Parent 2 Parent - Sample Pages

Parent 2 Parent - sample pages
Chapter 1:
 Learning and Responding
 What is Health?:

Health is a fuzzy idea, especially in the area of psychology. It is much easier to talk about disease, disorders and syndromes for these can be summarized with a list of clustered symptoms and predicted outcomes. Health, in itself, seems intangible. Often, we don’t know we have it till it's gone. Only after being ill do we begin to understand and appreciate our health. So what exactly is it that we only recognize in its absence? Because of this fuzziness, we need a working definition that is clear to everyone the same. After some thought, I propose the following:

Health is the ability to respond, timely and accurately, to the present environment in a manner that, most likely, will lead to a positive outcome

Essentially, this says that health is being alive and able to do things well. Health is measured by our ability to play and work effectively as in the saying, “having everything in working order.” Health is expressed as a continuum running between fully responsive to insensibility.
This definition also suggests that mental and physical health is one and the same thing. There is no mind/body duality in reality. Science has demonstrated clearly and repeatedly that no real separation, barrier or secured boundary exists between the two. Remember, when they say it's "all in your head" they are still saying it is in you. If you are real, so must it be. Our minds and our bodies affect each other especially in the area of health and disease. For instance, anxiety and depression can cause the weakening of our immune systems, allowing upper respiratory infections, headaches and ulcers to afflict us. Extended physical illnesses often cause depression and anxiety. How can one be real and the other not?
All forms of life, even single cell critters, are learning and responding bio-machines. A noted cellular biologist describes in his book, The Biology of Belief, how the single cell perceives and makes judgments about its environment. His name is Bruce Lipton [ ] and he explains how it will either move toward a food supply or away from a toxin when it is introduced into its vicinity. The living cell senses its environment and hopefully responds to it in a beneficial way. The single cell feels and reacts with a directed goal. Its purpose is obvious. Further, goal directed behavior is displayed by all the multi-celled organisms that evolved from the single cell. In fact, all life seeks environmental feedback and reacts accordingly to survive. Plants turn leaves to the sun. All life has some degree of health because all life adapts to its world.
Even an embryo displays goal-directed responses in an attempt to increase the likelihood of its success. Bruce Lipton illustrates how the fetus reacts to its mother's emotional states during pregnancy. The mother’s stress level will trigger the baby either to develop in skeletal/muscular mass, coordination, and “life-saving reflex behavior” when the mother’s stress level is high. Or it will invest its resources in internal growth, healing and learning when the mother’s stress level is low.

In other words, if the mother perceives the world as hostile, frustrating and/or frightening, the embryo will devote its health to developing the abilities to be strong, quick to react, and agile. Or, if the mother is relaxed and at peace in her world, the fetus will develop its ability to learn, reflect and heal. The fetus responds to its mother’s reactions in a way to increase the probability of its success once born, thus setting its balance up or down along the scale between “brain and brawn.”  In effect, the embryo prepares itself for the world it will be delivered into, the world it perceives through its mother’s reactions. Is it not clear that all life strives to know and react correctly to the world? And health is the measure of its ability to do so effectively.

That "all behavior is purposive" [Tolman ] has been a key axiom of psychology since the 1940’s. And Darwinians teach that the efficiency and accuracy with which any living thing acts increases its chance of survival, allowing a greater probability of passing its characteristics on to the next generation. Health is the measure of this ability to react successfully.

However, health does not exist as a pure state, as in “it is healthy” or “it is ill.” Short of immortality and this side of death, something can either be more or less healthy but cannot be absolutely healthy or completely ill. Health is not an all or nothing condition but a matter of degrees, aspects, and magnitude. It has a complex combination of determining factors and it is a relative comparison and/or a probability statement describing a specific context. For living mortals, health is a current but relative status report. How am I doing right now? If something unexpected happened at this instant am I ready to respond appropriately? The more I can, the healthier I am.
Another important requirement (specific to mental health) is working for a greater good. This necessitates some self-restraint and denial of immediate gratification and so involves developing some self-control. It also dictates that we see others as having equal value. In his book, Man's Search for Meaning [ ], Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust, practitioner of Existential Psychology and a prominent psychiatrist, convincingly describes how mental health is dependent upon having a greater purpose in life. Living a life of meaning or with clarified purpose greater than one’s simple self interest has been shown to be a vital component in mental health. Intuitively, we can see a life obsessed only with itself is ill. Indeed, by our working definition, the probability of success increases the state of health and it’s clear a community altruistically working together has a greater probability of success than the individual who toils selfishly alone and against others.
Howard Garner,  the Harvard professor who developed the theory of multiple Intelligences, described emotional intelligence as having two parts, namely the Intra- and Inter-Personal Intelligences. The first is the ability to understand and modulate our own emotions. If we are angry, can we calm ourselves? If we are frightened can we reassure ourselves? Can we motivate ourselves when we are bored? Or depressed? To have these abilities is to have a high degree of Intra-Personal Emotional Intelligence. To do these same things for others is the sign of a high Inter-Personal Emotional Intelligence. These skills are the key elements in leadership. Can we inspire others? Can we reason with them? Calm, assure or spur them to action? If so, we have this intelligence in abundance. While Verbal Intelligence (VIQ) is the best predictor of school success, it is our emotional intelligences (EIQ) that best predict life success and satisfaction. Therefore, EIQ also has an important positive contribution to health.

