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Virtue and Vice

Virtue

A practice that is common to all major religions is to act with virtue. In many situations it is easy to recognize the path which develops our virtue. If you are not charged for a product or service that you have received, and do not reveal the omission you are stealing. If you lie to manipulate a situation or person, you have not acted with virtue. Sometimes the path to virtue is quite clear, and most of us could probably agree on what would or would not be a virtuous response.

Moral Dilemmas

Some situations are more complicated and present moral dilemmas. An example may include manipulating a powerful person who you know steals from the poor. Would telling a lie to stop a financial predator be more or less virtuous than attempting to protect the financially vulnerable? I don’t know. I suppose I would have to know the extent of the good or bad consequences which may arise from each of these options. I would have to try and remove any part of ego which may be impacting my decision such as strong emotions, impulses, or memories. In these situations, perhaps if you respond in a manner which brings your closer to your values, you are acting with virtue.

Virtue Is Good For Mental Health

Not only is virtue and integrity a common denominator to most spiritual paths, it is also necessary for our mental health. It is not possible to kill, lie, steal, hurt or harm others and be happy. Buddhist teachings say that “Living a virtuous life makes the heart peaceful”. Non virtuous behaviors and thoughts grow the unhealthy conditions of guilt, shame, anxiety, and hate. Living a life that propagates inner-hell and turmoil has a price. It robs us from living as a human. Protecting our virtue allows us to feel proud, at ease, effective, and joyful. Not only is having reverence for all human life the right thing to do, it provides a payback. Your virtue and happiness.

Counseling Is Hard Work

Talking Is Only Part Of The Process

People are best served when they actively work with their therapist to set goals, do homework, acknowledge and dissolve defensive mechanisms, and become more conscious. The talking component of counseling is very therapeutic.  Discussing, admitting or purging your most tender, sensitive, or secret thoughts is an important part of the counseling process. However, it is only part of the process.

Counseling Is Hard Work

If long-term benefits are to be sustained, new skills and tools are needed to solidify new behaviors, emotional reactions, and thought patterns.  There is a reason why therapy is hard-work. Replacing old behaviors, emotional reactions and thought patterns with new ones is an active and ongoing process. There is no finish line. The process is not over at some time in the future. Many times our unproductive responses have become part of our personality. They have been reinforced for years and have become automatic. Sometimes we are not even conscious that these behaviors, reaction and thought patterns are diminishing our health, peace and happiness. It is realistic to acknowledge that changing our automatic reinforced responses will take commitment, time and energy. To make changes requires our active participation in the change process.

Empowerment

We can become attached to our irrational behaviors, emotions and thoughts. Subsequently our thinking becomes clouded and confused by these destructive patterns and we begin to make poor choices. When the suffering becomes unbearable, we understandably begin looking for relief from our suffering. For example, a person who is anxious may have thoughts, actions, or emotional reactions that promote and sustain their anxiety. Identifying environmental triggers which cause anxiety is very helpful.   However active awareness and control of their behaviors, emotional reactions, and thought patterns will be a core component of recovery.   Empowerment, to a large extent, is dependent on our desire and ability to be conscious of how we perceive, define,  attach to and react to our environment.

The Many Faces of Ego

Our ego has many faces.

Struggles and Opportunities – In The Same Moment

For Mattie, both struggles and opportunities have existed within the same moment many times this week. Mattie’s father recently suffered a stroke and she has assisted in his physical and emotional care while in the hospital. Father is now frail and scared. Occasionally he has a  fleeting  awareness of his new existence. The ability to shower, walk, stand, eat and speak without assistance may be a thing of the past. A great degree of freedom is gone, at least for the time being. Mattie has felt tired, misunderstood, angry, “don’t care”, compassionate and sad. She has felt “up and down and all over the place”. At times Mattie is accepting, present, compassionate and so her ego softens. At other times she is feels angry, victimized and sad and so the ego hardens.

The Only Thing You Can Count On Is Change

Mattie is thinking about the complicated relationship she has had with her father. Because of the inevitable tide of change, whatever relationship existed will be different in the future. Mattie is remembering the many faces of who he was and how the face that was presented was dependent on the situation, the other person, strong beliefs, or thoughts. Mattie wonders about the true essence of her father.  Mattie remembers the “scary, raving lunatic” and the “generous, spiritual man”.  Who was this man before the stroke took much of him?

How Many Faces Can One Person Have?

