How We Look at Things Matters.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2011 by dredslack

I assume pretty much all of us want to enjoy and be satisfied with our lives as much of the time as we reasonably can. I know I do. And I’m not talking about the blissed-out pretend happiness exhibited by culty religious types, I’m talking about realistic, real world satisfaction with our lives in the endless variety of shapes and sizes and colors they come in. If we’re really going to do that it’s important that we attend to something many don’t consider; maximizing the operations of our own software … our belief systems.

Renowned Psychologist and Philosopher Carl Jung said “It all depends on how we look at things and not what they really are in themselves”. He’s not the first to express such a sentiment and he won’t be the last. The brilliant novelist Kurt Vonnegut’s book Cat’s Cradle took a longer approach to the powerful perspective that the value of a belief systems lies in what happens as a result of it. And we don’t have to choose one from a pull down menu or a list of some sort; we have the right to create our own. How we answer questions such as; “what is the purpose of life?” and “am I living well?” have a huge impact on the quality of our experience, as well as the choices we make.

As children we pick up our belief systems from what we see around us, what we’re taught and what we experience. Many accept this first iteration of philosophical perspective as who they are and identify so heavily with this initial software that it becomes their self-definition. When that’s the case the result is usually a person who is dissatisfied with their life. Some pretend and put on a happy face but I’ve never met a happy, well-adjusted person who is still rolling on their initial experience.

A large factor determining whether our software works well or not is how it causes us to see ourselves. What we’re taught we are is often inaccurate and negative and this will cause a multitude of problems if it’s not corrected. If we don’t have a reasonable way to put ourselves in a positive light, issues will be afoot! How many people do you know who think they’re ugly when they’re obviously not or stupid when they’re clearly not, etc.? How does this miss-perception affect them? An extreme example is found in the eating disorder anorexia where people think they’re fat when they’re not, usually due to a lot of body image criticism endured early on. Resultantly they starve themselves trying to be thin, sometimes to death. Mega-talented singer Karen Carpenter was a tragic example.

So what about you? Do you have beliefs about yourself that might not be true? How many perspectives about the world and/or your place in it could be false? Do your beliefs about the purpose of life comfort you or depress you? Ironically the beliefs we hold with the most passion are often the most off base.

If we’re taught something with great intensity when we’re young, the belief tends to be wrapped in powerful defensive emotions. It’s usually the fear based and full of baloney belief systems that are taught in such a manner, such as racism and homophobia. When this software is confronted a powerful emotional reaction is common … but that doesn’t make these beliefs any less baloney. When you’re examining your personal algorithms pay special attention to the ‘hot button’ issues as they often need the most work.

We humans tend to feel first and then use our rational powers to justify our emotion based opinions and beliefs. To get past this default setting all that’s needed is the knowledge that our emotions and brains can and will lie to us! Just because you feel something or think something doesn’t mean it’s so. It wasn’t that long ago that we practiced human sacrifice trying to appease Gods and alter physical circumstances. Now we know that to be ridiculous but the ‘not so ancients’ emotions and beliefs told them it made sense and was a good way to go.

When I was a kid I remember a bloom of ‘Question Authority’ bumper stickers. I wholeheartedly agree with its sentiment but think the addition of ‘… & Your Own Beliefs’ is a better sound bite.

The majority of us are born into the family religion (or other belief system) and default to that. As we mature we tend to practice an abridged form of this system, modifying it to fit our circumstances and lifestyle. There’s usually not a lot of questioning of the beliefs inherent in the ‘adopted and modified’ system. I guess this could be seen as upholding a positive tradition on one end of the spectrum and blind acceptance that could have nasty consequences on the other. If this ‘adopted and modified’ system really fits for you great! If it doesn’t you have right to choose for yourself what to believe. It’s a mammoth question because your satisfaction with life and your level of happiness depends on it. Be wary of false experts, there’s no shortage of proselytizers who will show you ‘the way’. But it won’t be your way it’ll be theirs and it’s going to cost a bunch, and it’s only likely to work for a short time.