Stress and the Performance Curve

Internal balance is another essential element of health. To understand this element, it helps to know about the relationship between performance and stress. The curve that describes this relationship looks like this:


The relationship between stress and performance is active in all human endeavors. It is true for work and play, for children and adults alike. It is at work in a high-powered business meeting and active when playing a game of Mario Brothers with the kids. If we have test anxiety or a problem with public speaking, the Performance Curve helps explain to us why we break into a cold sweat, go blank, stammer, flush and, in general, under perform in those situations. It also gives us options that can sooth and control our worries.

On the left of the curve, when there is little to no stress there is poor performance. If we just don’t care . . . say . . . about school, then we will probably not do the work required to do well there. We won’t study. We won’t practice or prepare for a test and probably won’t even read the book. Most likely, we will look bored in class or be disruptive. And, consequently, we will not do well on tests, homework or class participation.

But if doing well in school becomes more important, we will begin to try harder. When we don’t do our work, we’ll probably feel guilty and nervous and maybe study more. If a test is coming soon, we start to feel anxious. This annoying little feeling, this uneasiness, motivates us to get rid of the feeling by preparing for the upcoming test. So then, these little feelings of fear and guilt help us do better.

But, there is a maximum to how well we can do and a point where guilt and worry no longer motivates but shuts us down. We are finite and limited creatures. Even Michael Jordan had his best game. So, at some point, the Performance Curve stops going up. It levels off and we enter a state of performance athletes have nicknamed The Zone. Psychologists call it optimal performance and say it’s a peak experience.

This top-of-the-curve state is a highly enjoyable and satisfying condition. Our mood is elated. We feel as if our mind, body and soul are one, completely in sync. Our perceptions are brilliantly clear and our decisions are lightening fast and accurate. Being in The Zone is one of the most motivating mental states we can have. It is intoxicating, perhaps even addictive.

But it’s also awfully difficult to stay at the top of the curve. Like a friction-less ball on the top of a smooth hill, our ability to perform tends to roll down either one way or the other. We either fatigue or become over-confident, get bored or worry. So, in one way or the other, we begin to be less successful than when in The Zone.

Remember, all stress is not bad and success itself causes an increase in pressure. Most people will attest that a wedding is sometimes nerve-racking but not necessarily a bad thing. This is as true with a raise or promotion at work, an award or a victory. All these things come with added responsibilities and higher expectations for future performance. We call them new challenges, new reasons to try again but they are stressful and taxing.

To be sensitive enough to ourselves to know our current placement on this curve is the mark of high EIQ. It allows us to judge and react in a way to push ourselves back toward optimal performance. This self-awareness is a measure and indicator of mental health. Sometimes we have to try harder. Sometimes we have to lay-off, walk away or simply chillax. Knowing when to do what - is the key to doing our best.
As said earlier, while VIQ is the best predictor of school success, our EIQ best predicts life success and satisfaction. Also, the skills of EIQ can be taught, practiced, and improved. They are teachable. If our mission in school is to develop happy and successful citizens, why don’t we teach EIQ as a priority in our school systems? This is a profound mystery to me.

What we do teach, however, is to ‘Try Harder.’ I can ask any high school student in the country the question, “If you do badly on a test, what should you do?” The majority will undoubtedly respond with some variation of ‘Try Harder’ (i.e. study more, get help, ask more questions, take better notes, etc.) I’ve asked many and have yet to get the response, ‘Prepare Less.’ But this is exactly the right answer for half of the curve. If ‘Try Harder’ is the only solution we teach our children (and give ourselves for that matter) it’s no wonder that many of us develop anxieties that plague us for years, diminishing our collective performance, health and success.

