Tag Archives: DEPRESSION

Life After Sports: How To Successfully Make The Transition

The life of an elite athlete almost always requires of them to make extreme personal sacrifices in order to attain the fame, money, status, and glory that comes with reaching the pinnacle of their chosen sport.  When they arrive, though, athletes often feel as though the sacrifices were well worth it.  They’ve climbed the summit of Mt. Everest, and the view from up top is awe-inspiring.  In addition, they’ve had friends, family, and strangers alike cheering them along the way, giving them endless praise and adulation that makes them feel beloved, extraordinary, and special.  For these athletes, it’s impossible for them to imagine that their professional careers will come to a grinding halt one day, whether it is through age, injury or exhaustion.  Father time will make his presence known to all of them eventually.

Along the way, these athletes have trained extensively and rigorously for years, and their pursuit of greatness consumes the majority of their young lives.  For most of them, they’ve chosen to make financial sacrifices, moved away from their family and friends, cut romantic ties with people they’ve loved, given up on college and academic studies, etc.  They’ve come to believe that the ends will justify the means.  While this may be true for a very small group of elite athletes, the majority of athletes are simply ill-prepared for life after sports.  They simply never anticipated that the day when the buzz and adrenaline rush of competing would come to an end; they didn’t foresee that the limelight would grow dim and then dark and they would soon feel forgotten, empty, lost, and ill-equipped to thrive in a world that demands more than brawn, size, and amazing hand-eye coordination from its citizens.  They simply never imagined how the end of a sport’s career would induce dramatic changes in their personal, social, and occupational lives.  Like soldiers coming back from war, they too must transition back into society and reconstruct new lives and adjust themselves to a new life style.

Athletes that fail to prepare for life after their professional careers are over are often vulnerable to  feelings of anxiety, depression, and a despair that runs so deep that they even commit suicide.  They feel lost and rudderless, and they are also vulnerable to suffering from an identity crisis.  Take former tennis child prodigy and 3 time Grand Slam Champion Jennifer Capriati, for example.  When her career ended as a result of multiple injuries, she said, “When I stopped playing, that’s when all this came crumbling down.”  “If I don’t have tennis, who am I? What am I?  I was just alive because of this.  I’ve had to ask, well, who is Jennifer?  What if this is gone now?  I can’t live off of this the rest of my life.  I struggle with trying to like and love myself on a daily basis.”

image taken from tmottgogo.com

image taken from tmottgogo.com

Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard famously said, “Nothing could satisfy me outside the ring…There is nothing in life that can compare to becoming a world champion, having your hand raised in the moment of glory, with thousands, millions of people cheering you on.”  Not surprisingly, Leonard struggled in retirement, suffering from extreme bouts of depression and eventually making repeated comebacks that never amounted to much.

For some professional athletes, the pressure becomes all too encompassing, and over the years there have been a number of cases of athletes committing suicide following retirement from professional sport.  This includes the tragic story of Russian Judoka Elena Ivashchenko, who committed suicide following depression brought on by her failure to win gold at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Many people wonder out loud, “What leads retired professional athletes to spiral into depression after the rigorous training, pressure, competition, and glory days are behind them?”  Three answers come to mind.  First, professional athletes become overly identified with their role as elite athletes.  In turn, they become addicted to other’s recognition that they are physical specimens capable of achieving amazing feats in their chosen sport.  While they are in their athletic prime, they remain blissfully unaware that they have many other dimensions to their personality, much like a diamond has many facets to it.  As they become singularly focused on perfecting their role as an elite athlete, they’ve unwittingly allowed the other dimensions of their personality to atrophy.  When their playing days are done, they often feel emotionally or intellectually arrested; they don’t feel whole, well-rounded, and complete as human beings.  In turn, they often suffer from an identity issues or an identity crisis of some kind.

In addition to an athlete’s loss of identity, they often experience anxiety and depression after their professional career is over because they suffered from “Tunnel Vision Syndrome.”  They spent far too much time thinking only of training, competition, and results.  As they were competing, they were likely coddled and enabled to some degree by their handlers, so they didn’t have to acquire many of the basic life skills that their non-athlete counterparts did.  Without these skills, they aren’t prepared for the “real world” and they therefore miss out on countless career opportunities.  They’re no longer sure where to apply their focus, and they can no longer fill the void with the comfort that a rigorous training routine once gave them.

The third variable that may contribute to the anxiety and depression that professional athletes feel when their career is over may be due to biological factors.  It’s well known that exercise boosts serotonin in our brains, and serotonin is a chemical in the brain that is responsible for regulating our moods.  I imagine that when an athlete stops exercising, there may be a dramatic decrease in the serotonin levels in their brains, and they may consequently fall into a depression.  In addition to a decrease in serotonin, athletes may also experience a decrease in the amount of adrenaline and endorphins that pump through their brains after they stop exercising as often as they did before.

Fortunately, there are ways for elite athletes to reduce the chances of suffering anxiety or depression after they’ve retired from sports. Emma Vickers, who is currently taking an MSC in psychological well-being and mental health, noted that first and foremost, elite athletes must reduce their exclusive identification with their sports role and expand their self-identity to other parts of their personality as well as other pursuits.  I echo her sentiments.  Like her, I believe that elite athletes must   remember, for example that they are Mothers, Fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends as well.  In addition, they must be open to acquiring new skills and reinvent themselves as doctors, lawyers, businessmen, life coaches, etc.  When they pursue other careers with the same heart, soul, and dedication that they pursued their professional sports career, the chances are high that they will be very successful at whatever they choose to do.

As they discover interests and competencies for other activities that go beyond sports, they will realize that they are truly multifaceted and multidimensional beings.  I remember watching the famous snowboarder, Shawn White, give an interview after he failed to metal at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.  When he was asked what he planned on doing next with his life, he said that he was going to tour with his band and give a go at being a professional musician!!  Shawn White recalled how depressed and aimless he felt after he won the Gold medal at the 2010 Olympic Games, so he decided soon afterwards to become proficient at playing the guitar.  Apparently he’s a talented guitarist now, and he’s taking his band on the road to start an exciting new chapter in his life.

