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.

 

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

Aging and Learning From Life

Aging, Learning, Wisdom

This is too good not to share.
I asked a friend who has crossed 70 and is heading towards 80 what changes he feels in himself? He sent me this:
Humanity.

1. After loving my parents, siblings, spouse, children, and friends, I have now started loving myself.

2. I have realized that I am not “Superman.” The world does not rest on my shoulders.

3. I have stopped bargaining with vegetable & fruit vendors. A few pennies more will not break me, but it might help the poor fellow save for his daughter’s school fees.

4. I leave my waitress a big tip. The extra money might bring a smile to her face. She is toiling much harder for a living than I am.

5. I stopped telling the elderly that they’ve already told that story many times. The story makes them walk down memory lane & relive their past.

6. I have learned not to correct people even when I know they are wrong. The onus of making everyone perfect is not on me. Peace is more precious than perfection.

7. I give compliments freely & generously. Compliments are a mood enhancer not only for the receiver but also for me. And a small tip for the recipient of a compliment, never, NEVER turn it down, just say “Thank You.”

8. I have learned not to bother about a crease or a spot on my shirt. Personality speaks louder than appearances.

9. I walk away from people who don’t value me. They might not know my worth, but I do.

10. I remain calm when someone plays dirty to outrun me in the rat race. I am not a rat, and neither am I in any race.

11. I am learning not to be embarrassed by my emotions. It’s my emotions that make me human.

12. I have learned that it’s better to drop the ego than break a relationship. My ego will keep me aloof, whereas, with relationships, I will never be alone.

13. I have learned to live each day as if it were the last. After all, it might be the last.

14. I am doing what makes me happy. I am responsible for my happiness, and I owe it to myself. Just choose to be! You can be happy.
Happiness is a choice.

I decided to share this with all my friends. Why do we have to wait to be 60 or 70 or 80? Why can’t we practice this at any stage and age?

 

When You Are Angry at Your Therapist

Many people have asked what they should do about the fact that their therapist did or said something that made them furious. At first glance, this should be an easy question to answer. “Just tell him.” However, upon looking at this more closely and asking the person why they are having such a problem with this, the answer becomes very complicated.

The fact is that many of us grow up with the prohibition that we must honor and respect our parents. Unfortunately, honor and respect often become: “Don’t express anger or disapproval at your parents. Of course, the irony is that the same parents often have no difficulty expressing anger at one another and the children.

Given these this type of shaping experience, it is understandable that many people would have a hard time telling their therapist they are angry and about what. To do so would go against everything they learned.

More sinister than this is the fear that the therapist might get angry right back and in a way that is mean and hurtful. You can bet that this fear results from being scolded and punished by parents after the child gets angry.

On an even more sinister level is the fear that the therapist will find the patient’s anger so unacceptable that he will banish me from his office. I know of several instances when the patient was astonished that I accepted them after expressing anger at me. The astonishment came from the fact that they feared that they were no longer worth having around having shown anger. It’s a variation on the old saying, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” How many of us fear that we may be worth throwing out, especially when showing our angry side? How many parents have such intolerance of their child’s angry expression that they communicate wanting to throw them out? It goes something like this, “I’ll keep the good, adorable good child, but get rid of the child who is angry and crying.”

Part of the fear of being banished is the dread of no longer being loved by this heroic and idealized person, the psychologist or psychotherapist. Of course, this, too, represents the childhood fear of losing the loved and nurturing parent, whether they were loving. Parents represent nurturing, safety, warmth, and security. Because we depend on them so much when we are children, the thought of loss can be overwhelming. If the rejection is depressing, then rejection by the therapist is even worse. 

Some people, perhaps too many, grew up in family environments in which expressing emotions was verbal and emotional violence, with the accompanying feeling of loss of control. That casts a deep fear on children that anger always means losing control. Patients often argued with me after I told them there are healthy ways to express negative feelings. It just sounded incomprehensible to them. It was the psychotherapeutic relationship that changed their perception.

Some believe they will injure their therapist if they express their disapproval. Sometimes this is a projection onto the therapist of their feeling of fragility or fear about someone being angry at them. The fact is that any reasonable, well-trained therapist can tolerate and accept when there is anger or disapproval directed at them. When that happens, it is helpful for the patient because they learn healthier ways to express their negative feelings and experience feeling acceptable.

So, when you are asking if you should express your anger at the therapist, the answer is yes. You can sort out the details and separate reality from distortion.

