The Process of Pathologizing Among New Healers: Let’s Get Clear.

Many of us are healers of various types. We want to heal with our words, our hands, our songs, our science. We want to heal and help, and this is so natural to us. Or so it seems.

Sometimes we are already wondering this..so when someone thinks they can tell us, we want to believe them.

Sometimes, we have a tendency to want to heal others because we ourselves have been wounded. If those wounds are still tender, then we may not be aware when something is triggering us to shut down, even as we try to help them.

Sometimes, I feel that someone can listen to me and pathologize my experience, especially those who are trying to help.

This is something that I must do as well, so I figured we could explore it here and perhaps find some tools for the future!

 

What Do You Mean, “Pathologize?”

Pathologizing according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is

To view or characterize as medically or psychologically abnormal.

 

If I say that I’m thinking about something a lot lately, and you ask me if I’m obsessed with it, that is sort of making me appear sick. It is taking something simple and giving it a loaded label.

The same is true if you tell me you are feeling down, and I ask you if you are depressed or worse yet, if I say something like “Wow it sounds like you’re depressed” or another statement that makes it implicitly easier for you to agree, consciously or unconsciously, than to argue with me. Really, there are better questions to ask than that and better ways of going about trying to help someone.

Why Is Pathologizing Dangerous?

Maybe it’s not dangerous. But I do think it gets in the way of a more pure and simple understanding that comes from compassion and empathy. It bypasses the process of curiosity and zips right into labels; and not just any labels. Charged labels, judgy labels, labels that you then have to talk yourself out of.
And the funny thing is, these labels can also make us feel like better healers. That’s right. If I decide that you’re depressed when you say you’re sad, and by the end of our conversation you sound happier, then I sort of cured your depression! in some messed up unconscious way. If I simply talked to you long enough for your natural mood to pass, then that’s less cool for me and my ego, but it might be the reality.

The Value of Curiosity

I realize that I am probably notorious for this process of pathologizing or else I wouldn’t notice it so sharply when other people do it. I must remember that having a curiosity for the reality of someone else is one of the best things that I can do. It teaches me to slow down and to have that same curiosity for myself, rather than to zip from “wow I’m sad in this moment” to “I must have a raging case of undiagnosed depression and I better make sure I don’t accidentally bring others down with me.”

The charged label is simply piling on layers that then become harder to get rid of, especially for those of us that are already hard on ourselves.

But Isn’t there More Anxiety And Depression?

Psychology Today has an interesting article on this topic. According to the article, depression and anxiety are becoming more commonplace because the normal human experience is being labeled as such more often, not because these states of mind are becoming more common. Furthermore, the author talks about how the labels are not meant to be taken as being solid things. They are meant to be used for the therapists to do their job more effectively, not to label people. The article is quite good, I recommend it!

With easy access to WebMd and other sources for self-diagnosis, it’s no wonder that more of us learn these terms and try to use them on ourselves, and on each other. It sounds better if we say “Sounds like you have an acute episode of a semi-psychosomatic illness brought on by environmental stressors” than if we say “I don’t know how to really relate with your experience at this moment, maybe you could call a therapist or just come over for some tea and we can hang out.” Or however it works with your relationship.

Is this from the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, who just love getting their chemicals on your neurotransmitters, or from people eating more additives in their food and having finicky immune systems? Who knows, but one thing remains clear:

We Can Stand Up For Ourselves

I know that personally, when someone gives me an insult, it can stick if it’s something that I already partially believe. For this reason, if someone labels me in a way that I’ve been labeled against my will in the past, then I may get a little triggered. I may feel the need to defend, or an impulse to believe them. Maybe I AM obsessed, maybe I AM in denial, or whatever.

I haven’t spoken to my therapist in years, and if I do, then I can hear whatever words of wisdom she has and take them in. She’s licensed, she knows me, and it’s her job. The people that may mean well but that throw out these loaded terms simply to try and understand something are most definitely not in the same position as she is to be, as they say, “going there.”

If you hear loaded terms from anyone who is trying to help you and is not a therapist, perhaps there is something that you can say back to them. Or someone you can talk to about the situation to see what they think, such as a real therapist. For now, I’m going to remind myself to use this question:

This is easy, simple, doable. Whatever someone says, whether they are my therapist or a stranger on the bus or a person I just met, I can ask them “Why use that word?” if they use a word that I find to be particularly charged.

I don’t know if that’s what you should do. I don’t want to pretend to have advice that I don’t have. I do know that if I get better at using some Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, then I might end up with more creative solutions to this issue.

