I believe everyone has a good reason for the things they do. Their reason may only make sense in their own mind, but the driving force behind their decisions makes good sense to them. I believe this and I try to remember it in traffic and while watching the news.
Humans aren’t as complex as they seem. A simple formula explains a process we all go through thousands of times a day. When we watch ourselves closely, we can see this formula come to life:
The magic of this formula becomes evident when the same experience elicits a different thought. It shows how powerful our thoughts and deep beliefs can be.
Here is a different example to illustrate the influence of a deep belief.
Being “woke” is both an insult and an aspiration. Too much of a good thing always leads to some kind of intestinal distress, but the intention behind this maligned term is evolutionarily valuable. If the human race is to survive this current round of ugliness, we need to wield the dual weapons of awareness and wisdom. Being woke refers to acknowledging and rejecting the beliefs and practices that hurt and oppress humans. So if you are a devout bigot, racist, or oppressor, you most certainly collude with trashing the idea of being woke. If you prefer not to carry those titles, becoming woke is actually quite achievable.
The simple prescription? Embrace the new.
People over thirty-five are automatically lumped into the category of “Boomer” by those who birthed the concept of wokeness. Humans have an undeniable affinity for tradition and “the good old days”, no matter how good they actually were. Those who refuse to stay young and engaged will find themselves fighting for outdated and useless ways of being. They start voting against their own best interests when they refuse to pay attention to the young people with their fingers on the pulse of culture and activism.
So for Pete’s sake, get TikTok, follow some smart people on YouTube, keep current on NetFlix. Listen to your kids, grandkids, and other young people. Ask them questions and resist teasing, lecturing, or comparing their experience to yours. Consider yourself lucky if they talk to you honestly, and don’t waste the opportunity to appreciate their perspective. When you notice the little door to new experience closing in your heart and mind, resist. Open it back up and listen. Be present and current and woke.
In therapy circles, the "I Statement" reigns supreme. Our first interpersonal psych classes taught us this method for helping people communicate their feelings in a concise, healthy way: "I feel (an emotion), when (a certain thing happens), because (why it matters to you)." We learned it, we practiced it, and most of us kinda forgot about it. It's one of those skills that is simple to say but not easy to do, and even harder to convince clients to use in their own lives.
Today I was pondering a way to stay neutral when receiving a message that feels like criticism. Many of us have an instant reaction when we think we've done something wrong and our nervous systems respond as though we're in Big Trouble. Common emotional responses are guilty apologizing, shrinking in fear or shame, puddling into sad tears, or angrily avoiding the conversation.
Maybe if we have a healthier, more assertive approach at the ready, we won't need to sink into any of these uncomfortable responses. Behold, the Reverse I Statement! With this approach, we can look the other in the eye, rather than feeling inferior or unworthy. And we can say: "I heard you say that when I (my action), you felt (an emotion), because (their interpretation of the event)". Then stop talking. Let them respond to your statement-- they will likely either agree or correct you. Continue rephrasing what you hear them say until you have achieved complete understanding of their concern. No apologies, no tears, no shouting.
Once the other has been heard, they will likely be more receptive to hearing your side of the story. Now you can swoop in with an I Statement of your own, or something simpler if you need more time to process your thoughts and feelings. It's perfectly ok to ask to return to the conversation after you've had some time to collect your thoughts.
Many of us struggle to find the right words when we're not prepared for a conversation, so the Reverse I Statement can come to our rescue by taking the pressure off us to come up with just the right response. Try it out and share your thoughts in the comments!
I recently watched a show in which the question "What do you stand for?" was asked. I paused to consider my answer and felt pleased that it came to me pretty quickly. In my clinical work, I find that the answer to this question is often the answer to many of the questions brought into the therapy room.
We don't always give our personal values as much thought as they deserve. Elections give us a chance to consider the issues and leadership qualities that are important to us, but only a small percentage of people vote, and even then our judgments can be clouded by affiliations and other influences. Identifying the rights, privileges, and human experiences that we believe to be undeniable helps us know ourselves more deeply and gives us a solid foundation up which to base our most important decisions.
