DEFIANCE OR DETERMINATION? – Marilyn Armstrong

So I found this question on Facebook and it brought back a deluge of memories.


Hey moms, I’m in desperate need of help. I’m at my wit’s end with my lovely little defiant child. I love him lots, but enough is enough. Every morning, my son wakes up at 3 in the morning and refuses to go back to sleep. He will literally be up for the entire day. I’ve repeatedly tried putting him back in his room. I’ve tried time outs, taking away his privileges. Tried having him do chores. Nothing works. He talks back, makes faces, or just laughs at me. I literally don’t know what to do anymore.


My mother used to tell stories about me as a baby. How I’d be up and wide awake by 3 or 4 in the morning. We lived in a cheap apartment on Rose Street in Freeport. When I got up, she would get up too. She’d put on her overcoat and wait until the heat came up, which wasn’t until around seven.

She eventually figured out that I needed to be busy. Crayons, paint, and lots of paper were big items in my world. I didn’t sleep as much as most kids and when awake, I needed to be doing something. Ultimately, reading took over a lot of that time, but until then, drawing (the three-year-old version of it) and other crafts filled the time. That and running around outside. Knowing me now, it’s hard to imagine what an active kid I was.

Sisters playing by the river

Eventually, I learned to read books, write stories, and draw. Life got better.

Even as a toddler, I went to bed hours later than the “official” bedtime for little kids. I never slept as many hours as other kids. Garry recalls being much the same. Of course, these days, there’s no such thing as too much sleep, but we are long past youth, much less childhood.

Defiance is an overused term these days. Any time a child doesn’t want to do what mom or dad wants him or her to do, it’s defiance. My theory is that it’s more like boredom than defiance when a box of crayons and paper can cure it!

Smart kids need challenging activities and they can be hard for caretakers. Especially hard for working mothers who are already tired by the time they get home.

Pop psychology can be dangerous.

Don’t label your children. Smart kids hear what you say and figure out what you mean. Just because he or she doesn’t “behave” doesn’t make him or her defiant. These days, with so many mothers working and convinced that “outside” await predators waiting to snatch your kid, every minute of the kid’s time is programmed.

I shudder imagining growing up like that

POSTPARTUM DOULAS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I wrote a blog a while back in which I argued that we need to require parenting classes for everyone. They should be at least as prevalent as Driver’s Ed classes.

I had my first child at 30, in 1980. I was a cultured New Yorker with a post-graduate education. But I knew nothing about babies. I held a baby for the first time when I was six months pregnant. Unfortunately, my baby was born seriously premature, with a non-functioning lung. He was in the Preemie unit of the hospital for six weeks. During that time, I pumped my breasts so I could nurse him. He came home from the hospital at just under five pounds.

Premie in an incubator

During those six weeks in the hospital, I got to pick the brains of the well-trained and highly knowledgeable neonatal nurses. I learned a tremendous amount and came home armed with enough information and confidence to weather the first few months at home with David. In effect, I had the help and support of several Doulas. They helped me learn how to handle a tiny, underweight baby, nurse him, change him, treat diaper rash, etc.

In my day, most first time mothers had to rely on relatives, friends, or other new mothers they had met in Mommy and Me classes to figure out how to handle all the issues that arise with a new baby. This can often result in contradictory or inaccurate advice, creating confusion and doubt rather than confidence. But today, new mothers with financial resources, don’t have to go it alone anymore.

New grandma with new Mom

Enter the Postpartum Doula. Birth Doulas have been around for a long time. They are trained women who support, educate and advise pregnant women through their pregnancies and childbirth. Medicaid even covers birth Doulas in a few states in the U.S. It is generally accepted that these Doulas improve health outcomes. They lower the incidence of a cesarean as well as the surprisingly high incidence of maternal deaths in childbirth. This rate is especially high among black and brown women.

Birth Doula helping a woman in labor

Postpartum Doulas are a newer phenomenon that has caught on in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Other countries provide Birth and Postpartum Doulas as part of their national healthcare programs. Postpartum Doulas are like a Mary Poppins for new mothers and infants. They are the friend, sister, teacher, and advocate. They teach new mothers all kinds of tricks about soothing a crying baby, nursing, bathing, swaddling, etc.

They calm the mother’s fears and help them deal with the anxieties of the new dads. They also help mediate with eager to help grandparents and other family members and friends who want to give unsolicited advice. They advocate for their clients to doctors and nurses. Overall, they make the new mother feel supported, confident, and in control. That prepares the new mom to deal with whatever may come up in the future after the Doula leaves the scene.

My friend’s daughter just had a baby in England and she received free weekly visits from her Postpartum Doula, as well as unlimited phone calls. When there was a nursing crisis, the Doula made a house call, again free of charge. These more evolved countries understand the importance of the postpartum period in the emotional and physical well-being of both mother and baby.

Postpartum Doula helping with breastfeeding

Postpartum Doulas are becoming more prevalent in the U.S. but they are largely unsubsidized and very expensive. The majority of women who use Postpartum Doulas are upper-middle-class women who can afford $50-$70 an hour over a period of at least six weeks.

There are some low-cost Postpartum Doula collectives in the States for women who couldn’t otherwise afford a Doula. Poorer women are often the group that most needs the help of a Doula. Apparently, poor women of color can be afraid to ask for help with their babies. The fear is that a black woman might lose her baby if she admits that she is overwhelmed or exhausted. This is so sad!

Every woman should be able to have access to informative and supportive professional caregivers in the first few months of their child’s life. Mothers and grandmothers can be helpful, but there is always baggage, judgment, and a need to push a particular childcare practice. These people also often focus completely on the baby and forget about the needs of the exhausted and nervous new mom.

Reasons to have a Postpartum Doula

So the neutral, non-judgmental Doula is often a valued addition to the new baby’s family life. Especially since the Doula is also trained to soothe and relax the mother as well as the baby. So let’s hope that we start to catch up with Europe on this important issue, and make Postpartum Doulas affordable and accessible to everyone who wants one.

LET THE CHILDREN PLAY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The title of an article I read in the Washington Post on September 16, 2018, by Katherine Marsh, sets out its primary argument pretty clearly. “ We’ve so over-scheduled our kids that doctors are now prescribing playtime.” The article is subtitled “We idiotically insist that all of their activities be purposeful and structured.”

micromanaging parent

To give some perspective, an American who lived in Brussels for three years, contrasts her child’s school experience in Belgium and America. In the Brussels school, the kids had 50 minutes of recess every day plus a 20-minute mid-morning break. This time was unstructured, free play with minimal teacher supervision. In the Washington, D.C. school, the kids had just 20 minutes of recess. And some American schools only provide fifteen minutes.

By the time the kids get their coats on and get outside, there is almost no time left for relaxed, creative play.