I also know that trying to do this will help me at least to be aware of when the feeling of resistance or being triggered arises. If I can notice it, I can ask this question, and perhaps help the people I talk to become aware of when they are doing it, and help myself to do the same.

Do you have any experience with this, has someone ever used powerful words to describe your experience when you feel they are out of line?

Do you have friends that offer unsolicited therapy advice? Is it hard to turn it down or tell them to stop, or do you love when they do it?

Are you aware of the words that are most charged for you? (I’m not asking you to share them, though) Do you think that being aware of them can help you when people start using them unskillfully?

I hope you all have a great week!

 

Our Un-Psychic Audience: Reclaiming the Weight We Put On Magic’s Shoulders

So often we are saying this in different words.

Do you think about the way you communicate with the people that you expect to receive your art?

If we want to publicize ourselves, we need to think about what it is we are putting out there, especially if we want more attention than we are getting. We could also stand to have less of an expectation of psychic ability on the part of our audience. Let me explain.

There are times where we are expecting Magic to fill the gaps we leave. Once we see these places, we can start to fill them ourselves, leaving Magic to do bigger and better things. Maybe we can even admit that the less-than-desirable attention we are getting is actually related to the quality and energy of what we are offering.

Once we notice these things, we have more power to stop engaging in them unconsciously.

Indirect Communication & The Expectation of Magic

People can communicate indirectly. If you have been friends with or dated people who do it often, you know how frustrating it can be. “Don’t you hate when it’s chilly outside” can mean “Please turn the heat on, I’m cold.”  There are endless variations.

A friend who was studying linguistics told me that women are more likely to engage in indirect communication than men, and I don’t doubt it.

Within indirect communication, there is a kernel of an expectation of Magic. We expect that the proclamation of how we dislike cold is going to magically send our real meaning into the brain of the other person. It’s not always conscious, of course, but it is there. And it comes up in other ways.

Expectation of Magic With Writing

This pattern of expectation can affect our writing and other art.

With writing, if we assume that the background of a scene is laid out sufficiently when it is not, the reader can get confused. If we don’t think about a character’s underlying motives and personality, their drive is unclear and the story is not compelling.

This is why my first stories were crappy. I expected people to understand how interesting my ideas were because they appeared so in my head; like a child thinking you can’t see him because he is covering his own eyes.

Giving The Magic a Place to Stand: The Value of Effort

If you wanted to do NaNo, you could talk about it all you want from January to October. If November 1st rolls around and you still have to get yourself a computer, a desk, time off of work, typing lessons and a story idea, then you are not prepared.

If, on the other hand, you cleaned your desk, defragged your computer, stocked up on your favorite foods, had plenty of tea, took a few extra days off of work, saved money to cover that loss, and told your family and friends to expect less communication during the month of November, all by the middle of October, then your scene is set rather differently. You put in the work to give yourself the maximum amount of time to empathize with your characters and let the writing happen without extra hindrance.

I am willing to make an assumption that those who put in the effort before NaNo are more likely to write something that others would enjoy reading. And the same goes for other types of art and projects.

The Difference Between Frantic Advertising & Popularity

No matter how much we advertise ourselves to the world, we are not going to get real attention if our product sucks and if we aren’t really putting ourselves out there to the extent of our ability. That’s just how it goes, in my eyes.

Brene Brown‘s work on Vulnerability comes to mind. Despite the excited freshness with which she presents herself, she did many years of research before her famed TED talk. She was not just throwing some ideas together and hoping for the best like some people do with their blog posts (ahem). She did studies, she read books, she went to therapy; and only after building all of that solid ground did she share the results and touch an audience.

Music is similar. Someone who does a live guitar solo after years of practice is going to impress the crowd even if they make mistakes much more than the person who does a solo after playing for a month or two. The past effort shows, it informs the skill of the present, and it touches us when they can show us the extent of this skill in a vulnerable and fresh way. If the second person were to sing words that they’d been thinking about and reflecting on for years with a sensitive awareness, then that may be more touching than the guitar part; it all depends on what they share and when and to whom.

It basically seems like people recognize hard work and skill when they see it; not when they are told to.

How Do We Use This Information?

Maybe we can do a more honest acknowledgment of what we are putting out there, what we put into it, and how much that shows. Then we can reduce the tendency to think others psychically know that we deserve love and attention, and actually start showing them what we do and what we offer so that they can make their own choice.

