The Process of Pathologizing Among New Healers: Let’s Get Clear.

Many of us are healers of various types. We want to heal with our words, our hands, our songs, our science. We want to heal and help, and this is so natural to us. Or so it seems.

Sometimes we are already wondering this..so when someone thinks they can tell us, we want to believe them.

Sometimes, we have a tendency to want to heal others because we ourselves have been wounded. If those wounds are still tender, then we may not be aware when something is triggering us to shut down, even as we try to help them.

Sometimes, I feel that someone can listen to me and pathologize my experience, especially those who are trying to help.

This is something that I must do as well, so I figured we could explore it here and perhaps find some tools for the future!

 

What Do You Mean, “Pathologize?”

Pathologizing according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is

To view or characterize as medically or psychologically abnormal.

 

If I say that I’m thinking about something a lot lately, and you ask me if I’m obsessed with it, that is sort of making me appear sick. It is taking something simple and giving it a loaded label.

The same is true if you tell me you are feeling down, and I ask you if you are depressed or worse yet, if I say something like “Wow it sounds like you’re depressed” or another statement that makes it implicitly easier for you to agree, consciously or unconsciously, than to argue with me. Really, there are better questions to ask than that and better ways of going about trying to help someone.

Why Is Pathologizing Dangerous?

Maybe it’s not dangerous. But I do think it gets in the way of a more pure and simple understanding that comes from compassion and empathy. It bypasses the process of curiosity and zips right into labels; and not just any labels. Charged labels, judgy labels, labels that you then have to talk yourself out of.
And the funny thing is, these labels can also make us feel like better healers. That’s right. If I decide that you’re depressed when you say you’re sad, and by the end of our conversation you sound happier, then I sort of cured your depression! in some messed up unconscious way. If I simply talked to you long enough for your natural mood to pass, then that’s less cool for me and my ego, but it might be the reality.

The Value of Curiosity

I realize that I am probably notorious for this process of pathologizing or else I wouldn’t notice it so sharply when other people do it. I must remember that having a curiosity for the reality of someone else is one of the best things that I can do. It teaches me to slow down and to have that same curiosity for myself, rather than to zip from “wow I’m sad in this moment” to “I must have a raging case of undiagnosed depression and I better make sure I don’t accidentally bring others down with me.”

The charged label is simply piling on layers that then become harder to get rid of, especially for those of us that are already hard on ourselves.

But Isn’t there More Anxiety And Depression?

Psychology Today has an interesting article on this topic. According to the article, depression and anxiety are becoming more commonplace because the normal human experience is being labeled as such more often, not because these states of mind are becoming more common. Furthermore, the author talks about how the labels are not meant to be taken as being solid things. They are meant to be used for the therapists to do their job more effectively, not to label people. The article is quite good, I recommend it!

With easy access to WebMd and other sources for self-diagnosis, it’s no wonder that more of us learn these terms and try to use them on ourselves, and on each other. It sounds better if we say “Sounds like you have an acute episode of a semi-psychosomatic illness brought on by environmental stressors” than if we say “I don’t know how to really relate with your experience at this moment, maybe you could call a therapist or just come over for some tea and we can hang out.” Or however it works with your relationship.

Is this from the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, who just love getting their chemicals on your neurotransmitters, or from people eating more additives in their food and having finicky immune systems? Who knows, but one thing remains clear:

We Can Stand Up For Ourselves

I know that personally, when someone gives me an insult, it can stick if it’s something that I already partially believe. For this reason, if someone labels me in a way that I’ve been labeled against my will in the past, then I may get a little triggered. I may feel the need to defend, or an impulse to believe them. Maybe I AM obsessed, maybe I AM in denial, or whatever.

I haven’t spoken to my therapist in years, and if I do, then I can hear whatever words of wisdom she has and take them in. She’s licensed, she knows me, and it’s her job. The people that may mean well but that throw out these loaded terms simply to try and understand something are most definitely not in the same position as she is to be, as they say, “going there.”

If you hear loaded terms from anyone who is trying to help you and is not a therapist, perhaps there is something that you can say back to them. Or someone you can talk to about the situation to see what they think, such as a real therapist. For now, I’m going to remind myself to use this question:

This is easy, simple, doable. Whatever someone says, whether they are my therapist or a stranger on the bus or a person I just met, I can ask them “Why use that word?” if they use a word that I find to be particularly charged.

I don’t know if that’s what you should do. I don’t want to pretend to have advice that I don’t have. I do know that if I get better at using some Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, then I might end up with more creative solutions to this issue.

I also know that trying to do this will help me at least to be aware of when the feeling of resistance or being triggered arises. If I can notice it, I can ask this question, and perhaps help the people I talk to become aware of when they are doing it, and help myself to do the same.

Do you have any experience with this, has someone ever used powerful words to describe your experience when you feel they are out of line?

