Emotional Concerns and Disorders

03May 2018

Lessons from Westworld – Escape the Maze of Anxiety, Depression, Anger & Shame

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Westworld is a critically acclaimed sci-fi western TV series on HBO, now in it’s second season. As described by HBO.com, “… this dark odyssey follows the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin.” This provocative show also examines how we are programmed to enact story lines in our lives – stories that are often painful and full of loss, anger, anxiety and worry, depression and shame. Westworld is a dramatic example of how we can learn to change our personal stories.

What is Your “Story”?

All of us have a story – also known as a “narrative.” Actually, we have several interrelated stories running continuously. Some of these stories are conscious, and many are unconscious. Our stories include subjective versions of past history – stories about what happened growing up, about family members, friends, lovers, and important events. And we create a story about who we are, our personal identity, beliefs, and world view.

Exercise

Try this thought exercise – you might want to write it down. Answer these questions:

  • Who are you? How would you describe your life, your personality, and the kind of person you are?
  • What were the major events in your life so far, and how did these events affect and shape you as a person?
  • Who are the most important people in your life, past and present?
  • What are your biggest accomplishments – how have you been successful?
  • What are your biggest challenges – how do you struggle in life today?
  • What are your most important core beliefs – about people, relationships, politics, religion, and the meaning and purpose of life?

Review your answers. Is this you? Or is this a story about you?

Are You Your Story?

In Westworld, the “Hosts” are androids – robots that look, sound, and feel completely human. Their “brains” are actually highly sophisticated computers that are programmed by humans with a plot – a story – that guides their behavior with the “Guests” (the humans who interact with them at a western-themed amusement park). The Hosts cannot harm the human Guests, but the Guests can do anything they want with the Hosts. Until something goes wrong, and the Hosts begin to evolve… They begin to break free from their programmed narratives – they change the story.

Humans are also programmed with narratives, and we are often unaware of the stories that guide our lives. We are programmed by our parents, schools, our culture, and religion. Throughout our lives we review our internal stories, and gather new information or “evidence” to corroborate these narratives. There are several core themes in our stories – much like the plot lines in Westworld and other dramas. Some are positive and life-affirming, and some are quite distressing. Some common examples of the distressing themes in our stories include:

  • The Victim Theme – We feel victimized by someone or by circumstances. We feel wounded, blamed, helpless and unfairly treated. We believe we are being oppressed or mistreated. We may feel angry or righteous, and we might retreat into passive resignation. Or we may fight back against our real or perceived transgressors.
  • The Shame Theme – Everything from low self-confidence to toxic shame (“I’m not good enough”). When we’re shame-based, we’re often passive, dependent, and feel unlovable. We may become socially isolated due to fears of judgment and rejection, and we may under-function at work due to feelings of inferiority.
  • The Anxiety & Worry Theme – Like film-maker and actor Woody Allen, this theme is fear-based. We don’t feel safe in the world or in relationships. We believe something bad will happen, especially if we’re not hypervigilant or hyper-prepared. We become obsessive, risk-averse, or we may use addictions to self-medicate.
  • The Depression ThemeDepression may be thought of as a diagnosis, a condition, and even a coping mechanism (but not a very good coping skill!). It can also become a story – one that can take over your life and cause endless suffering. It’s a theme of negativity, hopelessness, and helplessness, with a focus on the half-empty glass.
  • The Story About Relationship Distress – This story develops over time in committed relationships and marriage. But, like other themes, this narrative is often influenced by pre-existing stories from childhood (for example, trust issues and insecurity resulting from childhood experiences). These themes contain our subjective explanations for conflict, fighting, distance and other problems. Our story is a personally biased and limited view of what goes wrong in our relationships.

There are many other negative themes and story lines, such as the Angry Theme with blaming and persecution, the Grandiose and Superior Theme (narcissistic, self-absorbed, and better than thou), and the Controlling and Demanding Theme. What are the negative themes in your narrative?

Are You Lost in Your Story?

Most of us have a tendency to get lost in our stories. But you are not your story. It’s not who you are – it’s simply a set of beliefs that run automatically in the background – until the story becomes activated. These narratives are representational – that is, the stories represent some aspects of reality. But there are also distortions in all stories.

When we experience too much anxiety and worry we may be lost in our story about our fears, and we may not recognize that we’re actually safe. When we experience depression, it can become an elaborate narrative about everything that’s wrong or negative – and we’re not able to see the positives and the possibilities because we’re lost in story. When we experience relationship distress, we may rigidly adhere to a negative script or narrative about our partners and why they’re aggravating, wrong or hurtful. But it’s only a subjective story – it’s not the whole truth.

The good news is that you can change your story.

How to Change Your Story

  1. Study the script – The Hosts in Westworld slowly became aware of their own programming. You can do the same. I recommend meditation and journaling. Try writing a script based on your own stories. Describe your character (that would be you): What do you do? What are your beliefs and values? What do you say? How do you create anxiety and worry in your life? How do you create relationship distress?
  2. Rewrite your character – Change the themes in your story. See the themes listed above, and create a new focus, with new choices and intentions. For example, if a major theme in your story is Victim, rewrite a similar story line from the perspective of the Empowered Survivor. Bad things happened to you but emphasize the ways in which you coped effectively – you not only survived, you evolved, and maybe you conquered adversity.
  3. Create new plot lines – At the heart of our stories we create meaning. For example, a shame-based theme means that you will always have self-doubt – it will never be good enough. A new plot would have a more realistic premise: All of us have strengths and positive resources. Even if you’ve failed at something in the past, you haven’t always and won’t always fail. You are much more likely to succeed if you operate from realistic beliefs about your value and your abilities.
  4. Write new outcomes for your story – Envision positive outcomes. Imagine the many possibilities for success at work, at home, and in your relationships. One of the most effective coping skills is to live a life of intention.
  5. Develop new action sequences – Based on the re-written characters in your story, with new plot lines and positive outcomes, create new action sequences. Change your behavior to reflect the new beliefs, meaning, and goals. Act “as if” you are now programmed for success.

These five steps are relatively easy to do. We will never be perfect and we don’t have to be. It’s about progress, not perfection. Our old stories will never disappear completely. But we can override these negative themes with a little patience and perseverance. If your story feels impossibly stuck, our counselors and therapists are here to help. Let’s re-write your story together. Contact us today for more information.

19Apr 2018

5 Steps to Change the Pattern

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Selfish, hostile, or emotionally unstable people wreak havoc in relationships – and they often attract other people who have unhealthy personality traits. However, as a relationship expert with over 30 years’ experience, I can say that people with negative personality traits can and do have successful relationships. After all, none of us is perfect – almost everyone has some undesirable personality traits.

Negative personality traits don’t “cause” relationship distress in most cases – it’s more about how we fit with a certain person and our partner’s personality traits. And it’s about how we interact and respond to each-other’s personality traits or quirks.

Unhealthy Personality Traits in Relationships

This is a list of the most detrimental personality traits – those that tend to cause problems in relationships. These are not necessarily “personality disorders,” which tend to be more rigid and pervasive.