Trust the things that you know, the things that you have been studying formally and informally. Trust them and share them, but perhaps be aware of where an assumption of a psychic audience  is creeping in. If people aren’t responding, figure out why it is the case. How would you see you if you were objective and had no idea of what was in your head? What is getting held back and does it add into the whole picture?  Maybe you will notice where you may not be reaching them with the greatness that you feel you have to share.

Aside from my closest friends and my mom, nobody would like the things I began writing at first.  I wasn’t deserving of praise and attention from an objective audience, and now it is obvious. But at the time, I was confused as to why my first blog posts weren’t catching on like wildfire. But now I get it, at least partially. I hardly knew what the hell I was doing, and still don’t, but I’m closer. Even if all of my friends share my posts, the people that come back and read them are those that are touched by what they see because they found it on their own; rarely if ever is it the people who I messaged and personally asked to come by. And I know that I have more sharing to do, more vulnerability to meet, and more techniques to employ in terms of applying the knowledge I’ve worked for many years to understand.

Maybe we need to understand our non-responsive audience more effectively. They aren’t psychic, we aren’t sharing something of value to them, and when we do, they will be touched and will come back for more. If we are sharing honestly and vulnerably and nobody cares, then perhaps we need to re-evaluate what we are doing if their attention is something that we require (such as anyone who wants to write or make art for a living).

This is a new way of thinking for me and I’m trying it on to see what new actions it may lead to. The last time I explored a mindset (paying more attention to vulnerability, from Brene Brown’s TED talk) I ended up cutting off five years’ worth of dreadlocks because I realized that the comfort I was gaining from them was not necessarily something I wanted to keep indulging in.

I  realize that my old writing was full of assumptions and expectations, laying a whole lot on the shoulders of Magic, and I’m only now starting to find my voice and hold that weight myself, letting Magic do what it wants and letting the psychic abilities of my readers be used for better things than figuring out what I’m trying to say. I’m supposed to be a writer, so it’s kind of my freaking job. I may as well step up to it.

What About You?

Do you think that you are getting the attention you think you deserve for your art, writing, or other type of work? If not, do you know what you want to do better? Do you want support in that regard?

Do you think that this is crazy and I’m totally off track, and that things can get organically famous and popular without the person having spent time on the skill or figuring out how to best share it with the world? Do those of us that are beginners have any hope of reaching people? Have you ever done something as a beginner and had it have a great impact on others?

Do you use indirect communication, or do you know someone who does? Is it less annoying to you than to me?

I always love your guys’ thoughts; they have helped me learn about my writing more than anything in the past.  Thank you so very much for sharing them, publicly and privately.

 

Magic Words for Moving Things

We live in a funny world. Many people, myself included, use things more than is necessary. White sugar, caffeine, hand sanitizer, and words.

We are taught that practicing affirmations is beneficial and that we can influence the future by the power of attraction as long as we clearly say what we want in word form.

These things are great.

But how often are we taking the time to truly feel the words we speak?

 

 

I think about gratitude a whole lot. I think about the things I am grateful for before I go to bed and I wake up thinking about being grateful. The word itself is like my mind’s coziest sweater in its little repertoire of favorite outfits.  But the other day, I took a whole few minutes and just closed my eyes and tried to feel grateful. 

I learned quickly that there is a difference between feeling the gratitude that hits me after a near-miss car accident and the gratitude I feel as I go to sleep each night while saying the words in a semi-rush as dreams rush in. I don’t always feel the words I speak, even when I think I do.

This matters. This matters a lot.

Why Meanings Matter

How can I manifest my reality if I’m using words without meanings? How can I write about some aspect of life when I am habitually and unconsciously feeling a shadow of it?

There are no magic words for moving things. In order to make any word magic, you have to feel it. You have to close your eyes and give it a whole minute of your time. Or find another way that works for you.

Some feelings happen on their own. You bump your head and feel angry, you see a familiar face and feel joy. You almost get sideswiped in your car and you feel grateful. But choosing to feel joy or choosing to feel grateful or choosing even to feel angry is something that is a little harder. It’s more than a word.

What Things Can Words Move?

Maybe words can be used to move objects.  But I think that they are far more effective at moving mindstuffs. At moving feelings and thoughts; mental states and situations. By choosing to actually feel some of my words, maybe I’ll stand a greater chance at shifting a nasty mood or climbing out of a depressed state. Instead of convincing myself that I’ll be calm in a few hours, I can imagine the feeling of calmness now; cultivate it, allow it, embody it.

There is a really, really big difference between saying I feel happy and thinking about what those words mean. Maybe it’s not happy; maybe it’s elated, excited, jittery, confused. Maybe it’s even sad; I may feel happy because I’m sad that I have to leave.

