Why We Like Horror

Why do we like horror movies?

Disclaimer: this article mentions some details common to horror. If you are apt to be offended or triggered by this material, don’t read this article. Try one of our other lovely blog posts. Though I personally enjoy the horror genre, this article is by no means arguing for or against the morality of the genre. I merely aim to explain the “why” behind our fascination with it.

As we enter into the crisp fall air of October some think about pumpkin spice lattes, others pull out their flannels and sweaters, but one cannot escape the old favored trend of October that is Horror or Thriller movies. The first film ever to be played in theaters, Arrival of a Train, features a train coming into station with passengers exiting and entering the cars. As it was played on screens, audience members are said to have screamed and franticly ran for the exit as they saw a train apparently careening toward them. That’s right, the first movie ever shown was horror (even if it wasn’t meant to be). 

Ever since, horror has been a highly lucrative genre bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. However, when we look at the horror genre, it’s a little confusing. After all, why would we choose to spend a couple hours of our lives experiencing a vulnerable negative emotion like fear?

The answer is found in how horror movies effect the brain as well as how they effect our perceptions of life.

What happens in the brain?

Whether we are cringing at a gory chainsaw scene or jumping as the protagonist goes in that room, we most definitely told them not to go into, we can thank a series of little cells in our brain called mirror neurons for the jolt of fright. These nerves allow us to empathize with others, feel their pain, and put ourselves in their shoes. So, when we watch that girl inevitably trip while she’s being chased by the axe murderer, those nerves fire off so our brains actually think we are the ones about to get murdered. This causes a stress hormone to dump into our bodies and put us on edge; hypervigilant, exaggerated startle response, paranoid, anxious, and tense.

That said, horror movies are really quite boring without that screeching, dissonant, non-linear, and occasionally spastic music. For example, consider that sharp violin sneezing in the famous shower scene from Psycho.  It turns out those shrieking instrumental sounds are close enough to the sound of a crying infant that our brains devote the same amount of attention to it. So, add a shrieking sound to a physically frightening scene, and you have effective horror.

Why do we like it?

So how does this lead us to actually enjoying the sensation of fear? Firstly, some people don’t. Some have legitimate reasons to dislike the horror genre. Some get nightmares, some have a moral issue, some startle easy and take longer to calm down. If you have PTSD or an existing anxiety disorder, the experience of watching a horror movie can trigger panic among other things because, guess what, it’s supposed to trigger panic. Which brings us to our first point.

1. The Thrill

As the brain floods with stress hormones, our fight/flight instinct is triggered and adrenaline releases. This rush then triggers a set of endorphins that we call “excitement.” Want other ways of triggering these endorphins? Try parachuting, roller coasters, or running for a long period.

2. Arousal Transfer Theory

With the horror playing across the screen, we sink into our couches, cling to the arm of our partner with one hand, and furiously dig our free sweaty palm through a bowl of popcorn. When the movie ends, we see the protagonist has survived and/or we shake ourselves back to reality where we recognize that we weren’t murdered in horrific ways and have survived. We release ourselves from the couch, the partner, and the popcorn and feel a sense of relief. This is arousal transfer theory; the negative emotions we experience in watching horror increase the sense of relief we experience afterward. We possibly gain a new perspective on life by experiencing death.

3. Confronting EVIL

We have such a fascination with the concept of EVIL that multiple founders of psychology built their theories considering its impact on our minds. People’s obsession with serial killers is a prime example of this obsession. The idea of someone committing murder, let alone multiple murders, is quite foreign for the vast majority of humanity. So, horror displays this EVIL occurrence as a sort of sideshow freak to gawk at, to contemplate, or to confront in the safe environment of the theater or our living rooms.

4. Coping

It may seem counter-intuitive, but viewing horror can be a method to coping… with horror. As we are exposed to our fears through horror movies, we experience… well… fear. However, as we pull back to reality, we then can recognize that we are not actually being harmed as the movie tricks our brains into thinking. This shuttling between perceived threat and confirmed safety can strengthen resiliency, emotional regulation and recognition, and general self-awareness. In a simple sense, making it through a horror movie provides a sense of accomplishment and self-acknowledgment because you didn’t die.

5. Our Collective Nightmares

After WWI, Germany faced food shortages, failing economy, low morale, and split territory alongside over 7 million casualties. Then in 1921 the horror movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was released. The movie featured shadows painted directly on the set, harsh and sharp angles not seen in reality, and dark and generally creepy characters resulted in a nightmarish landscape. As Picasso’s Guernica abstractly represents the chaos of the Spanish Civil War, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari abstractly represents the post-WWI effects on Germany. Many horror movies take scenes or themes from real-life cultural fears or recent societal trauma similar to how an individual with PTSD may subconsciously repeat or create similar situations to their traumatic event.

