Thursday, July 7, 2016

5 things I do differently after my Codependent-Narcissistic relationship (part 1 - social settings)

We all know that surviving a Narcissistic romantic relationship changes us forever. First weeks and months we tend to keep our guard up all the time, and some people can work so hard in order to avoid the painful experience, that they screen out most of their new connection. However, as months (or, in my case, years) pass we get around to feeling a bit more secure and begin to step out and test the waters a little more in social settings. Still, it is good to work on having more awareness and keeping our hard-won lessons in mind so that we do not gravitate back to the patterns that can make us vulnerable to the Narcissistic types once again.

Here are some of the things that I learned to do differently in social settings so that I avoid the familiar pitfalls:

1. I listen to my instinct closely.

If I get an uncomfortable feeling around someone, I do not try to dismiss it or reason it away as I did in the past.  Instead, I act on what it is telling me. Being nice and polite has its place, but it should never mean forcing yourself to go against your own strong feelings, especially in social settings, where EVERYONE should have fun, including you.

2. I pay more attention to how the person really behaves not just an image they are trying to present.

This may sound odd at first, but it actually makes sense. Say, a guy you met at a bar is trying to appear very gentle and polite, but every time someone else tries to chime in the conversation they keep talking over them and generally ignoring the newcomer. Yes, they are paying close attentions to you (probably because they want something very specific out you) but they are betraying their inner meanie by being dismissing other people who are just trying to make new friends or have a conversation.

3. I do not hesitate to show my self-respect by distancing from an unpleasant encounter. 

If a person behaves in a way that I myself consider impolite, like acting in an arrogant, argumentative or distracted and disinterested way I do not hesitate to simply move on to the next conversation. During a casual social encounter, everyone in the room is looking for an engaging and uplifting experience, and if they are not ready to behave accordingly it is totally fine to move on and find a good match elsewhere.

4. I do not mask or withhold my opinion.

In my experience, being afraid of using your own authentic voice is a surefire way to end up being a passive audience to someone who will monopolize the conversation and waste valuable time you could spend meeting other people. Sure we need to be polite and considerate while voicing our own view on things, but there is no need to be afraid that the person won't like you if you do not second their views. If can not handle the fact that each person is entitled to their own opinion, then they are probably not someone you want to be closer with anyway.

5. I move to my own schedule.

If someone tries to hijack the evening, by which I mean have a very high-energy, involved conversation, suggest immediate or close future plans and then texts or calls right away and I am not ready to move as quick, I let them know in the polite but firm way how I feel. If they do get the hint, I contact them back if and when I genuinely feel like it. If they do not, I stop the communication altogether. And if that ever fails to stop the communication, I am sure I would be completely fine with letting them know their attention is so unwelcome it is bordering on harassment.

There was once a time when I felt obligated to carry on a correspondence that I did not enjoy for fear of deeply offending or hurting the person, and now I finally realize that equal respect and consideration should be afforded to both parties and that it is up to me to verbalize how I really feel if nonverbal cues fail to make the point clear.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Deconstruct your identity as a victim.

There is a fine balance between seeing our situation clearly (without venturing into denial territory) and internalizing our identity as seen through the eyes of the abuser.

After your dysfunctional relationship experience, do you often feel:

Like your life will never be the same
Less than other people
Not intelligent or not attractive enough to matter
Depressed and uninterested in our own feelings and ideas

The more time we spend trying to understand how they saw us, and therefore molding our own view of ourselves that way, the more we re-abuse ourselves. What you as a victim may need to do is to disregard all of the ways that the abuser saw you, labeled you and treated you completely, and realize that they interacted with the shadows of their own twisted, tortured reality - not with you. They never saw you as a person at all, they never had the capacity to know you as a person, they were too caught up with their own inner drama to have the spare energy for understanding someone else's person.

The best proof that I can offer of the statement is the fact that your abuser, sadly, will go on treating everyone else who is open to them more or less the same way, no matter how nice those people are to them, because to them all of the people are a reflection of their own personal inner hell.

So if we are to truly understand that the abusive counterpart never knew us and never even experienced our trust or love the same way that other "normal" people would, it becomes easier to take the whole thing a little less personally.

Most people feel terrible because they have trusted the Narcissist and they feel completely shocked when they end up abruptly discarded as if they did not matter at all. That is because they see that kind of behavior as a reflection on their worth as a person. But that if it was the Narcissist's limitation that had them incapable of seeing your value? You know the famous adage about pearls before swine? Just because the pigs could care less about the jewels, does not mean the pearls are any less beautiful and precious to a person who knows their worth.

However, to me, the real healing begins a step further than understanding that it is the Narcissist's mind that has your value misjudged. The real healing and a source of power are in realizing that it is us and us alone who can fully know our own self-worth and we unlock the full potential of our person when we chose to cultivate and bring out our best qualities so that WE can enjoy them.