The patient needs to learn to be open and honest, especially as the relationship moves from being guarded at the beginning to building more trust. Regardless of the type of psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, group, or family therapy, real growth cannot happen if the patient withholds his thinking and feeling.

Keep in mind that there is a middle point between loss of control due to rage versus suppressing all anger. Suppressing anger can cause an outburst later on. There is recent research to support this. Instead of controlling the expression of negative emotions, there is a firm but controlled and verbally expressed hostile feelings. That leaves room for discussion.

 

 

The Importance of Finding Meaning in Life: An Existential Crisis

Life is all about love.

“What’s it all about Alfie?”

Dionne Warwick

“As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above

Alfie, I know there’s something much more

Something even non-believers can believe in

I believe in love, Alfie

Without true love, we just exist, Alfie

Until you find the love you’ve missed

You’re nothing, Alfie.”

What is life all about? It’s all about love. This popular song from 1966 expresses it all. In his searing book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl has this realization when he is a prisoner in Auschwitz during WW II. During one of the daily marches in the freezing cold during the early morning hours, it comes to him.

The song refers to romantic love, but I believe there is more to it than that. It is also important to love life, family, neighbors, and fellow human beings. But, do we love our lives and fellow people? 

Besides the dreadful Pandemic, there is an epidemic of mass shootings in the United States. Why is this happening? The answer to this question is complicated. In part, the answer lies in how we raise our children. There is also the problem of poverty and racism in the United States. Then there is the easy availability of guns to everyone because of the lack of gun control. Finally, we have to ask if people find any meaning in their lives.

People feel alienated and disconnected. The great 19th-century sociologist Emile Durkheim called the feeling of meaninglessness “Anomie. This term refers to a society losing its norms and values. What develops from this lack of norms is a disregard and violation of the law. Ethics and standards of behavior and belief disappear.

Anomie is connected to existentialism, in which people feel lost because they believe their lives are meaningless. The famous existentialist writer, Albert Camus, wrote a novel existentialist novel called “The Stranger.” In the opening scene, the main character states, “Today his mother died…or was it yesterday…I don’t know.” How could he not know? Because his life and that of others have no meaning. He is in the state of Anomie. Later in the book, he shoots an Arab man and is brought to trial. The prosecuting attorneys are more concerned that he does not cry than about the death of the murdered man. Again, the reason for this is that life has no meaning.

Thought about this way, there should be no surprise that mass shootings and violent crimes exist. For many people in this modern world, life has lost any meaning.

This does not mean that everything is hopeless. Positive Psychology teaches us that people can build meaningfulness into their lives. An excellent psychology website devoted to positive psychology is “Greater Good.” “Greater Good” explores the “science of a meaningful life.” What they do is publish the latest findings regarding a meaningful life. For instance, one research report found that compassion and kindness help build an inner sense of morality and a moral self-concept. Basically, kindness, generosity, and compassion make us happy. Included in this is gratitude because it helps build stronger relationships.

Children must be trained to show these positive characteristics and behaviors. In this way, children need to learn cooperation and service to less fortunate people.

The central concept is vitally important for building relationships with others and society. This connectedness could overcome Anomie.

Human beings are the only beings who can question their own lives. The most extensive quest in an individual’s life is to find meaning and purpose. The questions about the meaning of human life are as old as humanity itself.

Meanings are at the core of our experience and also at the core of whatever we do. It is only through meanings that we make sense of our existence. In life, we find meaning through a sense of purpose which makes life worthwhile. Viktor Frankl (1978) aptly pointed out that a firm sense of meaning is essential for optimal human development. Jerome Bruner (1990) put it more bluntly, noting that without meaning systems, “we would be lost in the murk of chaotic experience and probably would not have survived as a species” (p. 56).

Meaning in life is not just a theoretical construct. Still, it bears human health and well-being (e.g., Jung, as cited in Jaffe, 1970) asserted that the absence of meaning is related to psychopathology.

  Yalom (1980), in empirical research, confirmed earlier clinical observations that living without meaning, goals, or values provokes considerable distress (Yalom 1980).

While pondering what makes life meaningful, several perspectives in the literature are found that cover philosophy and existential psychology. To plan a single definition of meaning, one may ask what the essence of meaning is? But a single generic answer to this question is not possible to find. The meaning of life differs from person to person, from day to day, and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning the specific meaning of a person’s life at the moment (Frankl, 1970). Frankl speaks of the uniqueness of meanings, a quality of a situation, and life since life is a string of unique situations (Frankl, 1970). Frankl postulated that man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives (Frankl, 1970).

