A Distorted Way of Thinking Called Confirmation Bias

People believe what they want to believe. Seeking to confirm our beliefs comes naturally while looking for evidence that contradicts our beliefs feels solid and counterintuitive. Seeking to confirm already held beliefs explains why opinions survive and spread. Disconfirming instances are far more powerful in establishing the truth. Disconfirmation would require looking for evidence to disprove it.

A Distorted Way of Thinking, Confirmation Bias:

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Mark Twain

 Colorado and the nation just faced another mass shooting when a gun-carrying man entered a nightclub for LBGTQ people, shot and killed five people, and seriously injured many more. Shootings happen only with gay and transgender people, but with Jewish, Black, Asian, and Native Americans and are repeated worldwide.

Confirmation Bias and Conspiracy Theories:

Confirmation Bias happens when people believe what they want to believe. This bias is the tendency to interpret or remember information that confirms what we already believe and helps us ignore new data.

The most famous example of cognitive bias involves those who believe in former President Trump when he asserts that the presidential election was rigged against him. He continues to make this assertion in the absence of any evidence. In addition, many people are convinced he is correct despite repeated investigations that failed to find a shred of evidence to support this belief.

Imagine that you have tried to reach a friend with whom you have an ambivalent relationship by phone or email, leaving messages, yet receiving no call in return. In a situation like this, it is easy to jump to conclusions intuitively that your friend wants to avoid you. The danger, of course, is that you leave this belief unchecked and act as though it were true.

Is bias stereotyping?

Bias is defined as prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered unfair. Bias can be seen as the overarching definition of stereotype and prejudice because it is how we associate traits (usually negative) with a specific group of people. The term “stereotyping enters the discussion when people look for evidence to support their stereotypical or prejudicial beliefs about others. Confirmation bias and stereotyping are made more complex by conspiracy theories.

Conspiracy Theories

One example of a conspiracy theory is the belief powerful world governments created COVID-19 to make money selling vaccines. Another conspiracy theory is that China created and spread the COVID virus as part of germ warfare to destroy the West. These examples are called conspiracy theories because there is no evidence or reason to suggest they are correct. Yet, despite this, conspiracy theories are becoming more popular.

Confirmation bias occurs in the absence of factual information and then perpetuates itself. When people would like a specific idea or concept to be accurate, they believe it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence confirms the views or prejudices one would like to be true.

Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring or rejecting information that casts doubt. Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. Thus, we may become prisoners of our assumptions. For example, some people will have a powerful inclination to dismiss any claims that marijuana may cause harm as nothing more than old-fashioned reefer madness. Some social conservatives will downplay any evidence that marijuana does not cause harm.

Confirmation bias, anxiety, and self-deception

Confirmation bias can also be found in anxious individuals who view the world as dangerous. You interpret neutral behavior as indicative of something negative. For example, a person with low self-esteem is highly sensitive to being ignored by others and constantly monitors for signs that people might not like them. Thus, if you are worried that someone is annoyed with you, you are biased toward all the negative information about how that person acts toward you.

Wishful thinking is self-deception, such as false optimism. For example, we often deceive ourselves by stating: I’ll eat just this one candy; it’s not that fattening; I’ll stop smoking tomorrow. Or when someone believes it is safe to drive.

Self-deception can be like a drug, numbing people from harsh reality and ignoring gathering evidence and thinking.

People believe what they want to believe. Seeking to confirm our beliefs comes naturally while looking for evidence that contradicts our beliefs feels solid and counterintuitive. Seeking to confirm already held beliefs explains why opinions survive and spread. Disconfirming instances are far more powerful in establishing the truth. Disconfirmation would require looking for evidence to disprove it.

 

On Laughing and Laughter

There has been little to laugh about during the last couple of years. These were years of crisis with the Covid Pandemic, Economic downturn, supply chain problems, families and their children trapped at home because of the need to protect against contagion from Covid, political instability, and the crisis in Ukraine.

All of this means is that now, more than ever, we need to understand that these problems will pass and, in the meantime, laugh.