Unfortunately, the reverse can also be true - we abandon our most beautiful qualities when we adopt our abuser's unflattering view of ourselves as our own. You can all probably relate to this quick example: all of us have known a person who we thought was absolutely beautiful, yet they behaved in a way that betrayed their own poor opinion of their looks and personality. No matter how much you wanted to show them they were lovely they just didn't be-live in it, and so they were unable to tap that beautiful feeling you had when you shared time with them.
With our inner value things can get even more complicated as no other person can truly know all of your creativity, the feeling of aliveness and love that you carry inside - they may appreciate us as friends, co-workers, mothers etc but we must first realize of our own true worth as a human and it bring out in our own relationships with ourselves before we can begin to share it with others. That is why we hear so much about our relationship with ourselves - because it is the basis, the very centerpiece for developing all healthy relationship with other people, be they intimate partners, colleagues, friends, relatives etc.

Whenever you feel like you are holding back from doing something you secretly want to do, ask yourself: is this a natural way to see myself or am I feeling this way because of my history of abuse? Once you know the answer, the shift may happen all on its own, or it may need to be nudged a bit by trying on a different, kinder view on yourself that one time, then maybe again and once more until seeing yourself in a supportive way becomes your new reality.

As an exercise: pick one thing you secretly want to do but you feel you are not worthy of even trying and then view yourself as a person who is completely successful at that activity. Then when you feel a little more secure go out and make a first step toward making that inner vision come true.

There is no point in letting your abuser live on in your heart and mind perpetuating their toxic legacy. It has once been your experience, once you could not always completely control. Now it continues to live in your mind and emotions, where it is up to you which goals, agendas, ideas and themes to cultivate, and which ones to scrap. You may have seen yourself as powerless before - choose to see yourself differently today.

As a quick action point - go back to the list in the beginning of this post and pick one item that felt like it resonated with you. Reflect on the way you would naturally feel about yourself, excluding the abuser's influence. Chose to practice seeing and feeling yourself that way until that is once again the most natural way for you. My best wishes to you!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Blame, responsibility and healing in the aftermath of the Narcissistic relationships

Hello, everyone!

Thank you for joining me. Today I am going to discuss a topic that may ruffle a few feathers, but, nevertheless, it is extremely important to at least consider for anyone who is genuinely looking to heal and, hopefully, grow after they have been traumatized in the Narcissistic relationships.

To be honest, questioning these very topics moved me to start this channel in the first place, and I still see them as the most useful and important to consider out of the multitude of subtopics of discussion on Narcissism. However, consideration of those topics requires some courage, a maximally honest evaluation, and a strong intention to take charge and move on, and it probably comes as no surprise that many of the Narcissist's counterparts are not ready to venture that far just yet.

Before you think that I am trying to assign responsibility or even blame where it does not belong, let me clarify.

Everyone who has been abused by a Narcissist is very familiar with an overwhelming sense of anger and with desire to vilify your abuser if only to take care of all of the confusing painful emotions you experience and channel all that angst in a simple and genetically well-primed way that will bring about clarity and relief, even if short-lived.  Please do not misunderstand me: I know how inevitable and indeed even natural that kind of reaction toward your abuser can be. I am pushing 40, but there are still days when I remember my mother's past deeds and all I can do is rage. I have not spoken to my mother for over 5 years, but in those moments my memories ARE  my reality and I can not escape it. So just to be clear I am not judging anyone for that reaction by any means, which would be not only hypocritical but also quite useless.

What I am trying to say is that my motive for bringing this topic is purely utilitarian.
When I considered everything that has happened to me mentally and emotionally over the years of trying to untangle the mess my Narcissistic relationship left me with,
I came to realize that there are some valuable insights that can be gained out of the process. And, naturally, I wanted to share those with others who are having to do with similar pain.

But when I considered how I can communicate that subtle shift in understanding, I realized that it is going to be hard to do not only because of the nature of psychological change and growth, but also because some of this may come across as my trying to shift the blame away from one party in the dysfunctional relationship and put it on the other. So I want to say: this is not about the blame, or about trying to devalue or prohibit some of your feelings. I possess no such powers and neither would I want them.

As I said, those feelings are very familiar to me and they still present a formidable challenge at times, and I do not presume to have a right to judge anyone's response to a terribly traumatic situation. On the contrary, I always say it is you and you alone who decides what your inner truth is, what feelings and words communicate that truth the best and if and when and how you are ready to move on from those responses toward something new.  I just want to share this concept because it made a difference to me. And, of course, you are free to choose if that make sense and to use any part of it if you so choose to your own advantage.

OK, with no further ado here it is: for the codependent, the real healing begins with shifting the focus from their abuser to themselves in a way that assumes maximum responsibility for their own well-being and happiness, and completely excludes their abuser as a factor. Yeah, I said it (and I am sure some of you are not happy that I did) - it is counterintuitive for the most codependence, but I am convinced that that is actually the clearest and fastest way out. Before you dismiss it as unrealistic let me illustrate it in this little allegory.