Having an awareness of what we do actually feel can be great, and learning to make it go the other way around also seems useful. Choosing to feel grateful, gentle, generous, content. Choosing to feel your mental-state-of-choice for a few moments. Just not happy because really, what does that even mean.

What About Bad Feelings?

While I was flying from Austin to Connecticut a few days ago, something pretty cool happened. I was terribly scared. It had been years since I’d flown, and the idea of being thousands of feet in the air was rather terrifying. But the more I tried to push it away and feel “calm,” the more scared I got.

So I tried something new. I tried to feel as scared as I could. I invited the feeling in like an old and somewhat awkward or annoying friend. As I invited it, I looked at it from all angles; like glancing in that friend’s bag to see if they were bringing too many samurai swords or something. I let the feeling in, and in return, it stopped banging down my windows. It ceased to ring the doorbell and yell to make itself seem bigger than it was. It just came in, had some tea, and chilled out.

Letting the real feeling happen made me realize that the words of “ohmygodwearegoingtocrash” and “oh no oh no oh no oh no” really were just words. They weren’t real, and the situation wasn’t scary. In fact, once I really just got curious, that fear turned into elation and excitement that I was zooming thousands of feet in the air, staring at clouds and cities, living in the future that someone long ago would have only dreamed of.

The magic words for moving things weren’t just the words that were freaking me out, they were the words I told myself to remind myself that it was only words freaking me out, not any real thing. Confused yet? Welcome to my world.

Finding The Stuckness

Habits are sometimes pretty stifling. We get in physical and mental habits all the time. They turn into patterns of stuckness, which can be quite physical, as any massage therapist will tell you.

Maybe it would be fun to move objects with words, but maybe it would be even more fun to spot the mental objects and move those. The familiar sight of the sentence “I am not a good artist,” for instance. Maybe I can put it next to the curb with the power of words like a shabby couch that has ceased to serve a purpose. The big dresser of “Nobody will ever love me” sitting in the corner, rotting and stinking up the place. It’s time for it to go, I’d say. The repetitive thoughts or feelings that stick with us are just as in the way as an old item that is no longer useful or needed.

Do you have things that you would like to move with magic words? Are there magic words that you use already, such as affirmations or the power of attraction?

Do you think that it matters how long you feel the power of a word, such as gratitude or love? Do you think that you mean every word you say or write, and perhaps it’s only a select few people that say words without always meaning them, unintentionally?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Also, I have been on a rather internetless trip for the past week, it will continue a bit longer, and I look forward to seeing what you all have been writing once I return!

Dear Self: Your Comment Is Awaiting Moderation

Moderation is a word we hear all the time in regards to wine, dark chocolate, red meat, and our comments.

Try to leave a comment on most blogs and you will see that people are actively moderating who gets to say what.

This, I think, is a gorgeous thing that speaks to our inherent sanity as people.

After all, what is the act of moderating comments saying but “This is myblog, and it will be the type of place I want it to be, with the words I want to see, and that’s that!”

It seems like a very healthy thing to be doing!

But then, what about the things we say to ourselves?

How well do we moderate those?

Continue reading

Communicating About Communication: The Value of Learning When to Ask a Question

The bulk of your social interactions consist of communicating with others. You do it through personal interactions, phone calls, emails and social media updates. Sometimes you are communicating directly to someone else and can see their face, other times you cannot. Lots of the time, you are not even aware of the subtle things that people are picking up from you. They might be making an assumption based on your body language, or on your use of punctuation in your status update.  Many people forget how important the art of communication actually is, and lots of us have just plain forgotten some of the basics. Furthermore, there is a higher emphasis placed on it in some progressive communities that is not shared with more traditional communities. This can create problems.

There are some things that I have been noticing lately about the art of communication and how infrequently people are actually taking advantage of their wonderful ability to ask questions and seek the truth. Most importantly, it is becoming clear that many of us are just not sure when to admit to ourselves that we do not know what someone else is thinking, before we take an action based on an assumption that we made about their reality.

One of the most painfully obvious examples is the over-use of texting and the assumptions that it can create, which only end up creating further assumptions that then get layered on top of the old ones to make little assumption babies that breed nothing but chaos.

We have all made this mistake. We send someone a long and what we believe to be heartfelt text. We get a curt reply, and we assume that the person is angry, disinterested, judgmental, or anything else. We then base our next action on that assumption. The person could have been stuck in traffic that just started to move as they began to answer, the person could have just gotten horrible news from someone and done all they could to text us at all, or the person may actually be disinterested. The point is that we do not know, and we have to ask. Asking directly is the only way to find out. The only way.