Photo taken from Rolling Stone Magazine

Photo taken from Rolling Stone Magazine

In addition to reducing their exclusive identification with their sports role and discovering new interests and competencies for awareness that extends beyond sports, I think it’s very important for former professional athletes to acquire stress management and time management skills.  Taking yoga classes, learning the art of mindfulness, practicing meditation, or hiring a life coach or Marriage and Family therapist are all great ways to achieve these skills.

Furthermore, I encourage professional athletes to maintain and/or cultivate strong relationships with their coaches, family members, friends, and managers who are sincerely interested in helping them to make their own personal growth a priority in their lives.  Even though elite athletes can be strong-willed and pride themselves on self-reliance, I strongly encourage them to allow others that they trust to support them in taking other avenues in life, keeping an open mind, and diversifying their sense of identity and expanding their sense of who they are and what they have to offer the world.

Finally, I would strongly encourage professional athletes to seek out the support and guidance of a Sports Psychologist to explore a wide range of adaptation techniques.  A Sports Psychologist can help an athlete to let go of their need to maintain the public’s perception of what they were when they were performing in their athletic prime.  A sports Psychologist can help them accept that they no longer have to be fitter, stronger, faster, and happier than everyone else; life doesn’t need to feel like a never-ending series of competitions.  They can cast aside their warrior mask and let go of any shame or embarrassment they feel around feeling vulnerable, and they can instead learn to embrace their own humanity.  They must come to realize that they are only human after all.

 

 

Checklist for Hidden Anger

Image taken from rottentomatoes.com

Image taken from rottentomatoes.com

As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve often met with clients of mine who seem determined to put on a happy facade and deny their own anger.  Unfortunately, when they bury or hide their own anger from themselves, it can come out sideways or morph into anxiety and depression.  Instead of burying or denying your anger, it’s far healthier to acknowledge it’s presence and find safe ways to discharge it.  In addition, it’s far healthier to see anger as a metaphorical alarm clock that is signalling to you that beneath your anger you may be feeling wounded, hurt, powerless, ashamed, afraid, etc.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve learned through years of experience to hone in on the many signs of hidden, unexpressed, systemic anger.  These signs include the following:  obsessive preoccupation with the completion of imposed tasks, habitual lateness, a liking of sadistic or ironic humor, aloofness, impatience, closed off body language, unconsciously turning their hands into fists, contemptuous glares, sarcasm, cynicism, and flippancy in conversation.  In addition to these hidden signs of unacknowledged, unexpressed anger, people who carry with them the heavy, toxic burden of anger are prone to sighing a lot, yawning, getting drowsy at inappropriate times, slowing down their movements, speaking in a monotone voice, getting tired more easily than usual, withdrawing, isolating, and sleeping more than usual, maybe up to 12-14 hours a day, and being prone to boredom and apathy.

Other signs of hidden anger include over politeness, constant cheerfulness, smiling while hurting, and an attitude of grin-and-bear-it.  In addition, people who tend to deny or hide their anger rationalize or minimize their emotions, become excessively irritable and agitated over trifles, hold onto grudges, struggle mightily to forgive others, make cutting passive-aggressive comments, see things in black and white, and carry around a chip on their shoulder accompanied by a sense of injustice and self-righteousness.  On another note, they are also prone to having disturbing or violent dreams, clenching their jaws or grinding their teeth while awake or sleeping, and have facial tics or spasmodic foot movements that they’re entirely unaware of.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve also learned over the years that people who hide their anger from themselves often experience health problems, such as a chronically stiff or sore neck, aching shoulder muscles, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, etc.  Their bodies become physical manifestations of the anger they keep locked inside of them.  People who hide their anger may even experience chronic depression and extended periods of feeling down for no apparent reason.

Finally, another sign that people are hiding their anger is the many ways they act out in self-destructive ways: Some people turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their anger; Others have marital affairs; Finally others refuse to get help of any kind to angrily protesting to those that love them that they are no longer accessible to them and that they would prefer to be alone and disconnected rather than connected and within reach.

In my professional experience, hidden anger that’s been cast in the shadows must come to the light to be addressed.  It’s an emotion that can be worked through, often relatively quickly and effortlessly.  If you or someone you know is hiding your anger to yourself or showing signs of hidden anger that you weren’t aware of until now, rest assured that I have the expertise and resources to help you feel more serene and more at ease.  You’re welcome to call me or e-mail me anytime to arrange a time to visit with me in person so we can work together in helping you feel much better.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article.  I hope that you found it useful and informative!!

Sincerely,

John Boesky, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

 

 

BEWARE THE EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS

Imgae taken from timesofmaldta.com

Image taken from timesofmaldta.com

As a Marriage and Family Therapist and Sports Psychology Consultant, I’ve learned from life experiences as well as from working with my clients that  life is inherently impermanent; nothing lasts forever.  Seasons come and go, youth gives way to old age, beauty gives way to wrinkles,  life gives way to death, and because everything eventually dies, all relationships come to an end.  A lot of us, however, turn a blind eye to how fleeting our lives are, and how ephemeral our good fortune is. We blissfully assume that the strong winds that we have at our backs will carry us forward for the rest of our lives. In addition, we become too attached or overly identified with these winds, and we believe that they represent the sum total of who we are. Gil Gronsdal, in a talk that he gave on Equanimity in 2004, referred to these winds as the “EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS.”  These winds include praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, and fame and disrepute.

As for the first of the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS, I believe that becoming overly invested in Praise can tend toward conceit, and it can also compel us to seek out external validation from others rather than look inward for internal validation.  This habit can feel very dis-empowering over the long haul, as our sense of self becomes more and more dependent on what other people say about us.

As for the second worldly wind, I believe that shouldering too much Blame can lead us to develop a shame-based sense of self. We are not the sum total of our mistakes.  I believe that we would make far better use of our time, energy, and resources if we tabled the blame and instead, with self-compassion and self-forgiveness, thought of ways to learn from our mistakes so that we can do things more effectively the next time around.