Imagine, you are traveling to some remote country, and you have to stay in a little tiny hotel for a while. You have never been to the place before. Your tour agent promised you that your host will speak perfect English so that you can communicate clearly and get all your practical needs taken care of. When you arrive, however, you discover that the person who is supposed to help you does not speak a word in English, and also appears to be partially blind, hard of hearing and always busy. You are stuck with them for the night with no one to call and there is no way to get through to them about the fact you need some food and a few other items. You shout and point all you can, but they are not getting it, nor they are particularly interested. You ask for an iron, they give you a pen. You ask for shampoo, they give you someone else's bill. You need a Wi-Fi password, they say "One minute!" then disappear. Now, what would you do in this situation? I am sure you can see what I am getting at here. Just how much of the energy would you devote to trying to get your host to cooperate, and after learning they can not - how much time and power would you spend blaming them and raging at them. and how much of it would you reroute to getting your needs met on your own? Remember, they are not actively preventing YOU from getting what you need, they are just not playing the "good host" part and refuse to understand or supply what you need. Given this circumstance,  I am sure most of us would fairly quickly arrive at the point where we just went ahead and searched for the food and other items on our own or went without some and then left the wretched place as soon as we could manage. It is hard to imagine anyone spending the entire night (let alone years) trying to get the host to understand, to cooperate and to provide them with the things they needed.

Yet when it comes to a relationship people routinely do just that. They can not simply acknowledge the fact that their partner is not capable of understanding or caring about their needs, let alone of fulfilling them. Somehow it is so hard for some to accept the fact they were stuck with a person who is in a way incapacitated when it comes personal relationship that they would rather believe in some kind of demonic, satanic nature of the person conspiring to inflict that much pain on them, instead of seeing that the person they demonize also suffers greatly from not being able to relate naturally and from constantly being on the receiving end of other people's disapproval and judgement.

Remembering all of the encounters that hurt me so (if I am being completely honest) I can see that most of the time my "enemy" genuinely did not know how to give me what I need, or in some cases how to even want to give it to me. And blaming and raging at the people like that may seem righteous and bring a bit of a relief, but ultimately it only means that next time we will not see the same situation coming on. We will still be convinced that some people OWE us certain kind of treatment or actions only because it suits us. In a way, we will be exhibiting the same kind of behavior we blame the Narcissist for, as we have no interest and almost deny the experience of the other person as it does not suit us. Now, I know I am going to get a lot of flack for this, but if among the listeners there are some people who are ready to at least consider what I am saying for a second, then it all was worth it.

So just to illustrate what I am trying to say here. Suppose you are in a romantic relationship with a man, and everything is coming along swimmingly. You go on the dates, he brings you flowers, you go on a trip together (here we ould ask ourselves what makes him act so perfect, but that is another topic)... THEN one of your conversation turn into a slight disagreement and he completely flips out. He is raging, chairs are flying  - you are feeling scared and confused. A few moments later, realizing that he has gone way too far, he apologizes and promises that that would never happen again. A classic setup for a domestic violence situation, right?

At that moment when he apologizes and asks you to forgive him, you have several choices: you can make an exit as soon as it is safe to do so, and never look back. You can flare up two, give him back what he dished out and then some, and then it would be a battle of the wills and volatile relationship. You can smile, accept his offer at a consolation gift/dinner whatever and pretend that nothing happened and you can try and question what triggered this kind of the reaction and how does see himself when he acts that way.

I would venture to say that the choice number one is the best one as far as your safety is concerned, But we also know that it not probably one a codependent person would pick. Consider the second choice - to rage and fight back feels very powerful, but still gives too much of control over your feelings to the other person. If you really found the behaviour he had shown earlier unacceptable, you would do your best to distance from the person. not try and connect with them more by explaining your feelings and expecting a reaction from them The third choice would be also popular among codependence - to pretend that nothing is wrong and that was just a fluke is to choose to protect your illusion and disregard the painful reality that was just shown to you as plain as day. It is not being nice and does no favors to the other person at all. Contrary to what most ppl think,  a dysfunctional relationship destroys both people and makes them suffer greatly in the long run. Just as you do no favors to the alcoholic by accepting their lies about how much they drink, you can not help an abusive person by pretending their terrible behavior is not real or very easy to quit.  So it is a lose-lose situation and both people will pay the price if they decide to go down this "pretend" path together. Now, the fourth choice was a bit of a trick. To remind you, I worded it this way: you can try and question what triggered this reaction and how does he see himself when he acts that way. If you assume that by "question" I meant literally asking a question of that person,  it may sound just like another set-up for a codependent person, focusing on their partner and letting them control the narrative and shape the story as they will, and let their illusions and defenses cover it up.

