Pinata

People Are Not Pinatas.
People are NOT pinatas!
I love pinatas! They are a ton of fun and, for the 6 years we lived in San Diego, they were a birthday party staple! Kids, and plenty of adults, would have a blast smacking various effigies. Children would wait excitedly for candy and prizes to fall when the paper finally gave way to all the abuse. Pinatas are great! But people make horrible pinatas. Just terrible. I have seen too many people verbally, emotionally, psychological, spiritually, existentially, and even physically beat themselves up in order to get “good stuff”. Some people even allow others to harm them in various ways and then promise to “do better”. It’s not healthy, productive, or beneficial. This isn’t about the discomfort or pain that so often accompanies growth or self-denial. That hurts, but it doesn’t harm (I’ve written about that here). So, I’m asking, please, can we stop beating ourselves up, allowing ourselves to be broken, and then continue to think we’ll give good things? Please?

COVID-19

Repetition is the reality and the seriousness of life. ~Kierekegaard

{{ brizy_dc_image_alt uid='wp-8779a24a3a918507a2604763b85013b3' }}

COVID-19 has turned the world on its head. There are some practical things we can all do to help! The World Health Organization provides great information here: WHO & COVID-19

  1. Wash your hands! This was a good idea before and it’s a great one now!
  2. Cough into your elbow or a tissue.
  3. Don’t touch your face. This one is easier said than done, but do your best!
  4. Provide 3 to 6 feet of distance between you and other people
  5. STAY HOME! If you don’t need to leave, stay in your home. This will help prevent the spread of the disease.

The good news is that you don’t have to avoid therapy to do all of these! Existential Family Therapy provides telehealth (online therapy) at no additional cost. You can use your cell phone, tablet, or computer to continue your mental health journey. You don’t have to go through this alone. If you have questions regarding coverage, contact your insurance provider. Most insurances have provided a moratorium on any restrictions against services provided through telehealth.

As long as we are able, Existential Family Therapy will continue to provide opportunities to meet in person. However, if you are concerned for your health or believe you may have contracted COVID-19, please let your therapist know you’d like to meet online.

Rolling Resistance

“I conceived it as my task to make difficulties everywhere.”
~Kierkegaard as Climacus
     My tire pressure dash light has been on for about 2 weeks. My gas mileage is awful, my steering is less responsive, and I can’t be sure, but I think I heard my tires crying the other night. All of this is due to the change in temperature here in Kansas: It’s gone from oppressively hot to ridiculously cold. This has caused the air in my tires to huddle together for warmth (kinda), so the tire isn’t as inflated. This has increased the rolling resistance in my tires. In other words, it takes more energy to move my car, because the tires are creating more friction. There’s nothing wrong with my tires, they don’t have a leak or a hole, it’s just a change in weather. Sometimes, situations in our life change and we begin to notice a decrease in our energy levels. We may have a shorter fuse, get frustrated more easily, or just feel a general sense of malaise. If you start looking for a problem and can’t identify anything, ask someone you trust to help provide additional perspectives/insights. If you still can’t find anything, it may be a psychological form of rolling resistance. Over time, life tends to shift in different directions. Projects at work start growing, the kids have more extra-curricular activities because they’re older and more involved, pets have to go the vet, the heater goes out in December and the budget was already tight; all kinds of things can happen! One or two of these at a time may not even register as a “difficulty” in our life. Usually, most people can push through 1 or 2 of these. However, if we’re already stretched thin, these relatively easy tasks can begin to create a rolling resistance in our life. It will take more energy than normal to get the laundry done, brush our teeth, or even be with friends. There may not be a clinical depression, but things just seem to take “more”. If you are struggling with the effects of psychological rolling resistance, I have a few recommendations:
  1. Set better boundaries: Cloud and Townsend in their book Boundaries state that if you aren’t free to say “no”, any “yes” you give is contrived. That can mean saying no to really wonderful things, even if we desperately want to do it.
  2. Self-Care: Making sure you have enough in your psychological reserves before you decide to give to someone or something else is crucial.
  3. Be willing to change your mind: Already said yes to something you don’t have time for? Time to swallow your pride, contact someone, and let them know it’s going to take longer than you thought. You may have to tell them it’s not going to happen at all. Apologize for overextending yourself and try to do what you can with what you have.
  4. Accept help: I don’t know why, but this seems to be very difficult for many people. I’ve seen hundreds of people willing to offer their help at a moments notice. Those same people are often reticent to accept help. It could be because they’re worried they’ll “owe” someone. It could be because they believe they’re not worth the help. Truth is, no one is expected to do life alone. Ask for help. If you receive it, be grateful! If you don’t, respect those boundaries, ask someone else, and try something new.
  5. Realize that life is difficult: In the opening quote, Kierkegaard writes about being a difficulty. Many people believe that life is a series of struggles, and all we get to do is pick which struggles we want. Never forget that you are someone else’s struggle…and they’ve picked you on purpose! You are worth the struggle.
Rolling Resistance. (C) Nathan D. Croy, 2018