The Performance Curve predicts that if we try too hard, we will not do better but worse. If we study our best for a test and do poorly, we become anxious and stressed by the combination of self-doubts and hard work. So, on the next test, we are more likely to do worse, which will again increase our anxieties even more. If we continue to respond by studying more and working laboriously to succeed, we will probably be less efficient not more. We'll start to lose and forget things, or worse, we go completely blank on a test or have a panic attack. None of these things will improve our grade.

If this ‘Try Harder’ pattern persists, worries and endless efforts will inevitably lead to performance anxieties. We may still learn. But in our panic, we will find it near impossible to demonstrate what we know. Hence, our abilities will not be accurately measured through evaluation whether in school or at work. This inability to demonstrate our learning is costly and detrimental to our success. When this happens we often go around, looking for any answer to stop our performance anxieties. We believe all kinds of false things like “I have ADHD” or “a learning disability” or, simply, “I can’t do math.”  These explanations are often as meaningless as the sentence; “Friday the 13th gathers no moss.” These explanations may be answers to our problems but they are not solutions. They may lead us to believe that we understand the causes of performance anxieties while they give us no clue as to what we can do about it. These explanations make our efforts irrelevant since we can do little to change our neurology through our behavior. We can only rely on doctors to fix or medicate us. We buy all types of magic pills to solve our problems but we will not swallow the remedy we often need most; namely, to Chillax!

 If we continue on the illusory path of over-achieving, we will be caught in a downward spiral and will probably develop physical problems and/or neurotic behavior. This pattern is the same for all performance anxieties such as public speaking, social phobias, test anxiety, writer’s block, and etcetera.

Trying to convince a Type-A personality or a workaholic that they’ll do better by doing less is, to say the least, arduous. Getting more with less is counter-intuitive to them. But understanding the stress/performance relationship is a significant step in eradicating our performance anxieties. Knowing when to stop trying so hard is the first step. Sometimes, understanding the relationship between stress and successful performance is enough to eliminate a problem that plagued us for years.

Even long standing anxieties can be dropped in an instant, if we just understand ourselves from a new perspective and become more sensitive to our own stress signals. Examples of typical stress signals can be irritability, messy and unfinished work, forgetfulness, and anxieties. Many physical complaints such as headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension, raised blood pressure, etc. also find their genesis in a high stress level.

We can break the cycle of failure and helplessness. When we, the One-Hundred-and-Ten-Percent-ers (110%-ers), eliminate excessive pressure in our lives, we feel better. And in addition to feeling better, we experience a higher level of success. This new success reinforces our new insights about our ability to perform and soon we have turned a negative spiral into a positive one, learning to be successfully balanced. This is all gained by learning about the Performance Curve and the relationship between stress level and performance.
When we don’t teach ourselves to balance our efforts and we continue to push harder to the right on the curve, or if we have an unexpected tragedy at the wrong time there comes a point when we can no longer hold it together, a point passed which we can not cope with our stress. At this point, mental and/or physical pathologies emerge. At this point, disease begins to manifest itself. The level of stress at which diseases manifest themselves in us is fixed by our heredity and is called a ‘diathesis.’

Our particular diathesis is believed to be set genetically at different points for different people. The type of pathology emerging at the diathesis is also felt to be highly determined genetically. This is why many psychological disorder run in families. We have little control over these two factors. But we can control our stress.
To illustrate quickly the ways we have control over our stress and, therefore, ways to improve our health, I have devised what I call the "I’m a Little Teapot Theory”  . It’s named after the song many of us learned in Kindergarten and basically teaches the same lesson. For those of you from a different time, culture or frame of mind, the song goes like this:

I’m a little tea-pot,
Short and stout
Here is my handle
Here is my spout
When I get all steamed up
I just shout
So tip me over
And pour me out

                                                                   Author unknown

In our world of adult complexities, it is nice to know some things are still simple. But it’s true. The elements for handling stress are: 1) knowing when we’re all steamed-up, 2) removing ourselves from the flame (the stressor) and/or 3) out-pouring built up pressure inside. If we do not, we will surely 'shout', boil over, or melt down.

These are the essentials. No more is needed. When we become more sensitive to our internal environment and react accordingly, when we eliminate outside stressors and/or change the way we think about them, then our tension reduces.

In order to give a child with test anxiety more rest and relaxation, we could get rid of one or more of the many after school activities he or she may attend. To take a walk, dance goofy (not structured), listen to music, exercise, paint a picture, be bored - there are many ways to take a break from our internal heat.

