Sunday, April 1, 2018

When Therapy Begins

"I remember driving to therapy and thinking, 'Well, this is it. I'm all out of stories'. I didn't know what I was going to say. And that was when therapy really began."
-Dr. Ron Wright

     Dr. Wright was one of my undergraduate psychology professors. Through various books, assignments, and tests he introduced me to existentialism. Many of the readings he assigned I still use, but it was the experiences he shared with us that stuck with me more than anything. The paraphrase at the top of this post was one of those experiences I knew was important. I also knew I didn't fully understand. It wasn't until after grad school, when I began to deeply focus on existential therapy, the idea of "being out of stories" started to make sense.

    In existential therapy, the past is important, but only insofar as it facilitates the understanding of who we are now and what is preventing our growth? Kierkegaard wrote that life is understood in reverse, but we often forget that it must be lived forwards. The artistry of therapy is not in the archeological excavation of our history. There may be clues there, but they pale in comparison to what happens within the therapy room. The relationship that develops between client and therapist, in the microcosm of the here-and-now, is an incredibly rich source of up-to-date information about life as it occurs!

    Sometimes we tell stories to avoid being present. It's often easier to talk about the concrete past; even if it was traumatic. At least there's some distance from what happened "back then". But it prevents us from being here, now. This keeps us trapped and can perpetuate the idea of being a victim.

    Sometimes we tell stories because we believe our past defines us. If the only way I can know you is by knowing your past, then I'll never know you. Your past is ever accumulating, tainted by perceptions and unknown biases, and our ability to remember things correctly is notoriously atrocious. This prevents us from planning ahead. It keeps us shackled to what happened "back then".

    Sometimes we tell stories because we don't know what to say right now. Sometimes we tell stories because we're afraid of the future; the unknown. Sometimes we tell stories because we want to be right; and we want someone else to agree with us.

    You want the truth? Your therapy, your growth, your ability to change and be an active participant will forever be restricted until you're finally out of stories. If you want your therapist, your partner, your family, or your friends to get to know you, be present! Put your phone away, the book down, stop telling stories, and start making new ones. Our history matters. But ultimately, those have meaning in the lessons we learn. When our stories begin to define us, they cease to be our past and begin to limit our future.

    When you're ready, stop telling stories and start sharing experiences. That is when therapy will begin.

(C) 2018 Nathan D. Croy

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Social Loafing

"Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts."
~ Soren Kierkegaard

     We have a special "Pizza Timer" in our house. If we're cooking a frozen pizza, the easiest way to know when it's done is to listen for the ear-piercing sound of the smoke detector. Then we figured out how to set a timer on the oven and the smoke detector/timer became superfluous. So we simply take the smoke detector off the wall and set it under the TV until the pizza is done cooking. 
    But sometimes, every once in awhile, we forget to to put the smoke detector back up. It eventually goes back up, but it may take a few days. My wife and I will walk by the smoke detector, clearly visible under the TV, and just...not put it back where it goes. For those few days, our early warning systems to help protect us from dying in a fire are greatly hampered. Before you go writing angry letters, you should know each room has its own smoke detector, we have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and we have a combination smoke/CO2 detector in the same area as the smoke detector we take down. Still....why don't we put it back up? 

    Psychologists have a term for this; it's called social loafing. Social loafing occurs when a group of people believe someone else will do the work/right thing/call the police/whatever, so we assume we don't have to do it. If you have never experienced this, then you've never had to do a group project!

   There have been several experiments done to explain social loafing. My favorite is the pencil test: Get on an elevator with one other person and drop a pencil. There's a pretty good chance they'll try to pick it up. Drop a pencil in a crowded elevator and the chances of someone picking up that pencil drops drastically. For more information on the experiment, check out THIS LINK

    The idea of social loafing can have drastic real world implications. The story of Kitty Genovese is a tragic example of what can happen when a group of people believe someone else will take care of the problem, do the right thing, or call the police, or stop someone from doing the wrong thing. This is why, when someone needs to receive CPR, you should point to a particular individual and request they call 911. If you shout out, to a room full of people, "Someone call 911!", there's a significant chance no one will be called.

    Existential therapy offers a solution for social loafing: personal accountability. It's very common for people to demand others be more accountable. But if we're honest with ourselves, many times we're actually saying, "Take responsibility for this so I don't have to." The personal accountability of one person neither decreases nor increases our personal accountability. Louis Hoffman wrote “Self-acceptance too often is intertwined with attempts to rationalize ourselves as being right or justified in our mistakes instead of embracing our humanity as imperfect creatures. Authentic self-acceptance requires that we are honest with ourselves about responsibility. Instead of seeking to justify our mistakes, we embrace them” (A Cultural Crisis of Responsibility: Responding to a Denial of Our Humanity).