As a college student, I wrote a term paper about the Pygmies of the Congo in Africa many years ago. While doing the research for the paper, I came across one observation of their way of life that caused me to laugh. The anthropologist who wrote his observations while living with these people was that they would begin laughing when something struck them as funny until the laughter became so side-splitting that they rolled on the ground. Tears came rolling down their faces.

I was recently reminded that I loved seeing Jerry Lewis movies when I was a child. I would laugh so hard and loud that my laughter spread through the theater’s aisles until everyone was laughing at me laughing.

I remember a psychology class I took in college where the professor used a lot of humor in his lectures. One day he said something that made all of us laugh. I don’t know if it was his joke, something about my mood that morning, or the atmosphere in the classroom, but I couldn’t stop laughing even after the others had. That caused the other students to resume laughing after they had stopped. For fear of being reprimanded, I looked up and was relieved to see the professor laughing along with the rest of us. This laughter was purely spontaneous and left me with such warm feelings about the class and professor that I still remember it after all these decades.

Whether laughter is medicine is unclear. It is said that the best medicine is laughter. Psychologist Robert Provine, Ph.D., is the foremost expert on laughter. He states that:

“Laughing more could make you healthier, but we don’t know,” he says. “I certainly wouldn’t want people to laugh more just to avoid dying — because eventually, they’ll be disappointed.”

Of course, that is a joke. Most laughter is not a result of a joke but is a laughable part of being with people. For example, the health of a relationship might be measured by the amount of laughter. 

There is a ton of research on the problems and conflicts that cause people to divorce or end a relationship. Yet, laughter is one of the most apparent ingredients of any happy relationship. In other words, laughter may be a symptom of how well a couple is doing. Laughter binds people together. There are lots of laughter during the early stages of a romantic relationship. It is warm, mirthful, and spontaneous. Perhaps couples need to laugh a lot more.

Laughter brings people together because it’s contagious. When you hear someone laugh, you also laugh. Do you remember how you also yawn when you see someone yawn?

How might a couple reintroduce laughter into their relationship? According to Provine, the most primitive form of stimulating laughter is tickling. Not only does tickling cause laughter, but it also causes the person getting tickled to turn around and start tickling. Besides couples engaging in tickling and laughing, we love to tickle babies and children because it’s fun to see and hear them laugh and giggle.

It’s always fun to get together with people who also spontaneously laugh. Once the laughter begins, everything that happens and is said is funny.

Do you allow laughter into your life? Just remember, we don’t laugh to solve problems. Instead, we laugh to bring joy into our lives. So, let’s all get together and laugh.

 

Remembrances of Things Past

Did you ever have the experience of returning to the house where you grew up? If so, did you have the experience that the house and its rooms were much smaller than they seemed when you were a child? Did you remember the backyard as very large only to discover, as an adult, how small it was?

There is a case study of a man who decided he wanted to visit the old neighborhood when he reached the age of sixty. He had several reasons for wanting to do this. For one, he had nostalgic feelings about the old place. When he and his friends got together, there was a tendency to reminisce about life back then. The theme was about the “good old days” and how those were the best times compared to the world now. He hoped to recapture memories of his parents and extended family. Maybe just turning seventy-five was reason enough for wanting to go back.

However, the outcome of his visit was not good. The old neighborhood was gloomy and narrow. The old friends no longer lived there; his parents and grandparents were gone. The neighborhood felt like an empty shell of what he remembered. He remembered that this was why he moved away and onward with his life. He returned feeling depressed and empty and vowed never to do that again. 

He realized those were not the “good” old days, but the “good” days are right now. Maybe, for some people, memories are better than reality. Indeed, the saying, “You can’t go home,” is true, at least for himself. If there is any concern about violating confidentiality, that man is me.

There are three reasons people visit their childhood homes:

1. They have a wish to reconnect with their childhood. Because many things from the past are forgotten, there is a hope that, by returning, they will recapture essential memories.

2. Some individuals going through a crisis or problem need to reflect on their past. They want to reevaluate how they developed their values and what led them to make their decisions.

3. Because of having lived through abuse and trauma or having suffered from some abuse or trauma, there is a hope that by returning to the site where these things happened, they can both find closure and leave with a sense that they have healed.