If you consider media, like horror movies, to be a representation of current events, some patterns may emerge. Politics around women’s bodies arising in discussion of the late 60s can be seen in Rosemary’s Baby. Fears of the deterioration or redefining of the American family ordeal can be seen throughout The Shining. Then there’s America’s three most prevalent themes: sexism, classism, and racism. Night of the Living Dead, Carrie, Candyman, The Purge, and Get Out (to name a few) display these concepts as we attempt to process the many implications of these -isms on society

So what?

You don’t need to like horror movies. Frankly, you don’t need to even approve of them if you don’t feel like it. However, some can actually benefit from a horror movie or two in their life. Now, I’m not saying “go on a horror movie binge, they’re good for you!” Horror movies, like EVERY OTHER GENRE, can result in negative effects when overdone. So, regardless of your opinion of this genre, perhaps now you can appreciate it just a little more.

If We Don't Give Our Emotions Space, They Will Make Space

If you only get one thing from my therapy thoughts I hope it’s this! It always boils down to feeling.

We gotta make space for emotion otherwise it will demand the space! Emotion needs attention. It needs to be validated. It needs to be honored and accepted. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, fear, crisis, grief, shame, guilt, anger or pain we really can make peace with the sensations and lean into them.

When clients come in I regularly hear, “I want to be happy.” There’s a lot we could say about that statement, but I’ve found that usually means, “I don’t want to feel uncomfortable emotions and I just want to feel joy.” Well, we’re not robots so it’s just not possible. 💥We can’t eliminate emotion! We will never prevent or avoid emotion because emotions mean we are alive.💥

The magic pill is feeling emotions. We can’t numb out the uncomfortable and expect to just feel happiness. The range of emotions must be embraced. When we try to suppress (which is culturally encouraged so no shame my friends) the emotions don’t disappear! They just simmer. They stay alive. They grow. They manifest. The take a toll on our bodies and escalate to disorder.

The good news is we can totally feel all these emotions! Or body is a tool to help us do it. It’s my favorite thing to teach. It’s not my favorite thing to do personally, but I know we gotta do it. We gotta get comfortable being uncomfortable. We gotta feel our feelings. 🖤Feel. Deal. Heal.🖤

What Winning Really Looks Like

It’s no secret that it is hard to change old patterns of behavior. Our brains do not like change. It requires them to work and our brains do an amazing job being lazy. We do most things on autopilot. We don’t have to think about breathing or worry about making our hearts beat on time. Once we learn to walk, we don’t have to stress when we want to take a stroll in the park. Our brains just do what they have learned to do and we don’t have to think about it. 

It is really incredible that our brains work so well. However, our brain’s powerful abilities can create problems for us when we want to consider changing these automatic responses. Obviously, we normally do not feel the need to change how we breathe or walk but what if you want to change how you react when you are angry? Let’s say that you have gotten to a place in your life where you’ve realized that yelling at your children when you are frustrated isn’t really serving you. How easy is it for you to stop yelling when you get mad? 

The answer is NOT easy.   

This is because in order for us to change habits, we literally need to rewire our brains. This rewiring process takes time. Most of the time, we give up on our goals too soon. We try something new and we “fail” so we tell ourselves it is impossible for real change to occur. Here’s the thing- every time you attempt to rewire an old neurosynaptic connect that doesn’t serve you anymore you freaking win. 

Let’s stick with the example of not wanting to yell at your kids. Let’s say you decide that yelling isn’t something you want to do anymore, so you tell yourself that the next time you feel the urge to yell you’re going to take a deep breath and count to ten. The first time the urge to yell hits, you take a breath but then start screaming five seconds later. Did you fail? It might feel like a failure because you didn’t meet your goal, but I’m going to reframe this as a win. Why? Because you took that breath. Because you worked against the grain and did something different. Because you started the process of creating a new neuropathway in your brain and that is the most important thing. 

There is this really big word called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and develop throughout our lives. Resent research has shown that the more time you spend creating and using these neurosynaptic connections, the stronger and more reliable these connections will be. So, don’t give up too soon! Give your brain a chance to rewire itself. Be kind to yourself and recognize the small victories when you attempt to change a behavior. Practice the art of allowing yourself to “fail” because, really, that small failure is a huge win.   


The Social Clock

Lifespan development series continues. Im covering key topics from the lifespan that impact mental health.

You’ve heard of the biological clock, but the social clock also impacts us all. The social clock is a culturally defined timeline for social milestones. Think first job, marriage, having a child, graduating from college, buying a home, retiring, etc.

How is this impactful? The research shows people who fall in line with the social clock have less negative impact than those who don’t. Following the social clock lends to confidence and self-esteem. (It’s all “achievement” based and isn’t real self-worth btw).