Do you have friends that offer unsolicited therapy advice? Is it hard to turn it down or tell them to stop, or do you love when they do it?

Are you aware of the words that are most charged for you? (I’m not asking you to share them, though) Do you think that being aware of them can help you when people start using them unskillfully?

I hope you all have a great week!

 

Falling in Love With Vulnerability to Experience a Wholehearted Life

When you make banana bread, it ends up with those little magical black lines in it. They are always spread throughout and organized so precisely. They are how you know it’s real and that it shall be delicious. Maybe moments of challenge, sadness, heartbreak, and anger are like those little lines in an overall happy and healthy life. Maybe remembering this in the moment can help us to jump in bravely at some opportunities for vulnerability, rather than instinctively shying away from them without realizing it.

This post is about connecting Brene Brown’s work on Vulnerability with the Happiness Trap’s version of “happy.” I’ve been enthralled with both of these notions for the past few weeks and they are helping me to feel that lots of little routines are easier to spot and change, so I’d like to share some of these connections with you guys.

The Happiness Trap

Let’s look at the components so that this makes sense. We’ll start with an excerpt from The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. They start by addressing the fact that we all tend to chase, strive for and crave “happiness”. They mention that the most common definition of it is “feeling a sense of pleasure, gladness, or gratification.” They talk about how feelings of that type of happiness never last, and in fact, “the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more likely we are to suffer from anxiety and depression.” Then they go on to talk about the other meaning, which is something I try to hold in my head a lot of the time:

“The other far less common meaning of happiness is ‘living a rich, full and meaningful life.’ When we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. This is not some fleeing feeling- it is a profound sense of a life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us many pleasurable feelings, it will also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness, fear, and anger. This is only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotions.”

Brene Brown’s Work On Vulnerability, Shame, And Wholeheartedness

Now let’s look at Brene Brown’s work. She has several books out, and I’ve been watching her TED talk videos and others that she has on YouTube. There is a link to the first video HERE and you can then find the rest. You would probably enjoy her work if you like this blog.

Basically, she has found through doing work on shame that everyone has shame, but some have less. The people with less shame tend to have more vulnerability, and they tend to be living in ways that are that second meaning of “happy” and wholeheartedness. They have a feeling of being “enough” and being worthy.

The Connection

I see a connection between these two bodies of research. The more that we are willing to be uncomfortable, the more chances we have for happiness of the second variety- the deep, full, meaningful life type. That deep and meaningful life will not always be fun, but it will be rewarding and satisfying. We just have to be vulnerable..but what does that even mean? Are there various types of it, are there different styles? Can we learn it in a book,  and can we master it like a science?

Falling in Love with Vulnerability

I find that for me, it helps to learn a concept by falling in some sort of love with it. Looking at it from all angles, viewing it through a lens of poetry, thinking of it in my spare time, writing poems about it. So that’s what I’ve been doing in some ways with vulnerability- falling in love with it.

Vulnerability is not very comfortable. Sometimes a certain thing, like sharing our feelings publicly or telling someone we love them, is a vulnerable thing to do at first or in a certain context. After that, we get used to that one thing, or we will. But we haven’t mastered vulnerability. There will be something new after that until we cease to change and grow.

That is what I’ve been trying to work on this past week. Embracing my own many flavors of vulnerability and noticing the many areas that it arises for me.

I would like to find and read more of Brene Brown’s work. I’m curious to learn about the types of vulnerability and how they relate with each other. Also, how conditioning comes into play- if you are rewarded for being vulnerable, does it become easier? Can you reward yourself for it if this is the case? And do you get more familiar with the feeling in general or is it always going to be moving to a new place in your life if you overcome it in one area?

Like her, I tend to strive to find a method and a list. It’s harder for me to accept the mystery of the whole thing, an observant blogger Ktismatics artfully pointed out in a comment on last week’s post about priming. I like to pretend that I can gain fully conscious control of my world, but that will never happen; which provides me another chance to openly feel vulnerable and come through the other side with a greater willingness to do it again!

The Results of This Food for Thought

Since thinking about these things, I have noticed changing patterns in my life. I would be more aware of a choice arising in me based on avoiding certain feelings, and often times those feelings were about something bad happening. There were patterns of dog walks that I would take, patterns of places I’d do my work, patterns of plans I’d make for after work. But then I started changing.

I brought the dog to a new trail in the woods that I was previously afraid of. I made plans with people I was shy around, I reached out. I finally cleaned up the piles of mess because I looked at how much a book case actually costs instead of assuming it was too expensive. I noticed some moments when I would feel a sense of pressure based on fear or avoidance, and I would make efforts in such cases to try and step out into those feelings and through them to see what happens. Maybe I get rejected, maybe horrible things happen- or maybe they don’t, and another bar on the cage of routine is seen for the colored mist that it is and evaporated as soon as it comes into contact with my fearless hand. More will arise to take its place, and I will try to fall in love with the feeling of swiping my hand through them just to realize their illusion of solidity, over and over, until the day that I die.