My clients often come to a point of exploring their next moves in life. Their decisions may include work opportunities, relationships, education, parenting, homesteading, or vacation planning. Sometimes when I inquire about the deep personal beliefs involved in making the decision, I get a blank look in response. So we begin by exploring what really matters to the individual, and distinguishing a value from an activity or a simple preference. The question "What do you stand for?" refers to something we are willing to take action to protect, to show reverence for by leaving our seat and proclaiming our devotion.
Having values and the confidence to claim and protect them is an important avenue toward creating a meaningful and fulfilling life. Loads of worksheets can be found online to help with values clarification and personal exploration. Your TikTok "For You page" and Amazon ads can you reflect on the values you have aligned yourself with. Look around at your friends and chosen family and remember the saying "Show me who your friends are and I'll show you who you are". In essence, we are our values. So know your values and claim who you are! It will ease your passage through this life.
As much as we humans love to create and label mental boxes in which to organize the nouns we encounter throughout our days, the Russian doll effect applies in that every labeled box actually encompasses endlessly smaller labeled boxes, for our sorting enjoyment. Any member of the LGBTQ+ community can attest that every variation of romantic, gender, and sexual disposition has a name, a flag, and a thriving community of enthusiasts.
Same goes for the Introvert-Extrovert spectrum. Rather than settling for the classic binary, we now understand that gradations are typical and many people strive to find just the right term to describe their particular approach to engaging in the interpersonal realm. Extroverted Introverts are also referred to as Social/Sociable Introverts, Ambiverts, or Omniverts. I'm sure there are other synonyms I haven't come across yet. Feel free to deep-dive into this more if terminology interests you.
My insight of the day around this is a question that occurred to me: I wonder if it is common for Extroverted Introverts to be misunderstood and possibly rejected by others? Lots of people walk this earth feeling different, excluded, and "othered". The people who enjoy and need time alone, who can be quiet and solitary in certain moments, but who can also assertively lead a group and hold their own at a cocktail party, perhaps these people are confounding to others who try to pin them inside a decorative display box and attach a neat label underneath? Maybe these people come across as inconsistent and unreliable due to their seemingly unpredictable nature? These qualities can signal danger and put others on the defensive.
The catch is, the EI's behavior isn't actually unpredictable if you understand the nuances of the situations, their personal needs and energy sources, and the predisposition that allows them to shift between two different styles of engagement with the world. If you are an EI, it may be enlightening to consider whether this dynamic affects your personal or work relationships. It's fascinating to explore the gradations of human experience and work toward releasing our reliance on clean lines and strong demarcations between us.
My job is fascinating and I've let too much time go by without documenting the little moments of revelation that happen practically every day. I am going to use this as a micro-blog to share the new and interesting thoughts that arise through my work with therapy clients and clinical associates. At the end of the day, psychotherapy is two humans sitting in a room together, learning from one another.
I have a hypothesis that there is a place on the neurological spectrum between ADHD and Autism which explains the inner life and functioning of a great many people. My experience has been primarily with women, which is the reason for this piece's title. In my experience with Autistic and ADHD boys and men, their symptoms tend to align nicely with the criteria detailed in the DSM, which makes sense since the bulk of the defining research has been conducted on them. However, it is possible that men will relate to these neurodiverse traits as well. And my use of gendered terminology in no way excludes genderfluid or diverse people from engaging with this work.
This is my answer to my field's practice of diagnosing human conditions via their observable facets. An individual's neurological functioning is often intentionally concealed in order to survive our society's institutional expectations. I have used this chart to honor internal experience above observable behavior in order to help people recognize these traits in themselves or to exclude neurodivergence as the source of their challenges.
Labels have the power to enlighten and enslave us. Hopefully more of the former. An individual officially labeled with a physical, mental, or developmental disorder may be entitled to certain supports and protections. In optimal circumstances, a diagnosis helps people understand themselves better and find direction toward living their best life possible.
