Recovery Through Focus On The Healthy Self

41cjYQkNxDL._SL500_SX327_BO1,204,203,200_I recently came across this quote by Andras Angyal in his book “Neurosis and Treatment, a Holistic Theory that really struck me as being one of the most well articulated passages on this point around the therapist/client relationship.

“To react to the healthy aspect of the patient rather than to his neurosis is one of the many ways available to the therapist for stimulating and furthering the patient’s growth without falling into didacticism.”

Adult Children of Alcoholics

It will never happen to meAdult Children of Alcoholics: “Upon reaching adulthood, the majority of children of alcoholics continue to experience problems related to trust, dependency, control, identification and expression of feelings.” – Claudia Black It Will Never Happen to Me: Children of Alcoholics As Youngsters-Adolescents-Adults

The Shift That Frees People From Perfectionism

Perfectionism“Perfectionism develops as a way to cope with that defective sense of self and a sense of not fitting in with others, not fitting in with the world, not having a place in the world,”

An article from Thrive Global about how dangerous perfectionism is to our health, happiness and connection with others.

About two decades ago, a woman knocked on the door of Paul Hewitt, a clinical psychologist based in Vancouver, Canada. Outwardly, Anita — the pseudonym given in Hewitt’s new book — had everything meticulously together: she told her therapist of an idyllic childhood, the supportive family she came from, the daughter she felt close to, her broad network of friends. But the loss of her mom, who was her closest friend and confidant, was a big blow to her; it had happened ten years earlier, and it was a continued source of hurt and anger. More recently, she’d injured her shoulder, forcing her out of her career in food science. However successful she appeared, she was actually suicidal and depressed.

She had tried many treatments to deal with her depression and thoughts of suicide, but none worked; she used the “runner’s high” from long distance swimming as a way to cope with her loss, though the shoulder injury ended that. Few people in her life knew the depth of her pain. She had come to Hewitt because he’d heard an interview with the University of British Columbia psychologist where he talked about the links between depression, suicide, and perfectionism.

“She was one of the most suicidal people I’ve ever worked with,” he tells Thrive Global. Anita’s transformation serves as the central case study in the new book Perfectionism: A Relational Approach to Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment, co-authored by Hewitt’s frequent collaborator Gordon Flett, of York University, and the private clinical psychologist Samuel F. Mikail.

Over the past three decades, these researchers have found that far from being a quirk of high-achievers, an innocent humblebrag you give to job interviewers when they ask you what your greatest weakness is (“I’m sometimes a perfectionist”)—this way of approaching life creates or amplifies all sorts of mental health issues. It also signals a problematic relationship with the self. “It’s not a way of thinking,” Hewitt says. “It’s a way of being in the world.” Continue reading

Why is Therapy So Expensive?

Piggy Bank

Years ago, I remember being frustrated and angry when my analyst raised his rates to $139 per session.  I wasn’t making anywhere close to that as my hourly wage and felt that the high cost of therapy was turning the process into something that was too heavily focused on immediate results and taking focus away from process and relationship which are really the keys to successful therapy.  I wish my analyst had explained to me the business model of the field as I think it would have relieved a lot of the pressure and, frankly, the resentment I was feeling at the time.

Much like my analyst, I plan on raising my rates in the near future to keep up with the ever rising cost of living in this city which is increasingly pushing out talent and choice in a variety of fields.  It’s something I have to do in order to maintain any kind of reasonable lifestyle that will allow me to care for myself in a way that allows me to care for my clients.

The article below does a pretty good job of explaining the monetization of therapy.  (If it were up to me, we would live in a society where 1. Therapy and the exchange of money were not intertwined or 2.  We lived in a society where people were getting their needs met in their social and cultural circles and we didn’t need specialized individuals to perform the type of work western therapists undertake.)

The two main costs of doing business this article seems to overlook are the fact that we have to pay for own health insurance and that we also have no paid sick or vacation time.  Cancellations are also a factor unless we choose to charge a client each time they miss a scheduled appointment and we are not able to rebook that time slot.  That, however, is the topic of much debate.  Unlike other medical providers or even lawyers, we have an ongoing relationship with clients that often necessitates weekly sessions for long periods of time.  That’s a game changer, in my mind, when it comes to the way we structure our fees and ways of doing business.  That’s a lot of money and time invested on the part of our clients and it’s reasonable to assume they will need to cancel from time to time, sometimes last minute.  I think it’s a personal decision and a business practice decision each individual needs to assess for themselves based on their working model as to whether they charge for cancellations and under what circumstances.  In my opinion, sometimes it’s best not to do so for the sake of the relationship, the therapeutic process, and client retention.  Sometimes, if the problem is chronic and one is consistently losing revenue and not making therapeutic process during a very sought after time slot, charging for cancellations may be necessary.

