Archive for September, 2011

The Chaos Within

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Most of us know the feeling—and it’s a terrible one. We are in the grip of a powerful and painful emotion. It seems to have a life of its own—Instead of us having the feeling, the feeling seems to have us. The feeling is automatic. We don’t “will it” it “takes us” and often at the worst times. If the feeling is shame, it’s paralyzes us, if it is fear it brings a sense of doom, if it is anger, it may destroy something beyond repair.

Taking a step back we can see that feelings at their strongest and most irrational come from the most primitive parts of us. The primitive part is always there even in our maturity. Our mature Selves are like a city built on the ruins of ancient civilizations which themselves were built one the ruins of primitive tribal regions.

There are periods when all is stable, when the past is the past. Then there is seismic activity, and when there is trauma or mental illness in our history it is like a Fault Line where all the pressure from life’s Teutonic plates create a vulnerability. When certain factors shift, the earth quakes, and the mists from the primitive parts of ourselves rise.

The Ancients conceived of the primeval period as Chaos—the infinite space and formless void which existed prior to the creation of the world.  Out of Chaos the gods, men, women, all life and all things arose. Poets have envisioned Chaos as darkness and things of the lower realms.

There is a parallel to this mythological view in neuroscience—the lower realm is the lower and mid-brain, the part of us that acts and feels. The lower realms of the brain  existed hundreds of  thousands of years before the higher (thinking) brain evolved. The low and mid-brain are quicker than higher brain.  They  are great when fight-or-flight is called for, but not so good in the complex world of civilization. The psychoanalyst, Heinz Hartmann pointed out that we have evolved to be more independent of the natural environment where the basic instincts of the lower brain are most needed. Modern life calls for much repression of the anger and fear necessary for fight-and-flight. Psychoanalysis, which is the forerunner of psychotherapy, is based on the premise that most mental illness is related to the conflict between instinct (with all the primitive emotions that come with it) and the expectations of society. Troublesome emotions that are completely repressed, have never been processed and refined from the higher thinking brain. So they inhabit the lower realms and can be released in their unrefined form during a seismic shift.

In the religions of the ancient Near East, there is a recurring motif of struggle against Chaos where the Hero battles a monster depicted sometimes as a dragon. Isn’t the dragon a great image for that powerful emotion that “rears its ugly head” within us?

Psychologists who explore the emotions, which in their most basic form are called the “primary affects”, emphasize the role and value of the emotions.  Even the negative emotions are positive in their proper place. When, however,  our emotions come with such force that they are way out of proportion to the event that stimulated them we know that something is wrong.

It is an important journey to become aware of our emotions and resources such as therapy can be invaluable in helping us to address them instead of repress them. But understanding can take a long time. What do we do, in the mean time to manage emotions so that they do not cause us too much pain or wreak too much havoc?

This is what my colleague, Carol Emerson, and I hope to address in our Fall Series From Chaos to Freedom . Through a viewing videos followed by discussion  we hope to offer opportunities for learning strategies to handle what often feels like emotional chaos.

The video series is on Marsha Linehan’s “Dialectical Behavior Therapy”(DBT) which offers a way of approaching problems of emotions. One strategy, Mindfulness, for example, develops the presence of mind to be in the moment. Once one can stay present to a crisis, Tolerating Distress without escalating the emotion is the next task. Having some strategies available to weather the crisis is a way to turn it into an opportunity for change.

This video series is open to anyone who is interested in learning the strategies of mindfulness, distress tolerance, radical acceptance and opposite action. The group will view 30 minutes of Marsha Linehan demonstrating one of her strategies. Following the viewing, there will be open discussion about the strategy and how to apply it to one’s situation.

 

To Register: Please email me at phazeltine@gmail.com

 

Fee:                $20 per session

 

9/20/11          7:30 to 9:00   Mindfulness Part I

9/27/11          7:30 to 9:00   Mindfulness Part II

10/4/11          7:30 to 9:00   Distress Tolerance: Distracting

10/11/11        7:30 to 9:00   Distress Tolerance:  Self Soothing

10/18/11        7:30 to 9:00   Distress Tolerance: Improve the Moment

10/25/11        7:30 to 9:00   Distress Tolerance: Pros and Cons

11/1/11          7:30 to 9:00   Practicing Reality Acceptance: Part I

11/8/11          7:30 to 9:00   Practicing Reality Acceptance: Part II

11/15/11        7:30 to 9:00   Opposite Action

 

Location:       227 North Duke Street, Lancaster, Pa 17602

 

To find out about a parent education and support group using DBT strategies click here  a delicate balance