The American Academy of Pediatricians seem so concerned about over structured kids, they released a report emphasizing the developmental importance of free, unsupervised play for kids. It stresses that growth and discovery are more likely to occur in kids when they are not being micro-managed.

The Academy went so far as to suggest that doctors write ‘prescriptions’ for playtime when they see young children during regular checkups.

American parents seem to think that every moment of a child’s life needs to be purposeful and educational. The reason for this may be that parents feel very competitive about their children because of anxiety over their offspring’s economic prospects when they grow up. American parents will apparently brag about their kindergarten child’s reading prowess but be unconcerned that the same child has no clue how to play with other kids, or by herself.

Of course, everyone wants their children to grow up to be motivated, purposeful, successful adults. But parents seem to have lost sight of the fact that to reach that goal, children need to play and imagine and invent activities on their own. That in itself helps kids grow and develop the skills and traits we want them to have. Not everything a child does has to directly lead to future skills or benefits.

“True play is freedom from purpose,” says Katherine Marsh. And this downtime is an important part of every child’s cognitive, social and emotional development.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF STORMS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The news has been inundated recently with reports of Hurricane Florence, which is bashing North and South Carolina. I’ve always wondered why so many people refuse to evacuate when the government tells them to. And why people don’t adequately prepare even when they’re told exactly what to expect.

Hurricane Florence

I read an interesting article on this subject by Robert J. Meyer in the Washington Post on September 12, 2018. He addressed the psychological issues at play when people face an impending natural disaster. The article is called “Why do people stay put during hurricanes? Here’s what psychology says.”

Despite endless warnings and specific information and suggestions about what to do to stay safe, lack of preparedness is responsible for most of the property damage and loss of life in major storms. “…lack of preparedness…is caused by cognitive biases that lead people to underplay warnings and make poor decisions, even when they have the information they need.”

people shopping to prepare for hurricane

Failure to evacuate resulted in 40 drowning deaths in Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Surveys showed that only 20% of residents had a preparedness plan. And that storm was hyped up the wazoo! It hit my area so I know! We even took our boat out of the water and planted it in the parking lot of the marina to minimize the likelihood of costly damage.

What goes wrong in these situations? Here are some of the cognitive biases that lead us astray in natural disasters.

Excessive optimism is the first cognitive bias that kicks in. People understand that many residents of their area will be affected. They just don’t believe that THEY will be negatively affected. Others rationalize that they survived other storms without preparation so why not this one?

Hurricane Florence in North Carolina

Herd thinking also comes into play. If neighbors aren’t preparing then there’s no social pressure to do more than the basics.

Myopia is another key psychological factor in lack of adequate preparedness. People are short-sighted when it comes to spending money or expending energy on preëmptive actions. They focus on the immediate cost and discomfort, not the more abstract future benefit. So they cheap out on preparedness measures and take the easy way out.

Amnesia also colors people’s anticipation of a natural disaster. People tend to remember the facts of a past storm, but forget how awful it felt to live through it. Memories of emotions fade faster than memories of facts. So reminding people how bad it was the last time seems to have limited effect.

Sound decision-making is impaired by inertia and simplification. People who are unsure what to do, often do nothing. That’s the principle of “inertia at work.” Simplification results in people doing just a few of the many things necessary to be adequately prepared. The thinking goes, “I’ve done three out of twelve things to be safe so I should be okay.” In Hurricane Sandy, 90% of residents bought supplies – but only enough for ONE DAY without power. Woefully inadequate and unrealistic! We were without power for six days, and we were lucky!

The article concludes that the key to better preparedness in the future is accepting the reality of these destructive cognitive biases. We can’t change them so we have to work around them. We have to design preparedness plans that accept them and anticipate them. For example, give people ORDERED lists that say “If you’re only going to do three things, these are the three things you should do.”

Science has increased our ability to predict hurricanes and other natural disasters. But science can’t reduce the human and property damage done by these weather events.

Psychology is the key to helping people make better decisions when they are faced with nature’s destructiveness.

WHAT IS INTUITION? – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt – Intuition


Intuition – the sure knowledge that even though your husband swears he cleaned the bathroom, it isn’t clean. Bet on it. How can a man who is so personally fastidious be oblivious to the dirt all around him? Is this a guy thing? Some weird part of the male psyche?

I’m not an especially dedicated house cleaner. I’m one of the “good enough for company” school of cleaning. Vacuum the dog hair and clumps of dust. Wash the kitchen floors. Vacuum the dust wherever you see it and every once in a while, go nuts and actually dust a few things. Not everything. I’m physically not up to a full top to bottom cleaning anymore.

I used to put on a round of “Credence Clearwater Revival” and push my way through a 9-room house in about 2-1/2 hours. Now, that same amount of time I can do the living room, hallway, and kitchen. It takes a lot longer to do the same stuff I used to do without even thinking about it.

Intuition is also knowing how much I can do without exhausting myself and winding up sick.

Let me return to the beginning of this and talk about the nature of my kind intuition. It isn’t a “gut feeling” that “comes out of nowhere.” That “gut feeling” is an accumulation of a million bits of information you’ve collected over your years of life. The older you get, the more intuitive you become because you’ve collected more and more information. You may not even realize you’ve collected it.

I often say that I listen but more importantly, I listen to what is not said. What people fail to say is often the most important part of the conversation. Silences are louder than shouting, sadder than falling tears.

When I used to do horoscopes, if I was reading in the presence of the person who was paying me, I got hundreds of “tells.” The widening of an eye, a tic of the cheek. A tightening of a hand. A jittery foot. In the end, I always preferred to do initial readings without meeting the person. Because those tells can throw you off as much as put you on a trail. They can mean something related but very different than you think.

Sometimes people would start a reading asking me to “guess” or “intuit” their sun sign.

“Why?” I asked them. “Why use all that energy when I can just ask you? You know, there’s a lot more to astrology than your sun sign. Depending on how the orbs are arranged, other things may be much more important in your life than where the sun is placed.

No one ever believed me. Too many astrology columns in the newspapers of the world.

I know a lot about people, often from brief conversations. I am particularly amused by “anonymous” bloggers who think no one knows anything about them. I don’t know how much money you have, but I know a ton of other stuff. How? The words you use. The subjects you pick to write about. The flow of your words. The authors you love or hate. The places you visited.

Do I know your name and address? No, but I’m sure I could find out. The Internet is good that way. You can dig out data about anyone and anything. I don’t because it isn’t critical to me. I don’t need to know if you choose to not offer the information. Anyone who chooses anonymity will not be a real friend because anonymity screams one thing loud and clear: “DON’T GET TOO CLOSE!”

Gotcha. I observe borders. I hear what you are saying,  what you won’t say, wish you could say. Are afraid to say.

Intuition.

It’s everything I’ve read, seen, done, experienced. Live, loved. The more you live, the more intuition you gain.