One thing to keep in mind, even when working with therapists out of your network (I choose to remain so, mostly for the sake of my clients), is that your provider will likely cover some of the cost of your session.  I have clients who pay as little as $37 per session to see me weekly in spite of my not being on any insurance panels.

Here is the Talk Space blog post entitled How Much Does Therapy Cost and Why Is It So Expensive, in it’s entirety.  At the end, I’ll provide a link to the article’s location on the Talk Space site. Continue reading

In Defense of the “Crazy” Ex

Broken Heart

If you’re one of those people who is dating someone who is emotionally unavailable and you blame the “crazy” ex, the red flag may be closer than you think.
We all know from experience that no one outside an intimate relationship can ever truly know what went on in that relationship or understand the subjective experience of either partner. And, we are getting only one half of the story from our new partner.
If you’re with someone who blames their lack of emotional presence, emotional intimacy and current relationship failures on “drama from the outside” coming from their recent ex, there is likely more there than meets the eye.
Relationship drama, with rare exception, can’t come from the outside unless your partner is actively BRINGING it in and actively participating in it.
I have been privy to situations in both my professional and personal life where the partner pointing the finger at the ex is still willingly communicating with them and, many times, is still carrying on a sexual relationship with them to boot.
The focus of advice columns and online articles is mostly centered around how to deal with the “crazy” ex but not many of them advise you, the current partner, to deal directly with your loved-one,  to look past what you are being told, to set aside your preconceptions, and really ask yourself, “IS the drama really coming from outside my relationship or is there more here than meets the eye?”  It may be time to ask some difficult and direct questions.
I am not defending abusive, controlling or meddling exes but I am advising those with partners who are not fully present and engaged in your relationship and are placing the blame on their ex, to take what their partner says with a grain of salt.  It’s often easier to blame the person we don’t know rather than the one we do.

Spiritual Bypassing: Disavowing The Shadow Self

Spiritual BypassingAlthough I incorporate practices such as mindfulness, meditation and radical-acceptance into my work, I’ve also seen the way in which certain spiritual practices can be used as a form of negative defense mechanism- often avoidance. It can then become easy to disavow or deny our “darker” aspects which can be a strong source of creative energy and authenticity.  I’ve long had my own term for this particular misuse of spiritual practice but recently discovered it’s official term,”spiritual bypassing”, after reading this High Existence article recently shared by a colleague.

Spiritual Bypassing: How Spirituality Sabotaged My Growth

I first heard about spiritual bypassing on one of my favorite podcasts, The Duncan Trussell Family Hour.

For those of you that haven’t had the privilege of hearing Duncan orate, it’s kind of like listening to a raspy hybrid of Alan Watts and Jim Breuer — wise enough to capture your attention, with a certain stoned goofiness that keeps it all playful.

Duncan talks about spirituality in nearly all of his interviews — most guests will happily indulge him in doing so. Naturally, spirituality is a big reason why people tune in to the podcast. So it took me by surprise when he mentioned that spirituality, as a set of ideas and practices, could actually be selfsabotaging.

Spiritual bypassing, a term coined in the early 1980s by psychologist John Welwood, refers to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing
 with uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs. The concept was developed in the spirit of Chögyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which was one of the first attempts to name this spiritual distortion.

According to teacher and author Robert Augustus Masters, spiritual bypassing causes us to withdraw from ourselves and others, hiding behind a kind of spiritual veil of metaphysical beliefs and practices. He says it “not only distances us from our pain and difficult personal issues, but also from our own
 authentic spirituality, stranding us in a metaphysical limbo, a zone of
 exaggerated gentleness, niceness, and superficiality.”

My Own Bypassing

In Masters’ groundbreaking book, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us From What Really Matters, he writes:

Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow side, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.

Before listening to Duncan wax lyrical about this, I never imagined there could be such subtle and complex consequences of pursuing spiritual matters. And thinking that I, a cautious and sincere spiritual seeker, could be suffering such consequences seemed equally absurd.

But after reading the detailed description of symptoms, I knew it applied to my situation. I realized that at a certain point in early adulthood, I had perverted spirituality into a defense mechanism — a mechanism that enabled me to disavow any negative quality or behavior in myself.