    Waiting for someone else to take responsibility for a situation is a way to ensure we have no responsibility. In order to become more empowered we are forced to accept responsibility for the things we have done, and the things we have left undone. By no means should this imply that everything is our fault; far from it. But it does mean that if we want the world we live in to be better, we can no longer wait for others to make changes.

    The reason the smoke detector doesn't go back up where it belongs is, ultimately, because I don't put it back. As tumultuous as our country is currently, there are many situations and people who deserve to have fingers pointed at them. If I am not willing to point that finger at myself and begin asking what I can do, I only serve to give away my power.

Smoke Detector
(C) 2018 Nathan D. Croy

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Running on Empty

"Without the ability to assert ourselves, we will have difficulty living with integrity and self-respect. Sacrificing our rights usually trains others to mistreat us. By standing up for our rights, we should we respect ourselves and thus win the respect of others."
~Rollo May, Power and Innocence

     Has this ever happened to you? Trying to squeeze one more trip out of those last few drops of fuel is, for some people, a wonderful hobby! They know EXACTLY how far that gauge can move before the car is actually out of gas.

     In a former life, I worked in an autoshop, and saw cars come in with complaints of decreased performance, chugging, or not even starting. Turns out, many cars have their fuel pump located inside the gas tank. This does several things: the gas keeps the pump from overheating, there's less contamination, and there's less chance of exposure to air rusting out the fuel pump. This also means that, if you constantly run your tank low, you risk overheating your pump, clogging the filter with sediment from the tank (usually that stuff just sinks to the bottom and doesn't bother the pump), and shortening the overall lifespan with added stress.

     We're much more complex than cars, but there are certainly some similarities! Do you have warning lights that let you know when you're running low? Do you find that trying to squeeze out "one more trip" when physical, emotional, or psychological resources are drained is shortening your lifespan? Does it inhibit your performance?

     Then find ways to refill! Make sure you are taking care of you! Sometimes it only takes a few minutes of rest, relaxation, meditation, or conversation. Whatever it is, don't put it off until after you do one more thing!

     If you're struggling to find a way to fill-up, give us a call! One of our therapists can work with you and your family to ensure you see finding ways to fully engage in life!

888.631.EXFT (3938)

Running on E
(c) 2018, Nathan D. Croy

Friday, January 26, 2018

Embrace The Trauma

"Anxiety is freedom's possibility..."
~The Concept of Anxiety by Soren Kierkegaard

     I'm horrible at golf. I am my own hazard. It's bad. However, I really enjoy it! Playing reminds me of spending time with my dad and I've found it to be relaxing. When I was beginning, my father would stand behind me and offer helpful critiques on my swing. 

    During a particularly horrendous game, the first four hits had immediately veered right as soon as my club made contact. I was frustrated. It made no sense to me why the ball wasn't going where I was aiming! So, on the fifth hole, I lined my shot up to go far left of the green. It made sense that, if my shots went to the right, then I'd aim left and they'd go where I wanted!

     Standing behind me, my father piped up and pointed out that I was putting a foursome in some real jeopardy based on how I was lined up. I explained my reasoning of "ball goes right; aim left". He chuckled and offered some advice, "We don't change our game to match our mistakes; we fix our mistakes."

     Many people who have experienced trauma tend to change their life to avoid future trauma. If they have been in an abusive relationship, they may decide all intimacy is potentially hurtful and not worth the risk. If they have been in a car accident, then they may decide leaving home is no longer worth the risk. They begin to change their life to match their trauma, instead of addressing the trauma. 

     This empowers the trauma and minimizes the power in the person. Changing our lives to match the trauma only serves to keep us stuck in the trauma. There is an increase in anxiety when we begin to think of confronting the trauma. This can be uncomfortable, scary, and is absolutely necessary. There are various therapeutic and psychiatric means of addressing trauma to facilitate freeing ourselves from past experiences and to begin embracing the possibilities life has to offer. If you discover you aren't free to engage in healthy interactions with people because of your past, consider contacting a professional to help you confront those fears and get your life back!

    Don't change your game to match a bad experience, change the experience!

(c) Nathan D. Croy, 2018