Heart Poops.

“Loving just one is too little; loving all is being superficial; knowing yourself and loving as many as possible, letting your soul hide all the powers of love in itself, so that each gets its particular nourishment while consciousness nevertheless embraces it all – that is enjoyment, that is living.” ― Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or: A Fragment of Life

     An interesting trend has begun to appear in several of my conversations with other people: What to do with emotions. One idea is that emotions are supposed to be destroyed, rather than experienced, in some form of stoicism. Another is that emotions should be expressed whenever and however someone would like. There is some truth in these concepts, but they miss the mark.

     I’m unsure where this line of thinking came from, but it’s disturbing. Emotions are a natural part of the experience of life. They aren’t good or bad, they aren’t wrong or right, they just…are. I can’t stress this enough: EMOTIONS ARE NOT GOOD OR BAD! They are morally and ethically neutral. You are entitled to your emotions and should never be ashamed of them.
     There is an analogy that may help. You remember those analogies on the SAT? Like, “Pockets are to pants, as pouches are to marsupials”. I love those things. I have a new one for you:
“Emotions are to the heart, as poop is to the digestive tract”
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But it’s true! In the same way feces are an important product of our body, emotions are a crucial product of our heart. If you eat, you poo. At least you should. If you’re alive, you feel. Again, at least you should. There are people that struggle with constipation and they just can’t get anything out. Chronic constipation can lead to impacted bowels. This is a block in the intestines which becomes so hard only liquid can go around it. Ironically, one of the symptoms of constipation can be diarrhea. This is because the liquids ingested can make their way around the impacted bowel. Left untreated, it will become more impacted until surgery is necessary. Without surgery or early interventions, it can even lead to death. DEATH! Your own feces can kill you if you hold on to it for too long. On the opposite end of the spectrum are people that struggle with chronic diarrhea. This can be a symptom of Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), parasites, or a dozen other things. Diarrhea is problematic because food doesn’t sit in the digestive system long enough to absorb nutrients. Plus, it gets pretty messy. Ironically, diarrhea can be a symptom of both constipation and diarrhea. Another potential complication from diarrhea is also death from dehydration.

So what?

How, in the world, is talking about feces supposed to help us understand appropriate expression of emotions? Many years ago a psychoanalyst, Freud, talked about people being anal retentive or anal expulsive.  He believed:
“The Anal retentive personality is stingy, with a compulsive seeking of order and tidiness. The person is generally stubborn and perfectionist. The Anal expulsive personality is an opposite of the Anal retentive personality, and has a lack of self control, being generally messy and careless.” (Source)
There’s a lot more to this concept, but this should be enough to help understand the analogy. Some people make the mistake of holding their emotions in (anal retentive) while others make the mistake of overly expressing their emotions (anal expulsive). Neither of these options are healthy. Expression of our emotions, as much as possible, should be on our own terms and with intent. Without this level of self-control it’s easy for our emotions to begin controlling us. In the same way that people shouldn’t feel ashamed for going to the bathroom, they shouldn’t feel ashamed for having emotions. Where we are held accountable is what we do with our emotions; how we express them. Don’t hold it in forever because that may kill you! It will certainly poison whatever relationship you’re in that’s eliciting these emotions. But don’t fling your emotions all over the place either! You won’t even have time to process an experience and absorb the existential nutrients. Besides, who would want to be around that smell? It’s gross, unsanitary, and will probably leave a stain. The best alternative is to acknowledge the feelings with enough time to make a choice about how they’re going to be expressed. This early identification is key! Holding emotions in too long may push us to the point where we don’t have an opportunity to choose when, where, or how we’re going to express them. Happy Heart Poops, everyone!
Heart Poops (C) 2018 Nathan D. Croy