DEMOCRACY STARTS ON THE PLAYGROUND – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I never thought that parenting practices could have a direct effect on the health and functionality of our democracy, yet that was the thesis of an article in the Sunday New York Times on Sept. 1, 2018.

The article, by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, is called “How to Play Our Way To A Better Democracy” – subtitled ‘If we want saner politics, we need to start building better foundations from the playground up’.

The article postulates that democracy requires work and the kind of people who can work well together. “Democracy is hard. It demands teamwork, compromise, respect for rules and a willingness to engage with other opinionated, vociferous individuals. It also demands practice. The best place to get that practice may be out on the playground.”

In 1831, Alexis De Tocqueville was impressed with Americans’ talent for democracy. He felt that the secret to our success was “… our ability to solve problems collectively and cooperatively.” He praised our mastery of the “art of association”, which was crucial, he believed, for a self-governing people.

In recent years, we seem to have lost that ability to work together across party lines. We have lost the ability to cooperate with anyone who doesn’t share our core views and opinions.

There is apparently a biological, evolutionary aspect to our need to play as children. Playing helps develop our ability — as adults — to cooperate and compromise. “… Mammals enter the world with unfinished nervous systems and they require play – lots of it – to finish the job. The young human brain ‘expects’ the child to engage in thousands of hours of play, including thousands of falls, scrapes, conflicts, insults, alliances, betrayals, status competitions and even (within limits) acts of exclusion, in order to develop its full capacities.”

The type of play required for this beneficial brain development is referred to as ‘free play’. It’s defined as unsupervised activities, chosen by the kids and done for its own sake, not to achieve some goal. For example, guitar lessons and soccer practice do not count as free play.

On the other hand, a pickup soccer game with no adults present would be considered free play. Without the adults, the kids have to practice their social skills and take risks.

Starting in the 1980’s and 1990’s, children in America became increasingly more supervised during their downtime. Children became more scheduled, with an increasing amount of organized after-school classes and activities. Children’s play moved indoors and involved computers, but often no other children.

Even schools have reinforced this trend. They have reduced recess and free play time and are giving more homework to be done after school, from an early age.

Kids have two main areas of difficulty if they are deprived of free play and adequate interactions with their peers.

First, they are less resilient. This can be seen in the increased incidences of anxiety and depression in college kids. Second, they are less able to negotiate and deal with conflict management. Instead, kids learn to go to an adult to settle disputes instead of working things out on their own.

Liberal democracies rely on conversation and negotiation to resolve conflicts. But overprotected, play-deprived people tend to appeal to higher authorities to apply coercion to their opponent. Coercion is the enemy of self-governing democracies. The increase in litigation, inside and outside of the government, is a symptom of this.

If this thesis is correct, our high hopes for the younger generations may be misplaced. These young adults may actually be less capable of maintaining democracy than the baby boom generation has. And right now, we’re not doing too well on that front.

Let’s hope the pendulum swings back to allowing kids more free play time. Even if it’s not going to directly help our society as a whole, it will be healthier for future generations of kids.

SICK BODY, UNHAPPY MIND – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I think of myself as a strong, healthy person. When I think about it at all. I’ve had periods in my life when I wasn’t healthy, but that was way in the past. Healthy is my reality now. I’m not athletic, but I can do what I want, when I want to. At least I could until four months ago.

Suddenly I started getting stiffness and pain that would come and go randomly. Then the episodes started getting longer and the stiffness and pain were accompanied by weakness and fatigue. Now I get these several times a week at random times and for varying durations.

The weird part is that on days when I don’t have symptoms, I’m absolutely fine. Totally normal. No sign of any problem whatever. This is making me psychizophrenic.

I went to a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with Poly Rheumatic and Fibromyalgia. I’ve been put on medication. But apparently these conditions get better very slowly. I’ve read and been told that a year is not uncommon to suffer before you go back to normal.

I’m going for a second opinion.

But in the meantime, my life has been turned upside down. It’s hard to plan anything because I never know how I’ll feel on any given day or night.

Did I mention that I can’t take much Ibuprofen for the pain? And unfortunately, that is the only thing that helps me weather my episodes. I donated a kidney to my son so I have to be very protective of the one I have left. Anti-inflammatories, like Ibuprofen, are bad for the kidneys. So I can only use them very sparingly. This means that I’m screwed.

So I’m left in this nether world between healthy sometimes and debilitated the rest of the time. It’s doing a number on me psychologically. On bad days, I feel old and decrepit. No energy and no motivation. Then I bounce back to my chipper, active self. But even then, I know that my good health is not going to last long.

This experience has emphasized for me the interconnections between body and mind. When my body is healthy, my mind can stay upbeat and positive. When my body is struggling, so does my mind.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about people who live with chronic pain and/or discomfort from a wide variety of medical conditions. I have a new respect for people who manage to deal with permanent disabilities or illnesses and still manage to lead fulfilling lives and maintain positive attitudes. I’m not sure if I could do it. I’m struggling with sporadic issues I’ve had for only four months!

If this is going to go on for seven or eight more months, I’m going to have to put my big girl panties on and get my psych back in fighting mode. I’m going to have to power through the bad days and make the best of the good days. Do what I can when I can and accept what I can’t do when I can’t. This is my version of the serenity prayer. I hope it works for me.

QUICK AND EASY STRESS CONTROL – PART 4

This is the final part of a four-part series. You can read the others here: Part I, Part 2, Part 3.


Stress

Everyday stress is a killer. Literally.

The greatest damage from stress is caused by excessive triggering of the fight-or flight (stress) response. These throw your entire system into high gear on a chemical and biological level. Your system is designed to handle no more than a few fight-or-flight responses a week.

silhouette cactus

Instead, our modern world bombards us with more than fifty such (brief) episodes each day. Over time, this unrelenting stress wears down and damages every part of your body in some way.

Your body can’t distinguish between minor, everyday stress and those which threaten life and loved ones. So we respond to all stressors as if they were charging tigers.

Moreover, your body doesn’t distinguish between physical threats which require action, and psychological threats which require thought or a verbal response — or potential threats which are worries about the future and don’t even yet (or maybe ever) exist.

Thoughts alone can trigger a full blown, physiological stress reaction throughout your body. Your body “believes” your thoughts are real.

If you think about a fight you recently had or might have, your system reacts as if you were having the fight now! The good news is you can trick your unconscious, internal systems into thinking you are sitting on the beach with a tall, cold drink in hand.

This is what gives visualization and mindfulness such power.

The key is visualizing in detail. To demonstrate the power of thoughts and images on your body, close your eyes and imagine, in vivid detail, that you are eating a lemon. Soon your mouth will begin to pucker. You will start to salivate. Your stomach will start secreting the fluids to digest a lemon. Your mind will have tricked your body into thinking you were eating a lemon.

