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The Psychosis In Black Swan - By Chris Gearing

Friday, January 14, 2011

The movie Black Swan depicts the disturbing descent of ballerina Nina Sayers, played by Natalie Portman, into psychosis. Most analyses of the film focus on Nina’s obsessive compulsive and anorexia symptoms and her preoccupation with physical and professional perfection. But I believe that some of the most important issues in this movie may have to do with a more common issue faced by millions of young women. Challenged by an already tenuous sense of herself, Nina falls into a deepening state of anxiety as she strives to define herself as an individual separate from the opinions and expectations of others – particularly her mother.

All too often, as young women emerge into their adult roles-either as a dancer, as a student or as a professional-they lack the pivotal skills to handle the anxiety that is a natural part of any positive change. Instead, as this character’s downward spiral illustrates, their ability to cope can falter and in some rare and extreme cases, they can become psychotic if certain factors occur at the same time.

Here are some important factors to keep in mind:

New Opportunities Create Anxiety: New environments such as going to college or getting a promotion require new coping skills or even honing the skills we’ve already been rehearsing. Anxiety often hits us and hits us hard just when we need to be the most independent, clear thinking and capable. Many girls sabotage themselves because of the unrelenting anxiety that causes increased impulsivity, carelessness and even reckless behavior. Sadly, they have absolutely no idea why they are faltering.

Independent Thinking Embraces Many Sides of Our Personalities: Most of all, these new opportunities require us to define what we expect of ourselves separate from the expectations of others. For example, in this character’s case, Nina’s mother kept her sheltered as a little girl – giving her baths, brushing her hair, and pretty much determining every second of her life outside of the world of ballet. When she landed the role of the Swan Queen, Nina had to recognize not only her sweet and tender side but to embrace her seductive, playful adult self – and it was tearing her apart. She failed to recognize that she could be a sweet woman who also enjoyed pleasure and seduction.

Lack Of Self-Definition: If you have grown up with parents who insisted on defining and controlling you, your ability to build an independent and strong reality is often challenged. If you’re paying constant attention to what they want you to feel and how they want you to feel it, your inner world retreats and you constantly orient to the outer world. You grow up without a fully developed ability to think and feel for yourself, often with disastrous outcomes--as the movie illustrates.

The World of Performance: Physical perfection at any cost is often the gold standard in professions that emphasize public performance. Whether the young woman enters the world of dance or corporate sales, she is rewarded for remaining rail thin, toned, and sexual. Caloric restriction that is often unsustainable over time gives her the control she seeks, but it can literally erode her body, her mind, and her sense of reality.

Sexual Harassment: Tragically, some men in power exploit the women in subordinate positions just because they can. The inequity in power disables the young woman’s confidence in supporting herself and in challenging his reckless, harassing behavior. Such stressors can be especially disturbing for a young woman who has been taught to substitute the opinions and expectations of others for her own thoughts – her own painful feelings are pushed aside as she focuses on the gratification and praise from the man taking advantage of her. She will ignore her own rights and view the harassment as her fault or will even defend his behavior.

Elizabeth Edwards' Courage and Resilience - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards' Courage and Resilience - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

With the passing of the internationally acclaimed advocate and attorney, Elizabeth Edwards, it is important to consider not only the brave example she set for people worldwide after the infidelity of her husband, former presidential candidate John Edwards but for her lifelong example of psychological resilience she displayed to all of us.

Elizabeth Edwards will long be remembered for her advocacy for national healthcare and for the poor. She was a shrewd strategist, advocate for the less fortunate and outstanding mother to her four children. Perhaps her greatest contribution to this world may ultimately be the extraordinary courage she showed after the multiple traumas she endured.

The loss of her beloved son, Wade at age 16 in a car accident and then the humiliating discovery of her husband’s extensive infidelity were devastating. However, this extraordinary woman showed tremendous self control and class even when her heart was breaking. Elizabeth Edwards epitomized what psychologists call the "resilient personality."

Here are the personality characteristics of the resilient personality:

Challenge: These people show a special strength since they view challenges as opportunities to achieve and even flourish. Their determination to persevere is outdistanced only by their steady focus on achievement and progress.