Meaningfulness serves several vital functions in human lives (Frankl, 1992). It provides a purpose for our lives. Then it furnishes values or standards by which to judge our actions. In addition, it gives us a sense of control over the events in our life. Last, it provides us with self-worth. When people cannot find meaning for any of these functions or lose or outgrow their once-loved meanings, they become distressed. Many emotional problems result from a failure to find meaning in life. They can be resolved only by finding something to make life worth living (Frankl, 1992).

Do You Wish Your Life Away?

Do You Wish Your Life Away?

“To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living

The other day, I went into a local luncheon restaurant and ordered a cup of coffee and a toasted bagel with cream cheese. The young server smiled pleasantly and said, “Ooooh, I get happier as the time gets closer to 1:00 PM.” I was tempted to get into a short conversation with her about this but quickly surmised that she would react as though I was preaching to her, and I did not want that. However, this little interaction gave me pause for some thinking. After all, I asked myself, how often do all of us engage in the same thinking style as the young woman?

Aren’t we all guilty of wishing our lives away without thinking about it? At work, we watch the clock. We count the months and days until vacation. We hurry to wash the dishes so we can see our favorite television program. Once we reach retirement age, we convince ourselves that real life will begin.

Of course, the reverse of this also happens. How often do we engage in feelings and thoughts of self-pity about the past? How often do we make such statements as, “if only I had done this or that,” or, “If only I this event or that event had not happened,” or, “life has never been fair to me.” We “cry over spilled milk.”

The intent is not to be dark and cynical here. Quite to the contrary, my intent is to communicate the concept of embracing and living life to the fullest. That life is fragile because we never really know what may happen. It is essential to be living in the present moment. This way of thinking is a severe problem because none of us can guarantee that tomorrow will come, and we cannot change the past. Yes, each of us has our past lives, and each of us makes plans for tomorrow, next month, and next year. However, we overlook it now.

The great Buddhist teacher and expert on mindfulness and meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh, expressed it best when he stressed the importance of focusing on this moment because we will never have it again once this moment is gone. Another teacher is our American, John Kabbat-Zinn. I highly recommend his many books for their simplicity and great wisdom about living our lives. Just do an Internet search for him.

One of the most self-destructive ways for us to destroy now is to be obsessed with work. This is also referred to as a “Type A Personality” who runs from task to task, never coming up from work to inhale and smell the fresh air. It is a heart attack to awaken these people if they are lucky enough to survive.

Are you mindful of your life and body? Do you take time to smell the roses? Do you live in the moment or dwell on the past while waiting for tomorrow? 

Perhaps it is time for all of us to practice mindful meditation.

 

Children, Teens and Suicide

Suicides among young people continue to be a severe problem. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults ages 15-to-24-year-olds.

Most children and adolescents who attempt suicide have a significant mental health disorder, usually depression. Among younger children, suicide attempts are often impulsive. They may be associated with feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, or problems with attention and hyperactivity.

Now, however, childhood and teen suicide statistics are complicated by the Covid Pandemic. Even though schools are now open in most communities throughout the United States, parents report that many young people do not want to return to school. While remote learning carried many disadvantages, some children found it reassuring to remain at home with the family.

Children’s suicide attempts have increased during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

 

COVID-19 has led to significant changes in the dynamics of children’s suicide attempts, according to the results of a cross-sectional study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association

.

“Recent studies have reported a deterioration in children’s mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with an increase in anxiety and mood disorders,” Anthony Cousien, Ph.D., of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Paris in France, and colleagues wrote. “Rates of suicide ideation and suicide attempts among children were also higher when COVID-19–related stressors heightened in 2020. 

The researchers analyzed data of 830 children aged 15 years or younger (mean age, 13.5 years; 1:4 ratio of boys to girls) with suicide attempt history admitted to the pediatric Emergency Department of a single hospital between January 2010 and April 2021. They defined a suicide attempt as “a nonfatal self-directed potentially injurious behavior with any intent to die because of the behavior.”

Cousien and colleagues speculated that children’s specific sensitivity to mitigation measures, adverse effects on family health and economic conditions, increased screen time, and social media use or bereavement may have affected this acceleration.

Social media is also a significant risk factor for teen suicide.

Suicide rates among teenagers have seen a drastic increase from 2007 to the present. Social media has become a prevalent way of life. Another risk factor may be media accounts of suicide that romanticize or dramatize the description of suicidal deaths, possibly leading to an increased number of suicides.

Among teenagers, suicide attempts come with feelings of stress, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment, and loss. For some teens, suicide may appear to solve their problems.

Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable mental disorders. The child or adolescent needs to have their illness recognized, diagnosed, and appropriately treated with a comprehensive treatment plan.

Thoughts about suicide and suicide attempts are often associated with depression. Besides depression, other risk factors include:

  • family history of suicide attempts
  • exposure to violence
  • impulsivity
  • aggressive or disruptive behavior
  • access to firearms
  • bullying
  • feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • acute loss or rejection

Children and adolescents thinking about suicide may make openly suicidal statements or comments such as, “I wish I was dead,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer.” Other warning signs associated with suicide can include:

  • changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • frequent or pervasive sadness
  • withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities
  • frequent complaints about physical symptoms often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
  • a decline in the quality of schoolwork
  • preoccupation with death and dying

Young people thinking about suicide may also stop planning for or talking about the future. They may give away important possessions.

People often feel uncomfortable talking about suicide. However, asking your child or adolescent whether they are depressed or thinking about suicide can be helpful. Specific examples of such questions include:

  • Are you feeling sad or depressed?
  • Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?
  • Have you ever thought about hurting or killing yourself?

Rather than putting thoughts in your child’s head, these questions can assure that somebody cares and will give your child the chance to talk about problems.

Parents, teachers, and friends should always err on caution and safety. Any child or adolescent with suicidal thoughts or plans should be evaluated immediately by a trained mental health professional.

 No matter which boat you are in, remember that it doesn’t help to blame yourself as a parent.

Whether you are a parent, helping your teenager prevent suicide, or have lost your teenager to suicide, find a community and gather them close around you. You may find that this community is people in the church, friends, or other parents who have faced the same challenges. Keep a close connection with safe people and walk on this journey with others. Remember that you are not alone.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

800-273-8255

Lifeline

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Catastrophic Thinking, Of Making Mountains out of Molehills

Do you make mountains out of molehills? This is a more severe issue that may appear on the surface. Whenever anyone spilled anything on the tablecloth, even just a glass of water, my grandmother would become furious when I was a boy. She was not unusual for having that reaction. Sometimes, the littlest things make people angry. One way of thinking about this concept is to realize that some of us turn the most minor incidents into catastrophes. Statistics show that altercations over trivial issues sometimes result in homicide.

To a certain extent, the tendency to make mountains out of molehills has to do with worrying and obsessive thinking. Because of the watch or clock not being precisely set on time, people with OCD become exceedingly uncomfortable, worrying about potentially terrible consequences. For those with OCD, everything must be perfect, or there can be catastrophic consequences. These people live in a world of “what if,” meaning what if the clock is set wrong, and my children get up late for school, and a terrible car accident occurs on the way to school.

This way of thinking and living makes life unbearable for those who worry and the loved ones who surround them. Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D., conducted a piece of research on why we worry? Interviews of chronic worriers were conducted using questions such as “why worry about getting good grades in school?

*Here are some of the catastrophic consequences that chronic worriers came up with:

“I won’t live up to my expectations

I’d be disappointed in myself.                                           

I’d lose my self-confidence.                                                

My loss of self-confidence would spread to other areas of my life.       

I wouldn’t have as much control as I’d like.                     

I’d be afraid of facing the unknown.                                

I’d become very anxious.                                                   

Anxiety would lead to further loss of self-confidence.    

I wouldn’t get my confidence back.                                  

I’d feel like 1 wouldn’t control my life.    

I’d be susceptible to things that wouldn’t bother me.  

I’d become more and more anxious.                                

I’d have no control, and I’d become mentally ill.    

I’d become dependent on drugs and therapy.                

I’d always remain dependent on drugs.                          

They’d deteriorate my body.                                             

I’d be in pain.                                                                      

I’d die.                                                                                  

I’d end up in hell.”

* From Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D. 

Another theory states that people men make mountains out of molehills when they feel aggressive and competitive. Aggressive reactions have to do with competing for status. Two men compete for the status of one over the other. In this primitive way of thinking, the most aggressive wins the girl. That is why, as stated above, some arguments over trivial things result in homicide.

Whatever way you choose to look at this, making mountains out of molehills results in frustration and misery for all concerned. It’s better the let these things go. What my grandmother should have done was smile and clean up the spill. Perhaps, if this had been her approach to life, she would not have had a heart condition. It was just an accident.

Instead of exploding, take deep breaths, say a mantra by reminding yourself, “it’s not worth it,” and see the humor in the situation.

Contact Dr. Schwartz at dransphd@aol.com