What age do you ‘think’ you’re “supposed” to be married? I live in Utah, the state with the lowest marriage age. I REGULARLY hear about the PRESSURE AND SHAME experienced from folks feeling “too old” and single.

What if you don’t hit the social clocks timing? Typically we see this culturally constructed expectation lead to shame, guilt, comparison, depression & anxiety, and feeling like a failure.

This also causes generational disconnect, as social clocks differ between generations and cultures. The “shoulds” hurt us.

The social clock isn’t truth (it’s literally culturally constructed and changes). DO NOT let the comparison determine your value or worthiness.

A key component of longevity and health is resilience and optimism, which I’ll talk about later. Practice mindful acceptance, reflection, and honest evaluation of YOUR PERSONAL life goals. Don’t let the social clock tell you you’re less than. Some things we can control, like applying to jobs or working toward graduation. But that doesn’t guarantee the arbitrary age cutoffs will line up with our particular life circumstances.

The social clock is an issue of privilege and socioeconomic status in so many ways! Purchasing a home? Financial independence? Getting pregnant (which costs a lot of us tens of thousands of dollars on top of reproductive technologies and even getting access based on body size).

The social clock is so narrow. Humans love predictability and control. The social clock isn’t a worth measure, lining up with it doesn’t define you!

20 Things Not To Say To People With Depression

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Whether you believe these are true/helpful or not, they are not helpful statements in response to someone struggling with depression (even if some of the statements include helpful suggestions for some!) They lead to stigma, they can unintentionally blame the person for suffering, they display a lack of understanding and empathy, and they focus on fixing instead of holding space for someone’s experience. They are invalidating and focused on platitudes. Avoid comments like these:

“Just be positive.”
“Don’t be negative.”
“Have you tried cutting dairy?”
“Depression is a choice.”
“You just need to heal your gut.”
“You should exercise more.”
“Try tanning!”
“You’re manifesting what you focus on.”
“Using meds is a crutch.”
“You need to pray more.”
“You should be able to deal with this on your own.”
“Happiness is a choice!”
“You have such a good life, why are you depressed?”
“Suicidal thoughts are selfish.”
“You need to get out of the house more.”
“I cut gluten and it healed my depression, you should too!”
“Stop being a victim.”
“Have more faith.”
“Change your life circumstances and you’ll fix your depression (leave job, get married, have a child, etc).”
“Therapy is for crazy people.”

Again, if something here was helpful for you, that doesn’t mean it’s helpful for someone else. We risk shaming folks who are dealing with a chronic and debilitating mental illness that is NOT A CHOICE. We also risk perpetuating the stigma of mental illness as being a choice when we focus on lifestyle fixes alone. That’s not to say some of these may be useful, but perhaps it is time to add more validation and allow people to struggle instead of always trying to remove discomfort. People need permission to feel. They need validation. They need nonjudgmental safe relationships. ➡️ What would you add to the list??

(Side note: Of course we all say the wrong things sometimes. We all blow it. But if we can’t discuss education and spread empathy for mental illness, we will never improve our support. Here’s to knowing better and doing better!)

Therapy and tacos for all,

T. Roe

Five Things The Lion King Teaches Us About Trauma

When you work in mental health, it can be difficult to just watch a movie. There’s just so much psychology going on!

If you were a 90’s kid, like myself, you likely enjoyed the re-release of the new Lion King in July. Whether you preferred the new Beyoncé enriched version, or the pure 94 version, it turns out The Lion King is a perfect representation of the trauma process and its treatment. 

Here’s a quick spoiler-ridden synopsis of the movie:

Simba is prince of the lions and looks up to his dad, Mufasa. He enjoys his childhood and sings a bunch. Then, in the shared trauma of every 90’s child, Scar, Simba’s uncle and master gaslighter, kills Mufasa (in slow-mo). He then convinces Simba the tragedy was his own fault and gets him to run away. 

Simba (now traumatized by the death of his father) makes a new life with new friends, Timon and Pumbaa under the motto "hakuna matata" (literally meaning “no trouble" in Swahili). He then comes to age during a brief montage. 

Simba’s childhood friend, Nala, pops up and tries to get him to return home to take his rightful position as king of the Pride Lands. After Simba chats with the spirit of his father in dramatic scene boomed by James Earl Jones, Simba realizes his purpose. With the help of his friends, Simba fights off hyenas, confronts Scar, and ultimately throws him off a cliff. The movie ends as the circle of life continues with a newborn cub presented to the assembled animals around Pride Rock.

So what can we learn about trauma:

1 // Good parenting doesn’t prevent it

Mufasa checks all the boxes for good parenting. Mufasa sets healthy boundaries (as seen in the rules of the elephant graveyard) and even reinforces them without shaming his child. He teaches responsibility, philosophy, respect… all the healthy stuff. However, Simba witnesses the death of his father AND gets convinced it was his fault which creates a true trauma reaction. This doesn’t mean Mufasa failed as a parent or father, in fact, those healthy parenting efforts would likely lessen the chance of severe symptoms and ultimately set Simba up for success in battling his trauma… and Scar.