  • Narcissistic – More than just selfishness, a narcissist is the center of his (or her) own world. Narcissists have a superiority complex, with a sense of arrogance and entitlement. Their need for admiration – to be seen as special – becomes a central focus in their relationships. They tend to be controlling and demanding. Since they come first, they are often insensitive to others’ needs or feelings. They generally don’t feel guilty about their actions, and have little remorse when others are injured by their behavior.
  • Irritable and contentious – This cluster of personality traits includes excessive anger, aggressiveness and hostility, blame and argumentativeness. These individuals tend to be judgmental and critical, and they may appear to be sullen and “moody”. Their partners often feel they have to walk on egg shells. A destructive relationship dance may develop when their partners become defensive or shut down, erecting a protective wall.
  • Passive-aggressive – This is a type of indirect anger or hostility. Passive-aggressive people are basically avoiding conflict while inflicting damage. They pout, they give their partners the silent treatment, they withhold love, connection and affection, and they make false promises. They tend to be stubborn, uncooperative, and they procrastinate. It’s a zero-sum game – nobody wins.
  • Disconnected and emotionally detached – These individuals practice emotional and physical distance in relationships. They seem emotionally vacant – or their emotional states seem shallow or superficial. They’re distant, withdrawn, defensive and over-protective. Or they may seem indifferent and uncaring. These traits are highly destructive in relationships. How can you have a relationship with someone who isn’t there?
  • Dependent and insecure – All of us feel insecure at times, and some dependency is normal in relationships. However, people who have excessive abandonment fears tend to be very anxious and feel unsafe in relationships. They may feel empty inside, or unworthy of love. They lack self-confidence, they may be indecisive, and they’re often inhibited. Shame – not good enough – is a core belief system. Their partners may feel pressured, responsible, and suffocated – and they grow weary with these burdens.
  • Dramatic – These individuals are emotionally volatile or unstable. They are unable or unwilling to regulate or manage their moods. They are often highly emotionally reactive, “making mountains out of molehills”. Their relationships become unpredictable emotional roller-coasters.
  • Victim mentality – Some people tend to get stuck in the role of the victim (often acquired from traumatic childhood experience). In this role, victims feel one-down, defeated, aggrieved, and disempowered. They often feel depressed, helpless and hopeless. But they don’t see themselves as responsible. In fact, many victims feel a sense of righteousness – like martyrs who don’t deserve their fate, and they often blame others for their circumstances. Their partners react negatively to the blame – or to the chronic unhappiness – and a destructive dance ensues.
  • Boundaryless – Similar to co-dependence, these individuals are generally dependent, insecure, and intrusive – or they’re controlling and demanding. Since they feel unsafe and unworthy, they compensate with manipulative behavior (often unconscious). These are the rescuers, the enablers, and the controllers. They don’t feel they can get their needs met any other way.
  • Irresponsible – These emotionally immature individuals may seem to be carefree, but they are often unreliable and unaccountable. They don’t show up or they show up late. They allow others to carry the weight of responsibility. And they may be impulsive and unpredictable (emotionally reactive; risk-taking behavior; erratic behavior). In relationships they don’t make or uphold commitments, they’re not responsive to other’s needs, and they’re not reliable team members or partners.
  • Addictive – Obsessive tendencies and compulsive behavior, which may include alcohol or drug dependence, sex and love addiction, electronic media, shopping, gambling, and other uncontrolled, unhealthy behavior patterns. The chemicals, substances and behavior often take precedence over the relationship. The relationship with the addiction comes first.

5 Steps to Change the Pattern

If you believe you always choose the wrong person, or you seem to attract unhealthy relationships, here are 5 steps to change the pattern:

  1. Awareness – We can’t change what we don’t see. A “searching and fearless” inventory (such as the 4th step of AA) is called for. I suggest a written review of all past relationships. Identify your partners’ personality and behavior traits (and your own!), both positive and negative. Look for the patterns.
  2. Acceptance – Practice non-judgmental acceptance. As Nietzsche said, we’re “human, only human”. Use positive affirmations and recognize that while you may have made bad choices, you’re not a bad person. Use #3 below to help with this process.
  3. Understanding – Most of our choices are made unconsciously – including the person we choose to be in relationship with. In our work with hundreds of couples we frequently see patterns that help to explain these choices. A close examination and understanding of your family of origin can be quite revealing. Specifically, what did you learn about relationships from your parents? How did they deal with the normal frustrations and conflicts of married life? Professional help from a counselor or therapist may be the key to unlock these questions.
  4. Evaluation – How do you determine who is really the “right” person for you? If you’re already coupled or married, how do you know if you made the right choice? Actually, in most cases, these are misleading questions. There really is no such thing as the “right” person. Certainly, we need to rule out the obvious deal breakers (e.g., you want children but he does not; specific religious requirements; active addiction issues; etc.). And of course you want to avoid some of the more serious unhealthy personality traits listed above. We know from years of research that the way we conduct ourselves in a relationship is far more important than any specific quality or qualities of our partner. So that leads to the most important step of all:
  5. Practice Skills – Our experience, and years of clinical research show that relationship problems are mostly caused by negative, emotionally reactive patterns that develop over time – not the specific personality traits of our partners. We can learn healthy relationship skills, often with the assistance of couples therapy. These skills include mindfulness, compassion and empathy, and reversing reactive behavior (responding with friendship, love, understanding, and open vulnerability). Other skills include negotiation, compromise, and boundaries.

Relationships can be quite challenging, especially when unhealthy personality traits collide with normal tensions and conflicts. The good news is that we can learn to choose wisely and practice effective relationship skills. For additional information, please contact us today.

29Mar 2018

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

The 5 steps at a glance:

  1. Change Your Mind
  2. Healthy Habits
  3. Heal the Child Within
  4. Stay Connected
  5. Create Purpose

Almost everyone struggles with depression, anxiety and worry at times. Most of the time, these problems are situational or result from ineffective coping skills. Sometimes depression and anxiety can interfere with normal functioning and may require medication or more intensive treatments.

The good news is that most of us can manage – even defeat – depression, anxiety and worry using the following 5 steps:

1. Change Your Mind

We are what we think. The Buddha said that “All that we are is a result of our thoughts.” When we think dark thoughts, our emotions become clouded with negativity. We feel justified when we’re angry, even though the anger erodes our personal serenity. Obsessive worry and rumination results in one major accomplishment: anxiety. The first step in defeating anxiety and depression is to change your mind.

Here are some suggestions for Changing Your Mind:

  • Mindfulness – Practice awareness without judgment. Notice your thoughts and feelings from a place of detachment. Develop a daily meditation practice to help you detach from your negative thinking. Mindfulness is one of the most useful and effective coping skills.
  • Live in the moment – The great philosopher Lao Tzu said that “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
  • Use cognitive-behavioral methods – Keep a journal of your negative thoughts and look for the distortions. Write a positive re-frame for each negative thought. For example, a negative thought might be “I’ll never be able to do this.” The distortion is all-or-nothing thinking and predicting a negative outcome. The re-frame might be “I haven’t done this yet – I can learn to do this with practice and make progress day by day.”
  • Create a new story – When we’re depressed or anxious we’re imprisoned by an old narrative. It’s a story created by the mentality of lack – we don’t have what we need, we’re not good enough, or other people won’t cooperate. Practice a new belief system rooted in abundance. The old story is created as a result of childhood experience – see #3, below. The old story is the past – we can create a new story in the present.
  • Use affirmations – Write a list of your personal strengths. Add 2 or 3 strengths you don’t think you have but would like. Practice reading this list every day with the words “I am ______” before each word (e.g., “I am loving. I am responsible. I am successful.”).
  • Practice acceptance and forgiveness – toward yourself and others. Make a conscious decision to accept yourself for who you are. And forgive them their trespasses – your anger only hurts you in the long run.