Mattie’s father may be a complicated person who was highly reactive and generally a paradox of personalities.  However, the many faces of “self” is a personality trait that we all share. Our need to be humble, to impress, to have more stuff, to be a victim are all expressions of our ego, or sense of self. The face that is presented is “turned on” in part by, our roles and how we define those roles, our expectation of how others should act (based on our definitions of these roles). Only when we are conscious and aware can we allow these presentations of our self (or ego) to be diminished. Then we are allowed to feel peace, see clearly, react authentically and make space for our own consciousness.

Relief From Ego

We experience a wonderful sense of relief when we no longer feel the need to defend and protect the ever changing and illusive ego.

Assistance Needed In The Baking Aisle

I was recently speaking with a friend (I will call Mattie) who became distraught following a verbal attack by her father. The father has a history of verbal abuse, is believed to be mentally-ill, and is perhaps showing signs of dementia. Mattie stated her “breakdown” occurred with what Oprah calls the “ugly cry” in the middle of the baking aisle of Kroger. Complete strangers were saying “God Bless You” as they tried to help her out to her car with her groceries. While in the safety of her car, the self-criticizing began. “What is wrong with you?”, “You just made a fool of yourself”, “Those people probably think you are crazy”. Due to her previous work in counseling, Mattie was able to recognize the critical voice and told it to get in the back seat of the car where is belongs.

Insult and Injury

After the emotions subsided Mattie began to examine the intense hurt she felt. She knew that to some extent the insults and cruel words were the voice of a mental illness. She also knew that the words were hurtful and mean. Words that no daughter should have to hear from her father. Mattie continued to examine her response because she knew there was some truth, or lesson within this difficult experience.  Then Mattie realized that part of her hurt belonged to her damaged ego. Her sense of “self” was under attack. In fact an important and valued sense of self. Being a “good daughter” was important to Mattie. She had an idea, a vision, a dream, of what it meant to be “a good daughter”, and the hateful words crushed that part of her ego.

Protecting The Ego

When we have a strong emotional reaction following what is perceived as an insult, look at ego. Look at your sense of self. Another person may not see you as you want to be seen. Another person may not see you as you really are. Perhaps you are trying to protect a part of ego that does not even exists. We all have a certain amount of delusions. Trying to protect the dream of ego can be a slippery slope indeed and increase our defensive responses, angry responses and sadness. We experience a  wonderful sense of relief when we no longer feel the need to defend and protect the ever changing and illusive ego.

Pet Loss Support Group

Pet Loss Support Group

A Pet Loss Support group is available in Decatur Ga at Paws Whiskers and Wags.                   

This free group meets the first Tuesday of each month from 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM.

The group is facilitated by Christy Simpson, LCSW. Christy is a  fully Certified as a Pet Loss Counselor by the APLB and specialize in Grief and Loss issues.

Please bring pictures/mementos of your beloved companion animals to share. It’s a powerful group.

To Register call 404-370-6000 or email info@pawswhiskersandwags.com

Pursuit of Happiness

Foster a pattern of thinking that takes in the sacred, astonishing and miraculous.

Happiness

In my last blog I discussed depression, and the magnitude of this modern day epidemic.  It seems only natural to follow up with thoughts on happiness. I wish the diagnosis of happiness would reach epidemic proportions. What can we do to foster joy and happiness? Despite the complicated world we live in, I do believe that happiness is a state of being that can be fostered. We can help our happiness to grow.

What is Your Persuasion?

Some of the happiest people I know are of the “glass half-full” persuasion. They are consciously aware of the good. They do not focus on the weeds in the garden. Their focus is on the flower. Maybe “glass half-full” comes naturally. If not, fostering positive-ness can increase a sense of happiness and well-being. Instead of focusing on the negative, spend some time with the positive. It may difficult. Perhaps a lifetime of “glass half-empty” thinking has been in the making for quite awhile.

Take in the Positive

Our patterns of thinking and our habits become stronger with each reinforcement. But, you can foster a perspective that begins to notice the positive. Instead of what is wrong, what is right? Name it. List it. Be with gratitude and appreciation. Notice the things in your world that are sacred, astonishing and miraculous. Spend some time with the positive. Spend even more time with it. Foster the pattern of thinking that takes in the positive, and foster your own happiness.