2 // Avoidance is the “go-to” symptom

Traumatized by witnessing the death of his father and internalizing the event as his own fault, Simba’s fight or flight instinct is triggered and he slips into survival brain. Fleeing the Pride Lands, he eventually finds a sort of safety in “hakuna matata,” or “don’t think about it.” He suppresses and denies the traumatic event (because it was awful) and avoids discussion of his history with his closest friends. With a little bit of a stretch, you could even say Simba’s anti-animal diet is another form of avoiding the memory of killing of his father. When he’s confronted by Nala in his young adulthood, thinking of the Pride Lands is still painful, so he avoids again.

 3 // You can be fine (for a while) without treatment

Simba’s carefree lifestyle is fully functional for him. He’s fed, flourishing, and free. He has friends and enjoys the lack of responsibility, but then Nala comes in and triggers Simba effectively breaking him out of his decade-long numbing episode. When she appears, Simba is reminded of all the aspects and responsibilities of his life that are in disrepair. As he realizes that his avoidance of the Pride Lands has resulted in their decay, he is overcome with grief and panic sets in. It is only in this stress and turmoil that Simba sees he can no longer avoid; he must confront his trauma. 

4 // You need a team

Through the guidance of Simba’s local mental health clinician, Rafiki, he rediscovers his sense of self and plots out what must be done to restore his integrity and the Pride Lands. The teamwork doesn’t stop there though. His friends all come together to perform a brief musical number, support Simba in his epic fight against his old enemies, and provide the structure for Simba to break through his old limiting beliefs and fears.

5 // Recovery is all about beliefs and it can be a little rough

It is not the event that creates a traumatic reaction; it’s the meaning the belief of the event. Even if the belief makes no sense. Simba’s belief of his traumatic event is scripted nicely for us by Scar “if it weren’t for you [Mufasa] would still be alive… What will your mother think, a son who causes his father’s death… run away and never return.” If Simba were to sit on my couch, we would note the possible truth and falsity in these statements. We would also look at the belief of “hakuna matata” and how it has served and limited him. Then, we’d build new constructive beliefs; a sort of new set of morals to the story.

In the movie, Simba has to face the fact that his distancing from his responsibilities and identity has resulted in despair and problems for the previously flourishing Pride Lands. (This is often the most painful part of recovery and often is what results in seeking treatment.) Once he sees what has happened, he fights off the lighter symptoms, presented as hyenas, before taking on the core trauma embodied by Scar. Once Scar is defeated, there is no spell broken or miracle returning the Pride Lands to their former glory. Time passes, the community of the Pride Lands likely does some heavy work led by Simba, and only then does life return symbolized by the presentation of the new prince at the end of the movie.


Control Is Not The Most Important Thing

Therapy Thoughts: Fill in the blank, “Control is not as important as _____________.”

Control gets us so freaked out, so I like to reframe it and get a little perspective. Isn’t it interesting how we fight for control when really we can’t even have it? Our true control is in letting go. 🤯 🙏🏼🧘🏼‍♀️ Control is a total illusion. Think of all the forms of control we engage in —> Dieting is a branch of control. Expectations are a branch of control. Negative self talk is a branch of control. Gossip is a branch of control. On & on...

So as we chew on that, here’s my fill in the blank for today: Control is not as important as my mental health! 💕 Comment with yours.

✨Grab my perfectionism and self-love course for more thoughts and education! ✨

If You Weren’t Afraid, What Would You Do?

This last weekend, I asked myself this question- if you weren’t afraid, what would you do? 

It was an interesting experience to sit with myself and get curious about my answers. I was surprised to realize how often I let fear get in the way of me living my life. After I noticed how many times I allow my anxiety to dominate, I made sure to practice self-compassion. We are all human. We all struggle. I can be aware of my setbacks and still be kind to myself.

It’s no secret that anxiety can paralyze us. So often, we get stuck in the deep thought trap of “what if?” questions. We fear failure so much that we become immobile while the very real physiological sensations of anxiety (racing heart, sick stomach, tight throat) threaten to take us out. It is in these moments, we when attach meaning to our racing thoughts, that we become frozen in our sympathetic nervous system. Our sympathetic nervous system should only kick in if we are being chased by a bear and need to run—staying alive is its main function. However, anxiety likes to hijack this system for more minor threats like public speaking, for instance. If we repeatedly indulge thoughts and feelings of fear, we will eventually sit immobile. We will stop showing up and start watching our lives pass us by. If reading this last paragraph caused you to feel a certain amount of anxiety, you aren’t alone. 

