Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Using a Popular Song from Your Youth as Emotional Therapy

     The popular songs of our life are rich with associations. Listening to a song you loved in high school (and we didn't just like our favorite songs in high school, we loved them: all passions ran high during those years), for example, can evoke memories so intense you feel you are there again: you recall exactly what you are wearing, what the halls of your school smell like, your chemistry lab partner's green sweater, even the way the light shines through the windows and onto the hardwood floors, where you look while searching for the answers during an impromptu oral quiz in your English class. In my case, I recall with absolute clarity the pervasive scent of chocolate in our afternoon classes, which drove the nuns crazy (they didn't know we used Hershey's Cocoa Butter on our legs during lunch break as a tanning aid).
     There is another way, though, that the popular songs of your youth have power. They can be used therapeutically.
     Here's how:
     Think of a song, for example, that you love and associate positively with the first bloom of your first love. This might be your first our song, or the one that was playing when you had your first kiss. Settle into a quiet place with your laptop, go to YouTube, and find that song. Plug in your ear buds and close your eyes.
     At first you will have the rush of all the associations I mentioned earlier. But if you linger a minute, and go deeper, you will also begin to sense that you can also recollect the feelings associated with those very golden memories of early love. At that time, your whole body tingled with energy when you saw your beloved. At his or her touch, you were electrified. Your eyes grew wide. Your heart beat faster. A joy rose within you that made you feel you could burst. Oh, how you loved this person! Oh, how wonderful that love felt! And you can feel those feelings again in these moments as you listen to the song. You can feel the love, the respect, the trust, the admiration.
     You have just discovered that all those feelings reside within you still, and they can be tapped and brought to consciousness through the simple method I have just described.
      There are a few caveats that need to be observed for this process to work.
  1. First of all, when choosing the song you want to use, be certain you have only positive associations with it and with the person connected to it in the moment when it was popular in your daily life. 
  2. Also, be specific. Don't think of a group you liked; instead, choose a specific song that has particular meaning to you. 
  3. Finally, be prepared to turn it off the minute you feel anything negative. Select another song and start over, or select another time to do this exercise, perhaps when you are more free to focus on the process.
     Why do I suggest going backwards in order to feel good in the present? Because when you are feeling sad or depressed, one of your fears is likely to be that you will never feel better again. Talking yourself out of feeling depressed is hopeless. The links between what you understand cognitively and the heavy sadness in your heart feel solid and impenetrable.
     So I am offering you a workaround.
     Using a popular song in this way bypasses the thinking part of your brain and goes directly to your emotional memories. You are able to feel once again those feelings which are tapped by a song from a time when you were unremittingly happy. You feel the love and respect and delight you felt. And when the song is over, you have unmitigated proof to yourself that you are capable of feeling happy again, because you have just experienced it. This can help reduce some of the anxiety that often accompanies sadness and depression.
     You can use the song over and over to bring up the feelings you like. But once you've done it once or twice, you might be surprised to discover that you can evoke those feeling memories yourself, without the musical cue. You can use this ability in times when you feel overwhelmed, when you feel sad, when you can't seem to feel a way out of a dismal moment.
     You are creating a positive feedback loop for yourself, essentially, which, once created, is there at your command. It is a very powerful tool for finding your way to a happier state of mind.
     Enjoy yourself. Love yourself and your precious emotional memories. Those feelings can live again.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Killer in Colorado: Who's Frightened Now?

     Another crazy person shoots and kills, murders people he has never met. This time, with three separate weapons, including an assault rifle. The crazy man lives - no self-inflicted shot to the head, no suicide by provoking police gunfire. He is arrested. He hires a lawyer. No one knows why he did this. But does it even matter? Or is the more important question related to how he came upon the AR-15 in the first place?
     We are held captive in this country by a powerful group of fools who misconstrue the 18th century language of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which was written in a time when we actually had militias. One of the results of this kind of thinking is that a crazy man in Colorado had possession of a military-style assault rifle. In the USA, each of us has the right to "bear arms."
     People will tell you that gun control will make no difference, that new laws will make no difference, because criminals will find these weapons on the black market. I have no doubt that this is true. They're criminals. They don't give a rip about any other laws; why would they suddenly take heed if guns were controlled? I doubt, however, that with stricter laws and stricter punishments a neuroscience student would have the apparently easy access to an AR-15 that this murderer in Colorado had.