The process of diagnosis tends to be veiled in mystery and deemed the territory of very expensive specialists. Capitalism loves a pedestal. However, diagnosis of disorders (I prefer "conditions") actually entails one basic element: matching up an individual's behavior with criteria identified through ostensibly scientific procedures and listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The DSM is generally used by mental health practitioners and the ICD is used by medical professionals. The numbers after their name refer to the current revision of the work. Most of the conditions which are listed in both volumes entail the same or mostly similar criteria for diagnosis.
Let me diverge from the main topic for a second. At this point in time, diagnosis tends to be based on observable behavior rather than internal experience. Which means that diagnostic pronouncements are made by an outside authority often based on commentary given by others known to the patient, especially in the case of children. There has been a recent shift in the healthcare field toward replacing the term "mental health" with "behavioral health", as if a person is what they do. This mindset has the power to create more barriers to truly understanding and serving people who are looking for help. I place value on the internal experience of the individual and I like to imagine a world where people's own experience of themselves is honored more than an outsider's judgment of their visible symptoms.
Many paths can lead toward determining whether a person meets criteria for diagnosis, and specifying exactly which diagnosis fits best. I imagine everyone reading this article has had an experience of seeking understanding of a physical or personal concern, only to be told several different things by several different professionals while receiving little useful help. This is because diagnosis, at its core, is not technically scientific. It is based on the clinician's knowledge base, clinical experience, personal and professional biases, competence with measurement tools, energy level and brain power at the time of diagnosis, insurance company influence, and sometimes convenience.
People qualified to deliver diagnoses are those licensed (not certified, credentialed, or trained) by the medical and behavioral health boards of each state. LCSW (licensed clinical social worker), LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist), and LPCC (licensed professional clinical counselor) licensees are all governed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences (https://www.bbs.ca.gov/) in California and are all technically qualified to make diagnoses of conditions listed in the DSM. However, each field's initial training has a slightly different psycho-social-emotional focus so it's up to the clinician to enhance their knowledge base with further learning and clinical experience throughout their career in order to be competent in their delivery of services. We have an ethical commitment to work within our scope of competence and to define our field of practice based on our specialty focus and expertise. Just because my license qualifies me to diagnose Hebephrenic Schizophrenia doesn't mean it's the right thing for me to do.
Many clinicians are unclear on the capabilities and limitations afforded them by their professional license. Lacking confidence, information, and scruples leads many clinicians to fall back on common, trendy, or generic diagnoses. Rather than truly understanding the person through a variety of perspectives, they grab at a couple obvious straws and slap a quick label on it. Every decade sees a handful of over-utilized diagnoses which often tend to be the ones most highly reimbursed by insurance companies. Mental healthcare is absolutely part of the capitalist game.
I sound cynical, don't I? I like to think I hold a healthy amount of skepticism toward the whole system. Enough to stay grounded and keep my focus on the welfare of the individual over the corporate bottom line.
So when seeking answers as to why you feel, act, or react a certain way, it's important to have some guesses as to what might be your concern. Trust me, your guess is as good as your healthcare professional's. It will give them a place to start as they consider your symptoms, explore your experience, and weigh that information against their knowledge base of various conditions which may share characteristics or overlap in certain dimensions. The best diagnostician is one who can skillfully discern between varying presentations of conditions and individualize their conceptualization of your particular case. A good practitioner will also be able to explain their thinking and conclusions in a way that makes sense to you, the patient.
I value self-recognition as a useful step toward appropriate diagnosis. Although WebMD has caused many unwarranted panic attacks and sleepless nights, it has also helped millions learn about conditions to which they previously had no exposure. Approaching your healthcare provider with questions and suspicions is extremely valuable in helping them attend to the important details of your concerns. In the best scenarios, they will consider your suggestions and use them as jumping-off points to explore your concerns and arrive at a determination as to the source of your trouble.