But what if I did not mean to ask THEM a question. What if I meant "consider" what triggered it etc. And not so that you can excuse them, but so you can truly SEE them, not your fantasy and not your (unmet) needs and your ruined romantic story. Once you see the true person - who is not completely in control, broken and aggressive it would be very easy to get to the option number 1, and not just automatically screening out unwanted behaviour but consciously realizing the whole depth of the situation and learning from it, so that you do not have to repeat it in the future. THIS IS what I am getting at. I am not saying accept who they are in a sense that you let them abuse you - of course not! I am saying see who they truly are and not your own illusion, your idea which can only overpower your judgment if you do not truly care about who the person is as long as they fulfill their assigned role in your scenario. Oh. my God, I feel like I am going to be hated for this, but yeah, I am saying it. I do not think it is possible to be sucked deep into a romantic situation with a Narcissist if you are willing to actually pay attention to their whole person, not their assigned role in your life. And it is not possible to take responsibility if you do not have the true picture.

Coming back to our earlier analogy, if you are in denial about your host condition, if you are thinking they are pranking you or worse, do it to you on purpose in some cruel plot, you are in for much more pain and a lot more wasted attempts to get something out of a hopeless situation. Once you know they are not coming through for you the solution is clear.  Similar thing can be said about an abusive partner, still in your life in the flesh or as haunting memory in your mind and heart - as long as you see them as actually incapable, emotionally and mentally unfit to fulfill your (or anybody else's) needs then you are more likely to chalk it up to an unfortunate occurrence (not unlike a natural disaster) and focus your attention on what YOU can do to feel better.

The elusive closure can be easily had without your ex-partner having to clear up the mess (which is fortunate because there was a very slim chance that they would every do that) - and it feels amazing to finally resolve to quit expecting others to do things differently and simply allow yourself to take care of things.

As a conclusion, I want to say that I did have an opportunity to revisit this lesson again when I run into a very difficult situation and once again ended up feeling powerless and sad. Although there were many components to the situation that had me feeling down, I realized that there were many of them I could not control and I decided to consciously focus on what I could do, and making one step toward a better situation for myself  no matter how small. I chose one simple action to take, and even before I actually did it my mood had shifted for the better.

Often times focusing on circumstances and people's power over us has us feeling completely powerless and afraid, or angry. Shifting focus to what YOU can do, even if it just taking a walk, cleaning up your space or eating a fruit instead of a cake can do a lot for our self-esteem and mood. And that is something that your abuser can not control (unless you let them.)

Dear friends - I thank you so much for staying with me until the conclusion! It is important for me to get it out as I care immensely about all the people who are suffering and are in search for the good information and practical solutions so that they could feel better once again, I still remember my own quest for the truth and how gut wrenching the first steps toward these insights were. I thank you all and I love you all, I care very much about how you feel and wish you all the best. I just want you to know that as I am telling you the things that might be hard to take at first - I only do it because I genuinely care.
On that note, please be well and we will speak again soon!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Trust and control in Narcissistic relationships.

This is a transcript of my new video, you can find it and all of my other videos on my youtube channel called NPDrecovery.

Hello, everyone! Thank you for joining me again!

Since I am using this new way to make the videos, I am feeling much better about being able to maintain a steady flow of new material for the channel, as I am in total control of all the elements of the process, except for uploading and playing the videos, which were all fine so far.

Now to the main topic of the video. Anyone who has been in a relationship with a Narcissist can attest to the feeling of underlying unease, something unwholesome and even dangerous lurking under the surface even in the very beginning and in the so-called "love-bombing" phase of the relationship. Now, charmed and overly trusting partners of the Narcissists are not always consciously aware of those inner alarm signals in the moment, but later on, while recovering from the abusive relationship, many of us will remember all the times those signals went off, but we were somehow magically distracted from fully realizing them and implications they hold.

It is worth mentioning that this state of cognitive dissonance when we have two conflicting sets of data and we do our best to ignore the one that we are not ready to see, can bring a lot of damage to our own ability to trust and have a good relationship with ourselves, but that is the topic for another recording.

For now, let us consider why do we have those signals, why do we keep feeling tense and "on guard" even when everything seems to be perfect on the outside? I think that is not only because our inner self says "stay away' or even "run for your life" since it knows the truth even if it directly contradicts what we can perceive on the surface. It is also because, being sincere, open and compassionate individuals, we can pick up the inner tension the Narcissist experiences when he or she interacts with us.

And let me attest to the fact as I am fairly certain that deep down the state of unease and downright misery never leaves the Narcissist. Not even for a moment. That is because they are convinced they can not afford to show their hated inner self to anyone, because if they did everyone would put them down or reject and abandon them right away. Of course, having to constatntly put on the show and appear much stronger, more in control and put together then they really are is taxing and deeply unhealthy, and, unable to self-reflect, Narcissist are more likely to transfer the blame for their inner state on you - their partner, even though you can do absolutely nothing to ease the pain(even if you really want to do that.) We can now remember the axiom "Hurt people hurt people," and see why it is not easy for the narcissist to keep up the pretense for too long considering the actual state they are in.