Visualization

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This is a visualization you can tailor to your mood and whatever time you have available:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Imagine yourself in a place you love — the woods, the beach, or some place which holds special meaning for you.
  3. Make sure it’s a place where you feel secure, safe, comfortable, and happy.
  4. Focus on the details of your imagined scene.
  5. Work with each of your senses, one at a time. Focus on everything you see. Colors. Shapes. Light. Shadows.
  6. Work from the ground up.
  7. Focus on the sounds around you, including the silence.
  8. Take a few deep breaths, then tune into the smells. Allow scents to trigger positive emotions.
  9. Focus on the variety of textures around you. Imagine yourself touching the items in your environment – smooth, rough, hard, soft, and so on.
  10. Focus on any movement in the scene you have created for yourself. Clouds in the sky, waves in the ocean.
  11. Finally imagine doing something you love in your mental oasis. Put your feet in a lake. Ski down a mountain. Play with a pet.
  12. Continue the experience until you feel a sense of peace and well-being.

Gradually ease yourself back into your day focusing on your breath, then the sensations in the room. When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes and take another deep, abdominal breath.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a slightly different way to focus on the present moment. Focusing on the present decreases tension and stress. It increases your enjoyment of life. You can give your body and mind a mini-vacation from worry about the past and the future, and reduce the damage stress can do over time.

Schubert Theater boston night

You can practice mindfulness while you are doing anything from washing dishes or folding laundry, to walking upstairs or even eating.

All you need do is spend a few minutes focusing on the details and sensations of the moment. Use all of your senses, one at a time.

Mindful eating is a good exercise for beginners. For example, while eating an orange you can focus on the color and roughness of the skin and the different colors and shapes of the segments. Then focus on the feel of the rind, pulp and juice on your hands, face, lips and tongue and the sensations in your mouth, throat and stomach as you bite, chew and swallow. Then turn to the smell and the taste of each bite and how they change as you go through the process of eating. Come back to the real world slowly and focus on abdominal breathing for a few moments before you get on with your day.

Aggravation

Life is aggravating. It just is. You can’t completely eliminate everyday annoyances or anxiety, so be prepared to change how your body reacts to them. I’ve explained abdominal breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, mindful walking, visualization, and mindfulness. All these techniques can reduce the level of stress stored up in your body and mind. Using these can dramatically improve the quality of your life.

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Do what you can, whenever you can for as long as you can. Just … do something. No matter how small, anything you do will protect you and help heal your mind and body. In the process, you’ll develop skills which will serve you well in the future by allowing you to take control of your responses to the stress life inevitably brings.

QUICK AND EASY STRESS CONTROL – PART 3

I ‘ve talked about breathing and visualization as relaxation techniques. This week, I’d like to add a third element – movement.

Human-Body-Muscles

Coordinating breath and movement can calm you down, center you, clear your head, and focus your mind, and help the relaxation spread to the muscles throughout your body.

Another benefit is that the physical movement gives your mind a focal point that can not only deepen relaxation but can also allow you to relax when you’re too restless, fidgety, listless or unmotivated for the purely mental techniques.

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When you are concentrating on moving your body in a certain way, it is easier to keep your mind off stressful thoughts that creep into your mind. However, thoughts will invariably intervene at some point when they do, just acknowledge them and immediately click the remote and switch back to the breathing channel. Then refocus on your movements.

One classic exercise that combines breathing and movement is Progressive Muscle Relaxation or PMR. This can be done standing, sitting or when you are having trouble sleeping, in bed. Body focus techniques not only help insomnia but also improve headaches and stomach problems if done for a period of time when you’re having symptoms.

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In PMR, you first tighten and then release major muscles, starting with feet and moving up your body. Doing this helps you learn what your muscles feel like when they are tense versus relaxed. It may sound strange, but most people don’t realize their muscles are tense until the tension gets bad enough to hurt.

You may need to learn how and when to relax your muscles. PMR not only helps you relax, it increases your awareness of muscle tension. Soon you’ll be able to prevent muscle tension from building by stopping it before it gets serious.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Start by squeezing your toes together as if you were making fists with your feet. Hold the squeeze and feel the tension in every foot muscle. Then let everything go, all at once, as you exhale.

Try to feel the muscles in your feet relaxing and loosening up. Next squeeze your calves and thighs, hold the squeeze feel the tension and then release it quickly, always on an exhale. Feel all the tension evaporating from your legs.

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Focus on the contrasting sensations of tension and relaxation, tightness and openness. Continue up through your body tightening and releasing, sequentially, your buttocks then your chest and shoulders, scrunching your shoulders up to your ears. Then move onto your arms and hands, making fists and squeezing them tightly.

Hold and release the muscles in your throat and neck and then scrunch your face together and squeeze your eyes shut, hold, and then release. Open your mouth as wide as you can and stick your tongue out as far as you can. Hold and release. Then bring your focus back to your abdominal breathing, perhaps counting out an exhale that is twice as long as your inhale. Gradually transition back to your day.

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Short Form PMR

There is also a short form PMR when you are pressed for time. Divide your body into three sections, from your feet up to your face. Then tense all the muscles in each section, hold them and release all at once with an exhale, as you did above. Then move onto the next section. For example, feet, legs, thighs and buttocks are one section, chest arms and shoulders are another section and neck, throat, face and jaw are the last section.

Once you’re comfortable with PMR, you can try a Mental Body Scan. As with PMR you can do a detailed body scan, or use a short form. Like before, begin at your feet and work up your body. This time, though, just mentally scan for tension. When you find tightness in your muscles, mentally release it. I like to visualize the tension floating away from my body, like steam, evaporating into the air.

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You can also imagine the tight muscle opening up, spreading a warm, heavy feeling as it releases all its tension. Then let this sensation spread slowly up your body. Scan every part of your body in as much detail as you have time for. For example, you can divide the face into scalp, forehead, eyes, nose, lips, cheeks, jaw and tongue or you can treat the face as a whole. Either way, make sure your jaw is loose and your teeth are apart, not clenched!

Mindful Walking

Another exercise that combines breathing and movement is Mindful Walking, which you can do it whenever and wherever you are walking. Start Abdominal Breathing with a 3 or a 5 count inhale and the same count for the exhale. Then count the number of evenly paced steps you take per inhale and per exhale, using only odd numbers for your count. This insures that you start each inhale on a different foot.

For 3-count walking, this means:

  • Inhale – left, right, left
  • Exhale – right, left, right.

A 5-count walk would be:

  • Inhale – left, right, left, right, left
  • Exhale – right, left, right, left, right.

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If you want to increase your relaxation, elongate your exhale and increase the number of steps per exhale. So, for example, you could inhale to a count of 3 and exhale to a count of 5 or inhale to a count of 5 and exhale to a count of 9 (remember to only use odd numbers and keep your steps steady and even).

If you want to energize yourself, increase the length of your inhalation and the number of steps per inhale while shortening your exhalation and the number of steps on each exhale. You could, for example, inhale to the count of 5 and exhale to the count of 3.