I've somehow saved some of the most important points for the end of the article. Most mental health conditions in the DSM do not require expensive testing and long procedures to diagnose! Of course the general public typically has no idea of the correct way to arrive at a diagnosis, so they trust the professionals they hire. And as we all know as seasoned capitalists, the more expensive something is, the better it is. So a $5,000 diagnosis must be more correct than a $500 one, right? I am here to say that is entirely false. Most conditions can be identified through careful interviewing and observation, and perhaps the completion of a written survey or two. If your clinician has expertise in their field, they will know what fits and doesn't fit with all the conditions similar to and affiliated with the predominant symptoms reported and observed.
Clinicians do their best to gather copious information from multiple sources to make the most accurate assessment possible. Some patients are better able to perceive and articulate their experiences. Some concerns are actually more internal than external and may be difficult to convey. Sometimes observation and psychometric testing is inconclusive. Truly, diagnosis is not typically a linear, objective process. Mistakes are made and details are overlooked, even by the most expensive of diagnosticians.
This is not to say that extensive psychological testing is all hooey. There are many conditions such as developmental and learning disorders which truly reside in the deepest parts of the brain and defy clear outward expression that need expert attention and review through complex processes. The processes are usually not the first step in a diagnostic process, though. Practicing therapists in clinics and private practices ought to be adept in their offered services and worthy of the trust their clients put in them.
Many of us have been taught the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you wish to be treated. It's quaint and useful as a general tool and, oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if the world actually operated according to this philosophy? When deciding where to leave your grocery cart in the parking lot, this is helpful guidance for making a pro-social choice. Interpersonally, it doesn't hold up as well.
I've heard versions of Golden Rule-thinking come up in all of my counseling experiences. At school, students would often try to resolve peer problems by doing the thing they didn't like right back to the person who did it first. "How do you like it?" is thought to be a really powerful lesson. However, no recipient of this treatment ever looked at the ground sheepishly and replied, "You're right, that was a rotten thing to do. I'm sorry, I'll never do it again." That's the desired reaction, but it NEVER actually happens! Except maybe on the "Brady Bunch", sigh.
Intimate partners often say to each other, "I would never do that to you" in an effort to get the other to admit they did a jerky thing and that they themselves wouldn't appreciate if the tables were turned. But that strategy often falls flat. The human ego and survival instinct seem to prevent us from reflecting on ourselves in this way, especially during a moment of tension. Another downfall of this technique is that it rests on the assumption that our preferences are the same and that we respond similarly to stimuli.
I call relationships between partners with different neurological types "neurodiverse relationships". One partner may function neurotypically and the other may fall on the autistic spectrum or have ADHD or another condition affecting their neurological processing, or both partners may function at different places on the neurological spectrum. These styles heavily influence the way people communicate, how they experience and show emotion, and how they respond to touch and sensation, among other traits.
In this field, we acknowledge that people absorb and process information differently. The "telephone game" gives us a concrete example of how messages can change according to the way they are heard and shared. We use the term "filter" to describe the unique way a person interprets information they receive from others. We all have filters based on our personal life experiences and emotional and psychological functioning. When we add a layer of neurodivergence on top of standard communication dynamics, things get even more complicated.
Due to our filters and interpersonal dynamics, it is wise to recognize that the way one person prefers to be treated may not be the same for another, thus rendering the Golden Rule inappropriate. For example, one person might really like a hug when they feel sad, but another might prefer quiet companionship with no physical contact. If the first person follows the Golden Rule to the letter and approaches their sad friend with arms wide open, they will get a response they weren't expecting. Then that misunderstanding and surprising response will lead to new thoughts and perhaps confusion and hurt feelings.
Treating others according to our own personal beliefs and preferences fails to acknowledge each individual's unique needs and personality.
This knowledge can help couples understand one another better and more consistently create satisfying experiences. It is actually not reasonable to assume that others want to be treated the way I want to be treated, at least without more information and open communication. As a society, we've come to embrace the Love Languages and know that different people have different ways of giving and receiving love. People are also unique in their preferences around communication, personal space, home maintenance, gift-giving, and all other aspects of shared living.