So, what would you do if you weren’t afraid? Try asking yourself this question and see what comes up for you. If you are feeling stuck or paralyzed by fear, what steps can you take to get unstuck? Here are some of my thoughts. 

  1. Be mindful. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Notice what barriers are coming up for you. Go back to that first question-what would you do if you weren’t afraid? Consider your answers. Write them down. Stay curious and nonjudgmental. 

  2. Recognize that feelings are just sensations and thoughts are not facts. Just because you have the thought that something horrible will happen if you step out of your comfort zone doesn’t mean it will. Don’t give fear thoughts so much power! Work on challenging these thoughts. Ask yourself for some hardcore evidence that a thought is true.  

  3. Ask yourself what action you need to take in order for you to confront your fear. What is one small thing you can do today? It is important to stay in the present when contemplating action. Anxiety is all about future tripping. 

  4. Do the hard thing. And do it again and again until it becomes comfortable. Stay aware of your thoughts and feelings and continuously remind yourself that anxiety cannot hurt you. That threatening, dangerous feeling is just a sensation. Return to your breath and remind yourself that you are capable. 

  5. Recognize that you did a hard thing! Pay attention to how you feel after you have stepped out of your comfort zone and taken action. Praise yourself for being brave. Allow yourself to feel empowered. Don’t skip this step. It’s important to recognize our progress. Our brains need this positive feedback.

It’s worth mentioning that when you have completed the first hard thing or the first hard thing has become easier, it’s time to move on to the next hard thing. I know it’s difficult. I get it. But honestly, feeling stuck is just as hard and there is no pay off at the end. So, be brave with your life. Embrace imperfection. 

I believe in you.  

Anxiety will paralyze us if we let it. It causes unhelpful thoughts of worry to swirl around in our heads until we are left with no answers and no motivation to take action.


Mental Health Matters

Health means mental health too! Your thoughts, feelings, and behavioral needs deserve time and attention. Your feelings matter. They are valid. You deserve to take up space. You are important. Investing in you is crucial and valuing your mental health is self-care in action!

At my counseling studio, Mindful Counseling, our mission is to banish stigma, empower you to love yourself & make peace with mind, body, & food. We believe you can have inner peace. We believe couples can find their rhythm. We believe entrepreneurs can have balance. We believe all folks can live their truth and purpose. We know therapy is cool. We believe in relatable, nonjudgmental, real, shame-free counseling. You deserve time for you.
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Click here for more info and to up your mental health game in our gorgeous office in Orem, Utah. My staff works with adults, teens, couples, and kids. CBT, DBT, EMDR, brainspotting, and more 🛋

Want more?
💃🕺 👩🏼‍🏫 I’ve created affordable online courses on specific topics: Communication, Body Image, Intuitive eating, Emotional regulation, Perfectionism, Mindfulness, Faith crisis, ED recovery & Self-Care on TiffanyRoe.com.

🎙Check out the Therapy Thoughts™️ Podcast anywhere you get your podcasts (link in bio).

♥️ My Therapy thoughts are for educational purposes only and are not a replacement for a therapeutic relationship or individualized mental health or medical care.

Therapy and tacos for all,

T. Roe

10 Questions for Therapist Shopping

 
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Breathing a slow sigh, you realize only ten minutes have passed since you last glanced at your therapist’s gaudy bronze clock. The sound of her muted trombone voice is punctuated by the scrape of a pen against the clipboard in her lap. You’ve been in therapy for 10 months. Your symptoms haven’t improved. You’ve spent nearly $5,000, and you have lost all sense of hope. “Therapy doesn’t work,” you conclude. Grabbing your coat, you walk out of the office, 30 minutes to spare.

As a trauma therapist of 7 years, it breaks my heart to hear stories like this. All hope lost due to a poor pairing of therapist and client… or possibly just a poor therapist. Perhaps this scenario sounds like one you’ve been in, or maybe you’re just looking to avoid it. Using these following insights, you will be able to have confidence in finding a therapist who fits you and provides you with lasting change. 

Where do I start?

Ask yourself the following:

  • Why am I seeking therapy

  • Am I willing to forego using insurance

  • Do I need specific assessments

  • What do I want from treatment; what outcome am I looking for

  • What problems/symptoms am I facing

  • (To the best of my knowledge) When did my symptoms begin

Where do I find a therapist?

Word of mouth is ideal, but you can also try out PsychologyToday.com. Most therapists have a profile posted here with a list of insurances they accept, general price of treatment, location, a bio, pic, approaches and techniques, as well as specialties.

Make a list of therapists whose bios, websites, and approaches seem to be a good fit, and interview all of them. Before calling your list, take an extra second to confirm their license. You can do this online through government professional licensing sites. Through these sites, you can find if a license exists, or has been suspended, has charges against it. Side note: make sure you look up licenses by full names. For instance, my first name is actually Joseph, not Joe (what a shocker).

