuse and therefore could potentially learn such behavior then emulated when they are in relationships. Thus making my point that nature and nurture can and do work together.

Now, I am not suggesting that my opinion is the only way or that I am 100-percent on the mark. I am simply saying that from what I have studied, it would make sense that some children experiencing the same environment can respond very differently. Blaming only biology or only environment for a child’s behavior can seem quite unfair.

While children absorb much of what they see around them, they are also born with millions of physical and mental characteristics that have been passed down biologically for generations. So I am wondering, what is your take on the nature versus nurture debate? Do you think one or the other is fully responsible for a child’s behavior or do you believe it is a combination of those factors at play?

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It affects more than 2 million Americans. It can lead to arguments, unemployment, and an overall loss of quality of life. It can swallow its victims and mold them into whatever it wants before spitting them back out to live in this chaotic world…

I’m talking about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, those with OCD may be “plagued by persistent, unwelcome thoughts or images, or by the urgent need to engage in certain rituals. They may be obsessed with germs or dirt, and wash their hands over and over. They may be filled with doubt and feel the need to check things repeatedly.” Unknown to many is the fact that OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder. Not only can this mean that anxiety results when compulsions, also called rituals, are not performed, but the obsessions that lead to the compulsions are most often related to feelings of anxiety. That anxiety can stem from an array of life events or from low self-esteem, self-doubt, etc.

In my lifetime I have heard numerous individuals with good intentions jokingly refer to themselves as “OCD” because they like certain things a certain way. Some men may assume their wives suffer from the disorder because the wives like to keep a clean household. However, most women like to keep a clean household and this could be because the house is a representation of the family to others when company arrives. Not all women have OCD and the disorder affects men as well. Liking things a certain way is OK, but when there is a feeling – an urge – to complete a task because not doing so will create intense anxiety that cannot be ignored without intervention, then we as professionals must look at actual OCD. We also look at the time an individual spends engaging in the rituals on a daily basis. Is it consuming one hour, two hours, 24 hours in a single day?

Although contamination is thought of by most when discussing OCD, this is not always the obsession or compulsion. For some, counting to a particular number, having everything on one side or the other, stepping a certain way through a door or over cracks in the sidewalk are common compulsions. Additional compulsions may include ordering items with all labels facing forward, straightening things to obtain a “balance,” matching underclothes with outerclothes (or being unable to wear certain colors together). There are many ways obsessions (the thoughts) can play out in compulsions (the actions). What is relevant is that the thoughts become overwhelming and life can seem uncontrollable if the actions are not performed. There is a nagging from the inside when trying to ignore a compulsion to, “Go back and do it,” because otherwise it will consume your thinking.

The positive side is that treatment exists for OCD. Sadly, however, many cases go undiagnosed and the thinking and behaviors are thought to be quirks of the individual’s personality. One such treatment utilized for OCD is known as Exposure Response Prevention and involves exposing the person with OCD to the stimuli which cause the anxiety. Once exposed, the individual is then encouraged to not engage in the behavior that would normally follow. In time, the symptoms may reduce to where the individual can be confronted with the anxiety-producing stimuli and not respond with compulsions. This further reduces the level of anxiety associated with the stimuli to a point where the anxiety no longer occurs to begin with. ERP takes time and should be used under the care of a professional trained in utilizing the approach. This is evidenced-based treatment that makes sense because the more urges are given into, the more frequently those urges occur and when we can’t pacify the urge, a negative emotional response such as anxiety, irritability, etc. can result. The International OCD Foundation reports that 7 out of 10 individuals benefit from cogntive behavioral therapies (such as ERP) or from the use of medication.

Other options for those who suffer from OCD may include talk therapy, group therapy/support groups, and medication. Although, these are certainly not the only ways for individuals to overcome the disorder. It may be crucial for an individual to discuss past traumas that may have led to the OCD and this, as many of us know, can further create anxiety until we know it’s OK to talk about and that we are safe from those traumas today.

A life free from obsessions and compulsions can happen with time, work, and support. For more information, visit the National Institute of Mental Health, the OCDCenter.org, or the International OCD Foundation or speak with your healthcare professional today.

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