Control: When they are "hit" with a setback, they focus on what they can control, break down their tasks into manageable goals and ignore everything else. They do not dwell on their own helplessness or ineffectiveness. Adversity is never seen as permanent or insurmountable.

Commitment: They are always committed to a cause greater than themselves. In Mrs. Edwards’ world, her unflagging dedication to the social and emotional welfare of others embodied one of her key strengths. She simply believed in a cause greater than herself. Resilient people strive for excellence because they are convinced that there is a greater meaning in life and their actions will make a significant difference.

Psychologists now know that your achievement in life ultimately depends on how you think about the events in your life.

Your thinking style or how you explain events to yourself is literally the lens through which you view the world. Your thoughts determine your emotions and your behaviors. Facing an unexpected challenge like infidelity, especially in the national spotlight, is a unique situation to encounter. Psychologists report that psychological resiliency is the key ingredient to weathering such losses. It literally may make the difference in whether you pull forward with success or allow the setback to define who you are.

Now we do know that trauma is an inevitable part of life. Up to 80% of people who seek counseling have experienced at least 7-8 distinct traumas in their lifetime. Years of research have revealed that people have four fundamental uses for resilience:

1. To Overcome Adversity: Many of us are from emotionally abusive backgrounds, divorced families or have just suffered the slings and arrows of life in the modern world. We use resilience to create and maintain a positive view of life. Through remaining resilient and optimistic, we escape emotional wounds and focus on creating the adulthood we now choose to experience.

2. Steer Through Daily Hardship: Every life has its ups and downs. If you are resilient, the daily tribulations of life will not interfere with your productivity and well being. In fact, you will view the setback as manageable and surmountable. Having an inability to navigate past daily hardships is where most people get "stuck."

3. Bouncing Back: Most of us encounter a major setback at some point. Depending upon our resilience, we will become helpless and deeply mired in resignation. Bouncing back is a sign of strength and courage.

4. Reaching Out for Good: This use of resiliency is the hallmark of Mrs. Edward’s legacy. As she demonstrated, moving past our own self interest to benefit others is a key sign of psychological resiliency and happiness. At the time of greatest pain, she still championed the welfare of others including writing and teaching about psychological resilience.

People often wonder why some people are so strong in the face of vast suffering and strife and others are not. We do know that some people are simply born with an innate wisdom that cannot be explained by their psychological or genetic background. Intellectual ability only contributes around 20 percent to one's success in life.

We have discovered that emotional intelligence—the ability to accurately identify our emotions and to process them to our advantage-- is really the bottom line in sustaining resilience.

Individuals with more sophisticated social and cognitive skills have better problem solving skills under stress and are better able to understand another person's perspective, even when they are challenged or stressed.

In the end, the life of Elizabeth Edwards reminds us that we all have a choice in the attitude we use to face the world. The loss of her son and the loss of her marriage to infidelity could have overwhelmed the less resilient soul. But her life taught us that we can view setbacks as chances to grow and flourish and to discover our better nature. Choosing to allow our failures to define our lives and to direct our choices was not an option for this magnificent woman. In the end, she demonstrated that wisdom in life involves not only emotional accountability but remaining doggedly hopeful about the future. We are never better than when we remain constant to those values.

How To Impress At Your Office Holiday Party - By Chris Gearing

Monday, December 06, 2010

How To Help The Addicted Woman In Your Life - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Addicted Mothers - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The number of women ages 30 to 44 who report abusing alcohol has doubled over the past decade, while prescription drug abuse has sky rocketed over 400%, according to a federal study. But most addicted women hide their secret well – often, with disastrous results.

So, why would young successful women begin down the long road of addiction?

No one who becomes addicted intends to be a junkie. But substance abuse among young mothers is becoming an ugly reality since the stress on this generation of women has never been greater.

No one ever considers that a busy, engaged mom in the prime of her life may actually have a serious addiction. Here’s why:

More Stress, Less Time: More women with young kids hold down full time jobs and they are the most sleep-deprived part of our society. A sleepy brain is a stressed brain. Addictions begin when we use something to bridge the gap or take the edge off of your daily stress.