I find when I walk like this, I don’t get as tired or winded. I end my walk feeling more relaxed and centered as well as refreshed.

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Now you know some techniques that can help you circumvent your body’s stress response, reduce muscle tension and quiet your mind. This should help you get through each day feeling more positive emotionally and more relaxed and energized physically.

You shouldn’t have to get more stressed trying to find time for stress control. Do what you can when you can and you’ll find whatever you do, there will be definite benefits.

QUICK AND EASY STRESS CONTROL – PART 2

Last week, I talked about using controlled breathing to turn off the “Fight or Flight Response” in your body and minimize the harmful effects of stress on your body. You can build on that to reduce stress even more.

Manchaug June 2015

MIND AND BODY

Reducing stress requires mind and body relaxing together. Mental relaxation is probably harder for most people — for good reason. Most of us think all the time. More than 50,000 thoughts flash through your mind every day. Buddhists call this mindless internal monologue “Chatter” or “Monkey Mind”.

Photo credit: Huffington Post

Photo credit: Huffington Post

Most “chatter” is negative. Brooding on the past, self-criticism, worries, to-do lists, and so on. This stuff has a powerful effect on your body and psyche.

A thought is reality to your body.

Worrying releases the same destructive hormones that would be released if the worried-about event were really happening. The goal of all relaxation techniques is to anchor your mind in the present, to shut out anxiety and negative thoughts, most of which are locked into the past or future.

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An intense focus on “now”, including how you are breathing, can override “Chatter.” It will give your mind a mini vacation,  a brief, therapeutic — and probably much-needed — break.

Abdominal breathing is a form of meditation. It can help alleviate symptoms of ADD, reduce fidgeting and short attention span.

When you’re in a stressed breathing pattern, you can shift to abdominal breathing. This will pretty much instantly reduce tension, focus your mind, and increase your energy level. It do the same thing to your mind if you feel yourself going into a particularly toxic session of “Monkey Mind” negativity.

VISUALIZATION

Start taking slow, steady abdominal breaths until you feel your body relax. You can start a counting exercise as you breathe. Or you can go directly into a mini visualization, as follows:

  •  Imagine, with each inhalation, you’re breathing peace, calm, and well-being in to every part of your body. With each exhalation, imagine you’re blowing the tension and negativity out.
  • Try saying “peace in” each time you inhale — and “tension out” each time you exhale.

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  • Picture a giant wave of relaxation and tranquility pouring over you with each breath you take, soaking through your body from the top down as you complete inhaling and exhaling.
  • Feel the tension melt away from the muscles in your head and neck. Then feel it flow down your shoulders, arms, torso — finally your pelvis, legs and feet.
  • When a wave has saturated your body with relaxation, visualize another coming in with your next breath. You can add color and light to each wave — your favorite color or a bright light.
  • When you feel loose and mellow, refocus on your breath, then gradually transition back to your day.

It turns out that the process of learning stress control techniques can ease tension and anxiety.

Research shows that feeling helpless creates as much — or more — physiological damage as would the thing or event you fear. Feeling in control reduces stress. All by itself. If you know you can do something to help yourself cope, you won’t feel overwhelmed or helpless. Stress will have less control over you.

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An old but still relevant example is an Air Force study made during World War II. The study showed that co-pilots suffered from more stress during combat missions than pilots. Pilots were in control of the plane; co-pilots were not.

It’s reassuring to know that one of the reasons mind-body techniques work is that they enhance your sense of control over yourself — and therefore your life.

QUICK AND EASY STRESS CONTROL – PART 1

I was a Yoga teacher for eight years.

My training taught me a lot about the interrelationship between the mind and the body, on a physiological, scientifically explainable level. Using that knowledge, I compiled some quick and easy stress control techniques for my students I call “On The Go Stress Control”. These are small things you can do during your day to reduce stress and alleviate its negative consequences.

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STRESS AND YOUR BODY

Stress is a condition which causes psychological and physical damage. The most insidious and dangerous form of stress is the everyday kind. Traffic, being late, dealing with difficult situations, and other people. This kind of stuff bombards you constantly. The damage it causes is consistent and cumulative. Ironically, while there are no “quick fixes” for most things in life, there are quick fixes for stress-related symptoms. Called Relaxation Techniques, you can do them for a few minutes, any time, even during your most hectic days. These are easy to learn, pleasant to do, and are amazingly effective at curbing your body’s harmful reactions to stress.


There’s a saying, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” These techniques can allow you to surf in the often turbulent seas of life.

In this first piece, I’d like to concentrate on breathing, which is the simplest and most powerful of the relaxation techniques.

Breathing is important in two different ways. Breathing involves two different systems in your body – respiratory and the nervous systems. I’ll only talk about the latter here because most people already have a rudimentary understanding of the respiratory system.

Breathing forms a bridge between your body and mind. It’s the key to preventing or minimizing stress reactions. It acts as the messenger service by which the mind communicates with the body – and visa versa. Your breathing is the only thing you can consciously control which lets you turn off the stress response.

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When your mind perceives or even imagines a threat or impending stress — big or small — your breathing changes. It triggers what’s called the “Fight or Flight Response” which automatically releases over 1500 chemicals into your system to prepare you to fight for your life — or run like hell.

Heart and breathing rates increase dramatically, as does blood pressure, muscle tension, and the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream, along with many other toxic reactions.

Constant stress slowly poisons you and over time, this wear and tear can injure almost every system in your body.

The problem is that this system evolved to protect early humans from infrequently real threats to life and limb. It doesn’t differentiate the more subtle stresses of modern life. The fight or flight response is on or off. There’s no dimmer switch to deal with the stressful but non life threatening situations which make up most of our lives.

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Rapid, shallow breathing triggers the alarm and initiates the survival mechanism of your body. Slow, deep breathing — called abdominal breathing — is the “all clear” signal. It turns off your body’s red alert and reverses the fight or flight sequence. It stops the release of stress hormones that initiate physical stress reactions.

When you learn to control your breathing, you also control your stress response.

Relaxation works on tension the way aspirin works on headaches. You can do breathing exercises (or other relaxation techniques) anywhere, anytime. You can do it while you’re stuck in traffic, waiting in line, sorting laundry, sitting in a dentist’s chair, or at your desk. The more practice, the more effective they are and the more relaxed you will be. You can use them to deal with a specific stressful situation more calmly and rationally — without being thrown into a panic state.

ABDOMINAL BREATHING

Breathe through your nose (unless I tell you otherwise).
Put one hand on your belly, one on your chest. Start by taking a take a slow, deep breath. Feel your belly rise, then as you breathe deeper, feel your chest rise.

Feel the breath going into your throat.