So I invite you guys to watch those videos, learn from that amazing woman, and to read “The Happiness Trap” if such things intrigue you. I know that for me and some of my more stubborn anxieties and avoidant habits, these two bodies of knowledge have been very useful in a rather concrete way leading to action-based change.

How about you?

Have you been aware of Brene Brown’s work in the past? Were you strongly affected by it? Do you recommend her books?

Do you know the places in your life that are a bit caged in by routines, and what would those bars look like if you could see them holding you in place? Would they be made of purple sparkling bars or misty bars or hard steel? A mixture?

Do you feel like you notice when you are moving away from a choice in fear, or is it something that just happens outside of awareness?

Finding The Beauty of a Mess

Sometimes I get grouchy. Some fits of grouchiness are preceded by me noticing a mess somewhere, such as this one that has been accumulating by the fireplace.

Because we just moved, we don’t yet have fancy things like shelves and book cases. Art supplies have their designated corner-of-floor and so do the books.

Within this one mess, there are a lot of things going on. In the foreground, we have envelopes for some Martin guitar strings that my dear friend gave me on my recent trip to Connecticut. I just got around to putting them on my guitar (seen in the very background!) last night, which is why they have an elegant place in this mess at all.

Next to them are a pair of Alpaca socks from the very same friend. I opened those while on the road to Austin many months ago. They still feel like that adventure and joyful transition when they are soft against my feet.

Behind them, we have some pliers on top of a box of beads. One of the pliers was given to me by a friend in Northampton; we were both in the same alternative healing arts class at the Pangaea school which I think is no longer in existence. The other pair I have had for years, back when I sold jewelry in Colorado and across the country. They work just well enough to justify keeping them.

The rolls of green string called Power Pro on that same bead box are from Hawaii, which is the only place at the time that you could get that string. It’s heavy duty and doesn’t break; ever. I still remember the long hot walk I took trying to find the store that was selling it, feeling the big sky above me and thousands upon thousands of miles away from my close friends and lands I knew.

The bead box itself is from my mother’s boyfriend and is filled with colored copper wire that he got for me when I was experimenting with wire wrapping. The bottom has red felt and it makes me happy just to open it.

Behind that, we have the Writer’s Market book that comes so highly recommended by Stephen King, or so they say. That heavy thing was given to me by my mother because she believes in me and my skills as a writer. Behind that, we have a stand that my sister recently gave me for displaying jewelry I made; and on it, some jewelry I made!

This mess is beautiful when I look at it this way. That is, when I take the time to look at it this way. At first glance, it’s a big mess. Just like a bad mood. At a glance, it is unmanageable, unattractive, and a big nuisance.

But at a more detailed and slower glance, it is made up of parts. Little parts. Manageable parts. Parts that have fuzzy warm memories or icky memories. Parts that are much more manageable.

Messy Moods

When I’m grouchy, there are lots of parts. How can I apply the beauty I find in the mess to the mood? The key seems to be to break it down somehow in the heat of the moment. Here are three ideas that might work:

  1. Pick some body parts. Hands. Feet. Forehead. How do they feel?
  2. Pick a thing to look at through the lens of that mood. Like the coffee mug, the wall painting, the dog. What do those things look like through that lens? What if I look at them for five whole minutes without doing anything?
  3. Maybe the mood has a recipe. What exactly is it composed of? Maybe 1 part anger to 2 parts irritability, or 1 part bitterness and 2 parts impatience? Maybe one part insult and two parts insecurity. It’s always different.

Of course, during the moment of the grouchy fit, these three things are going to be hard to remember to do. Maybe I can pick one tiny thing to remember. Like my feet. Next time I’m grouchy, I will pay attention to how my feet feel. Warm, cold, neutral, sore; who knows. I’ll have to see. Then I can try to work in the other things on the list if possible.

How About You?

I have a fantasy that you guys will find a mess within eyesight and tell me about it in a creative way. Any chance of that happening?

If not, it would be fun to hear any ways you have of talking yourself out of grouchiness…unless you have magical grouch-repellant, in which case, do share the recipe.

Or just anything you feel like sharing in regards to these ideas would be most appreciated. Your words always stick in my head for so long and bring plenty of joy, so thank you!

 

What Makes Your Voice Valuable?

If you want to make a living doing something you love, it needs to be valuable. When that something is writing, it comes down to your voice.

As a new writer, I think an awful lot about my voice. Where is it coming from, what does it offer, and why is it useful to anybody?

What all this leads up to is, will anybody want to pay for it?