As for Success, the third of the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS:  When I see my clients and people in general become too attached to their own successes, I notice that they become prone to becoming  arrogant, entitled, grandiose, and narcissistic.  Often times, what lurks beneath this inflated facade lies is a profound fear of failure or being exposed as frauds. They’ve become so attached to their success and defined by the trappings of it that they’re fear of falling off the mountain top paralyzes them with self-doubt, and soon enough their performances go down the tubes.

As for Failure, the fourth of the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS:  I believe that the  more we identify with failure, the more we feel intrinsically incompetent and inadequate.  Soon Failure becomes an integral part of our life story.  We see ourselves as the sum total of our life experiences  through this dark prism, and therefore we conclude that the winds of life have always gone against us.  This belief system often creates a victim mentality in us, and we walk around with a chip on our shoulders and/or have a contempt for other people  and/or have a deep-seeded contempt for ourselves.  For those who have become overly identified with failure, they’ve been unable to step back and recognize that although they’ve experienced failure, they never had to allow these experiences to define them as people. We are not, after all, our behaviors or our life experiences.  The essence of who we are transcends these fleeting moments.

As for Pleasure, the fifth of the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS:  I believe that the experience of pleasure is wonderful!!  However, when a person seeks personal pleasure only at the exclusion of everything else, his or life often lacks depth, connection, meaning, and purpose.

Reacting to Pain, the sixth of the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS:  When we experience pain, it’s our natural tendency to contract, resist the pain, and focus on it.  Unfortunately, when we resist our pain, the pain is likely to get worse.  In addition, when we focus on our pain, it tends to expand.  Although it seems incredibly counter-intuitive, the key to managing pain is to acknowledge its presence, welcome it, and be present with it.  In addition, practice the art of equanimity, equanimity arises from the power of observation, to see your pain with patience, understanding, and compassion.  Finally, remind yourself that you are not your pain; There is a soul or light inside of you that is separate from your pain and watch it from a distance, and when you learn how to do this, you pain will subside considerably for you.

As for Fame, the seventh of the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS:  As a Marriage and Family Therapist and Sports Psychology Consultant, I’ve had the privilege of working with famous businessmen, businesswomen, actors, actresses, and professional athletes.  As a lay person, I’ve also watched the rise and fall of businessmen, politicians, actors, actresses, and professional athletes on television and read about it in the newspapers.  I imagine that you, like me, have all watched these famous people navigate their ways through the fame machine and come out the other side with a distorted sense of themselves and a warped world view.  In addition, many of them appear to me to be emaciated, ghostly, and like they’ve unnecessarily subjected themselves to multiple plastic surgeries while in their 20’s no less.  To me, these are clear signs that these “stars’ got lost somewhere in the darkness, and they lost their center of gravity.  In other words, they become imbalanced and, like a leaf carried away in no particular direction in one of the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS, they got caught up and then lost in the gravitational vortex of fame.

Finally, there is the eighth of the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS, and that wind is the wind of  Disrepute.  When I’ve seen people fall into disrepute, they often feel deep shame and  feelings of personal despair and disgrace.  They’ve become so attached to standing atop a pedestal and being seen as larger than life that their fall from grace crushes their ego.  They’ve spend so much time cultivating a make believe image of perfection that being seen warts and all makes them want to crawl into a hole and hide forever.  Now they feel like leapers, exiled,  shunned, and  rejected from family, friends, and foes alike.  Often times the people who have fallen into disrepute are the very same people who once enjoyed the spoils of fame.  Just as their egos and identities became too attached to their fame, now their sense of selves have become too entangled with their broken reputation.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist and Sports Psychology Consultant, I’ve found that there are many ways to avoid getting caught up in one or more of the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS.  The first antidote that comes to mind is having the wisdom to know that our sense of inner well-being is independent of the eight winds.  When we know this, we are more likely to remain on an even keel in their midst.  In addition, another piece of wisdom that can protect us from getting caught up in one or more of the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS is the awareness of the nature of impermanence.  The reality of life is that things change so quickly that we can’t hold onto anything.  Therefore, we must become masters at the art of letting go.  Letting go brings us peace of mind and equanimity.  As an old Buddhist saying goes, “let go, or be dragged.”

Another antidote to getting caught up in the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS is to develop the equanimity that arises from the power of observation; the ability to see without being caught by what we see.  Also, it’s incredibly important to learn how to see with patience and understanding. When well-developed, such power of observation gives rise to peace of mind, body, and spirit.  When we can observe the highs and lows of our lives from a grounded space, we feel rooted in the essence of who we  truly are.  In these moments, we remain centered in the middle of whatever is happening.  As the “Watcher” inside of us observes all that is going on around us, we remain palpably in touch with the strong presence of  inner calm, well being, balance, integrity, and confidence that  keeps us upright, like a ballast that keeps a ship upright in strong winds.

Other ways to remain balanced, grounded, unattached, and able to observe life’s EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS without being tossed about by them is to practice meditation, yoga, and to engage in any spiritual practice that is grounded in faith and wisdom.  Also, practicing mindfulness, deep breathing, seeing a capable Marriage and Family Therapist, Sports Psychology Consultant, life coach, NLP ( Tony Robbins Stuff) Practitioner, EMDR Practitioner, or turning to any resource that resonates with you and encourages you to cultivate calm and concentration as well as strengthens your sense of self will help to keep you grounded as the Eight Worldly Winds continue to draw people in and spit them out, just as they have for generations and generations.

In addition to practices and resources that I’ve already referenced, I’d also like to strongly encourage you to strive towards being impeccable with your word and having integrity with others so that you can walk into any room in any crowd of people and feel blameless, free from from the ghosts of blame, shame, guilt, and disrepute. When you don’t engage in gossip, it’s amazing how the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS look for new targets to descend down on.  Finally, I’d like to encourage you to focus on doing the very best that you can in your life; focus on your “Performance Scorecard,” not on your “Outcome Scorecard.”  If you’re identity is riding on your results, then you’re you’re more or less gambling day to day with your sense of well being, because your results are then dependent on variables that are often out of your hands. However, if you’re sense of well being and sense of self comes from achieving your performance goals, then you’re far more likely to feel confident and successful, regardless of the outcome of your efforts.  This is because you’ve taken care of matters that are within your control.

