Category: Gratitude

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Death Gives a Wake-Up Call

00Bystander Effect, Featured news, Gratitude, Grief, Resilience, Trauma October, 19

Source: Ilya Haykinson at Flickr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

On a quiet summer evening a few years back, while taking a walk in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto, I witnessed an event that would change the course of several peoples’ lives. As I relaxed under a tree in the park, watching families enjoy themselves, I heard a loud noise and saw a large branch from another tree fall onto where a couple was sitting. I heard a woman scream, and the man beside her was now trapped under the branch.

Walking a few steps closer, I froze, trying to understand what I’d just seen, which seemed unreal. I felt helpless. Others reacted differently than me as some tried to remove the fallen tree branch, some tried to resuscitate the man, while others comforted his wife, saying the ambulance would soon come. It felt like it went on for hours. Once the yellow blanket was placed over the fellow, I knew it was over. He was pronounced dead.

Mike Lee, one of the three people who performed CPR on the victim, described the shock he felt immediately after the event in an interview with the “Trauma and Mental Health Report,” which is republished here:

“The biggest thing that went through my head was that there was nothing going on: no hurricane, no lightning, no typhoon, no volcano or violence; nothing. Just a beautiful day and this tree branch just happened to fall on this guy and killed him on the spot. How could something so beautiful, a beautiful day, turn into such a traumatic event?”

For me, it felt surreal, as if I’d lost control of my existence. I kept thinking that it easily could have been me under that tree. Later, I was left with unresolved questions about God, the universe, my existence and life’s meaning. And, despite having the courage to take action initially, Mike was affected by the traumatic experience too.

“I was in shock. I just walked around with my bike; I couldn’t even get on my bike to ride it. I kept thinking how thankful I was that I was ok and I kind of felt happy that I actually did something – that I didn’t just lock up and freeze. And then, I called my parents to say “I love you”. I was pretty traumatized, to be honest. I am pretty sure that I went home and cried.”

People experience trauma in different ways. For example, some re-experience the trauma itself, have nightmares, get bouts of anger and sadness, experience dissociation and even PTSD. Mike did not experience many negative consequences of this event although, at the time, he expressed sadness. That resonated for me. Sadness and disbelief along with dissociation were what I’d experienced.

Research has shown that dissociation is common after trauma, especially when extreme physiological arousal is present. Most who experience dissociation feel a sense of detachment from their lives. For me, dissociation provided some emotional distance, a buffer to protect myself from the overwhelming emotions that accompany something so tragic.

There are many unique challenges to overcome when faced with a traumatic experience and for some, it becomes a lifelong journey. In some ways, I feel fortunate because for me, facing my mortality was a wake-up call, one that encouraged me to try to live a more authentic and meaningful life. Mike shared similar thoughts:

“I will never forget that day, it was a pretty defining moment. It reminded me that you have one chance at life, and you never know when things are going to go bad. You can be safe your entire life – not fly on planes, be careful on buses, wear your seat belt, don’t do drugs, don’t drink – and you end up in a park one day and a tree falls on you. It just opened my eyes and made me realize life is short, so why not just make the best of it?”

A few months after the event, Toronto police presented Mike Lee with an award for his actions. Mike’s mother accepted it on his behalf, as he had already moved to Japan to start a new business. He had previously quit his job, as the incident led him to re-evaluate his life. Mike explained:

“If there is anything I would want as a message coming from me is for people to really reassess their beliefs and what they are holding onto as the most important things in their life.”

 -Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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What Can Minimalism do for Mental Health?

00Consumer Behavior, Featured news, Gratitude, Happiness, Loneliness, Mental Health, Mindfulness, Sensation-Seeking February, 19

Source: Torley at flickr, Creative Commons

Ryan Nicodemus was once a senior executive making a six-figure income in a corporate job. He found himself unsatisfied with his life and depressed. He explains:

“I had everything I ever wanted. I had everything I was supposed to have. Everyone around me said, ‘you’re successful.’ But really, I was miserable.”

