Sick by Self-Esteem Driven Ambition

Type-A personality disorder (TAPD) can do ample damage to both the brain, and body.

TAPD is defined by:

  • An intense drive to achieve self-selected, but usually poorly defined goals,
  • Competitiveness
  • A persistent desire for recognition and advancement
  • Involvement in several functions subjected to time restrictions
  • An accelerated rate of execution of several physical and mental functions and
  • An increased mental and physical alertness

Research frequently reports that TAPD is associated with both physical and mental chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, stress, anxiety, and depression. Two highly associated characteristics of TAPD are insecurity and inadequate self-esteem; a common thought pattern which may exacerbate is as follows:

TAPD Loop

Though like any limiting thought pattern, they are non-permanent and can be changed. Start by bringing awareness to these patterns; this can be done everyday and through mindfulness meditation. Once that awareness is present, actively stop that thought before it can run around in circles and wreak more havoc inside your brain. Finally, work on cultivating rational counters… “I am human.” “Like everyone else, I am good at some things and not at others.” “As a human being, I am inherently worthy– it does not need to be worked for.” “I grew up in different circumstances than everyone else.” Etc. Don’t let this all too common North American based thought pattern make you sick– it affects millions and must be stopped!

References:

Crocka J, Park, L. The Costly Pursuit of Self Esteem. Psychological Bulletin. 2004: 130(3); 392–414

Friedman M.Type A Behavior: Its Diagnosis and Treatment. New York: Plenum Press, 1996.

Friedman M, Rosenman RH. Association of specific overt behavior pattern with blood and cardiovascular findings; blood cholesterol level, blood clotting time, incidence of arcus senilis, and clinical coronary artery disease. Journal of the American Medical Association 1959; 169: 1286–96.

Sirri L, Fava GA., Guidi J, Porcelli P, Rafanelli C, Bellomo, A et al. Type A behaviour: a reappraisal of its characteristics in cardiovascular disease. International journal of clinical practice. 2012: 66(9); 854-861.

YOU ARE ENOUGH; THEY ARE ENOUGH

Status anxiety (term coined by Alaine de Botton) is a widespread North American based phenomenon that is the root of unnecessary suffering as individuals AND as a society. From the day we were born, we have been taught that our worth is based on how much we accomplish (particularly in the realms of academics, income, vocational and social status, extra-curricular skills). This cultivates unstable self-esteem (volatile self-worth based on how much we have achieved in the near-past), and arrogance (the act of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people– based on those achievements). In summary,

Status anxiety = unstable self-esteem + arrogance

As individuals, there are many adverse implications of status anxiety. This anxiety has us continuously comparing ourselves to others through:
- Upward comparisons; when we compare ourselves to people who we believe are better than us. When it is done marginally, this can be inspiring. However, when done against people who are way out of our ball-park, it is a form of self-harm, activating the same pain receptors as does physical pain incurs.
- Downward comparisons; when we compare ourselves to people we believe are lesser than us. This is PROTECTIVE but can also cultivate horrid arrogance.

As a society, there are also many adverse implications of status anxiety. For instance, many public health and biomedical researchers have become more concerned about increasing their personal curriculum vitae (ie. research portfolio) than actually improving population health– the whole reasons for why the research is done in the first place. Research papers are not getting past peer review because they are getting shot down so the reviewers can feel higher, or rewrite the papers themselves. In another example, public health organizations are constantly shunning others for the interest of inflating themselves and hopes for deflating others– even if both organizations are working towards the EXACT SAME GOAL. This impedes the sharing of knowledge to more effectively work towards viable answers to imperative public health and biomedical questions. It is clear how dangerous this can be for society as a whole: Status anxiety is blunting progress for improving health policy and biomedical care!

