REFLECTIONS ON MENTAL HEALTH2023-11-28T09:06:15-05:00
On Emotions2023-11-23T09:27:04-05:00

Here’s the paradox of emotions. They’re logical. They don’t come out of nowhere but arrive as a response to some stimulus. Thus, they are full of information about you and your experience of the world. For example, Aristotle said that anger signaled “the appearance of injustice.” So if you’re angry, rather than immediately trying to get rid of the emotion because you don’t like it, try to pause and be curious about it. Some new data from the world, perhaps the appearance of a grave injustice, may be revealed by the emotion.

Also, it is important to distinguish between an emotion and an emotional behavior. For example, the emotion of anger may be experienced, understood, and eventually communicated, and is therefore highly useful. But an angry behavior—particularly the aggressive or abusive kind—is not likely to be useful at all and may be detrimental to your relationships and your self-regard.

On Harsh Self-Criticism2023-11-23T09:27:08-05:00

It can be good to be self-critical when the conscious motivation is personal growth and change. However, we may believe that this criticism needs to be harsh in order to be effective. Words like “stupid,” “pathetic,” “piece of shit” may be common in our internal dialogue, and yet we would never speak to another person that way. We know we can’t motivate change in someone else by speaking to them in a cruel, disrespectful, shaming manner—so why do we think it will work on ourselves?

The trick is, maybe on some level we know it won’t work, and harsh criticism is an unconscious effort to prevent change. We may be afraid to develop as people, and the actual goal of our critique may be to punish ourselves, to prove we don’t deserve things, or to frighten ourselves into inaction. This idea of secret, unconscious motivations may seem strange, but the mind really just does one thing over and over: it tries to solve problems. If deep down you are frightened of change, a shaming self-critique can be very effective at holding you in place.

So if you really want to change, offer yourself the same empathy and encouragement you would to anyone else—some version of “It’s hard, but you can do it.” And give yourself time and space to try to understand what makes personal growth so frightening—why might you be afraid to change? You’re more likely to answer this question with kindness and curiosity than cruelty and shame.

On the Meaning versus Meaninglessness of Life2023-11-23T09:27:12-05:00

People sometimes conflate meaning on a universal scale with meaning at a personal level. Yes, there is no inherent meaning in the universe. Even if we cut our names in stone, the stars will pay no mind and roll on without us, forever cold. So in this broad sense, nothing matters, including us. However, meaning on a personal level is precisely the opposite. Nothing could matter more!

As far as we know, we have one life to live, so our “original choices,” as Sartre called them, are incredibly meaningful to us now. The meaning you find in life is essential to recognize, pursue, and develop. No one can tell you what that meaning should be, and anyone who tries to do so should be treated with caution.

On Dreams2023-11-23T09:27:16-05:00

Dreams are not random. They are a nighttime message from a part of you that struggles to communicate in the daylight. Let’s hear the important message that came to you in darkness. Take notes after you dream and share them with your therapist. Together you can translate the message.

On the Unconscious2023-11-23T09:27:21-05:00

You don’t have to believe in the unconscious to benefit from therapy. However, perhaps you could remain open to the idea while you’re engaged in the process. Consider that there may be an inner-self who operates outside of your awareness. Therapists are trained to recognize the unconscious motivations and symbols hidden in your descriptions of everyday life.

In therapy, you will learn to gather these sorts of insights, as well. Becoming aware that certain aspects of your mind function “dynamically,” meaning on their own, can be frightening. But doing so allows you to increase your awareness of these processes and ultimately seek, not necessarily to control your unconscious, but to better understand it and improve your relationship with the inner-you.

On Love. And Empathy. Kindness. Sacrifice. Healing Each Other.2023-11-16T16:18:20-05:00

What did you do today that was gentle and generous? Henry Miller wrote, “Everybody becomes a healer the moment he forgets about himself.” Psychology is not the private domain of psychologists. Simply saying to another person, “What you’re going through sounds really hard,” can be enormously healing. Be well and share the health!

On Your Body2023-11-16T16:18:01-05:00

One of the most punk rock things you could do would be to simply love your body. It is a pleasure and action center, and that is what it makes it wonderful and precious—not how it looks. So no matter your estimation of your body’s “beauty,” enjoy it and treat it well. Get an annual physical. Exercise. Don’t eat shit. Don’t smoke. Drink alcohol in moderation. If you ride a bicycle in New York City, wear a helmet, get lights, and don’t ride drunk or angry.

And be careful with drugs. Harsh criminal and moral stances on substances have encouraged a reactionary position of idealization. The brain is not plastic and can be damaged. If you choose to use recreationally, never accept drugs from strangers and always test them if possible. Also, consider whether your use is actually recreational or are you medicating pain?

On Hobbies2023-11-16T16:17:41-05:00

Consider whether your free time is used in an enriching way. Pure relaxation can be fine; you don’t always have to be expanding your mind. But after a certain level of exposure, social media checking, Internet scrolling, and “whatever and chill” may be dumbing you down, blunting your sensibilities. So less screen time. Go to a museum. Go to a play or an opera. Watch a film (not a movie). Read a novel. Steady exposure to the rich ambiguities of human motivation contained in the great works of world art can be profoundly inspiring and transformative.

On Art2023-11-16T16:17:25-05:00

If you think you might be an artist, make art. You may suffer a great deal because you are not making anything and you are supposed to make something. If you are hesitating because of practical concerns, e.g. you think your art isn’t good and won’t sell or “get you anywhere,” then you’re missing the point and maybe you forgot that art can free us from such quotidian concerns. Making art is an essential practice for humans and belongs on your practical “to do” list regardless of whether the art itself is practical.

On Work and Love2023-11-16T16:17:15-05:00

As a standing behavioral recommendation, try every day to make progress toward finding meaningful work and love. Freud called these “the twin pillars of existence.” Of course, what counts as meaningful will be different for different people, but without a sense of progress toward finding work and love, you will remain angry, sad, and afraid.

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