I recall a few specific patterns taking place:

  • Whenever I became anxious, I would immediately reach for the nearest Eckhart Tolle or Alan Watts text on my bookshelf. Instead of sitting with the anxiety and checking in to see if it was coming from an innocuous source, I would quickly find refuge in spiritual philosophy.
  • I would strive to maintain the appearance of someone who is constantly at peace with oneself, even though inside I may have felt like the weight of the world was crushing down on my soul. This kind of faux spirituality had a complete stranglehold on my speech and behavior and caused intense cognitive dissonance.
  • Whenever I had done something hurtful or wrong to another person, I would rarely take responsibility for it. I deflected that responsibility by saying things like “that person just needs to grow spiritually” or “it’s just an illusion anyways” — all in a naïve tone reminiscent of the time I thought I was a bonafide professor of quantum physics.

The process of realizing when you’re to blame in any given situation is no easy task. But spiritual bypassing enables one to ignore that difficult process altogether. It led me to believe I was always right because I was more “enlightened” than all the ignorant sheeples who just couldn’t see the damn light. But the harsh truth of this spiritual arrogance is that I was ignoring the pain I caused in others because I was ignoring a similar pain in myself.

spiritual bypassing shadow how spirituality sabotaged my personal growth

“Spouse left you for your brother? Just stay positive. It’s all love.” (Photo via Flickr Commons.)

Reinforcements From Our Culture

Masters writes:

Part of the reason for [spiritual bypassing] is that we tend not to have very much tolerance, either personally or collectively, for acing, entering, and working through our pain, strongly preferring pain-numbing “solutions,” regardless of how much suffering such “remedies” may catalyze. Because this preference has so deeply and thoroughly infiltrated our culture that it has become all but normalized, spiritual bypassing fits almost seamlessly into our collective habit of turning away from what is painful, as a kind of higher analgesic with seemingly minimal side effects. It is a spiritualized strategy not only for avoiding pain but also for legitimizing such avoidance, in ways ranging from the blatantly obvious to the extremely subtle.

The subtlety of recognition seems to be the root of why this affliction is so widespread and under-diagnosed. Psychologist Ingrid Mathieu also notes this subtlety in her article Beware of Spiritual Bypass:

Although the defense looks a lot prettier than other defenses, it serves the same purpose. Spiritual bypass shields us from truth, it disconnects us from our feelings, and helps us avoid the big picture. It is more about checking out than checking in — and the difference is so subtle that we usually don’t even know we are doing it.

Considering our culture generally shuns negative emotions, it’s no surprise many of us respond to those emotions with repression.  Prominent manifestations of repression, such as alcoholism and drug addiction, are forms of relief whose conspicuous quality makes them easier to identify and intervene. Spiritual bypassing, while seemingly more benign, is much more difficult to notice because it’s guised in the appearance of wholeness and wisdom.  It’s much harder to recognize our repression when we’re chanting “Om Shanti” on a regular basis or repeating positive affirmations that “everything is okay” or “all is love.”

Yoga, meditation, psychedelics, prayer, affirmations, deeply engaging with the present moment, etc. are all incredibly powerful spiritual tools if used appropriately. But sometimes, and if we’re not careful, those things can end up masking deeper issues lingering both inside and outside of us.

To me, spiritual bypassing is fundamentally about taking a so-called absolute truth — such as “everything is okay” — and using it to ignore or deny relative truths — such as the grief we feel when we lose a loved one, or the shame that arises when we fail at something important. On the personal and interpersonal level, sometimes everything isn’t okay. And that’s okay.

That may seem trite, but in the context of spiritual bypassing, it’s a platitude that I feel requires frequent repetition.

Before we can heal our pain, we have to be honest about it and accept it — which is ideally what spirituality should help realize. As Masters suggests, this is certainly easier said than done and requires a level of vulnerability which most of us are uncomfortable with.

Nonetheless, if we grant validity to the many claims that spirituality is shaping the evolution of humanity, it seems wise to confront the intricacies of our own bypassing sooner rather than later. Doing so could not only prevent years of developmental stagnation, but also help implement new angles of self-awareness that our world so desperately needs. Acknowledgment and acceptance were the first major steps for me, and I sense a deeper spirituality is following in their wake.

Further Study: Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters by Robert Masters

spiritual bypassing shadow how spirituality sabotaged my growth 2

The Enemy Within- The Power of Self-Acceptance

kirk-shadow-self

I just finished re-watching the sixth episode of the first season of the original Star Trek (if you count the pilot.) It does a fair job of illustrating the basics regarding the dangers of non-acceptance and non-integration of the shadow-self with the persona. These are terms Carl Jung used largely to replace Freud’s terms, “conscious” and “subconscious.” (The persona being the self we tend to show the world- often our “best” attributes- while the shadow-self is largely unconscious and comprised of aspects of ourselves that society, culture or family have told us are “bad.”)  If explored, accepted and integrated the shadow-self provides us with much of our creative energy and power.  In this particular episode, an alter ego of Kirk is sent back with the original Kirk to the SS Enterprise when the transporter malfunctions. Continue reading