This is a vicious cycle because inevitably, there will always be people and groups of people (stressed, in quotations) “above” and “below” you or your own group. There will always be millions of people and groups to compare yourself to. The only way out is to accept yourself as you are, and in turn, accept others as they are; to stop comparing and contrasting two entirely separate lives who have grown up in two entirely different bodies and environmental circumstances, against one another. Until we as a whole society come to this realization, there will only be more suffering and an even larger pool of prestigious A-holes.

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Dismantling Dangerous Implicitly Learned Products of Adverse Experiences

PatternOur brains are the product of our genetics and learned experiences. Continuously throughout life, and especially during childhood and adolescence, our brain networks form and consolidate depending on our experiences— our own self-concepts, how we perceive the people around us, schemas of how we view social relationships, etc. Sometimes learned negative experiences, especially during critical developmental periods of childhood and adolescence, can be harmful to psychosocial well-being later in life. It is kind of true to say that we are all just a bunch of big babies.

For instance, a child who had been severely bullied for 10 years of their school yard life, but eventually learns to cultivate an explicit awareness that he is a worthy individual in his adult life, still maintains a more deeply ingrained, implicit thought pattern that he is not a worthy individual. Since this thought pattern has been formed and solidified in his neural workings for 10 years, it may be tricky to fight back with his rational, healthy explicit thoughts against these more unhealthy unconscious thoughts which limit us from living life freely and to the fullest. There is already a huge chunk of neurons his brain maintains that consistently has told him, and will continue to tell him that he isn’t worthy.

However, no one should ever lose hope in reversing these dangerous thought patterns. Neuroplasticity is the concept that our brains can constantly be molded and changed. It takes time (just think of all that time it took to form the thought patterns in the first place), but can be done.

These negative thoughts can cycle us through loops and spiral us into ditches and for no good reason.

Your first essential weapon is contemplation.

If you never PAUSE and stop to contemplate, you will go through this schematic ROBOTICALLY a million times a day, as the already built machine your developed brain is:

Situation–> thoughts–> emotions–> behavior–> results

It is only when you take a moment to reflect on who you are (your automatic thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in situations and the repetitive results it brings you), that you may override these automatic reactions to situations and direct yourself into a more desirable life path.

So take the time to stop, come outside your body, and mind watch. Notice your limiting thought patterns. What continuously comes up? Ask yourself, “why why why” you are thinking them until you get to the root. Once you get to the end—really begin to ask yourself…

Is this rational? Do I need this thought in my life?

Break free from the loops and write down counters to these limiting thoughts. Throughout the day, and especially in the specific situations, re-affirm them as much as you can. Make them into mantras and keep saying them over and over.

Never underestimate the power of thoughts… they can be your most prized weapon or your worst enemy. Your thoughts lead to emotion which lead to behavior which lead to where you end up. So smash up the ones that limit you. Elevate the ones that liberate you.

Embracing Vulnerability

“VULNERABILITY IS AT THE CENTER OF FEAR AND SHAME, BUT IT IS ALSO AT THE CENTER OF JOY, GRATITUDE, LOVE, AND BELONGING.”

~ Brene Brown, The Power of Vulnerability

Vulnerability is excruciating uncomfortable. As a result, we do everything in our power to avoid all of the things that make us vulnerable… and when we do get a chance to experience vulnerability, we like to numb it with coping mechanisms.

What if you were able to learn to sit and breathe proudly through vulnerable feelings? Think about it– think about all of the things you could do that you were always afraid of. Embracing vulnerability is an amazing, liberating skill to learn. Once you are comfortable with it, you can anything you want. And it’s possible.

Here’s is an exercise that can help:

Complete the following statements; reflect, write down, share, discuss with a close friend or family member, and contemplate.