If you’re finding yourself swept up in one or more of the EIGHT WORLDLY WINDS, I want you to rest assured that you’re hardly alone. If you’ve grown weary, however, of twisting like a leaf out in the unpredictable winds and would like to learn how to return to your center and rediscover the essence of who you truly are again, then I want to invite you to e-mail me or give me call so that we can set up a time to visit in person.  I would enjoy that very much 🙂

Sincerely,

John Boesky, LMFT/Sports Psychology Consultant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TO FORGIVE IS DIVINE

image taken from iffla.org

image taken from iffla.org

As a Marriage and a Family Therapist, I often encourage the individuals, couples, families, and groups that I work with to practice the art of forgiveness.  My intention is to make this practice a daily one for them. Oftentimes, my clients balk at the notion of forgiving themselves or anyone else for that matter.  They fear that I am asking them to justify or condone harmful actions, or they worry that I’m encouraging them to seek out or speak to those who have caused them harm.  Other clients fear that I am asking them to be fake or artificial, extending an olive branch of forgiveness to the undeserving.  They refuse to be inauthentic, and so I often notice their bodies’ contract and experience them becoming resistant to the whole idea right from the very start.

I explain to them, though, that I’m not encouraging them to seek forgiveness from others, for themselves, or for others for any of the reasons mentioned above.  First of all, forgiveness does not in any way justify or condone harmful actions.  Second, forgiveness does not mean you have to seek out or speak to those who caused you harm.  In fact, you may choose never to see them again.  Third, forgiveness must happen organically; it must be authentically and deeply felt.  Otherwise, it’s merely pain, resentment, grief, or rage disguised as forgiveness, and the person pretending to forgive is much like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Seeking forgiveness from others, for ourselves, and for others who have wounded us is so powerful because it’s a way of softening the edges or removing the calluses around our hearts.  When we lack forgiveness, our hearts become closed and dark, and we build a fortress around us to protect it.  Although we feel safe inside these walls, we become cold inside.  Forgiveness, like a magic potion, melts these walls away, and gives us access to who we truly are once again.  It helps us to let go of the pain, the resentment, and the outrage that we have carried as a burden for so long.  In time, we have renewed access to our passions, our child-like essence, our humanity, and to all of the lovable qualities inside of us that make us who we are.

So, when it comes down to it, seeking forgiveness from others, for ourselves, or for others who have harmed us is really intended first and foremost to serve our own healing and set us free mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually first and foremost.  And the way to begin this process is to first recognize that, as human beings, we are all fallible. We are all vulnerable to making mistakes, and we all fall prey to unconscious shadows that compel us to act out in ways that don’t reflect our highest selves.  If we had the knowledge and resources to make the very best choices in any given moment and time that would be in alignment with our highest values and would serve ourselves, others, and the world in the best way possible, we obviously would. Unfortunately, we didn’t, and so we sadly resorted to making the poor choices that we did with what whatever level of consciousness was currently available to us.

In light of this reality, we’ve all likely hurt or harmed others, betrayed or abandoned them, and caused them suffering, knowingly or unknowingly, out of our pain, fear, anger, and confusion at some point in our lives.  We didn’t do so because we were sadistic or inherently bad people.  We did so because we didn’t know how to manage our emotions more maturely. We simply lacked the tools, life skills, and practice to show up in our lives and in our relationships differently.  Knowing this essential truth, it becomes easier to soften the harsh voice of our inner judge and begin the tender process of forgiving ourselves for the many ways that we’ve harmed others.

In addition to hurting others, we’ve all betrayed, harmed, and abandoned ourselves through thought, word, and deed at some point in our lives.  We hurt ourselves not out because we were pathologically masochistic, but because we lacked the necessary self-awareness, self-knowledge, and resources at that time to do things in ways that would have served ourselves and others in more positive ways.  Again, chances are that we hurt ourselves through action or inaction out of our own fear, pain, and confusion. Knowing this, it becomes easier yet again to reflect love inwards and forgive ourselves for the many ways we’ve sabotaged ourselves in our lives.

Finally, it’s important to consider that there’s a high probability that those who have wounded, hurt, abused, and abandoned us in thought, word, or deed have done so out of their own fear, pain, confusion, and anger. Now this insight doesn’t mean that their behavior was therefore justifiable. On the contrary, their behavior was still never the less repugnant and wrong.  However, if you take a moment and imagine walking in their shoes from the time they were little boys and girls, chances are that the heartbreak and anguish that you’ll sense they’ve long endured will help you to feel some empathy or compassion for the long, torturous roads they’ve travelled mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

It is often within the sacred garden of your burgeoning empathy and compassion that the seeds of forgiveness come budding to the surface of your heart for the person who once perpetrated against you. As Longfellow once said, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” My hope is that if you can summon the will to do this, you can experience the peaceful release in your mind, body, heart and soul that takes place when you’ve mastered the art of forgiveness.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post.  I hope that you enjoyed it!!

John Boesky, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

THE EMDR PROCESS HELPS YOU TO REALIZE YOUR FULL POTENTIAL!!

Image taken from ridgewoodcenterwellness.com

Image taken from ridgewoodcenterwellness.com

EMDR

Thoughts to Consider in Therapy and in EMDR

EMDR is about allowing, accepting, and holding space for things as they are right now. It is not about fixing things. Fixing confounds the healing process. To the extent that you judge something as bad, wrong, or needs to be fixed, you are stuck with it. You are attached to it.
If you want movement to take place inside of you, you will need to be able to hold still. The body is always present in the moment, and it has a lot of truth and wisdom to deliver if we can just hold still, notice it, and allow for its self-revelation.
If you want emotional well being and to be free of trauma, you must engage in a free, full, and appropriate expression of your emotions. When you deny, disown, repress, or resist your emotions and pieces of your true self, and relegate them to the basement of your psyche, you will yield symptoms of anxiety and depression, and you may suffer from chemical imbalances and/or suffer from any variety of psychosomatic illnesses.