So I hope by now you can see how this all connects to the topic of the video.  Though they can appear very confident and strong on the surface, Narcissits will never trust you to accept their inner self and will do anything to prevent you from even seeing it. That is because they themselves learned to deeply dislike and reject their inner self. When their parents or primary caregivers treated them in cold, punishing, overly demanding or aloof and disinterested way these children concluded that they must be inherently flawed and unworthy. Then they had worked all their life to create the impeccable self that will be deserving of love and approval, even if it was just a facade. They never had a chance to realize that beynd our childhood experiences, each of us is responsible for own self-love and acceptance and other people will simply take our own attitude as a guide, not knowing and not being able to affect what goes on deep inside of us.

And that is where first part of the Narcissist-codependent dilemma comes in: as codependents, we can not affect the fundamental lack of self-worth that Narcissist experiences. It is actually the other way around: our inner settings, our innermost beliefs and attitudes that determine our reality in a sense that we will justify, rationalize and perceive events in accordance to those. For example, if a Narcissist really feels they are not deserving of real love and acceptance in the relationships, they will  devalue the partner who is giving them that type of nconditional love and acceptance. In other words, they will sooner conclude that there is something wrong with the partner for loving such a flawed, no-good person than they will believe that they are actually good based on the type of feedback they get from their partner. Now, remember this all happens on deeper, subconscious level, you will never hear the Narcissist say: I feel like I do not deserve your love, No, right the opposite - they will rage, and insult amd make you feel like you are the one who does not deserve to be with them. This is the process known as the projection, where the Narcissist, unable to face their own grim reality will instead project those issues on you as their partner. Nevertheless, deep inside they are hurting and desperate to experience that same deep self-love and acceptance they are denying themselves. It is very sad.

So, the bottom line: the Narcissist can never truly relax and trust their partner in the relationship, because they are unable to believe their real selves are worthy of good treatment. So they will pretend to be something bigger and better: all powerful, flawless, incredibly hard-working, talented, perfect mom, impeccable dresser - whatever it is they feel equals "great", and can help them earn their place and fit in. They can never get the concept that they already belong simply because they are here and they are human; there is something good and something not so good in all humans and that is alright, that is just how it goes.

Being unwilling to stay vulnerable, to connect, to trust - all of that stems from first very traumatic experience they had growing up. Some people conjure up enough energy and strength to re-calibrate and gain their confidene and self-acceptance later in life, and some were just so deeply hurt and confused by those first experiences with intimacy and trust that they have not been able to recover yet.

Once we have been through the incredible trauma that is a relationship with a Narcissist we become a lot more careful, and for a good reason: I think we can all agree that it is best to be vigilant and keep a safe distance from anyone like that in the future.

However, if you are still stuck in the relationship and for whatever reason can not yet distance yourself, perhaps knowing the inner dynamcs behind their confusing and seemingly irrational behavour will be of help. I do hope though that you will use this knowledge to comfort yourself and balance your own inner view on the stuation, and not to try and change how the Narcissist feels or behaves. As was mentioned earlier, your best efforts are not going to penetrate deep enough, where the Narcissist holds the unseemly truth under lock and key even from their own conscious awareness. Avoid needless conflict that becomes inevitable once you trigger Narcissit's defenses by implying they may need your help and compassionate (as opposed to worship-like) attention. Consider the situation privately, get used to seeing the real state of things in safety, and then do your best to come up with new sets of attitudes based on the newfound insight.

This is all I have to say on the subject for now, Thank you for being a part of this discussion! Feel free to share your thoughts and questions, and be aware that you can reach out to me privately, too. If you would like to get more consistent content if the future, please take a minute to support this blog or my channel by using "donate" or "support" features on both sources respectively.
Best of wishes to you guys and talk to you again!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Part 3 of "Depression - three major components and why they CAN be transformed."

Quick recap: In the Part 1 and Part 2 we have established that while a well-defined stressful incident (like being fired from a job), traumatic period in the past (e.g. being abused as a child), or even physical trauma can trigger an initial bout of depression, things can quickly spiral out of control due to self-feeding nature of organic, mental and emotional patterns such an episode can bring.

Being incessantly rehearsed in one's mind, negative thinking patterns and perceptions soon become a deeply ingrained belief, and then even become a real feature in one's life.

Here is a pretty common example: for whatever reason, a person decides that they are not good enough. By their own subjective standards they have failed as a spouse, as a professional, or in whatever capacity that is most important to them. By taking the initially isolated sense of failure further, they begin to feel as if they are deeply flawed as a person. All-pervasive feeling of shame begins to work its way into their psyche, and before they know it they dislike themselves so much they begin to isolate from people who are important to them. They suddenly feel like they are not good enough to be sincerely appreciated or wanted as a company. They no longer initiate contact, and what's worse, they do not return their friends'/loved one's phone calls/emails and reject invitations and offers of company. Left alone, in absence of a different, more balanced perspective, they sink deeper into the sense of inadequacy, left to listen to shaming voices of self-imposed echo-chamber.