What makes a good belief? It is a personal question but I’ve got a few guide-line questions that are helpful when it’s time to shift into self-examination mode:

- Does the belief promote happiness (for you, those around you and the world in general)? – Does the belief promote love // a positive energy?
- Does the belief promote growth, productivity and contribution?
- Does the belief promote peace and serenity?
- Is this belief truthful as far as I can reasonably tell?

It’s easy to see that I want my belief structure to honestly promote happiness, positive energy, growth, productivity, contribution and serenity. What are the qualities you’d like to bring out in your life? It’s easy to modify those questions to emphasize what’s important to you. For example, if you have kids, questioning a possible software perspective might include, “Does this belief promote the well-being, health and development of my children?” Having a belief system that supports what’s important to you will make it much more likely you’ll be more happy and satisfied with your life.

‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ is a cliché I like a lot but I’ve seen it used to hold onto beliefs that were up to no good. ‘If it ain’t runnin’ as good as it could then take the time to look under the hood’ is a cliché that’s a lot better. It does take effort and some courage to develop your own software but I’m sure you’ll find the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Forgiveness

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2010 by dredslack

With the celebration of the holidays and the beginning of the New Year, forgiveness feels like a good topic. I can’t think of a better time to clear the decks of the old and negative and make way for the new and hopefully positive. The type of forgiveness I’m talking about is the punctuation where we mark the end of an emotional cycle with a person or event that was painful to us. If we genuinely forgive, we’re done with any ill-will associated with that person or event. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re open to further interactions with the person or that we’re happy the event happened, we’re simply over needing to process it and don’t bear any malice against those involved. Are there any skeletons in your closet that need forgiving or processing of some kind?

Our busy, busy busyness and tendency to repress the unpleasant can make sweeping things under the carpet quite tempting. Even fairly large occurrences of pain can be excused away and ignored, creating a chain not unlike the one Marley used to scare Scrooge on Christmas Eve, except this one we carry on a day to day basis. Unprocessed emotions are weight and forgiveness can’t be attained until they’re acknowledged and dealt with. I had a patient who came to see me because of her chronic alcoholism. She was 63, her skin was a bright cirrhotic yellow and she had been drinking hard for over four decades. During our first session I noticed a twitch when I mentioned her Father. In subsequent sessions I continued to pursue possible troubles in this relationship. She tried to blow it off and pretend everything was fine but finally broke down and cried the type of cry that can only be cried after years of repression. Her Dad had died some 40 years before and she had never discussed the matter to any depth with anyone. She’d blamed herself for his death for all those years, though there was no logical way to conclude she was in any way responsible. After she opened up it didn’t take long for massive improvement to occur. She stopped drinking, her skin returned to a normal color and I hear through the occasional call that she continues to thrive some eight years on.

Often it seems the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. In an odd way it’s seductive; if we’re to blame we can pretend that we had the power to prevent what hurt us from happening and pretend that we’re more in control and less vulnerable than we really are.

Rather the opposite of that dynamic is trying to jump prematurely to forgiveness without going through the cycle of emotions we need to experience to process whatever loss, betrayal or unfairness that has come to us. True enough, painful emotional experiences are no fun to work through but I’ve never found a short-cut that worked long-term. In our varying ways we need to go through the processing laps of denial – bargaining – anger – depression and acceptance until we’re done and can genuinely move on to forgiveness.

Certainly life is at times most unfair, and any of us can find ourselves angry with God or whatever higher power we hold. When my wife Ellie was dying of cancer I was so enraged that such a good person was allowed to suffer so horribly, that passing a church steeple would often ignite an intense stream of curses and obscene gestures. As time passed I realized that it wasn’t God I was angry at; I don’t believe God had a sponsoring role in her disease, I just needed to be mad at something. Years after she died and my grief subsided, who did I have to forgive to punctuate the end of this loss? It may sound a bit loony but I forgave life for being life. Sometimes wonderful things happen to us that aren’t our doing and other times unbelievably horrible circumstances happen to us or our loved ones that are in no discernable way cultivated or deserved. My anger wasn’t going to protect me from future tragedies but it absolutely could taint or disperse the positive aspects of my life. Forgiveness was the door to go through to move on without the past making each step heavier and harder and keeping my eyes looking down rather than looking up to see what was in front of me and beyond.