EMDR

EMDR is a therapeutic technique that acts as a catalyst for healing traumas, shifting perspectives around traumatic life events, and changing the subsequent self-defeating beliefs we’ve unconsciously internalized about ourselves, our relationships, and our world.

The technique is Neuro-Physiologically based, and it encourages people to enter into a mind/body free association. In other words, they are encouraged to notice and be mindful of the feelings, sensations, and movement of energy that is taking place in their bodies, as well as bear witness to the thoughts and images that come to their mind, without judging them, trying to fix them, or make them go away.

During this mind/body free association, clients receive alternating bilateral stimulation to the hemispheres of the brain. Clinical trials and subsequent results have shown that the alternating bilateral stimulation achieves 3 therapeutic objectives:

1) Alternating bilateral stimulation seems to lift the veil that keeps the conscious and unconscious parts of our minds separate from each other. This process enables our conscious mind to receive and benefit from the wisdom housed in our unconscious.

When we’ve experienced a traumatic event in our lives, (particularly when we are children) we come to believe things about ourselves, relationships in general, and the world around us. These beliefs often dip beyond our conscious awareness, and settle into the basement of our unconscious. They are often self-limiting and maladaptive in nature, and compel us to seek out experiences that serve to validate and reinforce how right they are.

Because EMDR seems to lift the veil that separates our unconscious from our conscious awareness, we can receive some of the wisdom that is housed in our unconscious, and in turn we can challenge old beliefs that we’ve held onto as a result of a traumatic event and replace them with adaptive, positive ones.

2) Alternating bilateral stimulation seems to greatly improve the communication between the rational parts of our brain (the Neo-Cortex), and the emotional parts of our brain (the Limbic System). New neural networks that facilitate communication between these two parts of the brain get formed, and as a result new information, awareness, and wisdom travel back and forth to each other. This new information, awareness, and wisdom can serve to dim the memory, affect, and emotional charge associated with old traumatic events that remain housed in our limbic system.

3) Alternating bilateral stimulation facilitates the movement of energy throughout our bodies. Our bodies house the memories, feelings, and sensations associated with old traumatic events that we’ve lived through. When we pay close attention to the movement of energy in our bodies, it begins to shift, and the feelings and sensations associated with it lose their emotional charge.

In conclusion, it is worth noting that EMDR is a therapeutic technique that often accomplishes the following tasks:

Accesses new information that helps us to change our perspectives and beliefs that have arisen from traumatic life events.
Lowers the emotional charge that is stored in our bodies from those traumatic life events.
Achieves a connecting up of memory networks: (There are memories that are thematically similar, and they belong to the same “Memory Tree.”) The earlier the memory, the closer to the trunk of the tree we are. When we work through the memories closest to the trunk of the tree, the feelings of resolution, peace, and tranquility spread to all of its thematically-related branches.
Achieves a de-coupling of false associations.

Psychological Concepts Relevant to EMDR

1) Pie Chart of the Mind:

Imagine that your mind is shaped like a pie, and the pie is sliced up into 3 pieces. The first slice of the pie represents the conscious part of our mind, and it houses the part of our awareness that knows what we know about ourselves, the world, etc. (For example, I know that I am a Marriage and Family therapist, and that I presently work in Kensington, which is a town in San Diego.)

The second slice of the pie represents the other half of our conscious mind, and it houses the part of our awareness that knows what we don’t know (DK). (For example, I know that I don’t know how to play the harmonica, or the flute for that matter).

It is worth noting that we have access to a fair amount of awareness in these two places in our conscious mind. As a result, we rely on these two places to help us problem-solve and make any number of choices in our daily lives.

The third slice of the pie, however, represents the part of our mind that doesn’t know what it doesn’t know (DKDK.) It is the part of our mind that is entirely beyond our awareness. It sits in the basement of our psyche, and it’s often referred to as our unconscious.

In is here in the unconscious that we’ve relegated pieces of ourselves that we’ve come to believe are bad. Moreover, it is here that we may have buried the memories surrounding traumatic events in our lives, and the subsequent beliefs we’ve created about ourselves, relationships, and the world around us. It is also here, though, that we house wisdom, new information, brilliant ideas, and resources that we can access for the purposes of healing and growing.

When we become aware of the unconscious, self-limiting beliefs that compel us to act-out and/or act-in in ways that don’t serve us, we can then strive to turn those beliefs entirely around. In turn, we can then make conscious choices to behave in ways that are in alignment with our new belief system.

*Note: These maladaptive, self-limiting beliefs generally relate to the following 3 themes: Safety, Lovability, and Worth.

Pie-chart of the mind as it pertains to EMDR:

During the EMDR process, the alternating bilateral stimulation to the hemispheres of the brain seems to lift the veil that separates our unconscious from the conscious part of our mind. In turn, our conscious mind is given access to the pearls of wisdom shimmering beyond our reach in the dark depths of our unconscious. We can now pool this wisdom from these depths and use it to help us move through the feelings and sensations that we currently experience as a result of a past traumatic life event. We can also use this wisdom to help us change for good the unconscious, self-limiting beliefs we have about ourselves, our relationships, and the world around us.

2) Emotion

Emotion is the movement of energy through our bodies that the mind notices, interprets, names, and tells a story about. When triggered emotionally, the hypothalamus in the brain pumps molecules down into the body and in turn the body gets excited, pissed off, stirred up, etc. The body reacts, and we then experience all kinds of physical sensations.

The physical sensations are the first things the conscious mind becomes aware of. The conscious mind then interprets these sensations and this movement of energy as being emotions, and it proceeds to give them a name. The 4 most common names given to emotions fall under the following 4 categories: Mad, Sad, Glad, and Fear.