 People romanticize memories but soon discover nothing was romantic about the places in which they spent childhood. If they were happy there, they could not recapture that happiness. For those who experienced abuse and trauma, the visit brought back pain rather than closure.

Too much time is spent living in the past or worrying about the future. A consequence is that we cannot appreciate it now. As Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Buddhist teacher of meditation and mindful living, points out, we will never have this moment again, so live it, experience it, and be in the moment.

How many of us sit around during the holidays and listen to stories shared by your loved ones, such as grandparents or parents? Have you witnessed the emotions expressed by your loved ones? Listened to the details of the story? Even if you have heard the story before, you need to be an attentive listener because reminiscing serves a purpose in older adulthood.

The Stigma of Being Aged

The Little Boy and the Old Man

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”

Said the old man, “I do that too.”

The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”

I do that too,” laughed the little old man.

Said the little boy, “I often cry.”

The old man nodded, “So do I.”

But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems

Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”

And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.

I know what you mean,” said the little old man.”

Shel Silverstein

Encapsulated in this quote are some issues with which the elderly, such as those in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, must cope. For most, aging brings diminished physical strength and capability, loss of loved ones, feelings of no longer being relevant or connected to the real world, and fears of being ignored. The many unresolved conflicts and struggles earlier in their lives are also brought into old age. The result of this is that many older people become depressed. Many people who are younger and depressing attempt to self-medicate their problems through alcohol and drug abuse.

The aged can become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and it’s insidious because people believe that it’s not possible incorrectly. Therefore, they drink and abuse drugs secretly and alone.

For many years, it was the belief that psychotherapy could not work for the elderly because they are set in their ways and find therapy stigmatizing. After all, that was the attitude towards psychology when they were young. However, attitudes toward mental illness have changed, including among older persons. 

Today, many older people are more than willing to enter psychotherapy. They are seeking psychological help late in life. They want help on how to cope with age and their relationships with family and still unresolved issues from the past. In addition, some older adults want therapy to help them deal with the present and behavior. Psychotherapy works for the elderly because of wanting to be free of depression and relieve social isolation. Group therapy benefits those who feel alone and derives benefits from talking with others. 

It is essential to know that aged people are not necessarily miserable and sick. Today, more people not only live longer than ever before but remain vital and involved in life.

Examining some ways older people are stereotyped and stigmatized is essential.

Marriage and the Blame Game

Playing the Blame Game

There is a joke that captures many problems experienced by couples during an argument. A man complained to his therapist that his wife was awful and that he had a bad marriage. The therapist told him it’s not just his wife’s fault; he has to look more profound because it takes two people to create a toxic relationship. The patient cried out, “I knew it! It’s the fault of both her and her mother!”

Relationships and The Role of Mutual Blame

What is essential to understand about mutual blame is that it never works. During an argument, couples blame one another for mistakes made in the present time to those from many years ago. Usually, in an argument, a couple engages in the process of mutual blame. Once that happens couple becomes defensive and angrier than at the start. Being told you are to blame for something is being told you are incompetent, at fault, and lacking. No one wants to feel backed into a corner and forced to confess to being wrong.

Because everyone’s pride and ego are involved, it becomes necessary to prove the other person wrong and then blame them. Even knowing they are to blame for something, a partner will deny they are responsible. He probably was asked to buy a milk container in the case above. However, because they were amid an argument, he probably denied that he had forgotten and blamed her.

The nature of relationships is such that everyone is at fault because everyone contributes to the problem. People in a relationship impact each other in dozens of ways. That they affect one another provides an easy reason to engage in blame. In reality, it is rare anyone is totally to blame for many things.

Intimate relating means that interactions are going on between two people who have a history and a future together. Interaction does not mean that one partner caused something to happen to the other. Each individual handles their behaviors separate from the other. For example, if I had a bad day, it does not mean that my partner caused it. Another example might be that “I withdraw from interacting because of your criticisms” means, “I feel like I want to withdraw when I hear criticism.”

An age-old example is “you gave me a headache.” In reality, I have a headache.” Why blame it on another person?