Escape Hatch: Substance abuse gives you an escape. Most abused drugs and alcohol create intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Self-confidence soars, energy expands, and the worries and challenges of a busy life are gone.

Girls Night Out: “Girls Night Out” has become a national, normalized ritual in our society. But a whole lot of drinking also goes on during these female-bonding events.

Long Standing Problem: Most substance abuse begins in adolescence or in college when there is rampant binge drinking and the young woman carries the problem forward into her social life as a young mother.

Most of what you hear about alcoholism relates to how it is dangerous for the man in your life. But women are at just as much risk, if not greater:

Quick and Painful: Women get drunker faster than men, become addicted quicker, and develop health problems related to abuse such as liver cirrhosis, hypertension, and malnutrition at higher rates than men.

Substance-Fueled Violence: The link between physical abuse and alcohol is well established. Seventy five percent of rapes and seventy percent of domestic violence involves alcohol.

Liquid Diet: Many women are obsessed with their weight and prefer to drink rather than eat a healthy diet. Since 40% of American women are on a diet at any given moment, many women substitute alcohol for regular meals and good nutrition, and they end up harming their bodies.

Long Term Consequences: The effects of alcohol on a woman’s body linger months after she stops drinking. In fact, studies find that alcohol damages a woman’s brain structure and function in lasting and measurable ways. Although women drink less than men, death rates among alcoholic women are almost 100% higher than among their male counterparts.

Most people don’t know that addiction takes root through very predictable steps and stages as a woman surrenders her life to addiction:

Internal Shift: The woman begins to turn toward behavior that is relieving her stress. Getting high is fun and it changes her mood for the better in the beginning. She denies how dangerous her usage is as she begins to betray others and herself with repeated use.

Lifestyle Change: A behavioral dependency on the alcohol or drug now emerges. Her life is altered to accommodate the addiction even if she becomes reckless and self-destructive. She moves deeper into the sabotaging behavior as she builds her life around getting high.

Her Life Destructs: The addiction has now taken over. The woman relies on getting high and ignores or rationalizes the destructive aspects of her behavior. At this point, nothing matters to the addict but the acquisition of the substance. The obsession with the addiction causes a trance state. People don’t matter, commitments don’t count, and honesty isn’t even a part of the conversation.

Unstoppable: She believes that she cannot stop. New brain imaging technology now shows that there are significant changes in brain structure that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behavioral control. These changes compromise the brain architecture and cause the slide into addiction.

Here’s what you can do to identify and help the addicted woman in your life:

Be On The Lookout: Whenever you see any kind of irrational, highly self-destructive behavior that just doesn’t add up, there is usually some kind of addictive behavior behind it.

Bad Behavior: Secrecy, deceit, and the systematic betrayal of the trust of others are all hallmarks of this disorder.

Feeling Blue: Addictions often manifest very differently in women than in men with addicted women reporting more depression, anxiety and low self esteem.

Interventions Work: Make a plan, enlist a team of loving friends and family and intervene directly and quickly. Happily, addiction treatment is highly effective and lasting so be encouraged that you are saving her life. She’ll thank you for it once she is sober and safe again.

Addiction is extremely serious, and if you are worried about someone in your life – please contact a substance abuse professional or facility for more information.

Sources:

The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University: Report on Substance Abuse and the American Woman, June 1996

Women Under the influence, by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University omen under the Influence

Alcoholism Hurts Women Neuropsychologically Almost the Same as it Hurts Men: Deficits Linger Months into Abstinence, APA, January 20, 2002

Addicted Moms: Everybody Knows Somebody, WorkingMother.com

The National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior - The Science of Addiction"

Office Holiday Party Etiquette - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For some bizarre reason, CBS 11's online player will not allow us to embed the video directly.

But you can watch it -- here.

(Click on "here.")

When Is It Time To Break Up? - By Chris Gearing

Friday, November 26, 2010

How To Handle A Holiday With Your In-Laws - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Surviving The In-Laws During The Holidays - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

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