How do I know if a therapist will be a good fit for me?

The majority of effective treatment comes mainly through having good rapport with your therapist. After all, if you don’t trust someone and they generally don’t really “click” with you, why would you spend time (let alone money) with them? To get an initial feel for your therapist’s approach and personality, it is crucial to interview them. Many therapists will gladly answer the following questions over the phone, and some will offer a free consultation meeting to figure out if they would be a good fit. You gotta know people in order to trust them. Your relationship with your therapist is no different.

Questions to ask:

  1. What do you specialize in (don’t pick someone who doesn’t specialize)

  2. What is your general approach in treating my symptoms/disorder

  3. What/who don’t you work

  4. What can I expect from a typical session with you

  5. What experience do you have in treating my symptoms/disorder

  6. How long have you been in practice

  7. Have you been through therapy (if your therapist hasn’t been through treatment, don’t see them. period.)

  8. Do you take my insurance (if you want to use it)

  9. What’s the cost

  10. What times of day can I schedule (Will you fit with my schedule

Resistance

 
 

What is resistance? In therapy, we talk about this word a lot. We identify resistance. We put a number on it and call it out. And, in the end, we learn how to break it down and navigate through it. 

I thought I knew how to identify resistance, but it wasn’t until recently that I really started to understand the concept of resistance and how it truly affects our lives. The dictionary definition of resistance is “the refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument.”

The last few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those first few words, that resistance is “the refusal to accept.” An image that comes to mind is a person swimming against the current. This person wants to get past the waves that are hitting the shore so they can enjoy the peaceful open sea on the other side. They fight each surge the ocean brings, attempting to cut through each wave, in a desperate attempt to reach their goal. 

The person swimming is tired—mentally, emotionally, and physically. They might make it out past the waves; they may not. But one thing is certain, the battle they are fighting is exhausting. Of course, this is nothing more than an image. How does resistance play out in our lives? 

Maybe resistance looks like frustration. 

  • I always have to work. I never have any time for me. I’m exhausted. 

Maybe resistance is the end result of comparison. 

  • She’s a better mom than I am because she does fun crafts with her kids. I never do any crafts with my kids. I suck at the mom gig.   

Maybe resistance is the ugly feeling we have when we are arguing with our loved one. You know that surge of emotion that causes us to react during a disagreement instead of listening to their point of view?

  • You always blame me for everything! I’m so tired of this! If you would just help out more, things would be different around here.

RESISTANCE. RESISTANCE. RESISTANCE.   

If resistance can be defined as “the refusal to accept” then the opposite of resistance is—acceptance. I’ve come to realize in my personal life that I have a hard time accepting most things. I’m a natural fighter—I think most humans are. However, the more I practice mindfulness (staying with the present moment without judgment) the more I’m able to identify my own resistance. And the more I am able to identify my resistance, the more I am able to move into acceptance. So, what does acceptance looks like? 

  • I’m grateful for my job. Tonight, I’m going to take some time to meet my needs. (acceptance of situation) 

  • She is a great mom! I don’t need to do crafts with my kids to be a great mom, too.

(acceptance of self)  

  • I’m just going to listen to my partner right now and sit with this uncomfortable feeling. I’m going to find the truth in what he/she is sharing with me and validate it. (acceptance of emotions) 

Instead of fighting the waves of resistance, we can learn to move with them. Sometimes the best way past the constant barrage of waves in life is seeking the help of a friend, sometimes it is focusing on your breath, and sometimes it is concentrating on gratitude. Learning the tools to helps us navigate rough water is like using a paddle board to get to the open sea. Instead of engaging in a mental war, we can learn to let go. Resistance never serve us. It puts us in a trap. I’m going to leave you with a quote from one of my favorites. 

“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” --Eckhart Tolle.



Attachment Style: How Can I Develop A Secure Attachment?

 
 

Your ability to develop and maintain romantic relationships, business dealings, friendships, and even investments are predicted within the first 6 months of your life. In fact, there is now evidence to suggest your in-utero experiences feed into these prophetic patterns.  

Based in the observations of psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, attachment styles are believed to predict how you interact with your environment as well as yourself, and are primarily influenced by the early interactions with caregivers. Understanding attachment styles is critical in developing healthy romance, friendships, business, hobbies, etc. Failing to understand them means risking repetitive failures and stagnation throughout life.

Once an attachment style is formed, it becomes your autopilot; a fallback form of self-preservation and interaction when under stress.

Each attachment style is paired with an underlying belief around safety of self and others. These beliefs are deeply embedded, so they DO NOT like to be proven false. When they are confronted, aggression, repulsion, or anxiety commonly occur.