We all experience rough times and I’m don’t think I’ve had it tougher than the next guy. What I am saying is that this may be a good space to look at what you’re carrying around. It might be a good time to let it go and move on to forgiveness. Untended, emotional scaring can weigh us down and lead to a depressing, negative view of life. In one of the therapy groups I ran we had an end of year ceremony that focused on forgiveness. Each person would write down who or what they were ready to forgive on a small piece of paper. We all talked about each one and then, if it seemed like the person was really ready to forgive, the paper was put into a brass metal bowl where it was burned. It’s was a nice way to punctuate the past and move into the New Year with as little unnecessary baggage as possible.
Hope Y’all Have a Great 2011!

Slack/2010

The Holiday Plague of Two Legged Snakes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2010 by dredslack

Nothing seems to bring out deceivers, manipulators and outright thieves like the holidays. The trust, goodwill and increased spending whips many a Two Legged Snake into frenzy. Robberies both of homes and businesses peak this time of year, so it’s important to keep the alarms on and beware of suspicious activity. Thieves will often ‘case’ (research) their potential victims by going door to door selling gutter cleaning or tree services, etc. Even if they do perform the service watch out, particularly if they seem interested in what’s in your house, (for example their eye’s dart in when you talk to them at the front door). Write down the license numbers of their vehicles and don’t let them in on your travel plans. If they seem really snaky give your neighbors and the local constabulary a call so they’re on alert.

We spend a lot of time with socializing during the holidays and most of us are going to have to deal with some snaky family or friends. It’s wise to be prepared; think about who’ll do what and have a plan. If your Mom is prone to playing guilt trips become adept at changing the subject or having to leave to take a call on your cell phone when she starts in. Do you have a cousin who tries to get you to validate her negative opinions about her brother? Be mentally practiced at telling her you understand how she feels and then excuse yourself firmly and politely, and walk away from the alliance making. If you’ve an uncle or co-worker who always has their hand out for a loan (and the likelihood of your ever being paid back is close to nil), practice the art of saying “No”. Sure, it’s a lot easier said than done but practice makes perfect. Don’t let your holiday spirit talk you into being an easy mark. If you keep getting pushed, don’t be afraid of a possible loud, dramatic scene; keep with your “No” in a clear, calm voice and walk away if you have to. You’re not being rude, the boundary pushing pest is. It’s also important to not let yourself be bullied into explaining ‘why’. It’s your decision and that’s good enough, explaining just opens the door to argument. I know I’m encouraging a focus on the basics here, but that’s what these situations call for. Like football coach extraordinaire Vince Lombardi said “without the basics you’ve got nothing to build on and nowhere to go”.

If you’re single the holidays hold another potential pitfall: The Holiday Hook-up. Two Legged Snakes who’re focused on romantic conquest know this can be a tough time for single people and they become much more aggressive as a result. Keep a relaxed, slow pace with any new romance that blossoms this time of year, particularly if he or she comes on fast and seems too good to be true. It may seem churlish but ask around, do a bit of background checking on your new love interest … what you find out, good or bad, could be the best present you get this year.

Happy Holidays!

The 15% Solution – Part Deux

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2010 by dredslack

After the applause stopped, Simon sat down and readjusted his cam. “I agree with you,” I said, “it’s unfair to criminalize some people for the supposed good of the whole but I think your story misses a bigger picture; the fact that so many people equate drug & alcohol use with a BIG life, one that’s fully lived and experienced … and that’s just not true, it’s a myth, a romantic rock-n-roll excess ideation.”

“Go on” Simon said as he put his elbows on his desk, looking a bit spent from his theatrical diatribe. “Well I think its crap that so many people equate drugging and excitement when for most, it usually ends up being quite a bore. If it works fine but if it doesn’t, big deal. One of my clients was a bank robbing, don’t care if I die heroin addict, who had a miserable existence; he cleaned up, went back to school, got his degree and became a drugs counselor. He also took up competitive running, got into a relationship and created a great life. Who’s to say his life isn’t as good if not better than the client you we’re just on about? Who’s to say anyone who doesn’t use for whatever reason has less of a life? Perhaps the brains of the 85% who ‘can’t’ see and feel things more brightly than the 15% who ‘can’ because of some sort of perceptual or experiential sensitivity?”