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As you exhale, reverse the process. Feel your chest falling, then your belly as you tighten your abdominal muscles and squeeze out that last bit of breath before you inhale again. It may take a while before this feels natural. This is the way you should be breathing all the time, to keep your system in equilibrium. Most people don’t, hence high stress levels.

COUNTING

After you’ve mastered abdominal breathing, you can go to the next level and add counting. You foster relaxation when your exhale is longer than your inhale. You energize yourself when your inhale is longer than your exhale. If you want to relax or stay calm, inhale to a slow count of 3, then exhale to a slow count of 6. Next, inhale to a slow count of 4, then exhale to a slow count of 8.Two to one is the best ratio for breathing.

Experiment until you find the count which works best for you. Continue doing it as long as you can — at least a few minutes.

If you find yourself getting sluggish during the day and need a pick-me-up, instead of grabbing an energy drink or another cup of coffee, get a shot of natural energy. Inhale to a slow count of 4, 6 or 8. Then expel your breath rapidly through your mouth, making a whooshing sound — or saying “Haaaa”. If you don’t want to draw attention to yourself, just do a quiet exhale to the count of 2, 3 or 4 while keeping the 2 to 1 ratio (if possible).

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Abdominal breathing is not only a stress relieving exercise. You can combine it with all the other forms of relaxation. It allows other techniques to work and can help you fall asleep, even if you have insomnia.

In subsequent pieces I’ll teach you other techniques, like Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Visualization, and Mindful Walking.

AHEAD OF HIS TIMES – ELLIN CURLEY

Most of us believe that our current beliefs have been our beliefs forever. Of course we know that germs cause disease and that the earth is round. But people didn’t always know these concepts as “facts”. We once thought the earth was flat and had no idea what caused disease. Someone had to propose these “new” and “revolutionary ideas. And someone just as assuredly had to argue against them and give the proponent of the new ideas a hard time.

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My father was a brilliant, innovative thinker in the fields of psychiatry and the social sciences. All he got initially was a lot of grief and aggravation. Even today, only a few academics have heard of him.

His name was Abram Kardiner. He had a long and varied career in the fields of anthropology, sociology, and psychiatry from the 1920’s to his death in 1981. He deserves at least part of the credit for three major contributions: the idea of interdisciplinary studies, the concept of early, “pre-school” education, and acceptance and understanding of PTSD.

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Everyone knows that interdepartmental studies are the best way to thoroughly understand at least history and cultures. Didn’t we always apply the tools of sociology, economics, political history, art history and other cultural history to the study of history? The answer is no. In fact, the concept was anathema until the 1960’s.

When I went to Barnard College in 1967 (the sister school to Columbia University), I was one of the first classes to be able to take an interdisciplinary major. At the time, I was old enough to understand that my father’s struggles at Columbia University in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s had cleared the path for me to be an American Studies major in the 60’s.

My father studied with Sigmund Freud in 1921 and came back to New York to help establish psychoanalysis as an accepted and respected “new” field of science. But he was also interested in sociology and thought that using psychiatry to better understand the individuals in a society would help understand the society as a whole. So he decided to study more primitive cultures (anthropology) to further establish the interrelationships between the individual (psychiatry) and the society (sociology).

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Unfortunately at the time, each academic field was considered a totally separate entity. No one was allowed to stray into another academic’s carefully guarded territory.

For more than 30 years, my father was bounced back and forth between the psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology departments. No one wanted to claim him. He was “tainted” with methodology and ideas from a different discipline. This sounds ridiculous today. But even now, the only department at Columbia that recognizes his accomplishments is the Department of Psychiatry, the department he helped found.

When I had my first child, I enrolled him in play groups and I planned to send him to preschool when he turned three. My father, once again, had been on the front-lines years before, espousing the importance of the first three years of life. He believed that early childhood intellectual and social stimulation was necessary to foster a child’s ability to learn and to adjust socially throughout it’s life. His writings became the basis for Head Start, President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s program which provided pre-kindergarten for all kids. Dad also focused attention on the optimal environments for preschoolers to develop well intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

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Reading to your children, playing counting games, and talking to them — these concepts, now so familiar, became part of the standard of early child care, in part, because of my father. He helped prove, scientifically, how important these activities are both for children and for the society.

When a member of our family was ten, he had a tonsillectomy — and awoke during surgery. This resulted in PTSD as well as a myriad of other issues. Guess who was one of the first people to study PTSD and recognize it as a psychiatric syndrome?

You guessed it. My dad! He studied World War 1 veterans and built on Freud’s concept of psychiatric trauma. He published a book called “The Traumatic Neuroses of War” in 1941. But it wasn’t until the Vietnam War, in the 1970’s, that PTSD became a hot topic. Luckily, by 1991, further advancements in this field, building on my father’s work, helped our family cope with the aftermath of childhood trauma.

So, thanks Dad! You cleared the way for me to have the college major of my dreams, a well-educated toddler, and a family member with doctors who could understand and help him. I wish I could tell you your name is now known throughout the world for your amazing contributions.

But I understand and appreciate what you have contributed to society and now, maybe some blog readers will know, too.

FREUD AND MY FATHER, PART 2 – ELLIN CURLEY

All quotes are from my father’s book, “My Analysis With Freud, Reminiscences”  – A. Kardiner, M.D.

In 1921 my father went to Vienna to be trained by Sigmund Freud in the new scientific field of psychoanalysis. My previous blog talked about some of my father’s experiences with Freud as a teacher and as a world-renowned scientist. But Freud liked my father and in their six months together my Dad was lucky enough to get to know Freud fairly well. So I can share with you some of my Dad’s favorite stories about Freud that will shed some light on his personality behind the spotlight.

Freud with signature-editedMy father was very fond of Freud. He described him as “likeable” and “dear”, “charming” and “full of wit and erudition.” My Dad said that Freud was so natural and unassuming in their encounters that you would never have known that you were dealing with a world-famous scientific giant. My father often said to Freud that he couldn’t reconcile the image he got of Freud in their private sessions, with that of the man who wrote all those great books. Freud laughed and said that “This is where familiarity breeds contempt.”

Freud was a devoted family man and talked about his family often. My father once commented to Freud that at times he seemed depressed. Freud admitted that he was having a hard time dealing with the death of his daughter, Mathilda, earlier in the year. He confessed that he could not get over it, which is testament to the fact that he was a decent and caring man.

Freud also had concerns about his surviving daughter, Anna, who was following his footsteps into the new profession of psychiatry. Anna’s inability to choose a husband was the subject of heated debate among Freud’s students. Freud once asked my father if he had a theory about Anna’s indecisiveness. I find it funny that the father of “Daddy Issues” would ask that question. My father’s answer was totally on point. He said, “Well, look at her father. This is an ideal that very few men could live up to and it would surely be a comedown for her to attach herself to a lesser man.” Student teaching the teacher.

