Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Trouble Making Decisions?

     There are many reasons for difficulties when it comes to making decisions.
     Sometimes, a situation is so complicated that several options seem plausible. In cases like that, it might be a good idea to grant yourself permission to act, knowing you are doing the best you can at the moment, given what you know about things. Remember that you do not have to make the perfect choice; a good one will do. Trust yourself to know which way to go. Your question to self here might be: Which decision can I make now that will put things in motion and feel right at the same time?
     Sometimes, things feel murky. You do not feel confident in any of your choices. You are not even certain you see them all. This is a time to allow yourself to wait: you'll make a decision when you understand more clearly what is required of you, when things make more sense. Be gentle with yourself, and trust that you will decide when you are ready to decide. Your question to self here: What else do I need to find out in order to feel confident in making a decision in this matter?
     But there is a third range of possibilities: you see the choices; you understand your options. The part that you do not know relates to what you want. You cannot figure out what is best for you. You think of one choice, and then another, and another -- and the more you think, the more confused you feel. Your question to self: How can I sort out my feelings, which appear to be pulling me in several directions at once?
     I can offer one simple suggestion, something I do when I am stuck between two options. It may sound corny, but it has worked for me on many occasions.
     I flip a coin.
     But it is not what you may think. I do not flip a coin with the intent of using the results to determine what to do. I flip a coin because I have learned that in that brief interlude between the time I toss the coin into the air and the time it lands, I discover whether I want it to come up heads or tails. 
     In doing so, I learn that at some level, perhaps a very deep one, I do have a favored outcome. I do have a preference. Flipping a coin helps it come to the surface.
     If you have not already discovered the truth in this little exercise, give it a try next time you are uncomfortably ensconced on the horns of a dilemma.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Feeling Overwhelmed? Who Wouldn't?

     There are two ways you can feel overwhelmed. The first is the result of having too many things pulling you in multiple directions at once. You get off the plane and feel a head cold coming on, remember you forgot to ask the vet about that lumpy thing on the dog's belly, and your cell phone slips out of your pocket when your roller bag bumps it as you mount the moving sidewalk on the way to baggage claim. That's a mess, and feeling overwhelmed makes sense, because you are overwhelmed.
     But there's another way to feel overwhelmed. I'm speaking of the existential variety of angst that derives from a sense of powerlessness, purposelessness, and fear. These are historically difficult times. While there is precedent for economic crisis, for international turmoil, and for societal changes, the rapidity and concentration of these elements in today's world paint a unique portrait of an age under siege.
     We, on the other hand, are creatures with an evolutionary history of adapting over time to changes in our environment. When these changes are unprecedented, massive, interrelated, and accelerated, our human capability to keep up is exhausted. We dangle in the winds of change like spiders on a tattered web.
     Feeling overwhelmed is a sane and healthy response. It suggests that you know your limits have been reached, and that you want to revert to a time and place at which the scale and magnitude of life's challenges were within your ability to comprehend, and even resolve. This is not nostalgia. It also is not luddite regression to a falsely remembered Golden Age. It is an intuitive understanding that something significant has been breached, and that you are in pain as a result.
     I encourage the exploration of relaxation and meditation techniques which help us put the words of the serenity prayer into action in our lives: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
     It doesn't matter which God you address. The fruits of this prayer are bountiful gifts that can help drain the power from that which overwhelms us.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Thinking All the Time: Is There No Relief?

     "I wish I could turn off my brain for a while!"
     "I wish I could just watch tv without running constant mental background analyses!"
     "No wonder I can't relax. I can't get away from myself!"
     Do any of these statements sound familiar to you? If so, you've probably already tried several relaxation techniques, and perhaps even meditation. You have have discovered that they just don't work for you.
     Think about it. It is harder to turn an ocean liner than it is to turn a canoe. So what might be needed here, in order for time-honored meditation techniques, for example, to take root in your heart?
     If you accept the fact that your mind works a certain way, if you show yourself the respect you extend to others, you're on your way. From there, it's a simple next step to forgiving yourself for expecting yourself to be other than who you are. You're not failing at the task of relaxation. You may be, however, failing at estimating the complexity of the system you are trying to relax in the first place.
     Like everything else you've already learned to adapt so it works for you, meditation and relaxation are going to look different to you than to those whose minds work differently. You may have more of what Buddhists call monkey mind distractions as you sit down to clear your mind. You may feel torn in several directions at once. That's the way you feel al the time, though, remember? Why expect yourself to feel any differently just because you decide to relax? or decide to meditate?
     Remember, you're trying to turn an ocean liner here. Give yourself the time, space, and the focus required for such an undertaking, and don't expect your ship is going to turn like a canoe just because that's what most people have.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Are the Gifted Different when It Comes to Mental Health?

     Because I specialize in working with gifted individuals, I am often asked whether such persons have problems that are any different from the problems everyone else faces.
     Here is my answer: The differences lie in the way life is experienced, processed, and valued; for the most part, however, the basic issues are similar to everyone else's.
     What are these differences? And why would this require a specialized therapeutic approach?
     Let's back up a little and define the chameleon word giftedness. For our purposes here, I'll use the Mensa definition. Admission to Mensa, an international organization, is based on one criterion: a score on a recognized IQ test or recognized alternative (such as the Law School Admission Test or the Miller Analogies Test, for example) at the equivalent of 130 or higher. This represents the top 2% of the population, and is two standard deviations above the average IQ score of 100. Again, for the sake of this discussion, let us assume that intelligence is measurable and that these scores are valid.
     You can easily understand that if you are in a 2% sector of any group, regardless of its defining characteristics, you are a member of a small minority. As such, your experience in that group is going to be different from the experience of most members. When that group is the entire human race, as it is with IQ distribution in the top 2%, your life is going to be different from most people's by virtue of that single characteristic of your experience.
     It is often pointed, however, that IQ is only one facet of the human experience. There's a lot of commonality among members of the human family that we all encounter over the course of a lifetime.
     And that is true. The differences lie in the way these experiences are processed by the individual. As it happens, high sensitivity to nuances of meaning, value, justice, and sensory input are hallmarks of giftedness. These characteristics work together to determine the way a gifted individual's life feels to that individual. A gifted individual cannot help seeing the world through the lens of high intelligence. In other words, a gifted person cannot help seeing the world differently from the way 98% of the population sees it.
     In short, experiences such as losing a loved one or making an important decision are part of everyone's daily life. The intellectually gifted person's encounter (emotional, philosophical, and practical) with these experiences is different from that of most people. Therefore, a gifted person can benefit from working with a therapist who understands these nuances; who speaks the same or similar complex language of words and other symbols; and who recognizes that there is as much a difference between a person with an IQ of 130 and a person with an IQ of 160 as there is between 100 and 130, or 70 and 100.
     It is not, as some have alleged, an elitist perspective to say that the intellectually gifted are different from most people. No one charges the Michael Jordans of the world with athletic elitism, do they? Yet this label persists when applied to intellectual capability. To do so is not just, and it is not kind. Giftedness is not a choice; it comes along genetically, like eye color and the potential for athletic skill.
     Are the gifted different? Yes. Is Michael Jordan different? Yes. Do they all need compassion, kindness, love, respect, affiliation? Yes! In these areas, they are just like everyone else.
     Exactly like everyone else.