There are ultimately thought to be four types of attachment styles: secure, avoidant, anxious, and anxious avoidant.

Secure Attachment

“I’m okay, you’re okay”

Your caregivers were consistent, sensitive, and responsive when you were young. You learned how to self-soothe, and when you couldn’t, you knew you could always rely on your parents and seek help and safety in them.

As an adult, you are comfortable in displaying your affection and interest. Others may describe you as confident and caring. You are alright with being alone and allowing others to have time to themselves as well and you tend to be more adept at drawing boundaries and prioritizing relationships.

Avoidant Attachment

“I’m okay, you’re not okay”

You are proud in your ability to stubbornly solve problems on your own. You may even have a tendency to go solve others’ problems as well; regardless of whether they asked you to or not. Especially in relationships, emotional expression and authentic intimacy is difficult, and you complain about people getting “too close,” or “clingy.” Because of your relationship history, you always have an exit strategy; both with work and romance. Your ego is fragile so you either become dismissive or angry when challenged.

Your parents discouraged crying and neglected you as they encouraged early independence. You may now describe your childhood as “forced to grow up too quickly.” As a child you learned to suppress your desire to seek out a parent for comfort when frightened, distressed, or in pain because you knew you couldn’t rely on your caregivers. You learned to avoid or fear relationships and rely on self for safety.

Anxious Attachment

“You’re okay, I’m not okay

Your friends may say “you have a hard time letting go.” When it comes to relationships, profession, school, friendships, and life in general, you tend to hang on far too long; giving far too much of yourself to “make things work.”

Having relationships and serving others helps you forget your inner chaos and lack of trust toward yourself. Keeping an overly positive outward focus is crucial for anxious types as positivity makes people like you, and people liking you is safe.

As a child, your parents were probably not neglectful, but were more likely smothering and over-protective; helicopter parents. This prevented you from learning how to self-soothe and forced you to rely on them for stability. It’s also possible you had to earn affection by being the perfect child; a conditional sort of love.

Anxious Avoidant Attachment

“No one is okay”

You can build relationships quickly, but they tend to be brief. Within work, if you can maintain a job for long enough, it seems like others are conspiring against you, are jealous of you, or are just trying to get rid of you. Your life seems to be characterized by extremes of love and hate, and when others break ties with you, your gut reaction is to burn bridges and assassinate character.

You long for relationships, and you are terrified of them at the same time. It seems like you have an infinite list of evidence supporting your reason to fear and be ever vigilant of others.

In your childhood, you were more likely to be neglected or abused compared to the other attachment styles. This doesn’t necessarily mean your parents were cruel. They may have not been physically able to care or tend to your needs, or their attempts toward care may have been inconsistent, ineffective, or harmful.

Attachment Styles in Relationships

As mentioned previously, the underlying belief systems with attachment styles don’t like to be countered. This pattern tends to create predictable relationship dynamics.

Secure types can thrive when pairing up with secure, anxious, and avoidant types. They can offer reassurance with anxious types, and give avoidant types the space they need. When paired with a secure type, avoidant and anxious types can take on more characteristics of secure attachment. However, the opposite is also true; the secure type can become more anxious or avoidant when paired with one.

Avoidant types often will find themselves attracted to those with anxious attachment. The reasoning for this is that both subconsciously agree that one member of the relationship is okay and the other is not. Though this may be functional for a period, the chasing game of the clinging anxious type and fleeing avoidant type can result in a decay of intimacy and communication. Two avoidant or anxious types tend to not pair up as their underlying beliefs contradict one another.

Anxious avoidant types are more likely to be alone than the other attachment styles. However, anxious avoidants are prone to enter into relationships with other anxious avoidants. Though the relationship may be enduring, it is not likely to be healthy or functional. Simply put, insecurity attracts insecurity.

Secure Development

From what you’ve read thus far, it may seem like you’ve been doomed from the start. However, there are a few key concepts that can move anyone (regardless of how doomed they seem) toward a secure attachment style. These are: boundaries, mindfulness, and being wisely wrong.

It is through successful use of boundaries in your relationships that you learn safety and security. When avoidant attachment is present, it’s crucial to open up, practice vulnerability in safe relationships, and develop friendships while allowing some of those hard boundaries to flex. Those with anxious attachment must focus on developing and discovering self while creating more firm and healthy boundaries. As for anxious avoidant types, both flexible and hard boundaries are needed. Connecting with self and connecting with others is also necessary.

You may think that boundaries are all you need. The problem is that without mindfulness, you’ll never know where to draw boundaries, where to reinforce them, and where to lower them. Mindfulness is simply awareness and acceptance of the present. It allows you to recognize successes and failures within your relationships, and make changes for the future.