In the end, it is better, when in a conflict, to find solutions to the disagreement. Sometimes it is as simple as finding a better way to phrase things. Communication means listening first and then responding in non-defensive ways. For example, using the pronoun “I” when speaking is far better than the accusatory “you.” Also, “why,” as in “why do you,” is accusatory. It sounds much better to say, “I am so angry that I got laid off that I want to blame everyone.” Another example is to say, “I wish we could find a solution that you would find acceptable. The choice of words is always important.

In a permanent relationship, the goal should not be to win an argument at the other person’s expense, not if you value that person. In close relations, winning an argument can mean losing the relationship.
Rather than blame, find solutions.

Self Awareness:

Self-awareness means that each partner in the intimate relationship believes that a problem is a combination of “some things I did wrong” and “some stuff you did wrong.”

Self-awareness means the couple can catch themselves as they fight back or run away and try again to listen to the feedback with an open heart.

The Nature of Jealousy

Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. 

 In Othello, the hero Othello succumbs to jealousy when Iago convinces him that Desdemona has been an unfaithful wife. Iago uses jealousy against Othello, yet jealousy is likely the source of Iago’s hatred. In the end, Othello murders his wife and then kills himself.

“Often confused for one another, jealousy and envy are very different. Envy describes a reaction to wanting what someone else has. You might envy someone’s success, good looks, or a new car. Jealousy describes an emotional reaction to feeling that someone might try to take what you feel should be yours.” 

Many wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, and husbands talk about the fact that their husband or boyfriend is insistent that they are having an affair. These women feel overwhelmed and frustrated with their lovers because they try as hard as they can, but they cannot convince them of the errors in their thinking. The more they attempt to convince their lover that there is no cheating, the angrier the lover becomes. 

The brilliant and classic example of a jealous lover is Shakespeare’s towering and tragic play, “Othello.” Here is one quote of Othello expressing his despair about his wife, Desdemona. He is convinced that Desdemona is having an affair.

Othello:

“She’s gone. I am abused, and my relief

Must be to loathe her. O curse of marriage,

That we can call these delicate creatures ours

And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad

And live upon the vapor of a dungeon

Than keep a corner in the thing I love

For others’ uses. Yet ’tis the plague of great ones;

Prerogatived are they less than the base.

‘Tis destiny unshunnable, like death.” (III.iii.267–279)

Othello is convinced that his wife, Desdemona, is unfaithful.

He cursed marriage and women. Ultimately, he strangles her to death and unwittingly falls into the deadly hands of his enemies. He also learns, too late, the error of his thinking and kills himself.

A Modern Example of Delusional Jealousy:

The following is an anonymous E.Mail from a woman who found me via the internet. Her question is a modern-day version of delusional jealousy:

Anonymous E. Mail:

“I ended a relationship with a man who seems to suffer from this morbid/delusional jealousy issue and is also diagnosed Bipolar. After ten days with no contact with him, I have now received a message from him out of the blue saying that I am “sooooo busted,” implying that he has learned something new that somehow proves his belief that I was unfaithful to him. I am not dating now, have been basically only at home working and hiding since the breakup.”

 

“He is a brilliant man and is 50 years old with responsibilities and accomplishments. It is difficult for me to reconcile this crazy behavior with what I know about him. I keep thinking that if I could just reason with him he will finally break through. But after so much reasoning that only led to more insanity and our eventual breakup, I know it gets me nowhere and seems to make him even angrier.”

Discussion:

Jealousy is a complicated human emotion. It is based on love, hate, paranoia, insecurity, and self-hate. In this quote and elsewhere in the play, Othello shows his self-hatred by comparing himself to a toad.

It is essential to point out that jealousy can be a normal human emotion experienced by most people at least once. Jealousy becomes a problem when it refuses to diminish in intensity and when the thinking of the jealous individual is fixed on that one idea.

It might be difficult to believe that jealousy can be based on love. However, the jealous individual wants to possess their lover completely. They believe the loved one is so lovable that others may steal her away, resulting in tragic abandonment and loss. 

Yet, jealousy is also based on hatred. The loved one is viewed as having power, choice, great beauty, and will leave. In this thinking, one must carefully guard the loved one, or the loved one will go astray.