His face looming large on the screen Simon scowled and said, “I don’t buy that ‘living large’ baloney either, I was simply saying dear Mr. Richards is not an isolated case. My client’s situation is also a small example of a much bigger issue; how the variety of abilities and capacities inherent in human beings is not respected. Sociologists speculate that we stopped being nomadic hunters and gatherers and became community based farmers so we could ferment beer. It seems pretty clear that most everyone wants to change their state of consciousness now and again, so it’s really a matter of how far it’s good to go, for each individual. What a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s a huge range in what can logically be considered ‘appropriate behavior’. If someone’s not hurting themselves or others and isn’t doing any sort of damage, who cares what they get up to? Hopefully, one of the next steps in our evolution perspective-wise, is to realize that and stop trying to have a ‘one size fits all’ society.”

“But what about the children” I chided, “won’t anyone think of the children?”

“I know you’re trying to be funny” he said, “but you’ve actually hit the nail on the head. Our desire to protect our kids and create a safe world for them is probably the biggest motivation for creating so many limits and so much ‘one size fits all’ thinking. This creates many problems and the drugs issue is a relatively small one. For example the laws prohibiting gay marriage or the type of sex consenting partners can have are completely irrational, that’s no one else’s business but the people involved. We’re an over mothered society choking on the fear based rules of people who think they ‘know best’ but who really can’t tell their asses from a hole in the ground. Resultantly, many people are unhappy and restricted because they go along with this normative charade. They won’t face the necessary risks to build a life that’s authentically theirs because that would be out of bounds. Then ‘surprise, surprise’ they end up depressed, self-stuck in crap lives.”

“Sounds about right” I said, smiling as I looked through my desk drawer for a Reese’s peanut butter cup, “but you know what? Look on the bright side; you won’t be going out of business anytime soon will you?”

Simon chuckled, “well I guess there is that. I gotta get to my one o’clock. Next week?”

“You got it. Say ‘Hi’ to Sharon for me”.

Eureka! I found one.

The 15% Solution

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2010 by dredslack

“Did you see that Keith Richard has a new book out?” I asked my old shrink buddy Simon. “I didn’t know he had an old one” he replied, before tacking a bite out of a fish taco that looked so good I wished I was back in California. I deftly retorted “Wise ass” and completed my lunch chat revenge by adding a few head bobs so his screen would freeze up … he hates that.

After pretending not to notice my coo Simon replied, “When I was a kid I thought he was always knocking on deaths door, but it doesn’t surprise me anymore.” “Why’s that”, I asked. “Well….” he said hesitating, as he exaggeratedly enjoyed his taco as pay back for my head bobs, (we enjoy a bit of repartee and it often veers into the sophmoronic). “I’ve had a number of long term clients who’ve used all types of drugs and haven’t crashed and burned at all, some have been using steadily for over 20 years”. “Including heroin?” I queried. “No not heroin, but everything else; coke, weed, booze, e, pills, you name it and without more consequences than the occasional hangover or waking up in the wrong bed”. I expressed some skepticism but Simon brushed it aside. “Ed, I understand your perspective and I think most people share your sentiments but, I’ve had the chance to have people who’ve used drugs all their lives open up about because of the confidential nature of our relationship. You’re not going to attract this type of client because you’re the guy people go to when they want to get off drugs. With that rep I doubt you’re going to have people who see you for other reasons open up about that part of their lives, if it’s there. I’d wager, and this is a conservative figure, that 15% of the population doesn’t need any protection from drugs at all, even hard drugs; they simply have a low propensity towards addictive behavior. Keith Richards is just one of many but when he opens about it everyone regards him as a special case because of his musical genius, pretty much everyone else in that position has to stay quiet about it”.