Socrates, the creator of Western philosophy, said that wisdom comes first through acceptance of truly knowing nothing followed by acquisition of reasoning and knowledge, and experience of inspiration. To counter faulty, outdated beliefs wreaking havoc on your life, you have to allow the possibility that your beliefs may be wrong. The avoidant needs to ask themselves “is this other person safe?” Where the anxious type needs to ask the same question about themselves “am I safe?” The anxious avoidant needs to ask “can I be safe, and can this other person be safe?”

These concepts can be practiced alone; however, they are far more likely to be effective when guided by the hand of a trained specialist. A licensed psychotherapist has training to assist you in noting where boundaries are more likely to be effectively placed or removed, they are able to train you in practicing mindfulness, and they can call you out on your unhealthy and ineffective beliefs.

- Joe Dennis, MA, CMHC

instagram @joedennis.counsels

Mindfulness

 
 

What does mindfulness really mean? It means committing to the present moment. It means fully engaging with your mind, body, and soul. It means grounding yourself in the here and now and allowing whatever is to just. be. 

When we practice mindfulness, we stay away from judgements. We observe our thoughts and notice the judgments as they come up, but we don’t attach ourselves to them. We stay curious. We notice them. We let them go. 

This week, I made a goal to start practicing mindfulness while I am driving to and from all the things. I say “practicing mindfulness” because being mindful is not a science! There are no rules or ridge ways of doing it. Here’s the only trick-invest yourself fully in whatever you are doing at the time. If you are driving, focus on driving. If you are eating, focus on the experience of eating. If you are listening to someone, be 100% all in.

After you have practiced mindfulness, ask yourself how it felt! Do you feel calmer? More connected? More engaged? More in control? Our society/culture has our brains going about a hundred different directions all at once, all the time. Do you want to slow things down and feel centered? Practice mindfulness. 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

5 Reasons Why Seeing a Counselor Isn’t “Weak.”

 
 

Blame it on mental health stigma and a culture that believes in “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” but most of us have picked up on the shame that can be associated with getting counseling or therapy. Many of my clients mention the stigma and shame they have to overcome in order to attend their first counseling session. Sometimes their families say things like, “You’re not strong enough to do it on your own,” or “Wow, something must be ‘wrong’ with you if you need therapy.” I often spend some time talking with my clients on why those comments can be ignorant and straight up wrong. Therefore, I think it’s appropriate my first blog post address this issue officially. Here are just 5 reasons why attending mental health counseling doesn’t make you weak… in fact, it makes you pretty badass!

  1. It takes courage: Courage means you do something that frightens you. It means you have strength in the face of pain or grief. I would argue that courage is the opposite of weakness. Facing our hard stuff (which is pretty much what counseling is all about) is therefore defined as a courageous act. It’s not weak.

  2. Change is hard: I propose that doing something “hard” like changing, facing uncomfortable emotions, taking responsibility… is the opposite of weak. What’s EASY is doing the same thing we always do; it can be the road of least resistance. Pretending like nothing is wrong and acting stoic can prevent authenticity and movement. What is HARD and brave is growth – working toward a goal, the discipline to feel and deal with things we want to change. Change is hard, and change is what happens in therapy. It’s not weak.

  3. Getting professional help is smart: When I hire a physical therapist for an injury, a personal trainer to support my fitness goals, or a rheumatologist to help my arthritis, I don’t encounter stigma or shame. Counseling is the mental health equivalent to many interventionists for physical health. You recognize something isn’t working and you seek professional assistance. This is a smart choice, not a weak choice. In counseling we strengthen mental health muscles and build up mental health systems. We set measurable goals and practice interventions to reach these mental health goals. It’s not weak.

  4. Valuing mental wellness is a positive investment: My clients value mental health. They value balance and improvement. I’m always a little confused why this is considered shameful or weak. For example, I value education and have invested a lot of time and money furthering my education. Similarly, mental health is something I value that requires time and money, be it via self-help books, medication, or mental health counseling. Those who seek to better their mental health are making an investment in their well-being. I think we all agree that’s not a bad thing. Mental health is a major component of overall wellbeing. It’s not weak.

  5. The proof’s in the pudding: I received this email from a recent first-time client: “I just want to say that last night after leaving our appointment, I was filled with such a light and excited feeling.  Hard to describe but it was a true happiness I haven’t felt in a long time.  I am really looking forward to your guidance and knowledge in helping me rediscover and connect with my soul.  I am ready for this journey.” If this is an outcome of counseling and people around us say counseling is weak… perhaps that’s okay. If the outcomes are joy and happiness, maybe we can just give the stigma the middle finger as we smile (like, smile big) and as we proceed forward on the high road. If you’ve been on the fence and think it might be time to improve your mental wellness, I would love to support you on that journey. I know it will be worth it! And again, it’s not weak.

Tiffany Roe, Clinical Mental Health Counselor