Emotion as it pertains to EMDR

A) As I mentioned earlier, EMDR is essentially a mind/body free association. It can be helpful to know that the sensations we feel in our bodies signal that energy is moving. The bilateral stimulation that accompanies the EMDR process tends to facilitate this movement of energy. More energy moving throughout our bodies gives us more opportunities to track it, and this type of mindfulness causes it to lose its charge. As a result, the unpleasant physical sensations that are stored in our Limbic System after a traumatic event get flushed out of our bodies for good.

*Note: It is helpful to not judge these feelings and sensations, but rather to allow for them to come and go, ebb and flow, wax and wane, rise and fall, just as they wish.

3) How the Brain Stores Trauma

The human brain has many parts to it. Two separate parts of the human brain that are worth knowing about for the purposes of understanding how EMDR works is the Neo-Cortex and the Limbic system.

The Neo-Cortex is the most recently evolved part of the human brain. It is the rational part of the human brain that enables us to problem solve, think logically, etc.

The Limbic System is a far more primitive part of our brain. It happens to be well connected (unlike the Neo-Cortex or “rational brain”) to what we are sensing, feeling, and experiencing in our bodies. It is so primitive, in fact, that it has little sense for the passage of time.

In the Limbic system, the Amygdale stores snapshots and/or slow-motion videotapes of unique and novel life experiences. These experiences can be pleasant, but more often than not they tend to capture moments in time that are acute and/or traumatizing.

Whereas the Amygdale files away the snapshots and/or slow-motion videotapes, the Hippocampus (along with other parts of the Limbic System) stores the emotional charge and/or energy that coincided with the original trauma. When a sensory cue triggers in us the memory of a traumatic event, we are confronted again with the Amygdale’s snapshot/slow motion video that has captured that unsettling moment in time.

When this happens, the Hippocampus discharges the unpleasant feelings and sensations associated with that event. Because our Limbic System is unaware of the passage of time, we feel as though that experience is happening to us all over again in the here and now.

This re-experiencing of old traumas takes place a lot, for example, with soldiers who return from war. They get triggered time and again by sounds and other sensory cues that leave them feeling as though they’re still in grave danger on some battlefield thousands of miles away. Images, flashbacks, and disturbing memories along with unpleasant feelings and sensations overcome them.

While these soldiers may understand rationally that they are no longer in the midst of battle, their Limbic System lacks the presence of mind to assimilate this Neo-Cortical information.

How the Brain stores Trauma as it pertains to EMDR

It has become evident after many case studies that the alternating bilateral stimulation that takes place during the EMDR process helps to create new ways for the thinking, “rational brain” (Neo-Cortex), to talk to the “emotional brain”(Limbic System). This more highly evolved part of the brain brings a new wisdom, maturity, and enlightened perspective around the traumatic event, and because it is communicating far better with its primitive counterpart, the wisdom it offers has a calming effect on it and on our bodies as well. In turn, the emotional charge associated with the original trauma fades.

4) Resources (A Safe Place where you can go to, and protective and/or nurturing figures you can turn to)

A “Safe Place” is a sanctuary in your mind’s eye where you can go when you are feeling overwhelmed with emotion, troubled by unpleasant sensations in your body, and/or burdened by intrusive thoughts and unsettling images entering your mind. The safe place where you take yourself to can be somewhere that you’ve already been to in your life, or it can be a place where you’ve always wanted to visit. It can even be a place that you’ve seen in a movie, a magazine, a children’s book, a cartoon, etc.

It can be particularly helpful for you to envision yourself feeling safe, calm, protected, nurtured, and/or empowered there. It may also be helpful for you to imagine nurturing and/or protective figures (known as “resources”) in your life joining you in that safe place, for the purposes of offering you comfort, support, counsel, and love.

These nurturing and/or protective resources can be a favorite pet animal of yours, God, Jesus, the Universe, Mom, Dad, a shaman, a favorite teacher you once had, an action hero, friends, family, wild animals, a mythological figure, a Walt Disney character, etc. It can also be very helpful for you to turn to your “Adult Self” and use him or her as a resource.

It is very likely that when you were traumatized as a child, you felt powerless over your circumstances, exceedingly vulnerable, and helpless to do anything about it. Your “Adult Self”, however, has a lot more life experience under his belt, and he is able to look back at traumatic events in your childhood with more objectivity, wisdom, and insight than the child in you can. With this in mind, it can be very helpful for your Inner Child to call upon your “Adult Self” when he or she is feeling scared, helpless, frozen, and/or out of control. Have him or her seek out your Adult Self’s love, compassion, forgiveness, and wisdom.

Safe Place as it pertains to EMDR

During EMDR you may experience unpleasant body sensations and feelings, and/or you may feel burdened by troubling thoughts or images that come to your mind. If the level of disturbance that you feel is greater than a 7 on a scale of 1-10, it may be helpful for you to stop the EMDR process and take yourself to your safe place. When you are there, take deep breaths, take in the soothing sounds and beautiful scenery that surrounds you there, and turn to your nurturing and protective resources for warmth, love, guidance, wisdom, and comfort.

Resources (protective and nurturing figures) as they pertain to EMDR

As I said before, it can be very helpful for you to turn to your nurturing and protective resources when you could use some comfort, guidance, and support while spending time in your “Safe Place.” Also, it can be very helpful to rely on your resources for strength and courage when you are revisiting an old trauma, and you have chosen to address the very people that victimized you back then.

For example, if you’ve gone back in time and see yourself being mistreated by your abusive Mother, you can call upon one of your resources to stand by your side. You can even ask that nurturing and/or protective figure to hold your hand or hug you, or you can have them confront your abusive Mother on your behalf. Having done this, you may come away from the scene that you’ve re-created believing differently about yourself, your relationships, and the world.

Rather than believe, for instance, that you’re unable to protect yourself in your relationships and that your’e unsafe in the world, you may come to believe instead, “I can protect myself” and/or “I am safe and sound.”