Another completely horrifying thing is that someone might not text us back at all. This is just utter chaos and confusion for all involved. They must be avoiding us, they must be sleeping with someone else, they must be telling us indirectly that we are the scum of the earth and they never want to see us again. Or, our text didn’t go through. But it makes far more sense to assume the worst and get a little resentful at them for not answering our infallible text message.

Then the person who didn’t answer, for whatever reason,  picks up on your resentment and make their own assumptions. They act accordingly. Thus, chaos and misunderstandings are born and nurtured and sent off to an Ivy league school for the preservation of their future.

This type of thing is hard to catch when you are doing it yourself, and very easy to see in someone else. The thing to remember is that you always should be aware of when you are making an assumption based on less-than-enough evidence. And you should learn to ask questions.

Now, here is the problem. Asking questions seems easy enough, it’s nothing like trying to leap from one high building to the next, watching the cars crawling like ants below. But then again, it is an awful lot like that. You are taking a chance, you are entering the unknown. You are leaping from something you know to something that you are not sure you can reach, because you are not even sure what it is.

All texting issues aside, there are countless others. There is no way to bring clarity to them all; but one key thing to keep in mind is that if you are using a big word that has lots of meanings, such as love or relationship, you cannot have a clear conversation without establishing the details.

Most people are not psychic. If you say that you want to have a relationship with someone, they might agree, not knowing what that even means for you. They think it means what they think it means, and you think it means what you think it means. If you say open relationship, these issues multiply by about a thousand.

Because everyone has different ideas. Everyone things these ideas are obvious. But so do the people they are with. And this, to say the least, can cause some problems. The same is true for committed relationships. No one knows your boundaries, no one knows your triggers. They know what they know, and they are hoping to God that it is the same thing that you mean.

The main point is that it is possible to acknowledge how scary asking questions can be, and to do it anyway. Maybe it is embarrassing to tell your partner that you don’t mind if they flirt with people in public, as long as they go home with you. Maybe it is embarrassing to tell your partner that even though you don’t mind if they are intimate with other people, you would prefer that they are focused on you when you are together, and that they would give you a heads up if they were planning on being with anyone else. Instead of dealing with this embarrassment, you might want to just say “Let’s be in an open relationship,”  or “Let’s be in a relationship,” but this is saying nothing about what you expect from it. You have to ask the questions. You have to state the details. Most importantly, you have to know when you are making assumptions.

The past is a tricky thing. It is gone, but it is also always present; at least, the most painful and pertinent parts. If terrifying and harmful things have happened to you, then the slightest reminder of those things in the present can sometimes call those feelings back in full-force. If you say something vague, and your partner things they understand that you mean, they may act on those assumptions and it can cause a major problem for you, who has just been triggered. Learning your triggers is up to you; communicating your triggers is up to you; it always has been and always will be.

The easy thing to forget is that big words mean a lot, and there are countless definitions. Look up the definition of loquacious and you will find one thing, look up the definition of love and you will find another. You cannot assume that your partner or your friends can understand you and your triggers if you do not explain the details. You cannot expect that yo know theirs unless you ask for them.

It is somewhat of a one-sided street. If you understand the importance of talking about communication, you may be one of a pair of lovers or friends who is in that particular loop. They may not ask what you mean by “I love you,” and the moment where it is first said is perhaps the wrong time to ask blatantly, “what do you mean by that?” However, if they get mad at you the next day for saying you love someone else over the phone, you may realize that you need to ask them what they meant by saying it to you. Did they mean that they expect you to no longer say it to others? This is something that some people include in “I love you” and that others do not.

The key is to know when you have made an assumption. They are like the latest flu that is all over the news. You can keep your eye out for flu symptoms to avoid catching it; keep your eye out for symptoms of assumptions. Most importantly, if something does happen, such as a misunderstanding about a text message or the use of a big word, make a point to communicate about communicating. Tell the person that you acknowledge there has been an assumption that has led to the misunderstanding, and learn to talk about how to prevent this in the future. If you establish the grounds of communication between you and those who are most likely to have misunderstandings based on assumptions, such as lovers and dramatic friends, then you are going to be changing your world for the better.

It is something you are doing for humanity that you may never get credit for. You are teaching people that it is safe to jump from the building of asking a question to the building of dealing with the answer. You might not get an award, but you are helping to heal the gaping wound in society that has built up around this issue. And you are, most importantly, learning about your own triggers and shortcuts to your past traumas that you can communicate to your partner or friends so that they are, at least, aware of them.