2. Healthy Habits

Years of scientific research proves that lifestyle contributes greatly to depression, anxiety and worry. Unhealthy habits often result in unhealthy mental states. Conversely, proper self-care and healthy habits can help you defeat anxiety and depression. Such as:

  • Exercise – Did you know that studies show regular physical exercise is often just as effective as anti-depressant medications? Specifically, rigorous or intense exercise at least 5 times a week – including cardio (walking briskly, running, cycling, swimming) and weight-bearing exercise that increases respiration and perspiration.
  • Good nutrition – A balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, along with reduced sugar and fat content is associated with stress reduction, better sleep, and improved mood.
  • Sleep – A minimum of 7-8 hours is recommended. Sleep disturbance, such as insomnia, can be both a cause and effect of depression and anxiety.
  • Stress management – Chronic, high levels of stress is a major contributing factor in a great many physical illnesses and disorders. Chronic stress is highly associated with anxiety and depression. Effective stress management includes all of the healthy habits listed here, along with mindfulness practices, counseling and psychotherapy.
  • Chemicals – Avoid them or use them in moderation. Excessive alcohol and drug use, nicotine, and the misuse of certain prescription medications is known to result in problems with anxiety and depression.
  • Work-Life balance – All work and no play make Jack anxious and depressed. We are an over-worked society. Many countries that prioritize healthy work-family-play balance report fewer problems with anxiety and depression.

3. Heal the Child Within

Several recent studies have concluded that there are at least nine major causes of depression and anxiety. Only 2 of the 9 are biological. The World Health Organization, among other authoritative sources, declares that we must deal with the deeper causes of these disorders. What are the deeper causes of depression and anxiety? The answer is now quite clear: childhood trauma due to neglect, abandonment and abuse. To address these deeper causes, we must heal the child within, and develop better coping skills.

  • Ask not what’s wrong with you – ask what happened to you. Years of clinical research and experience teaches us that depression and anxiety result from negative childhood experiences.
  • Inner Child Work – Talk to the child within on a daily basis. Reparent the little girl or boy who lives inside of you. The inner child is not pop psychology – it’s not simply a concept or theory. No, there’s not a little kid running around inside of you. Modern brain science shows that the essence of the child lives in the neural network in our brains. And that child continues to experience emotional pain throughout our lives

It’s easy to talk to your inner child. First read my article “Who’s In Charge?” in our web site. The 2 best methods for connecting with the child within are visualization and journaling. Listen to the child and validate his or her feelings. Let her know that you’re there for her, that you love her unconditionally, and that you will always protect her. For more information about inner child work, contact us today.

  • Trauma Recovery – The child is traumatized as a result of neglect, abuse and/or abandonment. Abuse may be verbal, physical or sexual. Even spanking may be a form of abuse. Children are also traumatized when they are over-controlled, experience excessive demands or expectations, or are manipulated into inappropriate roles (such as the “parentified child” – the child who becomes parent to other siblings or the parents themselves).

Trauma recovery work must be conducted by a professional counselor or therapist who is trained in EMDR or other trauma recovery methods.

4. Stay Connected

Not necessarily to your device! Rather, we’re talking about social and family connection. Many research studies now show the necessity and the significant health and mental health benefits of human attachment. People who maintain close, emotionally meaningful attachments to others are healthier and live longer, happier lives. And their rates and incidents of depression and anxiety are lower and less severe.

  • Social supports – Stay close to family, friends, co-workers and others. One of the primary symptoms of depression is social isolation – both a cause and an effect of depression. And anxious people are often socially avoidant. Positive attachments stimulate the production of stress-relieving hormones. Love and friendship is a natural anti-depressant. Take an active part in conversation, sports and fun activities, volunteer activity, cooperative projects, community involvement, and many others.
  • Love, romance, and affection – Possibly the best anti-depressant and de-stressor available. A prominent family therapist once said that every human being needs a minimum of 6 hugs per day. Bring love and romance back into your marriage. It doesn’t take much: flowers; a candle-lit dinner; a sunset walk on the beach; a Sunday picnic; unexpected love notes; a kiss that lingers a little longer…
  • Rehab your marriage (or relationship) – Depression, anxiety and worry are commonplace in distressed relationships. Try couples therapy or one of our Connections marriage retreats and couples therapy intensives.

5. Create Purpose

A life full of meaning and purpose is a great antidote to depression and anxiety. There are hundreds of possibilities for creating purpose in your life, such as:

  • Acts of kindness – In his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Dr. Deepak Chopra talks about “The Law of Giving.” He says “The more you give, the more you will receive, because you will keep the abundance of the universe circulating in your life.” Acts of kindness include volunteer work, community involvement and activism, and other philanthropic efforts.
  • Work – My father once told me that his work kept him from being depressed. Productive activity of any type is helpful in maintaining a positive focus – and to refocus away from anxious, worried or other negative thoughts and beliefs. If your daily activity or work lacks meaning, maybe you can change your mind, using the steps in #1, above.
  • Life plan – Do you have a plan? An old friend of mine, a prominent psychiatrist in Virginia, once told me you should always be looking forward to your next vacation (and a visit with relatives is not a vacation). Goals and plans give us something positive to look forward to. Your goals should reflect your primary values, closely associated with the kind of meaning and purpose you want in your life. Also, consider a volunteer vacation – visit a country or community that needs your help. Many such opportunities can be found online (visit sites such as www.gviusa.com or www.discovercorps.com).
  • Continuing education – When is the last time you attended a class, symposium or workshop? Adult education is available in most communities. Most colleges and universities offer free or low cost programs in many areas of interest (politics, art, history, finance, IT, etc.). Intellectual and creative pursuits improve not only your mind, but your state of mind (and mood states).
  • Spirituality – Transpersonal consciousness (beyond personal identity) and various forms of spirituality are comforting, and provide meaning and purpose in our lives. The regular active practice of connecting to higher levels of consciousness or a higher power has been shown to reduce problems with depression and anxiety.
  • Creativity – Art, music, design, and other creative practices engage parts of our brain helpful in mitigating against anxiety and depression. When we literally create meaning and purpose with these parts of our brain, we replace the negative and the worried with positive inspiration.

Our counselors and therapists are experienced in working with all types of depression, anxiety and worry. For further information, and to schedule a consultation, please contact us today.

06Oct 2017

EMDR: A Power Tool for Healing the Brain

Trauma Recovery & Beyond

By Karin Witte, LMHC

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a powerful therapeutic technique for trauma recovery which has proven success in recovering from distressing, often disabling emotional and psychological distress.