Kardiner Family Pics group-edit- 1My favorite personal story about Freud involves his views on marriage. My father was a bachelor and was concerned that he would never marry. He had suffered many childhood traumas, including the death of his mother when he was three. Because of this Freud suggested that my Dad had “issues” with women. But Freud didn’t feel that this doomed my father to permanent bachelorhood. He told my father that in fact he hoped that my father would someday be “lucky enough” to make a good marriage. (Spoiler alert: He did, but not until the age of 59!) My father was puzzled about this comment and asked Freud if he thought luck was involved since as a professional, he knew so much about people. Freud said that luck was always involved with good marriages. He felt you could only know so much about a person without living with them and that you could only really get to know someone after living with them for many years! And in his day, living together before marriage was just not done.

Freud could be humble about his own ideas. He was discussing a minor theory with my father one day and said, “Oh, don’t take that too seriously! That’s something I dreamed up on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” On the other hand, the people around Freud got into serious trouble if they didn’t take all of Freud’s ideas seriously and show total loyalty. My father found this aspect of Freud’s personality confusing and difficult to manage.

Freud could also have a sense of humor about psychoanalysis. My father was talking to him about two Viennese analysts who had committed suicide and Freud’s comment was “ Well, the day will soon come when psychoanalysis will be considered a legitimate cause of death!”

As expected, Freud worried about the future of psychoanalysis. In particular, he was afraid that it would be labeled as “the Jewish science” since most of the people drawn to it in it’s early days were Jewish. The real problem that would plague the movement through the years was the fact that Freud insisted on maintaining tight, hands on control over everything. Everything had to go through him – who did what, who had what jobs, who had which patients, even in America. Most important, he controlled the purse strings. This caused lots of rivalry, infighting and politicking among his followers. In the end, this did more damage to the burgeoning profession than the “Jewish” label Freud so feared.

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One of the most interesting and revealing exchanges my father had with Freud dealt with Freud’s analysis of himself as an analyst. Freud admitted that he had no real interest in individual therapeutic problems. He also felt that he had several handicaps that prevented him from being a great analyst. One was that his real interest was with theoretical problems. That is where he devoted most of his energy. Another was that Freud admitted to tiring of people quickly and said he had no interest in keeping them on as patients for an extended time. He also felt that it was important to “spread his influence”, so he treated/taught many people but only for short periods of time. Fortunately that did not catch on as the standard of treatment in the general public.

Overall, my father enjoyed his time studying with and getting to know Freud. He greatly liked and admired the man and was in awe of his professional accomplishments and innovations. However my father was never a fundamentalist type Freudian, as many were. He believed that Freud meant the field he created to grow and expand with the times. He believed that Freud would have wanted new scientific data and theories to influence the practice of psychoanalysis and would have welcomed new ideas and new techniques into the field.

My father dedicated the rest of his life to expanding the horizons of psychoanalysis and incorporating psychiatry into the already existing fields of anthropology and sociology. My father believed that the only way to thoroughly understand any society and it’s people, was through an interdisciplinary approach. He wrote several books outlining his interdisciplinary methodology. He continued to write articles and lectures on this, and other topics in psychoanalysis, until a few years before his death at almost 90, in 1981.

FREUD AND MY FATHER, PART 1 – ELLIN CURLEY

(All quotes are from my father’s book, “My Analysis With Freud, Reminiscences”, by A. Kardiner, M.D.)


My father’s first contact with Sigmund Freud was a letter he received in 1921 accepting him as a student of Freud’s in Vienna. My father had graduated from medical school in New York City and was having trouble finding a job in a specialty that interested him. He thought it would be a great opportunity to study with the founder of this new science of the mind. He also believed that this field was the wave of the future. There were only eight psychiatrists in New York City at the time and it appealed to my Dad to be a pioneer and make a major contribution in a whole new area of science.

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During my Dad’s 6 months as Freud’s student (that was the contracted period of apprenticeship) Freud had six students, each of whom he saw five hours a week. He charged $10 an hour and asked that he be paid in dollars, which were worth more than the Austrian crown. He also apologized that he could not give more than thirty hours a week to his students because his wife and daughter had forbidden it! They cherished their time with him and didn’t want him working longer hours.

Freud did not treat his students equally. My father’s distinction among his group of students in Vienna was that Freud talked to him in his therapy sessions. Freud was apparently silent with other students, particularly with the two English students who were there with my father. The Englishmen complained that Freud often fell asleep in their sessions and that he would only wake up if they stopped talking. One day the Englishmen asked my father to tea and confronted him with the rumor that Freud actually had conversations with him. When my father confirmed that Freud was quite garrulous with him, they wanted to know what my father did to get Freud talking. My father was a wonderful raconteur so his only explanation was that he kept Freud interested and engaged – and therefore awake.

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Ironically, despite this conversation with my dad, the English contingent must have left Vienna with the belief that Freud’s “silent” analysis was the method that he was imparting to his students. This evolved into what was known as the “English School” of psychoanalysis, in which the therapists said nothing to their patients except “hello” and “goodbye”, often for years!

I used to complain to my father that Freud had done a terrible job analyzing him because he was still riddled with anxiety and neuroses. My father agreed with me. He said that Freud’s training and analysis were both woefully inadequate by today’s standards. In the ‘20’s, the only training that existed to become an analyst was to be analyzed yourself, for a mere six months. We now know that six months is too short a time to accomplish much in psychoanalysis. We also know that you need a greater body of knowledge to be a good therapist than what can be gleaned from a personal analysis.

To advance their education, my father and his fellow students got together and organized lectures for themselves (with Freud’s approval, of course). They got some of the other great minds in the field who were also in Vienna, like Karl Abraham, Otto Rank and Helena Deutsch, to present courses to them. These turned out to be the first formal didactic courses ever given in psychiatry, anywhere.

In Freud’s day, analysis was not only the sole training tool, it was also very limited in its scope. Freud’s goal of treatment was to give key insights to the patient. The patient was then expected to go off on his own and apply these insights to his own life. It is understood now that insight is only the starting point of any therapy. The major goal of therapy today is to help the patient integrate these insights so that they can help change the patient’s perceptions, emotions and behavior. My father never got this part of the process so his analysis was incomplete. However, my father felt that Freud was brilliant at dream interpretation and was very intuitive in interpreting free associations. So my father’s analysis was not without its benefits.

Kardiner Passport edited w borders 1My favorite story about Freud shows that he was not only brilliant, but also prescient about the future of the profession he created. Freud attended a meeting in which the participants spent an hour and a half discussing what Freud said here and what Freud meant there. Freud was getting more and more impatient and he finally tapped on the table for order. He said something to the effect of, “Gentlemen…Why do you treat me as if I were already dead? Here you are, sitting among yourselves, discussing what I have said in this paper, what I have said in that paper … and I am sitting at the head of the table and nobody so much as asks me ‘What did you really mean?’ “ He continued to say that he took that as an insult and worried “…if this is what you do while I am still among you, I can well imagine what will happen when I am really dead!” Unfortunately the movement did splinter into warring factions after Freud died. And many of these factions were in fact based on differing interpretations of what Freud meant and how he intended his theories to be expanded upon.

