Mar 27

Stoicism: “Reasons Not to Worry” and Other Books

If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety, or even depression, you might find some relief in the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. Wait: It’s probably not what you think, if you think of stoics as people who hide their emotions. Susan K. Perry, PhD, Psychology Today

In Reasons Not to Worry: How to be Stoic in Chaotic Times (2023), Australian author Brigid Delaney details the results of her attempts to live Stoically.

Sample quote: “The Stoics also articulated the mood that we should aspire to as our default setting—ataraxia (literally, ‘without disturbance’)—a carefully calibrated state of tranquillity that is not happiness, or joy, or any of the ecstatic states found in religious or mystical experiences, or in the more modern highs of falling in love or taking cocaine. Instead, ataraxia is a state of contentment or peace where the world can be falling in around your ears, but your equilibrium is undisturbed.”

Her article in The Guardian lists “10 tools of ancient philosophy that improved my life.” These are presented below with excerpts.

1. Work out what’s in your control–“Essentially, our field of control consists of our own actions and reactions, our desires, our character and how we treat others. The rest – including our bodies, the actions of others, our reputation and our fortunes (personal and financial) – are out of our control.”

2. You don’t need to judge everything–“If we treat most events in a neutral way we are less likely to get upset by things that happen.”

3. Money, health and reputation are out of your control–“…(I)t’s better to practise indifference to what you have in the first place.”

4. Practise the conditions that you fear–“Often it’s not as bad as we fear – and we are stronger than we think.”

5. Practise imagining death–“The Stoics believed you should grieve your loved ones while they are still living. In fact, they advised you to think of their death frequently while they are still alive in order to prepare…The same goes for our own death…”

6. Don’t worry about others’ reactions–“You can try to persuade or influence them, but ultimately their actions and reactions are up to them.”

7. Moderation is a virtue–“A Stoic would treat alcohol, particularly expensive wine, with indifference. She would be aware that addiction is dangerous because it impairs reason. She would also be aware that banging on about abstaining is boring.”

8. Give without expecting a return–“It’s better to give freely, without conditions or caveats, and without expecting anything in return. That way I won’t be disappointed if a favour is never repaid.”

9. Say no to Fomo–“Say you didn’t get tickets to a sold-out festival; think about what you have gained instead. Perhaps you will have another experience that weekend – certainly you’ll have an extra $200 to play with.”

10. Try to relax–“’Never let the future disturb you,’ wrote Aurelius. ‘You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present’.”

Several other relatively contemporary books advocate elements of Stoicism. For instance, in A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (2008), William B. Irvine states, “Stoicism, understood properly, is a cure for a disease.” He means such emotions as anxiety, grief, fear, and whatever else impedes your ability to enjoy life.

From Jules Evans‘s Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems (2013) is this Stoicism exercise, the View From Above: “…If you’re feeling stressed by some niggling annoyances, project your imagination into space and imagine the vastness of the universe. From that cosmic perspective, the annoyance doesn’t seem that important anymore—you’ve made a molehill out of a mountain.”

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living (2016) by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman features insights and exercises for every day of the year and emphasizes three basic “spiritual exercises” used by the Stoics:

  1. Practice misfortune.
  2. Train perception to avoid good and bad.
  3. Remember—it’s all ephemeral.
Feb 27

Movies As Therapy/The Psychology of Movies

Skip Dine Young, a professor and clinical psychologist, states in Psychology at the Movies, “All movies are psychologically alive, exploding with human drama. This drama can be seen from many different angles—in the movies themselves, in the people who make them, and in the people who watch them” (Psychology Today). He sees movies as therapy of sorts, “equipment for living.”

And, as Steve Martin once said, “You know what your problem is, it’s that you haven’t seen enough movies — all of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”

Films are so good at bringing out various emotions, they can be used as adjuncts in therapy. One professional who actually specializes in movies as therapy is Dr. Birgit Wolz, who wrote E-Motion Picture Magic: A Movie Lover’s Guide to Healing and Transformation (2004).

She conceptualizes three types of cinema therapy:

  1. Evocative: when a client raises the topic of having seen a certain film, Wolz can look at what the characters or scenes evoke in him or her
  2. Prescriptive: based on a client’s presenting problems, a certain movie may be prescribed as a learning tool
  3. Cathartic: when a certain film enables a client with blocked emotions to laugh or cry or both

Her website offers lots of good stuff, including special articles and links, movie reviews, and a list of films organized by the types of issues they represent. Likewise, you can click on the Zur Institute website for a comprehensive film list offered jointly by Wolz and psychologist Dr. Ofer Zur.

Therapist Enzo Sinisi at TherapyRoute.com also offers a long list of mental health-related films.

The book Positive Psychology at the Movies (updated 2013) by Ryan M. Niemiec and Danny Wedding is a resource for those who want to learn more about the field of positive psychology‘s view of character strengths and virtues (see previous post “A Good Life“) via film.