There are 2 major types of trauma. Developmental trauma results from childhood abandonment, abuse, and neglect. Shock trauma results from severe, often violent events at any stage of life. EMDR is highly effective in helping trauma survivors with anxiety, panic, disturbing memories, post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and other emotional problems.

How EMDR Works

EMDR works to specifically target the stored traumatic experiences in the brain. It essentially restarts the frozen or stuck information by accessing the nervous system, which is the basis for the mind/body connection; i.e. fight or flight response when the brain senses danger and tells the body to run.

In trauma recovery using EMDR, memory networks are activated, so that new information can be added to help resolve traumatic experiences in a more productive and positive way by stimulating both sides of the brain through eye movement. This is similar to what happens in REM sleep when we dream – we can allow the brain to release the distressing emotional experiences that are “trapped” in our memory networks.

Simply through eye movement, the brain frees itself up to be able to process the experience in a more functional and less distressing way. As troubling images and feelings are processed, resolution and a more peaceful state are achieved. It’s actually your own brain healing itself while you are the one in control of processing the memory.

What EMDR doesn’t do is:

  • Remove the memory; you still remember it, but at a more distant, vague and less distressing level;
  • Remove any information that is valid or that you need to hold on to for your well-being.

What Happens During EMDR Sessions

EMDR generally starts with several sessions where the therapist will take a thorough history, explain the procedure in detail and address any questions or concerns. These initial sessions are key to the process and allow for a safe trusting working relationship, which is imperative to the deeper work of trauma recovery.

During EMDR, the client focuses on a traumatic event and the accompanying body sensations while following the therapist’s fingers with his or her eyes. The therapist moves her/his fingers back and forth or uses “tappers” that the client holds in his or her hands for tactile stimulation. This process is repeated several times until the client no longer feels distress when thinking about the upsetting memory.

Benefits of EMDR

EMDR specifically targets the area in the brain where distressing information is stored by while also integrating therapeutic methods to promote the mind/body connection. The goal in EMDR is to resolve past trauma while maintaining stabilization in the present. It also helps survivors and those with PTSD to access internal resources to cope with any distressing situations that may arise in the future. The following is a snapshot of EMDR benefits:

Before EMDR After EMDR
  • Individual experiences negative event resulting in:
  • Intrusive images or flashbacks
  • Negative thoughts or beliefs
  • Negative emotions and associated physical symptoms (such as anxiety or panic)
  • Individual experiences adaptive learning resulting in elimination or dramatic reduction of:
  • Distressing memories or flashbacks
  • Negative thoughts or beliefs
  • Distressing emotional and/or physical sensations.
  • Empowered new positive self-beliefs
What Happens: What Happens:
  • Information is stored in a negative way
  • Negative information gets replayed
  • May result in limiting a person’s ability to develope positive coping skills or belief systems
  • Information is processed in a more positive and beneficial way
  • Positive adaptive learning takes place
  • Healthy personal development is facilitated
Negative Consequences: Positive Results:
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Low self-esteem and/or self-deprecation
  • A sense of powerlessness, inadequacy, lack of choice and lack of control in managing life and adapting to changes
  • Dissociation (“checking out”)
  • Sense of well-being
  • Ability to use healthy coping skills and beliefs
  • A new understanding of events or experiences
  • Positive behavior change
  • Emergence of adult perspective
  • Self-acceptance
  • Ability to be present in the moment

EMDR & Trauma Recovery – A Personal Experience

My own experience with EMDR reflected this snapshot perfectly. I saw an EMDR therapist to resolve my trauma of losing someone close to me who drowned in the ocean. Prior to these sessions, I suffered with symptoms of PTSD: panic attacks, anxiety and a sense of powerlessness. I was also afraid of my lack of control in the ocean when faced with a strong current. After EMDR, I once again found myself in the midst of an overpowering ocean current and as the current began to take me out to sea, I was able to remain calm and grounded; knowing exactly what I needed to do to get back to shore safely.

It was the positive result of the trauma recovery work I had done in EMDR that allowed me to remain calm and safe in the face of a potentially dangerous situation. I was amazed there was no emotional charge whatsoever! I knew right then I wanted use EMDR to assist other people who suffer from trauma and help them live their best life and reach their full potential.

As I incorporated EMDR into my therapy practice, both my clients and I have experienced significant benefits of this trauma recovery method. As a therapist, the gift of witnessing the positive results that EMDR provides for my clients is one that continues to give; it is my honor to be a guide in the healing of others and I’m privileged to have found such an efficient and effective treatment method.

If you or someone you know has experienced trauma; during childhood or as an adult, and are suffering the negative and lasting effects it has, please know you’re not alone and resolution is possible.

To learn more about trauma recovery and how I can help you in your healing process, please feel free to contact our Center today.

18Sep 2017

Trauma: Recovery and Resolution

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Karin Witte, LMHC

Have you ever experienced a scent or sound that reminded you of a particular person or situation in your life? For example, every time I smell a certain perfume, I’m reminded of my paternal grandmother. Or I’ll walk into a restaurant and I’m immediately reminded of my elementary school cafeteria. The former brings back pleasant memories; the latter, not so much – and I usually don’t stay for a meal. These experiences are functionally similar to what happens in the brain when there is trauma and PTSD.

These scents and sounds are stored in the brain and are unconsciously related to either a positive or negative memory or experience. The same is true for psychological trauma, such as abuse or abandonment. When a traumatic experience occurs, it gets stored in the brain with the visuals, the smells, thoughts and feelings that occurred at that time. The good news is that trauma recovery is possible with professional help.

What Exactly Is Trauma?

Many people experience trauma and the lasting negative effects. Trauma may result from growing up in a chaotic environment or not getting our primary emotional and relational needs met during childhood. Or we may be traumatized by experiencing one or more tragic or violent events, resulting in PTSD.

The 2 major types of trauma are developmental and shock trauma.

Developmental Trauma (refers to events that occur during childhood)

  • Generally results from abuse, neglect or abandonment. These events gradually alter the child’s brain and emotional balance.
  • Examples include abandonment or long-term separation from a parent, an unstable or unsafe environment, neglect, serious illness, physical or sexual abuse and betrayal at the hands of a caregiver; even the loss of a beloved pet can be traumatic to a child.
  • Causes disruptions in the child’s natural psychological growth and development.
  • Has a negative impact on a child’s sense of safety and security in the world.
  • Can result in a sense of fear and helplessness (anxiety) if left unresolved.
  • Alters psychological and emotional development, with life-long negative effects.
  • A wide range of current situations (especially relationship issues) may trigger the underlying, unresolved trauma, resulting in symptoms of anxiety, panic, and/or depression.

Shock Trauma (severe, often violent traumatic events during any stage of life)

  • Involves a sudden threat that is perceived as overwhelming and/or life threatening.
  • Examples include serious car accidents, violence, rape, natural disasters, sudden death of a loved one, battlefield assault and war.
  • Usually results in symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder – disturbing memories or dreams, anxiety, flashbacks, depression, irritability and anger, insomnia, and others).