When I think about what to write, what to do, or where to draw inspiration from, sometimes I find myself with an incessant thought.

I am limited by the choices I made in my life.

It may seem obvious, and perhaps it doesn’t bother you like it does me. But I wonder how it would be if I spent more time learning about writing when I was younger. How would it be if I had never gone to school and just traveled instead? Will I ever get to see Amsterdam? How can I find my true voice if I cannot live out every possible option and learn from them all?

Continue reading

Writing Your Novel: Is Sharing Your Unique Brand of Craziness Really Going to Help Anyone?

I know it has been a long time since I made a post. For that, I apologize. For the past week or so, I have been tossing around the idea of making a post all about the amazing recipes I have been creating lately. In the many weeks that it has been since I have stopped smoking cigarettes, I have become obsessed with healthy food. Partially because it is a replacement for the oral fixation aspect of my addiction, and partially because I figure that eating healthy things will prevent me from eating unhealthy things and feeling disgusting. So I was going to do that, and tell you all about the amazing wonders of chia seeds and raw cacao nibs and reishi mushrooms, but instead, I am compelled to make a different type of post dealing with vulnerability and the incredibly irritating process of trying to figure out how to access it for a book that one is going to write.

I have been working on a book for the past few years. It is all about my travels, my adventures, my cornucopia of freshly harvested ambitions, sprinkled with the candies of addictive and destructive behaviors. In the time that I have been working on it, the thing has sometimes taken on a life of its own, like a child. Or an experiment gone wrong. At first, I was completely in control of it. I just had to spew out all of my thoughts and memories, feverishly flipping through old journals to find the pages where I happened to make a visual snapshot of what was around me so that I could use it, and the book had nothing to say about this. The book was fine with this process, it may have even been encouraging me.

But now, things are different. The book is repelling itself from me. The book is not happy. Almost in a Little Shop of Horrors type of way. My book does seem to want blood. It does not want me to find that blood in others, of course. It simply wants me to share something that I have not yet tapped into. Something I conveniently glossed over as I recounted each memory and vivid detail.

So here is my problem. A few people have read the rough drafts and claimed that they felt entertained. They enjoyed the story, the process of the story, the feeling that they were there. If people can read my book and feel that they left all their part-time work behind and took to the road, living out dreams of hitch hiking and learning the healing arts and herbal medicine, then that makes my mission complete in a way. I want them to feel that, I want them to get the sense that they are on an adventure of the deepest nature, that they have truly taken all that they know, held it in their hands, threw it to the wind and kept traveling and seeing what else was out there. I want them to feel that in case they never actually got the chance to experience it in their real lives before.

However, I also do not want to paint an unrealistic picture. I was not traveling because I was free, and I was not traveling because I was marching to the beat of my own drum. I’m sure those things came into it, but the core of the issue was that I was running to try and find a way to stop my own self-loathing. I was trying to find the way of life that would make me stop hating my body, make me accept myself as it seemed that others were doing.

The last thing I want to do is portray a story where I fake it, where I appear to be possessing the exact imaginary mind state that I was chasing after in others. My major skill in life has always been to pick a group of people, stare at them from afar, assume that they really felt the feeling of happiness, and then do all that I could to become part of their magical way of life. In some cases, this method has definitely taught me a lot about happiness and my own mind. In every single case, it taught me something. But the main thing that I learned is that no one way of life has all of the answers. The answer is available, at any moment, but it has nothing to do with whether or not you know how to hitch hike or whether or not you have a job.

What I am wondering is how to give my book the blood it wants. I do not know. I want to share my vulnerability, my particular brand of insanity, but I do not know how. This is what I must learn. I have a feeling that others would relate to the book if I included that side of things; the hard part is choosing how to insert these things into a book that is mostly written, and also to simply have the courage to put those things in. If there are ways that you feel that you rarely even share with some of the people that are closest to you, how can you put them into a book for anyone to see? Are those types of details going to give the book more power for the few people that can relate, or is it going to make it something that is now a niche-marketed psychology book meant for only those who are as crazy as me?

The problem is not that a stranger is going to see it; so much as the fact that those who you are closest to are also going to be reading it as well. At least, that is what feels most potent for me.

In terms of this blog, I am not sure where this post exactly fits in. It is my own personal struggle that I must give voice to, perhaps someone else out there will find it useful. I suppose one of the best things to remember is that it can be incredibly detrimental to assume that everyone besides you is much happier and better off. There was even the study in Men’s Health that talked about why having too many Facebook friends can be detrimental to your self-esteem. This is why I feel compelled to make this post, and to be honest, both here and in my book.

Harness that vulnerability, people. You’re the only one that can. The sooner you do it, the sooner you feed that blood to all your creative endeavors and learn to let it flow comfortably, the less you’ll have to struggle with it later as you try to let it have even the teeniest of voices in the book you are trying to write.