Partners can help themselves by asking about and attending to their partners' personal preferences and needs. Assuming they want the same things is a fallacy that does not create the harmonious existence most couples crave. Viewing all preferences as valid and finding ways to compromise so that both partners get some of what they want is the most functional path toward fulfilling interdependence.
I was originally taught, and through experience now believe, that dreams come to us in the service of health and wholeness. They come from the deepest and most mysterious places of our own minds to help us sort through all the material and experiences we absorb each day. I believe dreams are colorful or dramatic reflections of where we are mentally and emotionally at the time of the dream, helping us clarify and process our thoughts and emotions.
I do not think prophetic dreams are very common, although I do not discount them outright. I think humans are very curious about the future and crave the security of knowing what lies ahead, so the tendency to think that our dreams may predict future events can be very strong. I also don't think the people who appear in our dreams always represent themselves. Some people think if they have a dream about kissing someone, they have some sort of moral obligation to obtain their consent. Let that go, your dream is your own private world.
Dreams tend to speak in a symbolic language that involves the different realms of our mind that we don’t typically acknowledge or give voice to: our subconscious, the perceptions we tend to discount or ignore; and our unconscious, that which we don’t even realize lurks beneath. Given this context, please know that NO ONE can tell you what your dream means. Only your own intuition and "gut sense" can identify the metaphors and analogies that rightfully describe the content of your dream experience.
Countless books have been written on the meaning of dreams, dream analysis and interpretation, and methods for generating and recording dreams. I won’t go into those details here. This article is intended to provide you with a simple and effective method for understanding a dream you remember upon waking. I believe that if a dream fades away, it doesn’t have an important message to be worked out. Dreams with strong emotional content or startling and memorable images that stick with you into the daytime tend to have information that could benefit your growth and development. Scary dreams are intended to frighten you into paying attention to something important!
As you remember your dream, identify the strong images, thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, colors, or numbers that you experienced in your dream. Focus on those elements that really stand out in your memory. The smaller details are probably less important. Write them down as soon as possible before they begin to naturally fade with the daylight.
Download this page for the form you will use to reveal the meaning of your dream!
In the first column of the dream sheet (Dream Element), list the elements you remember in any order. Leave some room between each element for the writing you will do in the other columns.
In the second column, you will reflect on what the element means to you personally. For example, if you dream of chocolate chip cookies, write down any significant thoughts or experiences with chocolate chip cookies. Keep it short and simple. You might put "delicious, Grandma made them" or “not my favorite“. Do this for each of the elements listed in the first column.
In the third column, you will look into the symbolic meaning of each dream element. For this you will use a symbolic dream dictionary. It is important to use a dictionary that offers a variety of possible symbolic meanings, rather than superficial interpretations. Books or websites that make connections such as “dreaming of a tree means you will soon get a new job“ are unhelpful to this process. Dreams are not fortune cookies, they are complicated puzzles that speak a mystical and deeply personal language.
Look up your dream image in one or more dictionaries until you find a definition that appeals to you. The definition/s you choose might make sense in the context of a current or past event in your life. Or it might just feel appropriate or "right" according to your intuition. If there are several definitions you are drawn to, list them all.
The last column is the most fun. This is where you get to combine and synthesize the second and third columns. Use your imagination here. Let the thoughts come to you, see how the two descriptions blend together. It might not be obvious, but often once all the elements have been interpreted, the fourth column can be constructed into a sort of story. Even if it doesn't come out completely clear, you will likely gain some insight into your current challenges, thoughts, or emotions.
A few tips. If a person you know shows up in your dream, write their name and role, such as "John, brother" and look up the meaning for both. You can search online for "John name meaning" (I found "graced by God"). Sometimes dreams speak in puns. So if Harry Styles makes an appearance, you might consider the word "hairy" and see if that fits. As you remember your dream, check in with all of your senses to ensure you capture all the pertinent details.
Please leave a comment if you use this method and find it helpful. Happy dreaming!