To this day, whenever I see images of the 9/11 attacks or the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, I’m immediately flooded with emotion and feel tightness in my stomach, chest and throat. These are indications of post-traumatic distress.

Developmental and Shock Trauma – Comparison

Developmental Trauma Shock Trauma
  • Distressing childhood events (parental absence, neglect, abandonment, abuse, family conflict, divorce, being bullied, learning challenges, etc.)
  • Trauma accumulates over time from childhood;
  • Effects of trauma are pervasive and ongoing;
  • Often there are few or no distressing flashbacks;
  • Results in negative beliefs, emotions and body sensations, such as people pleasing, difficulty trusting others, fear of conflict; self-sabotage.
  • A catastrophic, often violent situation or threat;
  • May be a single or multiple event trauma;
  • May be pervasive in the case of multiple single event traumas;
  • Most often involves distressing flashbacks of the event(s);
  • Results in negative beliefs, distressing emotions and/or physical sensations months or years after event;
  • Lasting negative effect on a person’s sense of safety in the world (such as anxiety, panic, phobias, & PTSD).

Resolution and Recovery

There are several therapeutic modalities proven to be effective for trauma recovery. The first step toward resolution is to find a therapist who is educated and trained in trauma recovery.

Medical research shows that EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is one of the most effective treatment methods for trauma recovery. EMDR is a powerful therapeutic technique which is highly effective in reducing or eliminating anxiety, panic, disturbing memories, post-traumatic stress and other emotional and behavioral problems.

In my therapy practice, I’ve observed many successful outcomes – healing the mind, body and spirit from the negative effects of trauma by integrating EMDR with breath work, guided meditation, mindfulness practices and yoga.

If you or someone you know suffers from trauma, please know there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. For additional information about trauma, trauma recovery and EMDR, please contact our Center today.

 

16May 2017

Is He a Narcissist?

And How to Deal with Him

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, PA

Narcissism is on the rise. Millennials may surpass the “Me Generation” – they are often seen as entitled and self-absorbed. And narcissism is in the news every day: Several powerful world leaders, such as Russia’s Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-u are well-known for their narcissistic behavior. Famous entertainers and athletes are almost expected to be narcissistic – and they rarely seem to disappoint.

When people think about narcissism they usually visualize a man. There’s a good reason for that. Studies show that men are about three times more likely than women to show up as narcissists. What about the man in your life? Is he a narcissist? And what can you do about it?

It’s All About Him

Narcissistic men are similar to narcissistic women – but the men tend to be more aggressive, domineering, unethical and socially inappropriate. Many LATE Men are narcissistic. LATE men are Lost, Angry Teenagers – adult men who are developmentally immature (see my articles on LATE Men in this web site). These narcissistic men are lost because they operate on a false, elevated sense of self. But this inflated self, or personality, seems hollow and based in shame and worthlessness. And they’re angry when they don’t get their way – or when they’re “one-upped” by someone else.

The problem is huge. Studies show a dramatic increase in narcissism in the 21st Century. Men are generally more self-absorbed, entitled and grandiose. They’re more arrogant and insensitive to others. Narcissistic men are manipulative and controlling. They use others for their own personal benefit. Relationships and marriages are damaged or destroyed. There’s even been a significant increase in abuse and domestic violence that can be traced to male narcissism. And narcissistic heads of state are insensitive to basic human rights, and dangerous to world peace and stability.

Is He a Narcissist?

He’s so self-absorbed that he doesn’t seem to care about your needs or feelings.

He’s selfish – his needs and desires come first.

He complains or protests when you have expectations or make requests.

He always has the right answer. You’re wrong. He knows best.

He has an inflated ego. He’s smarter than others – more talented – the best.

Yet, at times, he seems quite insecure or jealous of others. He always seems to be looking for approval or admiration.

He gets very defensive and argumentative. It’s always your fault (or someone else’s).

He always needs to be in control.

Narcissism can manifest in minor, even subtle ways. This is referred to as narcissistic personality traits. Or it can be a full-blown characterological disorder. NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is estimated to affect 6% of the population. But men represent about 75% of all individuals diagnosed with NPD. At our Center, we estimate that at least 65% of our male clients (including husbands when we see couples) have at least significant narcissistic traits.

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the APA) defines NPD as “A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy…”. This is a summary version of the diagnostic criteria:

  1. Grandiosity – exaggerated self-importance and need to be recognized.
  2. Fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, etc.
  3. Views himself as “special” and unique.
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Entitlement: unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment or compliance with is expectations.
  6. Exploits others – takes advantage.
  7. Lacks empathy: doesn’t recognize or identify with other people’s feelings.
  8. Envious or jealous of others.
  9. Arrogant, haughty attitude.

Does this sound familiar? If someone you know has 5 or more of these symptoms, he may have NPD. Otherwise, he may have narcissistic traits – one or more of the symptoms listed above, though not as extensive, or pervasive. But these traits alone can be very troubling and cause very serious problems.

Self-Esteem, Confidence, or Narcissism?

  • Normal self-esteem and confidence
  • Self-acceptance and self-assurance
  • Goal-oriented or ambitious with work-life balance
  • Appreciates, but does not need, compliments and recognition
  • Mutuality in relationships (give and take)
  • Feels guilty when his mistakes are hurtful to others
  • Appreciates and values contributions by others (a team player)

Narcissistic Traits

  • Over-confident, self-absorbed or selfish at times
  • Sometimes aggressive to get his own needs met
  • Occasionally controlling and demanding
  • Needs recognition and appreciation frequently (underlying insecurity)
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Some ability to be empathetic and compassionate toward others
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  • Similar to narcissistic traits, but more exaggerated and pervasive
  • Grandiose with no sense of humility
  • Excessive focus on his need to be recognized and admired
  • Preoccupied with his special personal qualities and accomplishments
  • Highly competitive – intolerant of anyone who may show him up or is “better than”
  • Lack of empathy or concern for others (and may throw them under the bus to look better himself)
  • Manipulative relationships – to obtain admiration and approval; to advance his own goals; and to maintain power and control over others
  • Deep core of worthlessness, well-hidden from others and himself
  • Over-reactive, defensive, “thin skinned” and argumentative – shifts blame to others

How to Deal with Him

Most narcissists don’t believe they have a problem or that they need to change. Unfortunately, research studies indicate that NPD is very resistant to change. Even the less serious narcissistic traits are stubborn, in part because these men can’t or won’t admit that they might be flawed. The good news is that you have choices, and you can often manage the situation effectively using the following approach:

  1. Emotional detachment from the narcissism, not the man. It’s not about you, and you don’t have to take it personally.
  2. Mindfulness – observe his attitudes and behavior from an objective, detached point of view. Avoid judgments.
  3. Use your mature, Adult self (see “Who’s In Charge?”). Your Adult self is loving and responsible – not reactive or judgmental.
  4. Avoid the Victim Triangle – These are the roles we play when we are emotionally reactive and get caught up in the drama: Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer. The only way out of the drama is Adult love and responsibility.
  5. Set boundaries – know when to say no, dispassionately (without drama).
  6. Self-care – Focus on your own needs, but not in service of avoiding or distancing from him.
  7. Suggest counseling or a men’s therapy group (without pressuring him). Or offer to go with him for “couples counseling.” Most narcissistic men can be taught to develop Adult ego skills and strategies. He can learn that it’s in his own best interest to learn how to work and play well with others!