Another related phenomenon to the psychology of movies is the “sadfilm paradox”—when we value but don’t exactly “enjoy” certain films. Examples given by writer Sharon Jayson that fit this category are Hotel Rwanda and Schindler’s List

Others I can readily name include The Fault in Our Stars, Boyhood, Selma, Life Is Beautiful, and Terms of Endearment. And of course there are many more.

A study led by Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, a communications professor at Ohio State, monitored the feelings of people who watched one particular “sadfilm,” Atonement, a story about the long-lasting effects of a teenager’s wrongheaded and serious accusation against a young man. Why did viewers, including myself, so like this movie? According to the study, sadness “instigates life reflection.” Life reflection leads to greater appreciation of your own relationships. Greater appreciation of your close relationships leads to increased happiness.

Mary Beth Oliver, Penn State, conducted a different but related study about the sad-film paradox. She “argues that a key part of meaningful entertainment is that it elicits a sense of elevation, or the warm sentiment we feel when we witness acts of moral beauty or characters who embody moral virtues. People flock to sad stories not for the sadness, Oliver says, but to experience these feel-good moments that sadness brings out” (Sam McNerney, Big Think).

“Elevation” involves not only happiness but also such feelings as being “moved” and having a desire to help others.

So, to recap. Sad films—a path to happiness. Films in general–self-awareness, various emotions, and learning about life.

Feb 13

“Making Marriage Simple” and Other Hendrix/Hunt

In Making Marriage Simple: 10 Truths for Changing the Relationship You Have into the One You Want, couples counselors Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, creators of Imago Relationship Therapy, presented a “blueprint” of sorts for couples in committed relationships.

An Amazon reader/reviewer reveals the 10 truths the authors say are the keys.

  1. Romantic Love is a Trick
  2. Incompatibility is Grounds for Marriage
  3. Conflict is Growth Trying to Happen
  4. Being Present for Each Other Heals the Past
  5. It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It
  6. Negativity Is Invisible Abuse
  7. Negativity Is a Wish in Disguise
  8. Your Brain Has a Mind of Its Own
  9. Your Marriage is a Laughing Matter
  10. Your Marriage is Your Best Life Insurance Plan

Publishers Weekly: “The overall message—built on an enthusiastic notion of marriage as the core institution of society and following a structure of specific communication exercises—is one that divorce-happy America may not be ready to hear: ‘the best way to heal a relationship is not to repair the two people, but the Space between them.'”

Making Marriage Simple is just one of the Hendrix manuals. Others include Getting the Love You Want, Keeping the Love You Find, and Receiving Love. Following are selected quotes from their books.

The idea that your partner is really a composite of your parents can be a bit upsetting at first. Though we love our parents, most of us got over (consciously) wanting to marry them when we turned five or six. Then, when we hit our teenage years, all we wanted was our freedom. But the fact is, we’re unconsciously drawn to that special someone with the best and worst character traits of all of our caregivers combined. We call this our “Imago”—the template of positive and negative qualities of your primary caregivers.

About 90 percent of the frustrations your partner has with you are really about their issues from childhood. That means only 10 percent or so is about each of you right now. 

Ironically…fusers (who experienced neglectful caretaking) and isolators (who experienced intrusive parenting) tend to grow up and marry each other, thus beginning an infuriating game of push and pull that leaves neither partner satisfied.

There is a concept informally called woundology, where couples spend too much time dwelling on the past, which should be avoided. Nonetheless, spending some time sharing your childhood experiences is vital because it gives you a better understanding of your partner’s inner reality and helps you shift from judgment to curiosity and empathy.

Romantic Love delivers us into the passionate arms of someone who will ultimately trigger the same frustrations we had with our parents, but for the best possible reason! Doing so brings our childhood wounds to the surface so they can be healed.

In a healthy relationship, two people gradually transition from moving within a single orbit to moving in two separate, but overlapping, orbits. They are able to have their own friends, their own interests, their own schedules, and—most important—their own opinions, feelings, and thoughts, while still enjoying and preferring each other’s company.

People believe that separation opens their eyes to their self-defeating behaviors and gives them an opportunity to resolve those problems with a new partner. But unless they under- stand the unconscious desires that motivated their dysfunctional behavior in the first relationship and learn how to satisfy those desires with the new partner, the second relationship is destined to run aground on the same submerged rocks.

Jan 24

Procrastination: End It–You Won’t Regret It Later

Some thoughts from experts and other thinkers on the quest to end procrastination follow.

Psychologist Timothy A. Pychyl, on his procrastination-themed blog Don’t Delay, notes the response writer Caitlin Moran once gave when asked how she accomplishes so much. Her answer: “Caffeine, alcohol, and fear.” Pychyl: “Although we might all recognize and find amusement in Caitlin’s response…it’s not a recipe for health or well-being if it’s the only route to success. The long-term costs, or the potential costs (because predicting the future is not an exact science), are too high.”