He looked to his life-long friend Joshua Fields Millburn for advice. Millburn pointed him toward Minimalism, namely, placing less focus and meaning on material possessions, and simplifying life to concentrate on what makes a person happiest and most fulfilled.

Nicodemus re-evaluated his circumstances and decided to de-clutter and downsize, leaving his career to pursue a life of simplicity. Together, he and Millburn branded themselves “The Minimalists.” The two attribute improved mental health to this change.

These experiences are detailed in their film Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things where they also reveal their difficult upbringings. Both Nicodemus and Millburn witnessed addiction and substance abuse in their families. They faced the limitations that come with living in low-income households. Their challenging pasts initially led them to aspire to acquiring wealth and material objects.

Rick Hanson, a psychologist whose work lies in personal well-being, states in the film:

“I think we’re confused about what’s going to make us happy. Many people think the material possessions are really at the center of the bull’s eye and they expect that gratifying each desire as it arises will somehow summate into a satisfying life.”

He goes on to say that this is not the case, and that the media perpetuate this way of thinking.

In the film, philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris argues that it is natural to use other’s lives or what’s in the media as yardsticks to measure one’s own success. He adds that this approach can lead to immense dissatisfaction.

Research seems to back up Harris’ claim. Mario Pandelaere of Ghent University cites a relationship between materialism and depression. Further, Pandelaere has found that “materialists” are, on average, not the happiest people.

In fact, Rik Pieters of Tilburg University has established a link between materialism and an increase in loneliness over time, and also reports a correlation between loneliness and depression.

And, there is support that materialistic consumption doesn’t lead to satisfaction.

The Minimalists advocate tackling materialism and consumption to fight depression. They describe excess consumption as a hunger that never gets fulfilled, and as a hopeless search for contentment. They say that, when letting go of the need to consume, people can tune in to their feelings and address unhappiness. Nicodemus and Millburn note:

“No matter how much stuff we buy, it’s never enough.”The two maintain that, if people abandon what is superfluous and only keep the items that add value, they can lead more satisfying lives. By regularly asking “Does this add value to my life?”, people are left with possessions that either serve a purpose or bring joy. Nicodemus and Millburn claim that answering this question leaves more room to build meaningful relationships and facilitate personal growth.

Not everyone agrees. With increased attention on Minimalism and de-cluttering in the news, there is some backlash to the movement. Many people are asking “How accessible is Minimalism? Is it something only for the wealthy elite?”

Most cannot afford to uproot their lives or leave their jobs to engage in a Minimalist lifestyle. Also, the portrayals of Minimalism so often seen on social media—images of chic white walls and trendy delicate jewelry—are far from attainable. Some people even say that they like having lots of knick-knacks and “clutter”, opting to call themselves “Maximalists.”

In his discussion of materialism, Pandelaere says:

“Everybody is to some extent materialistic, and materialistic consumption may not necessarily be bad. It may largely depend on the motives for it. If people consume in an effort to impress others, results may be adverse.”

– Fernanda de la Mora, Contributing Writer

The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

-Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Ritual Abuse, Cults and Captivity

50Child Development, Diet, Environment, Fear, Featured news, Gratitude, Identity, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sleep, Trauma, Trauma Psychotherapy February, 15

It is almost impossible to imagine the realities endured by victims of ritual abuse:  multiple abusers with systematic motives coordinated with the sole purpose of perpetrating and maintaining a cycle of abuse.  Cults and organizations such as David Koresh’s Branch Davidians use torture and sexual abuse to control their members and force them into compliance.

Behind The Abuse

The Ritual Abuse Task Force of the L.A. County Commission for Women defined ritual abuse as involving:

“…repeated abuse over an extended period of time.  The physical abuse is severe, sometimes including torture and killing.  The sexual abuse is usually painful, humiliating, intended as a means of gaining dominance over the victim.  The psychological abuse is devastating and involves the use of ritual indoctrination.  It includes mind control techniques which convey to the victim a profound terror of the cult members…most victims are in a state of terror, mind control and dissociation.”