     You don't have to agree with me on the matter of gun control. But it is impossible for anyone to refute the existence of encroaching fear that each gruesome crime like the Colorado movie massacre plants in the hearts of children and adults throughout this country. Not just the children who were at the theater that night and missed being hit by bullets. Not just the children who knew kids who were there. Children all over the country. And their parents as well.
     The baseline anxiety that most individuals in this country wake up with each morning is a silent debilitator that makes everything harder, everything more frightening, everything slightly less sure. Security? It's a word we use when we think of airports these days. It's not something we feel any longer as the background of our daily lives. Security has been replaced by anxiety, vigilance, and the constancy of low-grade fear.
     Today in America things feel scarier to many youngsters than they did yesterday. Their ideas about the future are a little darker, and carry a subtle home-grown threat that all is not what it seems. You can't go to the mall without risking your life. You can't go to the movies. In Seattle these days (and I'm sure we are not unique in this) you can't even drive down the street minding your own business without being at risk for catching a stray bullet when one anger-driven gangster takes poor aim at another who is equally angry.
     We have much to answer for allowing ourselves to be force fed a misinterpretation of our own Constitution. We have even more to answer for if we continue to disagree about it in private but do nothing to change things in public
     How many terrified children will it take to change an Amendment to the Constitution of the Unites States of America? Apparently we have not yet hit that number.
     Or have we? Was the murderous rage in Colorado this morning enough to tip the balance?
     Psychotherapists everywhere are hoping the answer is yes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Different Then, Different Still: The Gifted Adult

     Gifted children have a much different experience related to being gifted than people one and two generations ahead of them. For one thing, they are recognized and identified. They may not all get the support they need. They may fall prey to bullies and to the envious. Sure. Some things never change. But at least they are recognized for what they are: intellectually gifted.
     If you go back to the time when today's adults were children, things were not so clear. And, of course, the farther back in the decades you go, the muddier things get. High achievers were called smart by those who admired them, or kiss-ups (and worse) by those they annoyed.
     Mainly this was because gifted children of past eras, just as those do today, asked questions that other kids hadn't conceptualized. They asked questions that showed evidence of previously considered underpinnings that most adults (including their teachers) hadn't constructed for themselves. They saw patterns, made associations, deduced, and predicted. Sometimes, they were wrong. They were kids, after all. But a lot of the time, they were right: inventive, creative, exciting. 
     Sometimes the mere fact of asking certain questions was daunting when they came at the wrong time. I recall asking gigantic, multi-dimensional what if questions around Girl Scout camp fires on summer nights deep in the woods, for example. These generally had the effect of a sudden hailstorm on the group's joie de vivre: some kids got a kick out of them, while the majority ran for shelter. Do you remember ever having the feeling of wishing you'd just kept your thoughts to yourself?
     Those of you who may feel as if you comprise the lost tribe of gifted adults are still prone to asking those big questions. Things occur to you while you are watching your children play soccer, sipping wine in the lobby during intermission at the opera, or stretching your legs during a coffee break from an intense business meeting...but you've learned to pick your audiences now. You understand the potential cost of what is seen as blurting out whatever happens to be on your mind. You keep your quiet inquiries to yourselves. And much as it was when you were children, you still get tired of being treated as if you're the smartest person in the room, whose comments garner admiration rather than response. You want companionship, a meeting of the minds, not admiration, however sincerely it is offered.
     It ain't easy being green. It ain't easy being smart. But the older you get, the smarter you get about being smart. You learn to be selective. You learn to cherish your own company, and pursue your interests, no matter what anyone else may say or think about them.
     But there's one thing to remember: just as you can't hide green, you can't hide smart. But you can learn to accept being lonely in a crowd at times, because at times you are, and that's life, and your lot in it. Being intelligent also holds the potential for great personal joy.
