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.

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?

 

Our Existential Crisis and Violence in America

A sense of meaninglessness has set in among many of our young people resulting in increasing numbers of mass murders and homicides throughout the nation

“Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want. I know who is right and who is wrong. I have my opinions, my own ideas, and principles. Although it may sound pretty mad from an adolescent, I feel more of a person than a child. I feel quite independent of anyone.” Anne Frank.

An existential crisis refers to feelings of unease about meaning, choice, and freedom in life. Whether referred to as an existential crisis, or existential anxiety, the main concerns are the same: that life is inherently pointless, that our existence has no meaning because there are limits or boundaries on it, and that we all must die someday.

Existential anxiety arises during transitions and reflects difficulty adapting, often related to losing safety and security.

 For example, a college student moving away from home or an adult going through a difficult divorce might feel that the foundation on which their life was built is crumbling. This can lead to questioning the meaning of their existence.

I hear more people asserting that we are approaching not only the end of the United States but of humanity. There seems to be a pervasive feeling that there is no future. What accompanies this dismal way of viewing life today is that life has become meaningless. Perhaps this is the real reason there are ever-increasing numbers of mass shootings. There is a term for this sense of emptiness, and it’s anomie.

Anomie is defined as personal unrest, alienation, and uncertainty. It comes from a lack of purpose or ideals. What is fueling these awful, empty feelings? People often cite such things as climate change, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China’s increasing military might, economic problems, racism, the Pandemic, social media’s negative influence, and the prevalence of guns in our society.

None of this is to suggest that these problems are unimportant. Instead, it’s a mistake to retreat into the hopeless belief that life has no meaning. It’s incumbent on each of us to find meaning in life. Existential psychotherapy aims in that direction. 

Finding meaning in life is fundamental to finding a purpose or set of personal goals for ourselves. It is also vital to transmitting our values and meanings to our children.

In feeling that life has no meaning, people transmit that hopeless way of thinking to our children.

Values and Ethics

An essential part of the meaning in life has to do with values and ethics. The University of Texas defines values and ethics in this way:

“Ethics can also refer to rules or guidelines that establish what conduct is right and wrong for individuals and groups. For example, codes of conduct express relevant ethical standards for professionals in many fields, such as medicine, law, journalism, and accounting.

“The term values are individual beliefs that motivate people to act. They serve as a guide for human behavior.

People are predisposed to adopt the values they are raised with. People also believe that those values are “right” because they are the values of their particular culture.

Ethical decision-making often involves weighing values against each other and choosing which values to elevate. Conflicts can result when people have different values, leading to a clash of preferences and priorities.

Still, other values are sacred and are moral imperatives for those who believe in them. For example, for some people, their nation’s flag may represent a sacred value. But for others, the flag may just be a piece of cloth. Sacred values will seldom be compromised because they are perceived as duties rather than factors to be weighed in decision-making.”

From Politico Magazine:

Early childhood trauma seems to be the foundation, whether violence in the home, sexual assault, parental suicides, or extreme bullying. Then you see the build toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, self-loathing, and often rejection from peers. That turns into a really identifiable crisis point where they’re acting differently. Sometimes they have previous suicide attempts.

What’s different from traditional suicide is that the self-hate turns against a group. The hate turns outward. They ask themselves, “Whose fault is this?” Is it a racial group, women, religious group, or are my classmates? There’s also this quest for fame and notoriety.

Taken from an article published in Politico:

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/05/27/stopping-mass-shooters-q-a-00035762

Making Life Meaningful Begins at Home:

An important fact deeply connected to mindless violence and meaninglessness is that we must begin with young children by teaching the essential values of morals, ethics, respect for life, and empathy for others.

Empathy for the plight of others is very positive and powerful. In it, the empathetic person can imagine being in the place of the troubled person and feel what they feel. In fact, empathy precedes compassion. Empathy occurs immediately and leaves no emotional room between the individual and the one suffering. Empathy without compassion leaves the individual drained of energy because of feeling what the other feels. 

None of this implies that there is anything wrong with empathy. Simply put, we need a combination of empathy and compassion to be most helpful to people.

Existential Psychotherapy

The theory behind existential therapy helps people explore life’s difficulties from a philosophical perspective. It suggests that your source of inner conflict is the confrontation you have with the issues of life. Instead of looking back into your past, look at the here and now. Try to get meaning out of any given situation. In doing so, you can end the fear of the unknown that grips you way too often. The bottom line of this therapy approach is to encourage you to take responsibility for your success.

America and American families must face the existential crisis among young people. If not, mass murders will continue, and racism and other forms of intergroup conflict.

 

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

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“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