Tag Archives: survival

Wilson

By Michael Rice, LISAC, CTRTC

So much of the world appears to be caught up in the belief that any behavior that is not considered usual or normal is the result of a mental illness . . . that there is some sort of chemical imbalance in some people’s brains.  I am often challenged in my group sessions about the behavior of those who have been labeled schizophrenics, when I state that most of what we are calling mental illness is no more than the behavior of unhappy people. Even those who have received this diagnosis have challenged me on this statement.  They seem to want to wear their badge of mental illness to let others know they are helpless and that there is nothing they can do to improve their happiness. I often hear, “Normal people don’t talk to themselves; see things that aren’t there.  So there HAS to be something wrong with their brain.”

Those who have received mental illness diagnoses have been told that they have some abnormality within their brain and that there is nothing they can do about it . . . that they will have to learn to live with it for the rest of their lives while taking medications that drug their brains to cause them to not hear voices and stop seeing invisible people.  These drugs also stop the person from functioning normally by shutting down all of their emotions; having a flat affect; losing interest in the things that they used to enjoy, and losing their ability to be creative.  Ironically, many of these medications prevent the person from overcoming their unhappiness or to discover other creative ways to deal with their unhappiness.

It is one’s creative ability that leads them to choose the behaviors they discovered to deal with their unhappiness and frustration in the first place.

castawayI saw the movie, “Cast Away,” starring Tom Hanks, when it first came out in 2000.  Since then, I recently saw it again on my local cable network and was able to make the connection of how some behaviors would be considered mental illness by some in certain circumstances but not mental illness in other circumstances.  Allow me to explain:

In the movie, after being marooned on a small island in the South Pacific, Chuck (Tom Hanks) found himself without his basic genetic needs.  He had to be creative to survive and began to improvise ways to provide shelter, food, and to hydrate.  He soon found himself without the power to do much about his situation but maintained enough power from within to continue to survive.  Even when he considered suicide, his tested method failed and renewed his internal power for survival.

Chuck’s freedom was now very limited.  He had only a small portion of the island in which he could navigate as most of it was mountainous and surrounded by pounding waves.  He was held in solitary confinement.  He certainly was not having any fun.  All of his basic needs for happiness were not being met to the degree that he wanted.

The first thing he did when he reached the island after his plane crash was to yell out to connect to someone . . . anyone.  Even the sound of dropping coconuts led him to think that someone might be near and he would yell out towards the area where he heard the sounds.  He was missing the genetic need for connecting with others and belonging to the social world he had recently lost.  He still had the image of Love in his Quality World from his deeply satisfying relationship with his girlfriend, Kelly (Helen Hunt), back in Memphis.

From what I have described so far, and for you who have seen the movie, you would not think any of Chuck’s behaviors were the result of a mental illness.  In fact, you would probably think that it was his creativity and improvisation that was able to allow him the ability to meet his needs of survival: shelter, food, and drink.

But it wasn’t long after his initial awareness that he was, indeed, stranded in the middle of nowhere and the odds of being rescued were minimal.  He still had the strong genetic need for love and belonging and after injuring his hand while attempting to make fire, his frustration led to him choosing to throw objects that had washed up from the plane crash, kick the sand, swear, and destroy whatever was near him.  His bloody hand from the injury he incurred left a palm print on a volley ball that had been part of the cargo in the plane.

He eventually created fire and was so elated that he proclaimed to the sky and the sea of his accomplishment in boisterous pronouncements.  “Look what I have created!  I have made fire!”  His power needs were beginning to be met giving him a better sense of worth and success.

After he had calmed down and successfully created the fire, he began staring at the volley ball and saw the potential for something in the bloody hand print . . . a human face.  Since no one was around to offer a need satisfying relationship in the form of connecting with others, he would create his own person to meet this need.

wilson

He made the air hole the nose and erased some of the blood to make the eyes and mouth. The company who made the volley ball was Wilson and their name was boldly printed on the ball. This became Chuck’s compensation for connecting with someone whom he named, “Wilson.”  So far, you may be saying to yourself,  “So . . .  ?  What’s your point?”

Chuck then began talking to Wilson and even answering on Wilson’s behalf to satisfy his need for love and belonging and connecting.  And I would be willing to wager that you would still be thinking, “Well, sure.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  He did it to keep his sanity . . . to keep him from going crazy on a deserted island. . . . to connect with something or someone when no one else was there to connect with”

AHA!

If Chuck behaved like that back in Memphis where he lived, would you still say his behavior was an acceptable way to behave?  One might be inclined to get as far away from him as possible because, “who knows what a crazy person who talks to himself or to inanimate objects might do?” One might also believe he is seriously mentally ill and should be placed on brain meds and in dire need of a psychiatrist.