The fixed paranoid, delusional thinking of this type of lover can be symptomatic of a more serious mental illness. In the E. Mail sample above, the former girlfriend reports that her ex-lover was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. In the throes of a manic or deeply depressive phase of the illness, a Bipolar patient can become quite delusional and even experience hallucinations. 

Having Bipolar Disorder does not mean that a person will have a jealous delusion, nor does having a jealous delusion mean that a person has Bipolar Disorder.

The fixed delusional jealous thinking is marked by the constant suspicion that the loved one is guilty of infidelity. This paranoid delusion is accompanied by constantly harassing the loved one with questions and accusations about how they spent the day, where they went, and with whom they spoke. In the worst cases, the jealous spouse attempts to control their partner’s life and intrudes into every aspect of their life, looking for evidence of cheating. As in Othello, the jealous delusion can cause murder.

Some argue that a delusion did not plague Othello because his enemies planted the idea in him that Desdemona was unfaithful. In contrast, a jealous delusion is based on no evidence at all.

A fixed delusion is precisely what the term implies. It is fixed, meaning an individual will not budge from their belief. Because the belief is delusional, protests of incense only provoke more suspicions. It is additionally essential to point out how our E. Mailer complains that her boyfriend became increasingly angry the more she insisted on her innocence.

Jealousy is a complicated human emotion. It is based on love, hate, paranoia, insecurity, self-hate, and low self-esteem. It is essential to point out that it is also a normal human emotion experienced by most people at least once. Jealousy becomes a problem when it refuses to diminish in intensity.

It might be difficult to believe that jealousy can be based on love. However, the jealous individual wants to possess their lover completely. They believe the loved one is so loveable that others may capture them, resulting in tragic loss. It’s a great compliment to be with someone jealous because of the value they place on their partner.

Not so fast, though, because jealousy is also based on hatred. The loved one is viewed as having power, choice, and the ability to abandon and leave the partner. The loved one must carefully guard the loved one, or they will stray.

But why would the jealous person fear their partner will stray? The answer is that, from the point of view of the jealous individual, any competitor is more masculine/feminine, handsome/beautiful, sexy, and appealing than they are. The jealous person believes that any other choice of lover is better than they are. Of course, there is a lot of self-hatred, insecurity, and low self-esteem in how the jealous person thinks.

Sometimes there is a paranoid and obsessive component to jealousy. For people who suffer from paranoia, there is a constant suspicion that others mean them no suitable. This type of paranoid jealousy is marked by constantly harassing the loved one with questions and accusations about how they spent the day, where they went, and with whom they spoke. The paranoid lover will check the cell phone messages of their lover and their E. Mail messages and postal envelopes and letters. This person is obsessed with their partner and is tortured with fear that nothing good is happening. In the worst cases, they attempt to control their partner’s life, preventing them from going anywhere or doing anything. For example, a husband who experiences paranoid jealousy may prohibit his wife from getting a job and going to work. In effect, he stifles his wife in every way.

For those suffering from jealousy, it’s essential to enter psychotherapy and work on why you are jealous and how it interferes with your thirty-year marriage. If your paranoid beliefs are genuinely delusional, medication might help relieve some of this thinking. In addition to individual psychotherapy, with or without medication, I would suggest marriage therapy so that the two of you can begin to resolve your differences, suspicions, and conflicts. Also, understand that you and your wife each deserve the opportunity to see other friends and engage in activities apart from one another. A successful marriage is based on mutual trust.

A Discussion of Self-Hatred

Karen Horney:

“Stress is often a result of the tension between what is and what you believe should be. It’s called the “tyranny of the shoulds,” which dictates how we think, act, and feel. These “should” beliefs—are referred to as Icebergs… Stress is often a result of the tension between what is and what you believe should be.”

In my work as a psychotherapist for forty years, I have come across countless people who are extremely unhappy with themselves. The reasons for their dissatisfaction vary, but the overall impact is that they feel depressed. Theodore Isaac Rubin, MD, and Psychoanalyst, addressed this self-dissatisfaction in a book, “Compassion and Self Hate.” 