In addition to reducing external stresses, we can turn down our internal pressures by thinking about things differently. If we frame our thinking in ways less dramatic, we will relax more. Or, if we always assume that the worse will happen, we will feel helpless, hopeless and highly stressed. I am not saying we should pretend or imagine everything is fine when it is not. That is delusional and a symptom of mental illness. But we can change the errors in our thinking that add stress to our internal lives.
How do we interpret the things that happen to us? For instance in school, if we fail a test, do we say it's because ‘we are retarded’ or because ‘we didn't study enough’ (or too much?)

If we believe the first, we will probably feel significantly worse and more helpless than if we hold to the latter. In addition to making us unhappy, saying the first is also, most often, not true and so, as a false belief, tends to makes us unhealthy. Errors in our thought process can cause us to believe things that make us miserable and sick.

Another thing, we can change our expectations and not make good grades the end all and be all, absolute predictor of future success. They are not. From time to time, we should remind ourselves of the truth: Bill Gates is a drop out, Einstein was a mediocre student at best, his math skills were inadequate and Edison was kicked out of school after three weeks for being, “addled brained." Poor students are sometimes great people just as good students may, in the end, be miserable people.
We need a balanced approach to stress, one for people on both sides of the Performance Curve. We need solutions for the under-motivated and for their counter-parts, the 110%-ers, the people who are simply trying too hard.

Knowing: What is Truth? What is Illusion?:

Projection is a fundamental part of perception.

When information enters our nervous system in the form of sensory input, it is held, for an incredibly brief instant, in what is known as sensory memory. This memory storage contains an enormous amount of information, but degrades exceedingly fast. We can not hold information here for but an instant.

And since our capacity to use information consciously is tiny compared to the amount of information flooding our brain each moment, we must reduce the quantity of information in our sensory memory tremendously before we can work with it consciously. So, at this point, before our brain has processed the input, before we know what is in the input, a decision is made as to what information we will remember and what we will forget and it is decided upon on the basis of what information we think will be important to us. 1963, George Sperling demonstrated that we remember from our sensory memory what we are directed to remember, what is deemed important to remember .

Hence, after only being in a room with a vile smell for a relatively, short time, we stop smelling it because it gives us no addition knowledge about our immediate environment. There is no new information there, so we stop attending to it. The smell has not gone away; ask any person just entering the room, the smell is still there. Likewise, after awhile in a classroom with a buzzing, florescent light, we stop hearing the buzz. In general, if there is no new information to obtain, we tune out a sensation. We accommodate to it.

Obviously, the decision we make about what information to keep and what to let slip away is an a priori judgment (a prejudice) based on what we expect to find and not on what is actually there. This is projection. It is us placing upon the world our expectations and beliefs. So, much of what we consciously see is what we already believe we will see. The projection of our beliefs onto the world then is a fundamental and primary aspect of what we perceive and leads directly to our subjective experience. We are like Michelangelo chipping away at a large block of meaningless marble to reveal the meaningful image inside, which we then call our experience.  It is easy to forget that the image we see in the marble is a projection that actually exists within our mind before it is seen by our eyes. Every moment of our waking lives we are watching our projections come to life blended with the facts of external reality.
The old adage seeing is believing is only partly true. In fact, the science of psychology has shown to a large extent believing is seeing. Our perception is only partially made up of sensory input; much of its context, color and connotation are predictions we create from past experiences and historical judgments. We tend to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste what we expect. Through the lens of our projections, we look out upon the world and think we know it as it is, objectively.
There was a study conducted by P. M. Lewinsohn et al [ ] in which people with depression and two control groups were followed around individually by raters with a clipboard who kept a tally of all their interactions throughout the day. The raters rated each interaction as a positive, negative, or neutral encounter. Then, at the end of the day, the subjects were asked to rate their own day and tell what they could remember about their interactions. The results showed that the depressed people tended to remember significantly more negative interactions and less positive ones than either the raters or control groups. Our subjective reality is then only partially based on objective reality. Much of it is made of our expectations, interpretations and self-fulfilling prophecies.   

When you ask most people, “How do you feel today?” most often they will answer either “good” or “bad” based on some external event or thing (i.e. I passed a test; my mom got a job; my fiancée was in a car wreck; etc.). In other words, we identify something other than ourselves as causing our moods. It is clear we believe external circumstances, situations, and events in our lives are the direct reason for how we feel when in reality our internal state often cause external circumstances to effect us in a particular way. In this way, we disavow responsibility for our emotional life almost completely and allow ourselves to become the victim to the radical and random seeming physical world.

This is a lie we all believe. That this is not true was effectively demonstrated by Martin Seligman and Attribution Theory [ ]. This work demonstrated that our feeling state is directly the result of our beliefs and the attributions we assign to our experiences.