In an isolating experience, you are more likely to accept Chuck’s unusual or unnatural behavior as typical, rational, and understandable.  But if not deserted on a lonely island, the same behaviors are seen as symptoms of mental illness and chemical imbalances.  The unusual behavior one may create and perform serves the purpose of easing their unhappiness and frustration, at the time . . . just like Chuck on the island.  If he didn’t have Wilson to talk to, and imagine that Wilson was talking to him, he would have felt much more unhappy and frustrated than if he hadn’t created Wilson.

The person who sees things, hears things, and talks to people who are not present, or to inanimate objects, is no different than Chuck.  While they are not physically on a deserted island, they are in a deserted world based upon their choice to isolate or detach from others because of unsatisfying relationships with the important people in their life.  They have detached from others and can be alone while around others.  Their creativity to deal with their frustration and unhappiness is no different than Chuck’s creativity in producing and talking to Wilson, a volley ball.

Often, their frustration is the result of wanting to do one thing with their life while others who are important to them want them to do something else.  They may attempt to take both routes and find it impossible to do.  Consequently, they may become so frustrated that they then choose to take neither route and isolate even more, which further destroys their need for love and belonging.  And since love and belonging are basic genetic needs, they create their own people in their mind and imagination like Chuck did.

The only difference is the circumstances.  You could see Chuck’s dilemma and rationalize Chuck’s behavior because you could relate to being in his situation.  Since you could relate, you deem it normal, acceptable, and not a mental illness at all.  You were living in his world on the screen and silently thinking, “I’d probably do the same thing.”

If Chuck behaved in this manner back in Memphis, you would not see the situation he would be experiencing in his world.  His unsatisfying situation and internal frustration would be very real to him but invisible to you.  Since you have most of your needs met, on a somewhat regular basis, in a world where they are more easily attainable than a desert island, you might be inclined to think and believe Chuck’s behavior is a mental illness.

When Chuck was rescued and came back home, he didn’t talk to things or people who weren’t there anymore.  First of all, Wilson was lost at sea before he was rescued.  When Chuck got home, he was back in a world with people with whom he could connect . . . and it didn’t take brain meds to get him to stop talking to imaginary things or hearing imaginary voices.  He only had to connect with others and those who are important to him.  After five years of living in isolation, his rescue not only saved his life, it restored most of his basic genetic needs for happiness:  Survival, Love and Belonging, Freedom, Power, and Fun.  The love of his life had given up hope for his return and had married someone else.  There would obviously be some emotional pain from that loss because he had maintained the picture of her in his Quality World all those years.  But even losing Kelly didn’t cause Chuck to return to his island surviving behaviors.

Would you say a child who has an imaginary playmate is mentally ill?  Or would you say they are being really creative?  When you dream at night . . . are some of your dreams really “out there?”  Does that mean that you are crazy when you are dreaming or is your mind simply being creative?  If your brain can do that when you are asleep, it is also capable of doing it when you are awake.

In our world, it appears it is much easier to convince others that a person is mentally ill than to convince them that they are sane and only frustrated and unhappy due to unsatisfying relationships with the important people in their life.

 

Between stimulus and response there is a space…

By Dr. Ken Larsen

Remember that quote from Viktor Frankl?  ““Between stimulus and responsethere is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  I’ve been working on acting on this insight.  I’ve recognized that sometimes my response is more “reactive”, more of a knee jerk, reflexive reaction, such as the unkind words that tumble out of my mouth in a moment of minor road rage.  Or the quick judgmental opinion that comes to mind when I hear someone speak from values that I don’t share.  These unchosen reactions are a detriment to my mental health and happiness, not to mention the negative impact on others.

What I want for myself is to pause in that space that Frankl describes and choose my response based on a perceptive interpretation of what I want.    Do I want to dump a load of reflexive anger, or do I want to respect myself and the other enough to make a better choice?

stimulus

This is easier for me to think about and talk about than to actually do it.  What helps me is the growing understanding we have of how our brain has developed reactions to experiences that might be seen as threatening.  One of the most basic of these reactions is the “stranger danger” reaction.  When we encounter someone or something that is unfamiliar and unknown our first response is often self-protective.  This is not a bad thing.  This is part of our inherited survival instincts.  This first response is a “fight/flight/freeze” response which bypasses the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain where we make choices, and sets us up for a defensive or offensive reaction.  I think some of what we have labeled “prejudice” is this sort of autonomic reaction to an unfamiliar situation.  With this understanding, I believe we need to cut ourselves and others a bit of slack when encountering the unfamiliar.

I can learn to recognize a reflexive reaction and I’m finding that if I can find that “pause” place until my pre-frontal cortex comes on line, I can make a kindlier considered response which is more reflective of my chosen values to be respectful and to “live and let live.”