Dr. Rubin borrows from a great psychoanalyst of the mid-twentieth century, Karen Horney. Horney asserts that we have three selves:

1. Actual Self: Who we are with our physical and emotional abilities and disabilities or limitations.

2. Real Self: Who we could be if we freed ourselves from our self-dislike and unrealistic fears.

3. Despised Self: Self Effacing and very neurotic.

4. Idealized Self: The illusion of glorious goals that are impossible to achieve but that we believe we should achieve.

Dr. Rubin reduces this formula to two selves, the Actual Self and the Real Self:

1. Actual Self: Who we are with all of our talents, limitations, and illnesses, both physical and psychological.

2. Real Self: The illusions we believe in about who we should be, be wealthy, powerful, lovable, and independent.

The extent to which we hold on to illusions about our Real Self is the extent to which we reject our Actual Self and feel self-hate.

For example, an individual may cherish the belief that they should be happy. After all, pursuing happiness is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. 

But what is happiness? Happiness is feeling comfortable and relatively free of stress. However, we can sustain happiness only for a limited time. The problem is that life is not perfect, and moods change. The illusion that one should always be happy creates self-hate. If someone clings to the illusion that they should always be happy and are not, they will condemn themselves for not achieving this goal.

Perhaps the fact that people hold on to unrealistic beliefs about themselves explains the reason for the epidemic of addiction. Substances offer a temporary escape from reality that causes a person to feel joyful and omnipotent. The self-hate reasserts itself when the drug wears out, and then there is reality.

To continue the analogy of the drug abuser, the sense of self-hate and wish for joy that propels the addiction also serves as a powerful source of self-punishment. Drug addiction carries with it lots of physical and emotional abuse.

There is a commonly held idea that money can solve all problems. Many patients have told me they would feel free of their problems and suffering if they had enough money. However, real-life tells us a different story. False beliefs about money often lead to self-hate in another way.

Lots of people love to play the lottery, hoping to become millionaires. We read about poor or working people winning the lottery and going home fabulously wealthy. Oh, how many of us wish for the same fate? You know the old saying, “Be careful about what you wish. It may come true.” The fact is that the lives of many people who won the lottery ended in tragedy. Some of them spent every dollar they won and became bankrupt. Others committed suicide, became addicted to drugs, or suffered some abysmal fate. Money did not solve their problems. Yet, we convince ourselves that it will solve our problems and beat ourselves for not earning or winning a fortune.

The same phenomenon occurs with marriages. Some individuals enter marriage with grandiose expectations of how their lives will improve. These expectations often involve perfect bliss, constant sexual fulfillment, and a regular flow of nurturing and love. However, actual life is not this way. Yes, marriage can bring lots of satisfaction and many problems and difficulties. For example, married couples disagree and quarrel, have to cope with difficult children, and have problems with work, family, and friends.

The more significant the gap between expectations and reality, the greater the sense of disappointment, bitterness, and failure we will experience.

Self-hatred encompasses continual feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and low self-esteem. People may constantly compare themselves to others, perceive only the negative, ignore the positive, and believe they will never be “good enough.” But every person has worth, value, and the ability to cultivate self-love.

 If you’re struggling with hateful thoughts, reflect on what sparked them. Did you make a mistake at work? Did a recent dinner with a friend lead you to feel envious? Identifying these triggers can allow you to diffuse them the next time they arise.

Beyond immediate triggers, one can often trace self-hatred’s roots to environmental circumstances such as hypercritical parenting or personality traits such as perfectionism. Once feelings of worthlessness take hold, they can be challenging to release; the stories that form around early experiences can become deeply entrenched. But there are still many ways for people to confront self-criticism and develop a strong sense of self.

 

The Terror of Death and Mortality

“Every day is a new beginning.

Take a deep breath,

Smile and start the day.” author unknown

The purpose of this blog article is not to be morbid but to remind all of us of the importance of living life fully.

Human Beings are unique in being self-aware and therefore understand the inevitability of death. That awareness presents us with an existential crisis. 

From the beginning of time, people have asked themselves the existential question, “If I am doomed to die, what is the point of my life?” It is a terrifying question, and different people have attempted to answer it differently.

Those who are deeply religious deny there is an existential crisis because faith brings the achievement of an afterlife. For these people, life is not limited but continues for all eternity. 