Another story in this vein involves the origin story of the 50 minute psychiatric session. People have always assumed that Freud consciously and thoughtfully chose 50 minutes as the perfect amount of time for a doctor/patient session. The reality is much more mundane and insignificant.

Freud had allocated six hours a day, five days a week for sessions with his students. He had six students so each student had a one hour therapy session with Freud per day. However, there was a scheduling snafu and a seventh student appeared for a place in Freud’s class of ’21. Freud didn’t want to increase his teaching time to seven hours a day. So he proposed two options to his six current students.

He could send this seventh student away. Alternatively, each student could give up ten minutes a day from their hourly sessions to make room for the seventh student. The students agreed to a 50 minute instead of a 60 minute hour. To this day, therapists use the 50 minute hour as the ‘Freudian model’. Freud would be laughing now to realize that sheer happenstance had resulted in almost a century long tradition for psychiatrists all over the world.

When my father returned to America he helped found the first independent psychoanalytic training institute and the first university (Columbia) affiliated training program in America. Both were in New York City.

 

RELATIONSHIP MYSTERIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was a psychologist with a private practice. She saw lots of relationships up close and personal. She always wondered how people seemed to be able to find others who satisfied their unconscious needs. The Yin to their Yang.

How, she would ask, does the sadist find the masochist? You need one of each for a relationship to work. No one wears signs advertising their dominatrix tendencies. How does the person who likes to wear diapers or fluffy animal suits, find like-minded people? Today the answer is online, but before the internet, people still managed to find one another.

We are all like puzzle pieces. There are a few other pieces that fit neatly into our piece. But only a few. How do we find those needles in the haystack of humanity?

For example, everyone knows someone who always seems to end up with a similar ‘type’, usually one that is not good for them. There’s the woman who tends to go for men who treat her badly, cheat on her and/or abandon her. How does she know who is going to fit that pattern from their initial, usually neutral social contact? When we first meet someone, we can’t really know them. So what propels our choices?

My mother believed that we all put out ‘vibes’ or signals on a very subtle, primitive, even physiological level. Dogs can hear and smell things that humans can’t. Mom believed that the unconscious ‘senses’ things that the conscious brain is not aware of. Maybe it’s pheromones, maybe it’s micro facial movements.I’m a perfect example of this unconscious level of communication. When I was young, I was attractive but very guarded about relationships with men. I was superficially outgoing, intelligent and funny. But I was very closed off emotionally. Men sensed that and stayed away. I could go to dances, looking great, and never get asked to dance. It was as if I’d created an invisible protective shield around myself. I ended up marrying an abusive, controlling, manic-depressive. I stayed with him for 25 years.

Decades, and years of therapy later, I started dating again after my divorce. I had conquered my inner demons and was very open to a healthy relationship. I had no trouble finding men who were interested in me this time around, even in my late 40’s. I ended up in a wonderful marriage to a kind, caring, delightful man.

Something had happened to me on a deep seeded, emotional, unconscious level. Yet it made a palpable difference in my real world relationship experiences. How was that change so effectively communicated to the outside world? My outward personality hadn’t changed that much. To meet me, you weren’t hit in the head with my inner transformation. My friends still recognized me as the same person I had always been – at least on the surface.

I’m not a psychologist and I don’t have any answers. I just find it fascinating that who we are on a psychological level, somehow gets projected to other people. Haven’t you met someone and immediately had a strong reaction to them, either positive or negative? I met a woman at a book club meeting. I knew we were going to be friends. Years later we are still best friends yet we hardly talked at that first meeting.

We call this ‘chemistry’. We say we are ‘drawn’ to someone. I don’t know how to explain it. But three cheers for whatever it is!

I SENT MY HUSBAND AND MY MOM TO COUPLES’ COUNSELING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I swear to God, I actually made my first husband, Larry, go with my mom to couples’ counseling. They were driving me crazy. They fought with each other. They each talked to me against the other. They both tried to get me to ‘side’ with them against the other. They each thought the other was bad for me.

Me, Mom and Larry in around 1979, about 5 years into our marriage

They were both very controlling. Each wanted to get me to do what they wanted, which was usually the opposite of what the other wanted. For example, one major issue was the amount of time we spent with my mom. Mom obviously wanted us to spend more time and Larry wanted us to spend less. After my father died, in 1981, my mother asked us to spend Saturday nights with her so she wouldn’t have to be alone. Larry wanted Saturday night as ‘date night’, and a night to see friends. I negotiated a settlement on this issue – we saw Mom on Friday or Sunday but Saturday was for Larry and me as a couple.

Other issues were not as easy to resolve. I often felt like a wish bone being pulled apart by Mom and Larry. The hostility level between them was off the charts. So was my stress level.

Me, Mom and Larry in 1984, when I was pregnant with our second child

I got really desperate at one point and consulted a family therapist. I explained the situation to him and he agreed to see my mom and Larry in couples’ therapy. He first met with all three of us, together. Then he met with each of us alone. Only then did he meet with Larry and Mom together. After two or three of their joint sessions, he called me.

He told me that there was no point wasting his time and my money on a lost cause. He said I had to give up the idea that either Mom or Larry would ever change – it wasn’t going to happen.

The doctor explained that Larry and Mom were both narcissists and borderline personalities. There is no reliable treatment or cure for either syndrome. In fact, a symptom of both is a total lack of self-awareness. Apparently Larry could see Mom’s issues very clearly and Mom could see Larry’s equally well. Their insight was 20/20 when it came to the other’s faults. But they were innocent victims in their own eyes. To each, I was being manipulated by the other and they were just trying to save me.

Me, Mom and Larry in 1987

I remember sitting on the floor of my bathroom with the door closed, crying on the phone with the doctor. I begged him to try again. But he insisted that I face reality. He was right.

Nothing changed through 25 years of marriage. But here’s the irony. After Larry and I separated and later divorced, Larry and Mom got along famously! They actually had a lot in common. In some ways, they had more in common with each other than either had with me. These similarities suddenly came to the fore once I was out of the picture.

All those years, they were obviously fighting over who would have the most influence and control over me. I’m amazed I survived, relatively intact. One other thing the therapist told me was that I could never be my own person and live my own life until both Larry AND Mom were out of my life. Hard to hear. But he was right about that too.

I separated from Larry in 1998. I met my current husband, Tom, in 1999. Mom died in 2002, a few months before Tom and I married. Since then, I have become a different person. I am more confident, more self-assured, more independent and more relaxed. Also happier.

I’m also sad to realize that two people I loved so dearly were so destructive to me for so long. That’s a very hard pill to swallow.