In our growing understanding of the development of our brain we can find a new freedom to choose a better way to relate to ourselves and others.  Rather than condemning what we now know as survival adaptations, like the reactive response to a perceived threat, we can learn to become more aware of what is reflexive and what is chosen behavior.  With that awareness we can focus our conscious attention on choosing behaviors that move us toward what we want.  The more we can fulfill those inner Quality World pictures that are our sense of what we want that will meet our needs, the more we will enjoy a higher quality of mental health and happiness.

Routines: A Comfort and Mind-Numbing

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

Presently my life is undergoing a complete change. I feel as though I’m living in a snow globe that has been turned upside-down. Much is getting turned upright again, but the snow is still swirling about me attempting to settle into new patterns and routines. I’m about to start a new job and move into a new home. As a result my everyday routines are now completely altered and upended.

What are your daily patterns and routines? Do you go to bed about the same time every night? Is your morning ritual consistent? Chances are your answer is “yes.” We humans tend to create then follow the same routines and rituals in many aspects of our lives. These routines and habits help us to meet our need for safety and security, the psychological component of the basic need for survival. And these habits allow our brain to go on automatic so we don’t have to spend a lot of focused energy making a thoughtful choice at every turn during our days.

For instance there are probably many more habits and routines in your life than you are even aware of. Ever take a class and discover that the same students sit in the same seats week after week? This same pattern is evident at church or temple services, company trainings, meeting and workshops, and other similar times and places where the same people gather in the same places on more than one occasion. Choosing the same seat without making any kind of a conscious thought about this decision is what most people do to feel safer and more secure.

You probably park in the same general area when you visit your usual grocery store. Both the store and the parking spot is a habit you developed that saves you time and energy. You probably travel the same route and roads to and from your job. It is very rare that you consult a map or choose a different route unless some new construction is slowing down your travel.

At the same time these habits and routines help you meet your need for safety and security, they can become tedious and monotonous. In fact the joy and delight of taking a vacation or trip is the opportunity for a great adventure. Now you must get out of your routines and habits. During these times you actually are more alert, awake and fully  present in your “now” because you have to be. You are taking new roads, choosing new seats in new restaurants and theaters. You can’t allow your mind to click into auto pilot. Since everything is new your full attention is required.

But having everything new for too long a period of time can become overwhelming and stressful. I am in this very spot now. I’m craving the mundane, routine and habitual. And I’m fully confident that a month from now I will have found the rhythm in my new job. It may take a bit longer to get unpacked and settled in my new home. But I trust my desire for safety and security will lead me to eventually create the home where I feel settled and safe.

If your Mental health & Happiness is not at a pleasing or satisfying level for you give one of these alternatives a try for improvement:

  • Create more regular routines and habits. Just as following the same patterns and rituals can help settle and calm a baby, the same can happen for you. It is routines, habits and regular patterns that can help meet your need for safety and security. Emphasize these habits now to see if that improves your feelings of safety and security leading to improved Mental Health & Happiness
  • Change your regular habits and routines. If you always travel the same route to and from work, go a different way. If you always shop at the same grocery store, visit the same library, regularly eat at your favorite restaurant, go in search of a new grocery store (perhaps of a different ethnicity) visit a local independently owned book store instead of your library, and go in search of one more restaurants to become your next favorite. Or go on vacation, someplace you have never been before! It may just be time to get out of your comfort zone, stretch your feelings of safety and security, expand your adventures to meet your need for fun and learning! See if this improves your level of satisfaction and Mental Health & Happiness.

Characteristics of Mental Health & Happiness

By Dr. Ken Larsen

One of the characteristics of mental health and happiness is getting our needs met in and through our relationships with caring other people.

Dr. Glasser describes these needs in a couple of ways.  One, from his first best selling book “Reality Therapy” he points out that we need to “Love and be loved, and to feel worthwhile to ourselves and to others.”

Later, when he wrote “Choice Theory” he listed our basic needs as “Survival, Love and belonging, Freedom, Power and Fun.”

bowlingballs

One way I meet my fun needs is by learning.  Recently I was reading a book entitled “The Female Brain” by Louann Brizendine, MD.  One paragraph jumped out at me because it spoke to ways to grow closer to the ones we love.  Having a wife, three daughters, and five granddaughters, the more I can understand the female experience of life, the closer I can be in these very special relationships.

This is a quote from the book: “If she’s married or partnered with a male brain, each will inhabit two different emotional realities.  The more both know about the differences in the emotional realities of the male and female brain, the more hope we have of turning those partnerships into satisfying and supportive relationships and families.”

I highly recommend this book.