     And the older you get, the smarter you get about feeling generative with your intelligence: your life can become an model for others about how to manage the complexity of labyrinths not seen or experienced by many people, but which pose a great challenge to those younger than you who are just setting out. This is the gift of your gift: you can leave breadcrumbs behind so that others may follow the example of your well-lived life. Stand up and be smart. The right people will notice, and others will notice and may be warmed by your fire anyway, regardless of their level of awareness. The main thing is to be yourself and honor your gifts. You can't hide them, anyway.
     If you feel you could benefit by additional wind under your wings, counseling can provide just the lift you may need in order to take off and soar.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Empty Nest: It's Not Temporary

     All those years of rushing children to soccer and ballet, horses and theater productions, teacher conferences, college care packages, rushing off to the airport to pick them up as they return for holidays before flying off again to school...whoosh! they are gone. And so are the children.
     You raised them to be independent. They are exactly the young people you hoped they would become: busy, active, involved, productive members of society, with their own life trajectories and concerns. If they are in their mid- to late twenties, you are likely in that interim place where mothers are stored while grown children develop and test their wings. And that can be a very lonely place for a mother.
     Once these children marry and have children of their own, relationships shift and families reconfigure to incorporate the new members. You have a distinct role: grandmother. You have a place in the family.
     But this interim place, this on-hold place  - it can be wrought with pain and confusion. For one thing, it is a massive adjustment to go from being the central point in your children's lives, the very point to which they are tethered, to being off their grids. Not only do they no longer need your daily ministrations, but also they don't yet have enough life experience of their own to realize the enormous change their independence has brought to your life. It is the death of a beloved role; and, like any death, it needs to be mourned.
     Sure, the image of the phoenix comes to mind. You hear of women "re-inventing themselves in mid-life, now that the children are gone," and "becoming themselves." You hear of companies started, novels written, volunteer commitments in the community - but you don't hear of the quiet mourning in each mother's heart as she goes about her daily business in a world that is forever changed. You don't witness the quiet moments when she wipes away the burning tears that seem to come out of nowhere
     And you don't hear about the fear a woman faces about trying to articulate this to her children. Why bother them with my stuff? I'll get over this. It's just a phase. They're doing just what I wanted them to do. It's time for me to get on with my life. I'm not the first woman whose children have left home.
     But, oh! For just one day of bandaging bruised knees, settling he-said-she-said arguments, commending the broccoli because it's good for you... Just one day of looking in the rear view mirror to check on the toddler in the back seat. One day of...being mommy.
     But those days have vanished.
     Whether your friends talk about them or not, I assure you that this is no minor transition for a women. It is a large and significant shift from one role to another, and it comes on us suddenly. We first feel a little relief when the house is quiet during those times when the children are away at college. We read. We cook what we like. The house stays neat. But in those days, we have the comfort of knowing chaos will resume the minute you return from the airport with the children and their suitcases of laundry.
     Now it is quiet all the time. Now the house stays neat. Now you have all the time in the world to do just what you want with whatever spare time you have. They are not coming home. There will be no holiday chaos. They will not be bringing their books and laptops and sloppy clothes next time they visit. They will come with handbags. They will have to run off shortly after eating. They have things they have to do, places they need to be in fifteen minutes, people who are expecting them. Other people. Not you. Their kisses graze your cheek as they rush out the door - and they are gone.
     I recommend you share your thoughts and feelings with your women friends who are in a similar situation with regard to their children. Unless there was deep familial dysfunction and pathology, it is very likely your friends are trying to get along the best way they know how, just as you are, even though that includes the daily presence of a hole right in the middle of their hearts.
     This is the progress of life. This is the cycle since time immemorial. The differences over time, of course, include the dissolution of the extended family. This is the main cause of the distress women face when their children leave home. Our culture could benefit greatly be re-examining this issue, and perhaps the economics of our times will force a re-evaluation of the benefits of the extended family. It would benefit us all, in each generation. It would mean connections do not have to be artificially severed. It would keep the cloth whole.
     Meanwhile, acknowledge the pain of the loss. Know that every mother faces it. Know that the support you receive from your women friends can help you greatly as a community of mommies becomes a community of mothers, mothers of adult children, and seats of wisdom.
     Wisdom is the pearl that develops from the painful separation of having your children move on. And wisdom is a beautiful gift, bittersweet in the winning, and beautiful to witness because of the difficulty in which it was born.