How, then, does one actually end the problem of procrastination?

One of the top-rated books on this topic is actually Pychyl’s The Procrastinator’s Digest: A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle (2010). How can we change our tendency to put things off until an indefinite later? Use Pychyl’s test, taken from one of his posts:

The next time you put off a task until tomorrow, telling yourself tomorrow (later) is better, then simply note the next day whether you now believe that tomorrow is better.  Chances are, it’s not. If anything you may feel more guilt and pressure related to the task at hand and yet not have any more motivation to do the task.

So, if the time to act is now, how do we find the motivation? One of my favorite quotes pertinent to this topic is David Campbell‘s “Discipline is remembering what you want.” When you remember what you truly want, the doing will follow.

Oliver Burkeman points out (“This Column Will Change Your Life“) that most ending-procrastination advisors put less emphasis on the doing part and more on creating the mood for accomplishing things. “Even in the depths of serious depression, as the author Julie Fast notes, being ‘unable to get out of bed’ in the morning really means, to get technical about it, being unable to feel like getting out of bed…” 

But what if you’re unable to feel like doing whatever it is you think you want to do? And what if that’s your pattern in general? And you’re so terrible at feeling like doing things, actually, that you believe you’re beyond help? Burkeman quotes Shoma Morita, the late Japanese therapist, who basically advises: stop the excuses and self-name-calling already.

‘Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator, or unhealthy, or lazy, or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.’

When you get a chance– and/or feel like it– let me know how this works out.

Nov 15

Joan Baez: “I Am a Noise”–Anxiety, Trauma/Dissociation

As Kenneth Womack, Salon, has stated, the new documentary Joan Baez: I Am a Noise is “…one of the most intimate and revealing documentaries of its kind. In one sense, it chronicles Baez’s preparations for her final tour; yet at the same time, the film underscores the singer-songwriter’s lifelong search for the truth about the overarching depression that has marked her life.”

But depression is just one aspect of her mental health issues. Her anxiety and panic attacks began in childhood, leading to therapy in her teens. These conditions, moreover, continued to plague her throughout her career.

And that’s not all. Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: “(T)his intimate and painful documentary… brings us to the brink of a terribly traumatic revelation that it can’t quite bear to spell out.” We get just enough, though, to understand that she has disturbing childhood memories–“though she says she cannot recall definitively whether her father sexually abused her” (Deadline).

What Baez can be clearer about, though, are her experiences of dissociation. Matthew Carey, Deadline: “For the first time, Baez speaks in detail about experiencing multiple personalities, among them someone she describes as ‘Diamond Joan.’ The condition, known clinically as dissociative identity disorder, typically results from long-term trauma in childhood featuring abuse or neglect.”

The following are revealing quotes from recent interviews conducted with Joan Baez.

I. Scott Simon, NPR

“And my sister Mimi just called one day and said, you know, I think something terrible happened in our childhood. Do you want to look into it the way I will in therapy? And eventually I said yes. And we both discovered some very deep trauma from childhood. And we were – our bodies and brains were reacting to that our whole lives without our knowing it because it was all unconscious, subconscious.”

“And I believe with all my heart that he and my mom have no memory of it at all. The mind is an extraordinary thing to have blocking something out if you really don’t want to deal with it. I mean, I had blocked it out for 50 years. And then the journey was really quite something.”

II. Walter Scott, Parade

Regarding her dissociation, or DID: “[Mine] was many splits and each one had a reason for being there—each little entity that’s born is there for a reason—when I was trying to grow up. By recognizing these little entities and then nurturing them, that nurtured a part of me that needed that. I loved all the little people in there and they’ve held me together and taught me a lot.”

Regarding her son, musician Gabriel Harris, age 53: “That’s where this terrible sadness comes in that I wasn’t there for him. I didn’t realize the extent of it until I saw the film and I hear him talking. I salute him for being honest and loving and caring but saying what his truth was about growing up with a mom who basically wasn’t there. A lot of times I was there, but I wasn’t there.”

III. Bobbi Dempsey, AARP  

“First of all, I don’t think the ending in the film really, really shows the amount of peace that I came to. I’m not sure why. But all of that came through deep therapy. I put off deep therapy for half a lifetime. And clearly figured out why: It was too scary to deal with. But no, I don’t have those demons now. Occasionally there’s a little pop-up, but basically, no. Therapy is hard work and it’s a lot of emotional excavation.”

“If somebody [asked] what am I proudest of, I would say getting through that tunnel. It was pretty dark when I entered it, and I entered it on faith. And then by the end I was really back in the light — or in the light, in a way, for the first time.”