Depression – A Modern Day Epidemic

Depression by the numbers

During the 1950s if you wanted to track the number of people who were disabled from a mental health disorder  you counted the population that resided in state mental hospitals. Today you  count the number of social security disability checks that are received due to a mental illness. Robert Whitaker tracks the shocking rise of mental illness in his fascinating book Anatomy Of An Epidemic.   According to Whitaker, in 1955 there were just over 38,000 people hospitalized in state mental hospitals due to depression. Today, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability for people ages fifteen to forty-five in the United States.  According to NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) depression affects 15 million adults. Of those diagnosed, 58% or nine million people, are “severely impaired”, and considered disabled by depression.

Subjective criteria

The increased  number of people (including children) diagnosed with depression in the past few decades, makes me think that depression has reached epidemic proportions. Some people believe that depression is diagnosed more frequently today because health care professionals have become better at recognizing the symptoms. I agree that health care professionals continue to make improvements in diagnosing mental health problems. However, the clinical threshold for diagnosing depression, as well as other mental health conditions, is arguably subjective at best.  For example, why is the clinical threshold for depression defined by two weeks? What if you are sad for five weeks, or only ten days?  Is the person who is sad, officially mentally ill on day 14 ? More importantly, what if “sadness” follows a job loss, home foreclosure, or the loss of a pet? Is the sad person who just lost their job, and feeling depressed, experiencing a normal reaction following a difficult time in their lives? Have you been sad for two weeks following a hardship? I have. Are we all depressed? I think it is important that we view ourselves and one another from a strengths perspective and not an illness perspective. The implications of mis-diagnosing or over diagnosing starts us down a path with serious health implications including wrong treatment for the times in our lives that we are perhaps most vulnerable.

The intention of this blog is to share general personal ideas or comments that relate to everyday personal and interpersonal challenges. It is not intended as a substitute for mental-health counseling, including individual, couples, family, or group counseling. Readers should not rely on any part of the content of this blog as a substitute for professional counseling. If the reader needs professional counseling advice they should seek the services of a licensed professional, and only rely upon the advice of a licensed professional with whom the reader has a professional relationship. Further, any comments or postings made by others do not constitute my opinion, and such opinions may vary from my own.

Emotional Health

A Mindful State of Mind

Emotional health can be greatly improved when we practice mindfulness skills. Earlier I discussed the art of staying in the present moment  to sustain mindfulness. Understanding the nature of impermanence also invites a mindful state of mind.  After all, all things are impermanent. The feeling you have right now will soon be changing. Sadness may give way to joy, which may give way to contentment, which may give way to sadness. The thought you are having right now will soon be replaced by another thought. Your body is also changing in this very moment. All of our material possessions are impermanent by nature.

Emotional Regulation

When we keep the idea of impermanence in our consciousness our emotional health becomes better regulated. We cease to feel disappointment when the things we want, crave and desire come to an end. We also realize that our suffering will eventually evolve, in some way. (Hopefully the evolution will result in growth, but this is dependent on how we cope, our resources,  our personality, impulses  etc.)

Cling Much?

A reflection on impermanence gives rise to an understanding of how clinging can be detrimental to our emotional health. An attempt, assumption, or hope that something will remain the same is a delusion. Likewise an assumption or hope that something will remain the same is a delusion. These delusions gives rise to emotions such as sadness, disappointment, resentment and anger.

The Merge

When we are present and aware of this particular moment we also realize that this moment is unique and special just as it is.  And when presence and the true nature of impermanence are merged together in our consciousness, moment to moment, our emotional health, I believe, will become infused with a greater sense of peace, understanding and contentment.

with blessings – diane

The intention of this blog is to share general personal ideas or comments that relate to everyday personal and interpersonal challenges. It is not intended as a substitute for mental-health counseling, including individual, couples, family, or group counseling. Readers should not rely on any part of the content of this blog as a substitute for professional counseling. If the reader needs professional counseling advice they should seek the services of a licensed professional, and only rely upon the advice of a licensed professional with whom the reader has a professional relationship. Further, any comments or postings made by others do not constitute my opinion, and such opinions may vary from my own.

 

Emotional Health

Mindfully in Control

Emotional health can be impacted by many factors. Some of these factors may be outside of our control. However, much of our emotional health is very much in our control. When we are feeling depressed, anxious, or angry our emotional health is suffering, and we feel out of control. We then react to our environment with irrational behaviors, thoughts and impulses. As I expressed in a previous blog post, attending to our emotional health need not be predicated on extravagant or expensive expenditures of money or time. Joy, playfulness, spontaneity and peace can be found in simple pleasures such as observing a beautiful sunset, taking a peaceful walk, playing with your pet, listening to music, or laughing with your partner.