Not knowing what to make of their friend's sudden loss of interest, and often assuming  they are too busy or simply lost interest in this particular relationship, the now soon-to-be ex friends begin to fall off the map. They do not initiate contact anymore, and the streams of social invitations gradually dries out. Needless to say, that only reinforces our unfortunate recluse's belief in their flaws. Feeling isolated, lonely and inadequate, they will likely to feel and think worse about their person.
Bottom line: a reaction to one unfortunate, traumatic incident  mushroomed into an all-pervasive pattern of thought and behavior that did the person in. Their ones mistaken opinion (I am not worthy of a genuine love/friendship) created an objective situation that would only reinforce such a belief.

OK, we outlined the problem - now what about a solution?

As most of us know, simply fighting the way you feel (and what you came to belief) does not work. Especially when your energy is sapped by a depressive episode. What I am proposing may sound a little counter-intuitive at first, but, in my experience, it works much better than the alternatives.
We have established in the previous posts that while a state of depression is supported on three different levels, it is probably easiest to start working on a cognitive change first. So you have a voice inside your head that keeps re-cycling all of those nasty thoughts that just make you feel worthless. And I say - agree with it! Say what?! Yes, agree with it. The dialog can go something like this:

"Judge"-How could I get to this point in my life? All I do is sit in my bed and surf the web all day. I can't believe how lazy, irresponsible and weak I really am.

You: I agree. I am behaving in way that can be seen as irresponsible. I am not doing much these days, which can be seen as being lazy. AND I am loved and beautiful, because life (God, divine will - whatever suits you best) flows through me in every moment I am alive.

I gave this little exchange as an example, but, of course, you can substitute the beginning for any hurtful thoughts you may have.
Instead of trying to fight the validity of the blame simply establish the bigger truth that you deserve to be loved because you are here right now, because you exist. Life, as a loving awareness flows through you and sees the world through you. You are deemed beautiful and loved simply by virtue of being that which life flows through.

This whole 'theory' may not make a lot of sense if you take it as an intellectual exercise. So don't.
Simply try this next time you here the onslaught of blaming-shaming voices within you. Give in.
Acknowledge them, agree with their 'message' and then proceed to love and cherish the life within you anyway. The priceless spark, the soul and the spirit that only you can know - it IS. There is no
reason to keep it cut off.

A little 'trick' I promised to discuss in the part dealing with Emotional component, actually is very much in harmony what I have just shared. I am pleased to say, there is an almost seamless transition from one step to another. I hope to meet with you again in Part 4, Emotional component.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Part 2 of "Depression - three major components and why they CAN be transformed."

In Part 1 of this series we briefly discussed the nature of the disease that is depression, and its arguably the most-sited component: changes in brain structure as well as responses that are unique to depression.

Now it is time to unearth the second 'layer' to this complex condition: cognitive traits.

Before we focus on that topic in earnest, it is worth noting, once again, that all of the layers - biological, cognitive and emotional are interdependent, they affect, modify and, in case of depression it would seem more accurately, "feed" onto each other, producing more and more dire states as time goes on.

As severe altering of the brain biology can produce a drastically different states and attitudes in a person, affecting both cognitive and emotional functioning, so can prolonged state of extreme stress - whether emotional or mental - alter the biology, and indeed the very structure of the brain (as evident in case of hypothalamus and amygdala), bringing with it new level of intensity and the nature of the responses.

With that in mind, let us proceed to the cognitive part of the puzzle :)

Suppose, as in an example we were discussing earlier, one was abused as a child, which led to altering of one's brain functions and responses. How is this going to manifest in the cognitive process? If the "danger" response part of the brain is overactive - because it has been stimulated for so long it went in the overdrive - the person is going to tend to focus on anything that 'threatens' them and therefore, in their mind, jeopardizes their goal of survival.

They will inadvertently hone in on the people and situations that they deem unsafe, and will perceive every minuscule bit of data that an unaffected person would never make an effort to discern.

/In my opinion, herein lies the secret of Narcissist's and/or Psychopath's "supernatural" ability to recognize, almost intuit people's tiniest signals, their wishes and moods. It is common knowledge that a large chunk (if not a majority) of people who have NPD and/or anti-social disorder were severely abused as children, which in turn led to profound change in their emotional and cognitive processing of the outside input. Anyway, back to our example./

What do you suppose this type of hyper vigilance, an intense focus on the factors that the person deems crucial to their survival, will do to their overall ability to function and perform? There is the same 'law' to this as to accounting: If the inordinate amount of energy is spent on performing one task, this means that the energy can not be expedited elsewhere. Thus the person may appear 'spacey', unable to concentrate, loosing focus, forgetting things etc.

Given the limited 'view' from outside, people may wonder just what is going on, and even the person affected by this may not consciously realize the mechanism behind their reactions - they may have been living in such a state for so long that they perceive it as normal. In addition to having their energy tied-up in this unconscious state of hyper-alert, they themselves may feel like they have little control over their apparent lack of concentration.

What is such a person likely to think (or, more accurately, tell themselves?) "I can not believe this! - I am such an airhead. I can not f on the lesson, I get stuck where everyone gets it with ease. I must be stupid" Now, looking a little bit ahead - what emotional states such thoughts are likely to produce? How might that affect the person's behavior? And in turn, will those states and behaviors alleviate or exacerbate the problem?