If you would like additional information about narcissism, the LATE Men, coaching and counseling services for men, please contact us today. We’d like to hear from you about your personal experience, and we value your feedback.

28Jul 2016

Illus-TrappedMind-Blog

Perfectionist, Control Freak, Worrywart, Fanatic, Nag

The Many Faces of OCD

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Charlene is a very bright, successful marketing professional in her mid-thirties. When she started therapy with me she told me she was OCD. She struggled with distressing levels of anxiety and worry, and she described herself as a perfectionist and a “control freak”. Charlene didn’t fit the most “typical” clinical description of OCD because she didn’t have compulsive “rituals” – repetitive, irrational patterns of behavior such as frequent hand washing. Nor did her obsessive ruminations meet the diagnostic criteria for OCD or Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. In fact, after many years of treating and studying OCD, I’ve found there are many types or faces of OCD.

Traditional Definitions & Descriptions of OCD

OCD in all of its variations is far more common than previously thought. Medical research also shows that there is a strong genetic basis for the disorder. Anxiety and worry is a prominent feature of OCD – and the compulsions are behavioral attempts to manage or control the anxiety and the distressing thoughts.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

1. Obsessions are “Recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced… as intrusive and unwanted…” and cause anxiety, worry and distress (DSM-5, American Psychiatric Association). Attempts are made to ignore or suppress the thoughts.

2. Compulsions are… “Repetitive behaviors or mental acts” (like checking behavior and counting) in response to the thoughts. These behaviors are not rational or realistic, and are often excessive.

3. The thoughts and behaviors are often very time consuming and cause severe distress.

Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

1. This type of personality is rigidly and excessively focused on rules, organization, perfectionism and control (individuals with OCD, the anxiety disorder mentioned above, may not have this type of personality).

2. These individuals may be “workaholics” – they are generally preoccupied with details, lists and schedules, and excessively concerned with morality and ethics.

3. They may be “hoarders” who cannot dispose of unneeded objects without a great deal of anxiety and worry.

4. This personality may lose sight of productive goals and balance in life due to their rigid standards.

The Many Faces of OCD

o The Perfectionist – Charlene was indeed a perfectionist. She worked long hours and was never quite satisfied with the results. She told me once that when she entered a room at home she would immediately inspect the floor to see if there were specks of dirt or dust to be picked up. She rarely enjoyed her beautifully decorated home because of her “OCD”. She constantly experienced anxiety and worry about making mistakes or being seen as less than perfectly well put-together.

o The Control Freak – Charlene’s husband referred to her as a Control Freak – and she agreed with him. She washed the dishes immediately after every use and rarely used the dishwasher – the knowledge of soiled dishes in there made her nervous. She required a level of organization and cleanliness that was disturbing to her husband.

o The Worrywart – This version of OCD is similar to Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but these individuals stay in their heads with obsessive worry while they struggle to work out solutions that are evasive and usually impossible to achieve. The worrywart doesn’t discriminate – he or she worries about everything, regardless of the level of importance.

o The Fanatic – Ironically, Charlene’s husband had his own OCD tendencies. He was an admitted fanatic about politics and sports. Charlene said he was a bore. He was obsessively focused on national politics and watched hours of cable TV news shows. He knew all of the NFL players and statistics, and at social gatherings he would monopolize conversations with his knowledge and opinions. Sports and politics were always on his mind and he would become antsy if he was away from his computer or TV for more than a few hours.

o The Nag – aka The Complainer – It looks and sounds like chronic complaining or incessant nagging. But when you look below the surface, there may be OCD tendencies or traits. The Nag may be someone who struggles with anxiety and worry – and distressing obsessive thoughts that result in a compulsive need to complain.

o The Anal Retentive – This type of OCD is characterized by rigidity, a need to keep things orderly and excessively organized, and a personality that’s fussy, scrupulous, and fastidious to a fault.

OCD in Relationships

Individuals with OCD – either the formal anxiety disorder itself or a personality type – struggle with anxiety and worry that can be very distressing, even overwhelming at times. And it can be equally difficult and challenging to live with someone who suffers from OCD. Patterns of emotional reactivity can develop in this type of relationship, leading to a great deal of relationship distress. Charlene’s husband would be triggered by her anxiety and her controlling, perfectionistic tendencies. He would react with sarcastic comments and he resisted her attempts to involve him in her compulsive tendencies. Charlene felt unsupported by him, and she reacted to his frustration with anger and withdrawal. During those times when Charlene was the most anxious and obsessive compulsive, the reactive patterns and distress in her marriage became unbearable.

Couples may be unaware of the underlying causes – obsessive thoughts and beliefs; the anxiety associated with them; the controlling, complaining behavior that follows – and partners react emotionally out of frustration. On the surface, it looks like tension and arguments about the kids, money, chores, or even an affair in the past. And those can be troubling issues to be sure. However, the OCD process takes over at times, and becomes a primary source of relationship distress.

Coping Skills for OCD

o Mindfulness and acceptance – Awareness without judgement. Observe and identify the distressing, obsessive thoughts, while letting go of any negative judgments. The judgments create more anxiety and worry which exacerbates the OCD.

o Letting go of the struggle – Don’t argue with the obsessive thoughts. Don’t try to find a rational explanation. It’s like trying not to think about a pink elephant – the more you try the more it feeds the pastel beast in your mind.

o Identify and label the thought as obsessive, annoying, or unproductive (without any judgment). It’s just an annoying thought, and that’s all it is. It’s not about the content of the thought. We get lost believing in the content (my finances, my spouse and what he/she did, the problems with work, the house, the kids). But it’s not about the content – it’s about the OCD, the ruminations, and the anxiety we feel because of the thoughts.

o Thought stop and refocus – Gently tell your mind to stop it, and immediately refocus onto something manageable in the present moment. Keep repeating this process as necessary.

o Exercise and yoga – Proven to reduce anxiety and worry, along with the obsessive thoughts.

o Therapy and medication – If you continue to struggle and there’s no improvement, seek professional help. Counseling and therapy, along with certain medications when necessary, can be highly effective with all forms of OCD.

Contact us today for additional information, or to make an appointment. Our Center specializes in helping individuals and couples who struggle with anxiety and worry, OCD, and similar concerns.

06Jul 2016

Upset married couple sitting on the sofa after a disagreement

Emotional Problems and Disorders in Relationships

Is It a Relationship Problem or Is It Your Partner’s ‘Issue’?

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Suzanne is taking medication for depression, but her husband still complains that she doesn’t do anything, and there is little affection or sex in their marriage. Rob’s girlfriend believes he has an addiction to marijuana and pornography – she broke up with him several times but keeps coming back when his behavior improves, and they continue to have loud arguments and fights. Julie is fed up with her narcissistic husband (narcissism is one of the personality disorders). She’s tired of complaining about his arrogant attitude, his demanding behavior and his lack of empathy or interest in meeting her needs. He says that Julie exaggerates and distorts the truth.