As we have seen, our perception is created from sensory reports filtered through our beliefs. We can and, in fact, do influence how we feel by choosing what we believe. If we are interested in healing mood and behavior, we must realize that in this fact lays the true seat of our free-will. The most important choices we make in life are what we choose to believe. What we prefer to believe affects every part of our perception and experience.

Only we decide what we believe; no one does it for us or to us. No one can force it on us. People can cajole, threaten, punish, even kill us but they cannot make us change our minds. Still we continue to pretend we have no part in our mental process at all! Once we convince ourselves we play no part in our feelings, it’s hard to change them. How can we change something we have no control over? Since we believe we have no influence, how then can we exercise it?
By definition, errors in our assumptions and the mistaken beliefs behind them lead to poor mental health. Being able to react successfully to the present is highly dependent on knowing what that present is. As long as we believe inaccuracies, our perception will be distorted.
When we base our actions on false impressions, we are reacting to an illusion. This is not healthy. Our false perceptions tell us things are what they are not. For instance, if we interpret a friend's lack of acknowledgement on the street as an intentional slight when, in fact, it was an unintentional oversight then we cannot react to the person in a healthy manner. We will react to what is not as if it were true. Knowing what is true is critical to establishing a healthy relationship to the present.

Since we are all limited by our nature, our understanding of objective reality can never achieve absolute truth. Therefore, we will always be somewhat short of perfect health. We can only maximize our potential to be healthy. We can only grow or wither in relative health by developing a more or less accurate relationship with truth.
I knew a freshman - I'll call Bobby. He was a student with Asperger's syndrome and had little or no insight into or control over his feelings when he became upset. I had worked with for a long time. He was an academically advanced, fourteen year old. One day, he was sent to my office for banging his head on the wall in algebra class, so loudly that it disrupted his teacher's lecture. BD was upset at getting a B+ on his first high school math test.

He explained to me his reaction in this way: “It will only get harder from here, so logically, I will do worse on future tests and my grades will go down and down and I won’t get into a good college, and then I won’t get a good job...” he continued describing calamity after misery all leading inevitably from his first high school B+.
Martin Seligman called this emotional overstatement “Catastrophising.”  It is an error in thinking caused by raising the impact of a bad event beyond what’s true. Catastrophising led BD to think his only option was to bang his head on the wall. It leads us to experience unnecessary distress and often influences us to create the disaster we wish to avoid.
Now BD was a true believer in education’s necessity. After nine years of everyone telling him education was the most important factor leading to his future success, it was hard to convince him that his “logic” was, in fact, illogic. But when he finally understood that success is determined by many factors and it was possible, even likely that he'd do better, not worse, on future tests, he calmed considerably. The real challenge was to get him to change his belief. Afterwards, he found better solutions to his anxieties other than beating his brains out over a high, above-average score.

This then is the chain of causation in creating our experience or subjective reality and then our reaction to it:

Belief to Action and Back:

Belief leads to expectation
Expectation and sensation lead to perception
Which leads to meaning / understanding
& Leads to emotion
& Leads to motivation
& Leads to a decision
& Leads to a behavior
& Leads to consequence
& Leads to new sensation
& New sensation and expectations
Lead  to new perception
Which leads to new meaning / understanding
& Leads to new interpretation
& Leads to new belief
& on and on (like a fractal) . . .


Belief is the point at which we can truly change the way we regard the world, interpret our experiences and, finally, respond.  Again, it cannot be over-stated that our beliefs are our true free will. It is no wonder secular powers have long coveted the control organized religion has had over beliefs, with it one can control the behavior of the many.

To have long lasting positive change in life, change both objective and subjective, we need to interpret our experiences in a healthy manner for and by ourselves. We must be taught to identify our errors in belief and know how to correct them without a therapist or teacher. While, over the short run, relying on another person’s interpretation of our experiences can be helpful, if we don’t eventually replace them with our own voice, we will remain dependent and so not much healthier.

This is why only self-healing is real and complete healing. And this is also why healing is educational. Healing can be guided and taught like all emotional intelligence but it cannot be done to another. This is echoed in the old joke:      

QUESTION: How many psychologists does it take to change
a light bulb?
ANSWER: Only one BUT the light bulb has really got to wanna
         [Because surely the psychologists won’t be doing it]

In the end, healing is something people do, by themselves, without any aid or assistance from programs, exercises, therapeutic insights or anything but personal thoughts and beliefs. This is the heart of the mind.
*[Ed. Note Crossing In-finity re-titled as Parent to Parent - Healing Emotional Trauma]

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