According to Ernest Becker, in his book “The Denial of Death,” most people put the notion of death out of their awareness and go about living without thinking about their mortality. However, sometimes the fact of death breaks through to their conscious minds. When that happens, they become temporarily terrified until the crisis passes and they achieve a new balance. What causes mortality to break through to consciousness? The death of friends, relatives, and loved ones confronts even the greatest deniers that life is finite.

Depression and Anxiety

Some seem to have difficulty denying the fact of death. Among these are individuals who struggle with panic and anxiety disorders and various types of depression. Today, we can look at many of the causes of these disorders and find such factors as chemical imbalances in the brain, traumatizing childhoods and adulthoods, and such problems as neglect, abuse, and addictions.

Because of a better understanding of the causes of emotional disorders, we have significantly improved treatments with medications and more precise types of psychotherapies.

Yet, we overlook the importance and even reality of each person’s existential crisis. I believe this crisis lies at the roots of depression and anxiety, besides those factors already mentioned. If this is true, what can we do about it besides medication and psychotherapy?

We each need to find meaning in our lives. As Irvin Yalom, MD states in many of his writings, meaning comes to us through interpersonal relationships.

Yalom states that the realization and knowledge that we positively influence others can provide a sense of meaning in our lives. However, many people do not realize that they have an enormous influence on the lives of others. Whether they are friends or family, they are essential to us, and we are important to them. There are also the relationships with those at work and those we casually meet while walking in the street, riding the bus or train, and shopping in the supermarket and clothing store. That is why loneliness is so deadly.

The pursuit of materialism is one activity many people engage in to fill themselves with a sense of gratification. However, though temporarily exciting, feelings of emptiness return. The unquenchable thirst for buying unnecessary items comes from a sense of meaninglessness, which then causes the feeling of inner emptiness.

 Each of us is unique, and we are loved and valued by the important people in our lives.

As John Donne said it centuries ago:

“No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Donne meant three things:

1. That none of us are isolated because we are all interconnected,

2. We are all aware of death,

3. One man’s death diminishes all humanity.

 

Loneliness, A Health Hazard

A person can feel lonely in a crowded room.

Loneliness, A Health Hazard

Allan Schwartz

“I am a lonely person

I have many people around me

But the feeling of loneliness

It’s deeply seated in me

The birds are chirping

I can hear the voices

My kids are chatting around

But I feel lonely,

I am a lonely person……

Poem by Asma Khan

What is loneliness? How is it defined?

Loneliness is a feeling of sadness because of a perceived lack of companionship, friendship, or any social bond or relationship. Sometimes people have friends but still feel lonely because they don’t feel fully seen or understood.

What is the leading cause of loneliness?

Low self-esteem and depression cause loneliness.) contributing factors to loneliness include physical isolation, moving to a new location, and divorce. The death of someone significant in a person’s life can also lead to feelings of loneliness.

The word, lonely, is used here. It has nothing to do with being alone. As the poem above states, it’s possible to be surrounded by people, even loved ones, yet feel lonely.

In reality, loneliness is a state of mind. In that state of mind, people feel empty, alone, and unwanted. Lonely people often want human contact. Still, their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people. Loneliness is a damaging state of mind. It damages one’s mental and physical health.

For twenty years, John Cacioppo, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist, has studied loneliness. He is the co-author of a recent book, “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.” The book’s central theme is that loneliness causes physical illness. For example, studies show that social isolation and loneliness increase the flow of stress hormones. Stress hormones are those that make us alert when danger is present. 

When someone is lonely, they produce stress hormones with no real threat. As a result, the immune system is damaged, causing a vulnerability to viral diseases. The impact on the cardiovascular system is such that it leads to stroke and heart attack. Blood pressure increases, sleep is disturbed, and the aging process speeds up. The chronic stress caused by loneliness can even hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Dr. Cacioppo, some of the adverse effects of loneliness are:

* Depression and suicide

* Cardiovascular disease and stroke

* Increased stress levels

* Decreased memory and learning

* Antisocial behavior

* Poor decision-making

* Alcoholism and drug abuse

* The progression of Alzheimer’s disease

* Altered brain function.”