When emotionally and mentally overwhelmed, many people will go into protective mode and shut out the part of themselves that seems to 'cause' pain (more accurately would be to say "the part of themselves that holds the energy of the traumatic situation, until said situation gets resolved.) In order to function in their everyday lives, they simply "package" the uncomfortable parts of themselves and pretend they can move on without really having to resolve anything. Such attitudes towards their experiences and emotions, though understandable (and very prevalent) still brings very poor results. Unresolved feelings sooner or later manifest themselves in the most troubling ways, and a habit of denying our own real feelings and experiences can lead us too far astray, sometimes in the realm of neurosys.

In case of depression, we know for a fact that as a part of coping strategy, the area of the brain responsible for processing memory and emotions literally shrinks in size. In addition, in many cases the brain cells get "conditioned" to respond disproportionately to negative stimuli, and "ignore", or have far less response to neutral and positive input. Sounds familiar? Depressed people are notorious for seeing the world in "black" - they only focus on negative and painful events to the exclusion of everything else.

What about the first part - how does reduction in size of that certain (crucial) area of the brain manifest itself? Well, first the person stops experiencing the normal fluctuation of the emotions every healthy person experiences from time to time. It gets to the point where no matter what positive or negative situations arise the affected individual simply does not experience a response at all - they get the same flat, "numb", sterilized feeling no matter what the circumstance. (this one was, and occasionally is, big for me personally).

 Also, short term memory and ability to focus suffer as well. Now, this is likely to produce something like the following thoughts: "What is wrong with me? I used to be a completely different person. I can not even get any joy out of holding my grandchild (child, pet etc.) This is just not right - I am a disgrace to my family." as well as "I am always confusing/forgetting important details. I am going to get fired one of these days." Needless to say, this does only deepen the problem by making the person feel more inadequate and out of control. The more such thoughts and feelings run amok, the more one's self-esteem suffers, the more they try avoiding potentially embarrassing/ upsetting situations and so the vicious cycle is gaining momentum.

Repetitive negative, self-critical thoughts followed by feelings of deep shame and inadequacy (or numbness if the individual has gotten so overwhelmed they have opted-out of feeling altogether) are at the the heart of the disease. Worse yet, overtime they proceed to affect the brain and therefore hormonal processes further, making one sink deeper and deeper until there seems to be no way out.

It is not a pretty picture, huh? However, if we just approach it from purely antithetical point of view, what do we have? Some kind of a traumatic event (either physical or psychological, or both) altered the way one's brain is functioning, processing input. That, in turn, produced less-than-ideal perceptions and thought patterns, which then alter one's emotions. We know for a fact (it is scientifically proven) that each of the three factors - biological, cognitive and emotional, has the ability to affect the other too. If one is willing to change, where precisely do we start?

We all know what happens if we attempt to simply alter the first - biological (chemical) side of things. There are many ways to go about this, and the most common by far is to take the "missing" hormones and/or other necessary bio components in their synthetic form.

/Because I trust in your own ability to judge for yourself, I will not comment on this other than say that, in my opinion this is not an ultimate way of finding genuine and lasting relief from depression./

What else then? I do not suppose than one can do much about altering their emotional state when they are in the throws of a deep and dark depressive episode. For all of those "well-wishers" who recommend to "snap out of it" and, even more so, for those of us who are sick and tired of hearing that, I will say it again - depression is no joke. It is not some fleeting fancy one just able to wave away. There is a multi-dollar industry built on providing relief for the sufferers - and as much as I am not a fan of such solutions, it is BIG for a reason. That said, I will provide some practical steps that can be useful for natural altering of the emotional state in Part 3 of the series, and they work fabulously for me, but I will be the first one to recognize that they require an expenditure of willpower a deeply depressed person may simply be unable to muster at the moment.

/There is a little secret to jump-starting the process which I will be very glad to share with you in the future post on the emotional factor./

Supposing both of above passages are true, what are we left with? Ah, that's right! - the cognitive process - the way we consciously perceive and (key word!) verbalize said perceptions to ourselves. This we will discuss in detail in Part 3.

For now, we just want to clearly understand the three major components of the depressive state, and by that virtue open the door to the possibility of mastering it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Depression - three major components and why they CAN be transformed. Part 1.

Depression sucks - plain and simple. If you ever had the misfortune to be affected by the decease,
I did not have to tell you this (other than to validate your experience). Others - the ones who have never been through it, however, find it difficult to relate to a depressed person's experience, and some even go so far as to doubt that the real problem exists. "Pull yourself together" - they say - "Snap out of it!" As if the person suffering through the darkest moments of their live have simply failed to recognize the need to "snap out". Clearly, if they had what it took to get out of their miserable state, they would have done so without any reminders! You do not exactly tell a person with a broken leg to pull themselves together and start walking as everyone else does. With depression,  however, as it is often the case with emotional and mental conditions, most observers simply fail to see the link.