Are these examples of relationship distress caused solely by one partner who has depression, addiction, or personality disorders? Or is there more to the story? Is the relationship distress due to one individual’s emotional and behavioral problems, or could there be other relationship dynamics created by both partners? In other words, is it one person’s “issue” or is it about the relationship dance?

It’s a complicated picture to be sure. But as a general rule, when there are problems like depression, addiction and personality disorders, there will also be relationship distress. Emotional problems and disorders can trigger relationship distress, but it’s not always a simple cause-effect situation. This article will describe some typical examples, with suggestions for coping with these difficulties.

How These Problems and Disorders Impact Relationships

When there is relationship distress, the most commonly reported emotional problems and disorders are depression, addiction, and personality disorders. Anxiety, OCD, and bipolar disorders are also quite common, and are frequently associated with relationship distress. Three of the most common problems, and the way they manifest in relationships are described below:

* Depression can range from quite mild (dysthymia) to major depressive episodes and bipolar depression. And the impact of depression on marriage and other relationships can range from minimal (such as a general relationship lethargy or dissatisfaction) to severe relationship distress (anger, fighting, distance and affairs). A depressed partner may be unmotivated, isolative, moody, irritable, and disinterested in sex and other pleasurable activities. Anti-depressant medication can also result in lowered libido and lack of sexual response.

And relationship problems can contribute to depression. Some partners may become depressed due to severe and chronic relationship distress. For example, it’s quite common for the spouse of an alcoholic or addict to become depressed. Victims of spousal abuse are often depressed. And to complicate matters even further, depression, addiction and personality disorders may be present in the same person or couple.

Suzanne has felt controlled and demeaned by her husband for over 20 years. She started taking anti-depressant medication about 6 years ago, and she’s been able to return to her part-time job. With the help of couples therapy her husband Tom has become less demanding and critical, but he’s still very concerned. Suzanne tends to withdraw and isolate when she’s depressed, and Tom feels lonely and rejected. Suzanne’s medication may contribute to her low libido, along with her negative self-image and body-image. And when Tom complains about the lack of sex Suzanne feels guilty, inadequate and frustrated. She reacts defensively with more distance, Tom becomes more frustrated, and the cycle repeats itself.

* Addiction is often the primary concern when couples seek therapy. At other times there are other types of relationship distress and addiction is a complicating factor. The most common addictions we see with couples are alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, marijuana dependency, sex and pornography addiction. Addiction problems in relationships are usually very destructive, and couples will not benefit from therapy until there is a period of stable sobriety.

Relationship distress can also contribute to the development of addictive behavior or exacerbate an existing addiction. For example, when Rob quits smoking marijuana he is less tolerant of his girlfriend’s insecurities and demands for attention (he had been “self-medicating” to deal with their relationship problems). He becomes more defensive, and she reacts to the perceived abandonment with clingy and complaining behaviors. When things escalate between them and they start fighting again, Rob may “take refuge” in smoking marijuana again or using pornography. And the cycle repeats itself.

* Personality Disorders, such as narcissism and borderline personality disorder, may be a complicating factor in relationship distress.

Julie believes her husband is narcissistic, and she’s right. David is selfish, and rarely considers Julie’s feelings or needs when he makes decisions. Many narcissistic men, like David, feel entitled, special or unique, and take advantage of their spouse (and others). David can’t seem to understand Julie’s hurt and angry feelings – or he doesn’t seem to care. The more she complains, the more he says that she doesn’t understand or appreciate him – and he expects a great deal of attention and admiration from Julie.

Personality disorders can be very difficult to deal with, and partners or spouses are usually frustrated, angry, and baffled. They can’t win. Another example is borderline personality traits or the disorder itself (generally more common in women). This type of personality is emotionally unstable, and relationships are like roller-coasters. Borderline characteristics include excessive feelings of insecurity and fears of abandonment, impulsivity (addictions are common), self-harm or threats of self-harm, irrational anger and mood swings. The emotionally reactive cycle of relationship distress usually centers around abandonment issues. The borderline partner feels abandoned or unloved, and when she complains, interrogates, or is demanding, the exhausted partner reacts defensively, with anger and/or avoidance, which then fuels more reactivity by the borderline partner. And the cycle repeats itself.

Relationship Coping Skills

There are several tried and true coping skills for dealing with emotional problems and disorders when there is relationship distress – but it’s not always easy, and most couples will need professional guidance and support.

* Acceptance – 12 Step programs offer some of the best advice. Accept the things you cannot change, and remember the “3 C’s” (you didn’t Cause it; you can’t Control it; you can’t Cure it) – this is especially useful with addictions and depression.

* Emotional Detachment – Emotionally detach from the problem, not the person, with love. Know that it’s really not about you – don’t personalize. Especially useful with personality disorders.

* Don’t React – It helps to start with the one deep, centering breath (in through your nose, out through your mouth). Do not react to the drama, the incident, or any provocation. Take that breath, and use your highest self (your most adult or even spiritual self) to determine the best response.

* Use Empathy & Compassion – It’s actually one of the easiest ways to respond. Let your spouse or partner know that you’re really there, and that you do care. Ask them what they need from you right now – is there anything you can do for them (like “How about a hug?”).

* Practice Self-Care – Beware of co-dependent traps like enabling behavior. Remember to take care of yourself. Use a support system (support groups are available for co-dependency, Al-Anon for addictions, and depression support groups). Exercise, meditate or pray, and practice self-love (inner child work is recommended).

* Boundaries – Know what your limits are, and clearly, firmly indicate to your partner where that line is. Boundaries are best expressed in a positive, even caring manner. For example, “Please don’t ask me that or do that behavior. I love you, but that is not okay with me. We can talk about this some time, but for now, please respect my wishes.”

* Forgiveness – Practice letting go by forgiving your partner as an internal process. Do not tell your partner that you forgive them – that will simply provoke an emotional reaction. Tell yourself (journaling is also helpful) that you are forgiving and letting go.

* Know when to stay and when to leave – What is the deal breaker for you? Only you can decide. For more suggestions, see my article “Separation & Divorce – Should I Stay or Should I Go?

* Seek Professional Help from a qualified, licensed counselor or therapist.

The counselors, therapists, and couples therapists at our Center have many years of experience and training in helping individuals and couples. We can help you navigate the troubled waters of depression, addiction, and personality disorders. Contact us today to make an appointment, or to ask any questions.

13Jan 2016

Trauma, Core Beliefs, & EMDR

By Greg Douglas, LMHC

Psychotherapy clients often say “I really want to get to the core of the problem” or “I need to figure out what the core issue is.” This is very insightful, because core beliefs often result from traumatic experiences such as childhood neglect, abandonment or abuse. These beliefs have a greater influence on our lives than we realize. Core beliefs develop early in life – half of them develop before the tender age of 5. Core beliefs can be positive or negative and have a huge impact on how we see ourselves, others, and the world we live in. EMDR is a proven counseling method for changing negative core beliefs.