*It is important to note that when we revisit old traumatic memories with fresh eyes, an adult’s wisdom, and protective and nurturing figures at our beck and call, we can change our perspective on what took once place. With the help of bilateral stimulation, and the wisdom and resources shared between the conscious mind and the emotional mind (Limbic system), the emotional charge dissipates.

Image taken from thestonescollasaldream.blogspot.com

Image taken from thestonescollasaldream.blogspot.com

EMDR PROCESS

1) Keep your eyes open or closed.

2) Float back in time to where and when the original trauma took place in your life. (This is known as the Target Memory). Imagine the most disturbing part of that moment in time. (This is known as the Original Picture). Allow yourself to feel the feelings and body sensations as if that moment in time is happening to you right now. Please be sure to report back to me what you are hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, and smelling in the present tense.

3) Enter into a mind/body free association. Do not try to make anything happen or try to control anything. Just go with it.

4) If you want to stop the bilateral stimulation before I stop it, please let me know. If I stop the bilateral stimulation too soon, and you would like it to continue, kindly ask me to turn the bilateral stimulation back on.

5) I will periodically ask you how disturbing or distressing the old memory is to you in the present moment, out of 10, 1 being the least disturbing, and 10 being the most disturbing. Ideally, after going through the old memory a few times, you will say that you are at a Zero, and that there is no emotional charge left.

6) When you are at a Zero, I will ask you what you believe now about yourself, relationships, and/or the world around you. We’ll be looking for a change that comes from you. Then we’ll go back to the original picture and target memory one last time, with your new belief in tow.

7) If you are stuck, looping, and/or nothing is happening while you’re revisiting the original picture and target memory, we’ll get active. I may ask you to call upon your resources, or I may ask you a few questions that may help free you from your “stuck” place. If you’d like to, feel free to change the scene in ways that help you to feel more empowered. For example, turn your tyrannical father into a midget, and then imagine yourself as a giant having your way with him. Better yet, have Superman appear out of nowhere and watch him whisk your father away to another world.

It is important for you to remember during the EMDR process that you are the producer, the director, the script writer, the set designer, and the casting agent. You can manipulate that old scene in any way that you see fit. In addition, you can call upon any and all resources that you think will help you to face old fears and work through old traumas.
During EMDR, you may find that new resources that you hadn’t thought of before spontaneously appear. This is because you have greater access to the creativity and resourcefulness in your unconscious. This spontaneous, natural, effortless rising up of resources, wisdom, and healing from the unconscious is one of the things that EMDR facilitates.

8 ) If you’re feeling overwhelmed, kindly let me know, and then go to your safe place. I will be more than happy to help guide you there.

9) Sometimes the original picture and target memory will lead you down other paths, or memory networks. You and I will decide together if it’s worthwhile to explore these new territories. We want to be careful not to move in too many different directions at once, thereby opening up a Pandora’s Box. If we do decide to explore other memory networks, we must always come back to our original picture and complete our work there, in order to get the resolution we’re looking for.

10) Sometimes after an EMDR session, cognitive processing may continue and additional insight and awareness may rise up. They may be revealed in your dreams, for example. It is important to be gentle with yourself, and treat yourself with extra good care.

If you are feeling overwhelmed for any reason, consider going to your Safe Place. If you are still feeling upset, feel free to call me and we can spend a few minutes on the phone together.

WHAT’S YOUR SELF IMAGE?

Anxiety and Depression: Its Symptoms and Treatments

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john boesky marriage and family therapist anxiety and depressionAnxiety and Depression affect millions of Americans each year. These two illnesses manifest themselves differently in terms of the degree of severity and the type of symptoms. In this article, I will touch upon the most common anxiety disorders; Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Panic Disorder. In addition, I will address one of the most formidable mood disorders, Major Depressive Disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), afflicts more than five million adult Americans each year. While the exact cause of GAD is not fully understood, a person’s biochemistry, family history, psychological and spiritual profile all seem to contribute to the development of anxiety.

Twice as many women than men suffer from this disorder, which often develops gradually in adolescence, but can begin in adulthood as well. It is characterized by excessive, exaggerated, and disproportionate anxiety and worry about everyday life events. To GAD sufferers, the proverbial glass is always half empty. They anticipate the worst even when there is reason to expect the best. They always expect disaster, and life becomes a perpetual state of worry, fear, and dread, which interferes with daily activities and relationships.

GAD affects the way a person thinks, but may also manifest in physical symptoms, including restlessness, muscle tension, headaches, nausea, trembling, sweating, difficulty concentrating, and being easily startled.

Biological causes can be attributed to genetics and a person’s brain chemistry. Sufferers often have an imbalance of neurotransmitters, which are chemical “messengers” that help move information from nerve cell to nerve cell. When out of balance, these “messengers” cannot travel through the brain properly, which can lead to anxiety.

Psychological and social causes are generally the result of life experiences which may result in feeling out of control. Some individuals may suffer from an unresolved trauma or abuse. Financial constraints can also trigger GAD which results in a fear that one’s material needs won’t be met. Moreover, it may be the result of one’s own unrelenting perfectionism, or perpetual fear of rejection and abandonment. It can result from a living situation where one is being constantly put down, ridiculed, or made to feel ashamed. A person may experience perpetual fear for their own safety.

john boesky marriage and family therapist anxiety and depressionSpiritual causes that may lead to GAD are more existential in nature. Many people feel unsupported in their lives. They don’t feel grounded, and feel as though they are drifting aimlessly. These individuals often feel as though their life has no real purpose and their existence has no meaning.

Psychotherapy effectively treats the symptoms of GAD by addressing the psychological, social, and spiritual variables that trigger it. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in particular, challenges people to confront the unconscious thoughts that often trigger anxiety, thoughts that are often distorted in nature. Therapy challenges these cognitive distortions, and counters them with more rational, reality based thoughts. Core beliefs that we hold about ourselves and the world are challenged and transformed, which in turn strengthens self-esteem and empowers people. One’s sense of helplessness and powerlessness, which often induces anxiety, largely diminishes. Finally, psychotherapy encourages individuals to stop engaging in self-defeating behavior that lead to troublesome feelings.