According to psychologist Louis Cozolino of Pepperdine University, ritual abuse is characterized by a number of perpetrators of both sexes and the presence of many victims.  The abuse is often carried out in contexts where children are in groups, and within families or groups of families.

Often seen are mind-control techniques that involve combinations of extreme abuse and “brainwashing.”  For example, “psychic driving” is defined by psychologist Ellen Lacter (who runs www.endritualabuse.org) as taped messages that are played for hours non-stop, while the victim is in a state of consciousness altered by sleep deprivation, electro-shock, sensory deprivation, and inadequate nutrition.

Researcher Patricia Precin of the New York Institute of Technology, alongside Cozolino, report that many ritual abuse survivors suffer from PTSD.  Clinicians also see a high frequency of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) among such adolescent and adult patients.

And in an Australian study of workers at the Center against Sexual Assault (CASA) including psychiatrists, psychologists, and other clinicians, 70 percent of all counselors agreed with a single definition of ritual abuse and 85 percent agreed that ritual abuse was an indication of genuine trauma.  CASA workers were much more likely to believe their client’s ritual abuse and marginally more likely to identify ritual abuse cases than other therapists.

Cozolino references a vast amount of corroborating evidence for the existence of ritual abuse, such as police reports and therapeutic case studies.  In one of his papers he describes one such case:

“A five-year-old victim in the Country Walk case related that one of his abusers at his day-care setting had been killing birds.  This young boy spontaneously repeated the following well-rehearsed prayer to his startled father:

‘Devil, I love you.

Please take this bird with you

and take all the children up to hell with you.

You gave me grateful gifts.

God of Ghosts, please hate Jesus and kill Jesus because

He is the baddest, damnedest person in the whole world.

Amen.

We don’t love children because they are a gift of God.

We want the children to be hurt.’ ”

Although such accounts are well documented, not everyone believes ritual abuse exists. Bernard Gallagher from the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies at the University of Huddersfield considers ritual abuse a result of erroneous diagnosis made by agency workers:

“This includes pressuring children into making disclosures, the misinterpretation of children’s statements and an over-reliance upon preconceived ideas concerning the existence of ritual abuse.  This results in what psychologists and statisticians might refer to as ‘false positives, ” writes Gallagher.

After The Cult

Escaping the torment of a cult is perhaps the most difficult part for a survivor, but recovery and rehabilitation can be just as challenging.  Cozolino and colleague Ruth Shaffer interviewed survivors, focusing questions on recovery.  They reported that the majority considered participation in support groups a necessary adjunct to psychotherapy.

It may seem counterintuitive to treat ex-cult members as a group because their abuse took place in a group setting.  However certain precautions may be taken to make treatment effective.

For example, British researcher Nicole Durocher notes that organizers must take care not to construct a group that resembles a cult gathering in any way.  The support group has to be sensitive to the special needs of each ex-cult member and to the particular context of the cult from which they exited.

The professional in the group must differ from those in other support groups, acting as an advocate-mediator to observe the group, identifying conflicts, clarifying alternatives for resolution, and negotiating compromises.  These support groups occasionally have the professional co-lead the group with an ex-member acting as an observer, guide, and consultant.

One survivor of multi-generational ritual abuse who wishes to remain anonymous, has written a public letter to the Stop Mind Control and Ritual Abuse Today (S.M.A.R.T) organization, reflecting on his own struggle with PTSD.

“My PTSD often reminds me of what it is to be a soldier.  On the battlefield when every moment is life and death, a soldier will do many things and anything to survive.  When the soldier returns to a normal, non-war society he can’t understand why he did the things he did.”

He goes on to say that with the help of therapy, his shattered life and sense of self can be pieced together again:

“I cry, I sing, play guitar, listen to music, sleep normal hours instead of being awake all night, and more than anything else, I try to change who I was… into who I am.”

– Contributing Writer: Justin Garzon, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: https://stocksnap.io/photo/YN5H0VTR6O/

This article was originally published on Psychology Today