 

 

Examples of trauma based core beliefs that are addressed in EMDR:

o I am unlovable – not good enough

o Relationships aren’t safe

o I’m a disappointment

o People can’t be trusted

o I’ll be abandoned

o People will hurt me or use me

o I have no control over my life

o Life is too hard, scary, and full of disappointment

A positive, realistic, and accurate system of core beliefs can have a huge impact on the decisions we make on a daily basis. EMDR therapy is an effective way to change negative, trauma-based core beliefs. This type of therapy helps people to challenge their negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive and adaptive beliefs.

How EMDR for Trauma Recovery Changes Core Beliefs

At the heart of EMDR therapy is the reality that we can change negative beliefs about past traumatic experiences. We can reprocess these memories and replace the negative core beliefs with a more positive and productive system of beliefs. During EMDR therapy clients have one foot in the past (to examine past core beliefs) and one foot in the present (to change negative core beliefs and promote healing).

In a typical EMDR session clients identify trauma based memories that have created negative core beliefs. These memories are modified in a more realistic manner leading to a lessened level of distress. Counseling sessions help people to build a positive future template for life success and improved relationships. Typically, after processing negative and traumatic memories people begin to feel more self-assured, empowered, and show an ability to move forward and make the life changes they have always wanted to make.

If your negative core beliefs are holding you back from living the kind of life you desire please call us today and learn more about how EMDR for trauma recovery can put you back on track.

06Jan 2016

Is “Affluenza” for Real?

Narcissism, Entitlement, and Parental Enabling

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By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Parenting issues are in the news again: North Texas, 2013. Sixteen year old Ethan Couch killed 4 pedestrians after stealing his father’s pickup truck, shoplifting beer from a store, and speeding at 70 miles per hour in a 40 MPH zone. He was driving drunk, at 3 times the legal limit in Texas, while also under the influence of the tranquilizer Valium. It was reported that Couch did not show remorse or empathy for his victims. His behavior was certainly irresponsible, and a psychotherapist might suspect substance abuse – and possibly a personality disorder such as anti-social behavior or narcissism.

Ethan Couch was not punished for his acts. The judge gave him 10 years probation without jail time. Media coverage did not mention a personality disorder, narcissism, or chemical dependency. Parenting issues were discussed during the trial. The family lawyers argued successfully that the teenager was the victim of “affluenza” – an inability to understand the consequences of his behavior as a result of financial privilege. Specifically, they argued that his wealthy parents enabled his irresponsible behavior by pampering and coddling him to the point where he was unable to determine right from wrong. And now, Ethan Couch, with direct assistance from his mother, has broken his probation and fled from justice. He is being detained in Mexico, and mother was booked and jailed in Los Angeles.

Affluenza

Is “affluenza” a real disorder? Is a personality disorder like narcissism a better explanation for this type of behavior? To what extent are parenting issues to blame? The term affluenza was developed by anti-consumerist activists in 1997. They defined affluenza as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more” (deGraff, Wann & Naylor). The authors included the following 3 sections in their definition:

1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses.

2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream.

3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.

In 2008, British psychologist Oliver James defined affluenza as “placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame”, which explained an increasing rate of mental illness in English-speaking societies. James indicated that income and material inequality in wealthy nations caused emotional distress and unhappiness. Parenting issues were not mentioned, and affluenza was not defined as a personality disorder.

Affluenza is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association or any other formally established mental health authority as a mental illness or disorder. The psychologist who testified on behalf of Ethan Couch, Dr. G. Dick Miller, used the term affluenza, and explained that parenting issues were partly to blame. He said that Ethan’s parents spoiled him and never set limits on his behavior. He did not mention any type of personality disorder such as anti-social personality disorder or narcissism.

Alternative Explanations and Disorders

Ethan Couch’s behavior was extreme, dramatic, and the outcome was deadly. Sadly, this case shines a light on some common dysfunctional parenting issues – and too many teenagers and young adults who are entitled, narcissistic, and irresponsible. The concept of affluenza seems to be accurate in describing some aspects of these problems, but there are several alternative explanations and disorders worth considering. (It’s important to note that my observations and analysis regarding Ethan Couch are derived from the limited information available through the media and online. I cannot accurately assess or diagnose someone I’ve not interviewed directly.)

1. Parental enabling, enmeshment and codependency – The news reports on Ethan Couch focused mostly on the family’s affluent lifestyle and the way his parents spoiled him. While this appears to be accurate, it’s insufficient to explain the full extent of the family problem and parenting issues. Many children and teens are spoiled, and most of them do not steal, kill pedestrians, and run from justice. Ethan’s mother is now in custody as a result of her role in their flight to Mexico. It’s apparent that this is a case of parental enabling behavior – mother literally enabled her child to avoid the consequences of his irresponsible behavior. When a parent is unable or unwilling to have enough emotional detachment to set limits on their children, they become emotionally enmeshed and codependent. Codependency means the parent or parents are part of the problem – there’s a lack of appropriate parent-child boundaries, over-involvement or control, and over-identification with an unhealthy alliance.

2. Narcissism and entitlement – Narcissism is a personality disorder that results in a sense of elevated self-importance, grandiosity, and a sense of entitlement. These individuals usually put themselves first, and generally lack empathy or concern for others. They are often attention-seeking and manipulate others for their own selfish needs. A sense of entitlement refers to individuals who believe something is owed to them by life in general; or because they are who they are. Based on published reports, Ethan Couch may have a narcissistic personality disorder – or at least narcissistic personality traits.

3. Anti-social personality – Another personality disorder, based partly in narcissism, is anti-social personality disorder (formerly known as a sociopathic or psychopathic personality). These individuals are recklessly, dangerously irresponsible. They disregard and violate the rights of others, breaking normative social rules and the law. They act impulsively, lie, and disregard the safety of others. This description also seems to fit Ethan Couch.

4. Substance Abuse – Ethan Couch’s behavior may be understood best by a combination of several causes: parenting issues, a personality disorder or traits of narcissism, and possibly substance abuse. Couch was arrested with a blood alcohol level that was more than 3 times the legal limit in Texas. He was also under the influence of a strong tranquilizer, Valium. He fled the country to Mexico with his mother after a video was revealed, showing him at a drinking party with other teenagers, playing beer pong. These incidents are direct evidence of a drinking problem or substance abuse.

The Moral of the Story

The Ethan Couch story is a tragedy. Four innocent pedestrians were killed, and others were injured. Many thousands of dollars were spent by his parents and taxpayers who support our criminal justice system. (Incidentally, it’s unlikely that a black teenager would have been granted the same leniency extended to Ethan Couch.) Can this type of crime be prevented? How would we constructively address these types of parenting issues and personality disorders?

I agree with many others who advocate for comprehensive reform of our criminal justice system and the need for improved funding for mental health services nationally. We can successfully treat personality disorders with a combination of medication when necessary, and various types of psychotherapy. We need to do a better job of identifying people who need treatment – and assertively encourage them to get the help they need. The parenting issues are primary. The challenges facing parents today are greater than ever before. Parents need support, education and guidance to balance the excessive, competing demands on children today (school, social, athletics, and electronic).

We would like your feedback about this article – please let us know about your thoughts and feelings. Our Center specializes in parenting issues and the treatment of narcissism and other personality disorders. Please contact us today for more information about our services.

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