As Sir Paul once said “Let it be”

Emotional health can be greatly enhanced by learning mindfulness skills. One important component of mindfulness skills includes learning to be in the present moment. Observing the wonder of a beautiful sunset is lost on us when we are constantly in our heads criticizing, analyzing and comparing.  A critique such as: “The sunset would be better with more pink, and less orange” is not allowing yourself to enjoy the sunset as it is. “The sunset is beautiful but not as pretty as the one last week” is comparing. How often does evaluative comparisons hinder our wellbeing? To enjoy the sunset, let it be, and allow yourself to be.  If we allow ourselves to just observe what is, without attaching a thought, analysis or critique of what is before us, our emotions, quite effortlessly are calmed and we feel more at peace.

Emotional Health In This moment

When we are engaged mindfully, we make space for emotional control and emotional health. The presence of mindfulness exist in a space by itself. Mindfulness cannot exist in the same space with re-living the past. Mindfulness cannot exist in the same space as worrying about the future. Being in the present moment is one of the core skills of mindfulness practice that lends itself to wellness and emotional health.

with blessings – diane

The intention of this blog is to share general personal ideas or comments that relate to everyday personal and interpersonal challenges. It is not intended as a substitute for mental-health counseling, including individual, couples, family, or group counseling. Readers should not rely on any part of the content of this blog as a substitute for professional counseling. If the reader needs professional counseling advice they should seek the services of a licensed professional, and only rely upon the advice of a licensed professional with whom the reader has a professional relationship. Further, any comments or postings made by others do not constitute my opinion, and such opinions may vary from my own.

 

Mental Health Wellness

Welcome to my blog

My name is Diane Chrestman, and I am a mental-health counselor, with a private practice in Suwanee GA. I serve individuals and families who are suffering due to emotional and cognitive difficulties, trauma and complicated relationships. My intentions are for the comments, observations and ideas that are shared in this blog to move us all in the direction of peace, joy, and awareness.

Let’s take a look at the statistics

According to the Food and Drug Administration the number of people disabled by a mental health illness has doubled since 1987. In 2007, it is estimated that 1 in every 76 Americans suffers from a mental-health illness. Do we have a mental-health epidemic in our country, community, families? I think that we do.

Mental-health professionals have many different opinions as to the cause of this startling rise in mental health illnesses, and I will likely discuss some of the various hypothesis in future blogs.

Whatever the causes may be, I believe that an equally important facet of the discussion is identifying and promoting prevention measures which help us achieve and maintain mental health wellness. I believe several options are available to us all and that including mental-health wellness activities should become part of our daily health routine.

Promoting good mental health means preventative measures

Prevention measures can be simple and inexpensive. One of the most important steps we can take is to make a commitment to our mental-health. We make jokes about needing a “mental health day” but it seems by the time we make this comment we are at the end of our rope.

Good mental health requires time, be patient

I am convinced that if you want to feel emotionally balanced, centered, grounded, and happy, you must routinely attend to your mental health. Being, remaining, or becoming mentally healthy can take time and commitment, just as eating healthy may require a little more time and planning. Committing to your mental health also takes the right amount of effort. One 10 minute attempt at meditation, will probably not realize any long-lasting improvements in concentration abilities.

Another reason to love exercise…

Exercise is another (free) mental health wellness activity which has been linked to relieving depression and insomnia. Meditation is a particularly powerful tool that has been shown to be beneficial in relieving a host of mental health issues such as emotional regulation, reducing anxiety and panic symptoms, and improving concentration. Making time to be with the people we love is also good for our mental health.

Or get creative

Expressing yourself in a creative manner is immensely therapeutic. Try picking up a sketch pad, paintbrush or even arranging flowers, sticks or whatever you can find outside. Try something!! Make a conscious effort and commitment to do something today, the rest of the week, the rest of the month.

But in the end, the first step is commitment

Take care for your mental health. To deepen the experience, make your intentions conscious. Say to yourself that you are making a commitment to (fill in the blank – exercise, meditate, be creative etc) because you are important and committed to your mental health. Let’s do it!! (I feel inspired just writing about it).

With blessings – diane

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