The Buddy Bench

“Play makes us nimble — neurobiologically, mentally, behaviorally — capable of adapting to a rapidly evolving world.”
~Hara Estroff Marano: A Nation of Wimps


     I’ve heard discussions about something called the Buddy Bench. These are benches for children to sit on when they don’t have any friends to play with. Sitting on this bench is a cue for other children to invite this child to play. There are probably some nuances to the Buddy Bench I’m missing, but this is the basic principle. For more information, please check out the Buddy Bench website. The vision around the Buddy Bench is fantastic. Growing up, I experienced severe bullying and exclusion. Inclusion and friendship are great goals and we should be intentionally providing ways to encourage these behaviors in children. We should also be teaching them to adults! However, I believe the Buddy Bench potentially does more harm than good. Existentially, there are a few reasons this is a bad idea, and I’d like to recommend some alternatives.
     In A Nation of Wimps, Marano claims that parental over-involvement serves to undermine children’s confidence by weakening their psychological resiliency. Maranos’ research based book illustrates the risk of removing reciprocity from relationship (Buber). I will suggest why the Buddy Bench may inadvertently subvert the very ideals it seeks to encourage. Then, I will suggest a more difficult and authentic response to encourage children, and adults, to engage in healthy social relationship.

The Problem

    The primary issue I have with this idea is that it puts the onus of relationship almost entirely on the “other”. It does so through passive, rather than active/assertive communication. Sitting on the bench is making a statement without making a request. This is passive-aggressive communication 101. For example: if someone comes to your house, is sitting down to dinner with everyone, and made the statement, “It sure is hot in here…”, it may be a natural response to turn on a fan, open a window, turn down the AC, apologize for the unseasonably warm weather, or simply agree with them! However, the person making that statement has avoided vulnerability by making a request. Instead of asking if they could turn the AC cooler and risk being told, “No” (a rejection), they can use manipulative statements in an attempt to elicit a behavioral response from someone else.
     The more adept someone is at reading body language, subtle context clues, and implications, the better they will be at accidentally enabling others to continue using passive-aggressive speech. This prevents people from creating actual trust in others, because there’s no vulnerability. Without risking rejection, there can be no trust because no one has had the opportunity to let you down or hurt you!
     You may be saying, “Hey, Nathan! You don’t think sitting on a Buddy Bench is an act of vulnerability? You’re crazy!” Well, you may not be wrong about that last part, but here’s the issue: Sitting on a Buddy Bench automatically shifts the responsibility of connection from self, to others. It is a clear signal of needing support or relationship, but it is a request without risk. Even when the bench works, it doesn’t work, because the child will not know if they have a relationship with another child out of social obligation or due to their own personality, choices, and skills.

The Alternative

     Bullying is not acceptable. Bullying is meaningless, destructive, hurtful, and unhelpful. Anything I suggest from here on out should, in no way, be construed to imply that bullying is useful or healthy. And, just because a child is struggling with friendships/relationship, does not necessarily mean they are being bullied. It’s important to look at the context within which the isolation is occurring. If it’s primarily one or two children, then it’s likely bullying. If the child has almost no friends and is conflict with most other children, then it’s likely the child themselves is the issue.
     The response should not be to request the rest of the world to change to accommodate a lack of social skills/social understanding in one child. If this was the expectation, then it would stand to reason that we should all change in order to acquiesce to the requests of bullies! There are societal expectations and norms. They are not always fair, but they exist. Children are particularly skilled at punishing undesirable social behaviors. There are healthy ways for children (and adults) to learn to adjust their behavior to be more acceptable.
     I am not suggesting we should “go with the crowd”. There should be a sense of self that modulates all interpersonal and intrapersonal behavioral choices. But it is difficult to establish a sense of self by externalizing the locus of control in relationship creation. The better alternative would be to teach social skills in schools. Provide training to educators and administrators about how they can foster resilience in children. Resilience does not come without a certain amount of stress and discomfort. Having faith that our children are capable of learning new and better ways to interact and express themselves is a more difficult and time consuming route, but it is far healthier than a buddy bench.


Buddy Bench
Buddy Bench
(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2016