James J. Lynch, Ph.D., published a brilliant book a few years ago called “A Cry Unheard.” What is significant about the message Dr. Lynch conveys is that loneliness results from failure to communicate, engage in discourse, and be committed to each other and the community. 

In addition, Dr. Lynch clarifies it is not merely talking that makes up communication but the type of talk vitally crucial to human health. He coins the phrase “toxic talk” to describe a speech that destroys the other person’s self-esteem and well-being. The destruction of that self-esteem leads to loneliness and early heart disease, followed by death. Criticism, negativity, lack of praise, warm feelings, rejection, and other factors that increase alienation and distance between people characterize toxic talk. According to Dr. Lynch, toxic talk increases social isolation and leads to early death.

Listed are a few suggestions that Dr. Cacioppo provides on how to overcome loneliness:

1. Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change.

2. Understand the effects of loneliness on your physical and mental life.

3. Consider doing community service or another activity that you enjoy. These situations present tremendous opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships and social interactions.

4. Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests, and values with you.

5. Expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection, so instead, focus on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships.

How do you cope when you feel lonely?

 

The Optimist, Pessimist, Realist

Being realistic is the best way to go.

The Optimist vs. The Pessimist vs. The Realist

“A pessimist sees a dark tunnel.

An optimist sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

A realist sees a freight train.

A train driver sees three idiots standing on the tracks.”

Everyone knows the proverbial question: Is the glass of water half-full or half-empty? The optimist would state that it’s half full and probably predict it will soon be full of water again. The pessimist would state that it’s half-empty and is in danger of soon becoming empty. It’s all a matter of perspective, mood and personality.

Pessimism:

“When the sun finally shines through after the rain, and someone comments on how nice it is, the pessimist will complain about how everyone will crowd the streets to soak in the sun.”

Pessimism is an explanatory style in which individuals expect a negative outcome when facing events of unknown emotional impact.

A mother and father have a three-year-old little girl. When she gets a sore throat, the father becomes alarmed and worries that she has strep throat. He fears it could turn into scarlet fever, resulting in damage to her heart. The mother is sure she has a bad cold and is fine. However, to relieve her husband’s anxiety, the mother takes the girl to the pediatrician, who reports that this is a cold virus and there is no need to worry. When she lets her husband know about this, he feels better but continues to worry. Was he right to worry?

Optimism:

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different good weather.”

Optimists have a different way of looking at life than pessimists. The optimist believes problems are temporary and will get better. The pessimist is sure that the problem is here to say and can only get worse. In the cases above, both optimists and pessimists believe that their view of the glass is correct. The pessimist would predict that there will be no water available to replace the glass once the glass is empty.

The father worries himself unnecessarily in the second case, even after the doctor examines the little girl. His personality is such that he sees only clouds and rarely notices sunny days.

Some psychologists state that optimists and pessimists have opposite ways of thinking. As a result, pessimists are prone to depression. In addition, they experience more health problems and do not live as long as the optimists.

There is a place for both optimists and pessimists. Unchecked optimism can be unrealistic and result in lots of trouble. An overly optimistic person may make unrealistic plans that they do not have time for and cannot afford. The pessimist helps bring reality to the situation by reminding everyone of the limited possibilities of specific plans that may not be practical or even dangerous. Too much pessimism leads to depression.

Realism:

“While an optimist might call the rain the sweet nectar that bathes the earth, the realist will call the precipitation a liquid.”

A realist will see things the way they are and not by the negative or the positive scheme. He will take each day as it comes, learning to cope with anything negative and enjoying the positive. Even the thinking is that the optimists are the most optimally adjusted individuals. In reality, the realists are more so. While optimists may look at and concentrate on only the positive things in life, they often view the world with rose-tinted glasses, refusing to see the bad at all. Which often leads to extreme disappointments. To put it simply, a realist hopes for the best and is prepared for the worst.

A realist only forms an opinion after analyzing all the data and information that is available to him. He does not let expectations decide the way he feels. Thus, his opinions, decisions, and outlook are usually unbiased.

Contact Dr. Schwartz at dransphd@aol.com