At first I thought dear old Simon was messing with me as part of our light hearted competition, but he seemed genuinely sincere. “OK, I’ll bite, why do they have to be quiet about it? Not that everybody is really, there are a lot of pro-pot people, Woody Harrelson, Snoop Dog, and y’all even have a governor who’s arrogantly smoked a joint on film”. “I’m not taking about just weed; you don’t see any pro-blow celebrities do you? All you hear about are the Lindsey Lohans and Charlie Sheens, the out of control stuff, nobodies stumping for the legalization of e or mushrooms are they? There’s a number of reasons people who get away with using harder drugs don’t talk about it but the main one is that if only 15% (or so) can do it, the other 85% (or so) can get into a lot of trouble trying to do something that they just can’t. It’s easier for them to believe that it’s all bad rather than admit they don’t have the capacity to make it work”.

I could tell Simon was winding up for one of his big lectures and because they’re usually pretty entertaining, I got out of the critical path. “Let me tell you a story about a client of mine. He was an A- actor who played a cop in an 80’s TV show. He came to see me for depression and marital problems about 20 years ago, when his career was winding down. We got through the issues just fine and he decided he liked bouncing things off me so he continued seeing me, on a bi-weekly basis. He liked his coke and occasionally a bit of everything else and never had a problem with it. His wife drank a bit but didn’t do any other drugs. She didn’t care if he did as long as long as it didn’t cause problems and he didn’t mess around with other women, without her participation. A few years back when they were going to a costume party at Halloween, they were pulled over by the police and told to get out of their car at gun point. My client loves flashy cars and was driving a blinged out Escalade similar to one that was recently involved in something nefarious in the general area. He was dressed up as the Devil so the cops didn’t believe him when he told them who he was. They went over the car with a fine tooth comb and came up finding five grams of blow”.

“Luckily the paparazzi didn’t get involved; he’s a bit under the radar these days. He posted bail and all that and everything was kept quiet. He actually got some pretty special treatment, kind of like he was a real cop. The DA offered his lawyer a deal where my client would get probation if he did a 30 day rehab and some community service work speaking out about the evils of drugs. His lawyer found it to be a sweet deal, and it was, but my client was having none of it. He’s a very religious guy and from his perspective his religion prohibited him from falsely representing himself by pretending to be a problem ridden addict. Personally I think his pride had more to do with it, but he was firm about it. He had his lawyer tell the DA that if he went to trial his defense was going to cite his history of long functional drug use and attack the validity of drug laws all the way back to the Harrison act of 1914. He even went on about how his constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness was being impinged upon. Even though his lawyer thought he was nuts, the DA relented and gave him the deal of a suspended sentence, a fine and an admonishment to keep quiet. His lawyer couldn’t believe it.”

“Well, that’s a hell of a story Simon but what does it have to do with not speaking out?”
“If you look at the evidence as it’s presented I think it’s pretty clear my dear fellow”, he said, in a Basil Rathbonesque Sherlock Holmes impression. “The DA relented because he didn’t want to have a successful and respected member of the community, who has never gotten into the least bit of trouble, come out and say they’ve used hard drugs their whole adult life and have never suffered the least ill effect. It would open too big a can of worms, one that might be hard to close again. It doesn’t have the Hollywood code type ending where the good guy always wins, extra-marital sex always leads to disaster and drug use will always ruin your life”.

He was ramping up to the crescendo now, so he stood up, adjusting the skype cam to compensate. Thrusting a righteous finger in the air he said, in an impressive impresario voice, “It’s elementary my dear Dr. Slack. The 15% who ‘can’ keep quiet to insure the health and safety of the 85% that ‘can’t’. It’s the 15% solution!”

I had to applaud, if he was right or not, it was a fine performance.

The Elephant in the Living Room

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on November 7, 2010 by dredslack

In the early 1990’s an alcoholism recovery hospital ran a series of TV commercials where a normal family was going about their daily business with one unusual facet; there was a huge elephant in the house that everyone was ignoring. Of course the elephant represented the obvious but denied problem of alcoholism. We have a similar situation in America right now albeit on a much larger scale; without the education to discern honest endeavor from bombast, vast numbers of people are easily guided into supporting practices that threaten not only a sensible way of life but the physical well being of our planet. Simply said, too many Americans are easy to dupe.