Frustrating as it is, do not let them discourage you, or make you more feel more inadequate and likely to blame yourself. Depression is real, it requires some real work (utilizing some real science) to recover, but the best thing is - it is entirely withing your reach to start feeling better.

I am the living proof that one can overcome the darkest states without the help of pharmaceuticals, though the path by no means has been an easy one. Just to let you know that this was indeed serious,
I have been diagnosed with chronic and severe depression, and I have made a few attempts on my life early on. However, as the time went on, I learned how to overcome the worst periods, how to cope, how to function (though, sometimes, barely) and - best of all - how to slowly but surely get better over time.

Recently, my close friend had become extremely depressed, and since I have been through the state, I have clearly recognized the signals. In order to help him, I now had to clearly communicate what I have learned, as well as do more research in order to give weight (scientific back-up) to the ideas.

That got me thinking: there are a lot of folks in the similar situation all around the world. Since I am already streamlining and organizing what I have learned both through experience and research, why not share it? Though it will undoubtedly take many posts to cover the the subject, here is the first basic summary anyone who is troubled by depression should get familiar with.

It is easier to think of depression, if you underline the labyrinth of symptoms, states, effects and manifestations that it can produce with one simple structure (kind of like creating a map for a complicated natural landscape.) Here are three main areas where depressive states, once triggered, become a sort of sinister feedback loop that, if unchecked, soon transforms in a vicious cycle sucking you deeper and deeper into private hell known as depression.

So here is the first, and the most scientifically discussed factor:

1. Brain (and hormonal) composition.

Here is a fun fact: there is a certain area of the brain, called hypothalamus (which, among other things, deals with  emotion and memory) that is shown to be SHRUNK up to 25% when depression is experienced. (The good new is, it is also possible to regain the normal size, if a person have successfully recovered and stayed healthy for a prolonged period of time.) So there are actual organic changes your brain that take place when you are under immense stress that prolonged depression brings. (not to be confused with the stress that actually can initiate first bouts of depression, which we will talk about later in the third component/factor.) There are also profound changes in how the nerve/brain cells transmit and process different signals/information, that, though may be of a cognitive nature (second component) at first, may overtime "materialize" themselves in the actual brain processing changes.

Before we go any further, let me introduce (or remind you of) a concept called neuroplasticity. It is both fascinating and encouraging, at least for people who have bought into science's earlier notion that mental disorders such as depression where 'hard wired' into 'faulty' brain structure, and there was nothing we could do about it, other than pop pills and bear the side effects.

Long story short neuroplasticity simply means ability, as well as tendency of our brain to change in response to input and/or environment.

Say you were abused as a kid. Every day was a chaotic, deeply terrifying ordeal. If that kind of extreme stress went on for years, it is only logical to expect that the amazing survival-oriented 'device' that is our body will find the way to adopt, take in the input that it is receiving and make changes accordingly: it will likely alter the way we respond to extreme stress and an onslaught of hormonal, and therefore emotional storms it produces, and that in turn will alter how we express ourselves, as well as how we handle our thoughts, perceptions and memories.

If we were simply to leave the individual in shell-shocked state, even when changing the environment to a safe one, we can not expect them to automatically fully recover, because the damage the extreme situation produced have altered the chemistry -  indeed, the very structure of the brain, and reversing the changes will require highly focused and persistent work.

Another interesting fact is that our brain cells can attune themselves to 'highlight' and give priority to specific kind of responses. This makes complete sense as well. A soldier in combat quickly learns how to focus their attention on things that represent a threat, since their survival depends on it. In the same way, a kid that was physically abused will focus and heighten their sensitivity to particular "vibe", situations or facial expressions that can be a precursor of further abuse (though it is important to understand that creating intimidating and/or chaotic atmosphere qualifies as an emotional/mental abuse in its own right.) Growing up, without sufficient competent help the individual will likely focus on singling out similar expressions and signals from other people, and will dedicate a disproportional amount of their energy on dealing with the perceived threat and response to such signals, compared to a person who had a happy, self-affirming childhood.

In a case of depression, it is often the case that people give priority to negative input, focusing exclusively on the information that is likely to deepen their despair and/or confirm that there is indeed little to no hope for them. As for emotional response, that has been likely considerably muted, for the purpose of stopping the negative emotion's overload, and the chemical/hormonal mayhem it unleashes on the body.

The takeaway: there were likely perfectly rational, survival-oriented reasons for particular wiring of your brain in the past. Even if you do not think they were particularly traumatic experiences, your body likely had a pretty solid (from its perspective) reason to respond in a way that it did. Now that we had (hopefully) made it out of the particular environment that had called for such changes, given the awareness we gained, we are free to set up new cognitive/emotional patterns that will let us reach and remain in the state of wellness.

In the next couple of posts we will discuss:

1 Cognitive component and 2 Emotional states that pose a challenge in depression, as well as how to bring both of those back to balance.

Thank you for reading and please know that it is possible to make it back to healthy, balanced life.