Medications used to treat GAD include Benzodiazepines, like Xanax and Valium and the newer antidepressants, SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) like Paxil and Effexor XR. These medications balance the neurotransmitters in the brain. When the brain is deficient in neurotransmitters, these newer antidepressants can help replenish the chemical messengers in the brain.

Panic Disorder is defined as recurring panic attacks or episodes of intense fear and afflicts three to six million Americans. Fear and anxiety are normal reactions to stressful events in our lives. Panic Disorder, however, strikes without reason or warning, and the fear response is out of proportion to an often non-threatening situation. Over time, an individual develops a constant fear of having another attack, which can lead to avoidance of places and situations, ultimately affecting the general quality of life.

Symptoms of a panic attack can include difficulty breathing, chest pain, choking or smothering sensations, dizziness or feeling faint, trembling and shaking, sweating, nausea, chills or hot flashes, and tingling or numbness. There is often a feeling that you are losing control or are about to die. Fortunately, panic attacks tend to be brief, generally lasting about ten minutes. Like GAD, the exact cause of Panic Disorder is unclear, however, studies have shown that the same set of biochemistry, family history, and psychological factors bring on this disorder. Social or environmental factors include stressful life events and major life transitions, such as the death of a loved one. In addition, substance abuse has been a correlative to panic disorder.

Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy works on the theory that panic attacks are basically a learned response to something the patient fears. Therapy focuses on helping patients “unlearn” the physical reactions. A therapist might suggest breathing exercises or medication that can help prevent the hyperventilation that often occurs during a panic attack. Anti-anxiety medications such as Xanaz and Klonapin and anti-depressants like Paxil or Zolft have been shown to be safe and effective in the treatment of Panic Disorder. With this combination of therapy and medication, at least 70 percent of people can reduce or completely prevent future panic attacks. Many people feel substantial relief in just weeks.

Both of these anxiety disorders are often accompanied by depression which is a serious medical illness, much like diabetes or heart disease. It is estimated that 19 million Americans suffer from depression each year. If left untreated, depression can worsen symptoms or other illnesses, lead to disability and increase the risk of suicide. Untreated or improperly treated depression is the number one cause of suicide in the United States. Conversely, proper treatment relieves symptoms in most depressed patients.

The shades of depression are many, ranging from mild depression (Dysthymia) to Major Depressive Disorder. Anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or socio-economic status can suffer from this very serious disorder.

The most common symptoms associated with Major Depressive Disorder are trouble sleeping, loss of interest in activities, weight loss or gain, difficulty concentrating, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, or preoccupation with death or suicide. The risk factors that lead to depression include a deficiency of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, in the brain. Family history of mood disorders, chronic health problems, divorce, and occupational stress can bring on depression. Experts estimate that women experience depression twice as often as men. Over the course of a lifetime, nearly one in four women will experience a major depressive episode. Women are more likely to act in, and experience guilt, weight gain, eating disorders, and increased sleep, while men tend to act out their unrecognized and denied feelings of depression. They are apt to experience deep seeded feelings of shame for having fallen prey to the disease. They experience anger and hostility toward others or numb their feelings with alcohol or drugs.

john boesky marriage and family therapist anxiety and depressionWhile depression is increasingly more common, only a small percentage of individuals will seek help. This is a tragedy, since with proper treatment, four out of five patients will improve. Even still, only one in five women suffering from depression will get the treatment they need. Men often worry that depression is a sign of personal weakness or a character flaw and choose to “tough it out.” Without treatment, depression can last for weeks, months or years.

Effective treatment for depression, much like anxiety, is a combination of psychotherapy and medication. There are three classes of anti-depressants: MAOI inhibitors, trycyclic anti-depressants, and SSRI. All three classes of medication work to correct the imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain. SSRI’s are prescribed most often because they have fewer side effects.

Psychotherapy can take place in individual or group sessions. As in the case with anxiety, psychotherapy targets the psychological, social, and spiritual variables that lead to depression. It is aimed at helping a person develop new ways to identify and cope with their depression.

Many of the psychological and social issues leading to depression center around grief and loss. This includes not only the loss of others, but can be the loss of oneself. People often choose to abandon parts of their true selves to ensure survival. Some may abandon their true nature by learning how to take care of others, while some become helpless, self-effacing, and apologetic. Others will become inflated, grandiose, and narcissistic. While these adaptations may ensure self-preservation, it can bring on feelings of loss, grief, and ultimately, depression.

Depressed individuals often have low self-esteem and may believe they are unlovable and inadequate. While these individuals already feel unlovable they are likely to seek out negative experiences that will only reinforce these beliefs. The unlovable woman, for example, will seek out a partner who is abusive and degrading. That way her experience in this relationship will reassure her that she is right to believe that she is indeed unlovable. After all, if she was lovable, her partner wouldn’t find reasons to degrade her.

As is the case with anxiety, a spiritual deficit can lead to depression. In our culture there seems to be a one-sided pursuit for enlightenment, to the point of exclusion of the darkness. Spirituality that is understood in its appreciation of psychological opposites is called “grounded” spirituality. It is my belief that “ungrounded” spirituality can lead to self-denial and depression, while “grounded” spirituality leads to self-acceptance, self-compassion, and a genuine sense of well-being.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps a person counteract negative core beliefs and find new adaptive coping techniques, which help them reclaim their authentic self. Ultimately their depression lifts as their self-esteem rises, and feelings of hope and optimism settle into their heart and mind.

In conclusion, I want to strongly emphasize that while anxiety and depression are illnesses that are almost as pervasive in our culture as the common cold, both can be treated successfully. The combination of medication and psychotherapy can effectively target the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual variables that often bring on troubling states of mind and body. Individuals who suffer from anxiety and/or depression stand an excellent chance of not only overcoming these illnesses, but moving on to experience inner peace and deep joy, while leading productive and fulfilling lives.