How can we expect a voting population who does not know the first thing about sophistry or techniques of manipulation to see through rhetoric slingers like the Tea Party, Fox News and the like?
We can’t!

It’s painfully obvious that many Americans desperately need to be educated as to the ways of those who work to manipulate them, but how do we get it done? Like driving and sexual prowess most people are pretty prideful about their abilities when it comes to who to trust, so it’s doubtful a direct approach is going to do much. I’ve written a fun and informative book on the basics titled Two Legged Snakes: Understanding and Handling Manipulative People to contribute to overcoming this problem but the book sales and radio shows I’ve been able to generate are attacking an oceanic size problem with a paper cup. Like a Chihuahua trying to direct a stampeding herd of wildebeests.
A logical long term step towards resolving this problem is to make a class such as ‘Participating in the American Political Process’ a requirement in High School. The types of manipulation that are currently the most problematic are very simple and could easily be taught to anyone who’s capable of driving a car. Speaking of cars, we require drivers to obtain a drivers license and periodically renew it, what about a voting license? A 20 question, multiple choice test could filter out voters who don’t know the first thing about methods of manipulation and are thus vulnerable to being duped by the nefarious. A simple booklet could be used to explain the basics & the test could be taken as many times as needed so any sincere voter could vote. A compulsory $2 ‘voter education’ tax could be added to our yearly filings to pay for it, easier said than done but possible.
Any solution to this problem is going to be difficult to implement but if it’s not confronted and we just complain about ‘dumb voters’, the foxes will continue to have too much access to the chicken coop. And that will certainly end up stepping on the toe’s of our right to the pursuit of happiness, and perhaps life and liberty as well.
We’ve got to figure out what to do with this frikin elephant.

That Jerk-Off Doctor Guy

Posted in humor, relationships, sex, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2010 by dredslack

   Last week over a desktop lunch, I had a skype connected chat with my old friend Simon, (not his real name). We became friends in shrink school some decades back and have kept in touch ever since, finding a way to chat every month or so. As I took a bite of burrito he said, “Ed, I’ve worked out a technique that keeps men who are habitual cheaters in line and true to their partners”, (Simon specializes in marriage counseling in general and infidelity in particular). “Great” I said, “What is it?” 

 Simon then went on to explain the technique in detail. (If you’re really sensitive to matters of a sexual nature, stop reading here). He advised his clients that when they find themselves in a situation where they’re tempted to start making moves to ramp a relationship up to sexual, they are to stop at once and then masturbate at the earliest available appropriate opportunity, holding the object of desire in their mind. Repeat this on a per occasion basis up to 25 times and process it in individual sessions. He never had anyone get past 23 times before they were over it, with most only needing 12-15 reps. 

  “Pretty interesting angle on an age old problem, but don’t some get so fixated they become obsessed and go stalker?”  Simon said he has been using this approach for several years and with over 80 clients and none of them had. He did mention that several of the men did go ‘underground’ with the technique because their partners were very uncomfortable with them fantasizing about others, and no amount of talk about the animalistic / instinctive component of sexuality would dissuade them. 

  “Sounds like you’ve got a live one; you better write that up and get it out. Maybe you should think about getting a tissue company to pay you for your endorsement”.  “Ha ha, very funny” he retorted, “there’s no way in hell I’m gonna put my name on that”. It was an unorthodox technique to be sure, but it worked and seriously improved people’s lives, so I said with dismay, “why not?” 

  “Think about it Ed, if the general press gets a hold of this what do you think they’re going to do? This approach has several very controversial components, components that could land me involuntary and repeated coverage on Inside Edition type ‘scandal news’ shows, in no time at all”. I pointed out that confronting the issues of masturbation and sex fantasies would probably be a good thing and encourage folks to be more aware and realistic. “Sure” he said “some people would undoubtedly become more educated about matters sexual, but think about Sharon and the boys? Do you think they want their husband and father to be famous for being ‘that jerk-off doctor guy’?” 

  After I stopped laughing I had to admit, he had a point!

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