1) I feel vulnerable when…
*ex.
- people don’t like me
- I am not good at something
- I say I love you
- I ask for help
- I speak my mind
- I express my emotions

2) To numb my vulnerability, I tend to…
*ex.
- hermit in my room
- bottle it all up and get angry
- smoke marijuana
- take anxiolytics, anti-depressants
- drink my brains out

3) My deepest moments of unworthiness tend to come when…
*ex.
- I am compared to with others
- I don’t achieve my goals
- I am in relationships
- I am asked to play team sports
- etc,

* These are all REAL examples I have heard from my therapeutic meditation class last night– Just so you know that these are all very real experiences, and that you are not alone.

Next is the meditation…

An excellent meditation to help you embrace these is to bring your attention to a situation of which you feel the most terrifyingly vulnerable. When those horrible emotions arise, just watch from a third person perspective. Then, counter with a mantra of choice, one that you need most: “I accept myself for who I am,” “may I be kind to myself,” “may I learn to live with ease and wellness,” and “may I be at peace.” Repeat it over and over again.

Try it.

And then in your real life, take baby steps out of your comfort zone. Step out a bit, and then come back. Then step out a bit further, and then come back. Eventually you’ll be in places where you never thought you could go. 

The more you are willing to show yourself whole-heartedly to others, the happier you’ll be, and the more others will feel as though they can do the same. This is crucial in a society where vulnerability is shunned and self-worth is measured by accomplishments. So be the change first, and change society afterwards.

“Fake-it-till-you-make-it” Vs. “Come As You Are”

So which one is it– Which one is better for overall mental health? Should we simply act as we are OR pretend to be something that feels incredibly unnatural to our most true innards?

The answer is complex and depends on what the certain thoughts and behaviors are:

“Faking it” in regards to something less personal and that you would genuinely like to improve on, for example, being more confident at public speaking, is appropriate. In this case, faking it does work, for two reasons: one—we tend to make judgments about our personal attributes *proceeding behavior in addition to preceding, i.e., if we keep faking it, we will eventually start to believe it’s true. And two—behavior feeds back to thought; meaning the behaviors we choose to fake creates physiological responses which loops Imageback to our brain, aiding further continuation of this behavior. For example, forcing yourself to stand confidently and openly increases levels of testosterone, which in turn aids in increasing confidence furthermore.

However, be cautious about faking it too much. Behaving in ways that don’t align with your thoughts and emotion do cause high levels of cognitive and emotional exhaustion*. When you are dealing with personal issues (ex. sexual orientation, career stress, marital issues) and emotional turbulence (ex. stress, anxiety, depression)—you should “come as you are.” Faking it will burn you out quicker than you realize. If you feel, you feel— the more we don’t have to hide our emotions, the healthier. Always find an outlet or someone to confide in—Whether friend or parent or partner or journal or therapist or mentor or distress hot line. Kurt Cobain says so too .

Sometimes it is best to take an approach somewhere in between. An example is with introvert temperament. In our extroversion promoting Western culture, introverts faking extroversion is not an uncommon phenomenon. This may seem unhealthy, but introverts are at higher risk for experiencing depression due to lesser desire for social interaction. In some sense, for extreme introverts, it is healthy to be uncomfortable and fake extroversion during the beginning stages of building relationships (romantic and non). However, once a healthy level of intimacy is established between multiple relationships– strong enough to call it a healthy support network/ “social capital,” it would be best for the introvert to reward themselves with more downtime in between social interaction.

So it all depends– use your best judgement to gauge based on these examples. :)

Buy Runners Instead: Brain Training Games Don’t Work

Don’t bother with the brain training computer games– they don’t work! Studies have shown that although brain training programs such as Luminosity improve cognitive abilities (attention, memory, shifting, updating, planning, inhibition, verbal reasoning, problem solving, etc.) that are very specific to the particular game, these effects don’t transfer over to other tasks which require the same cognitive abilities. This implies that these improvements were due to mere learning effects from repeated practice.

It is however well established that aerobic exercise, resistance exercise, yoga, and meditation improve cognitive functioning and mental flexibility across many realms and a variety of tasks. Preliminary studies on breathing exercises are revealing mostly positive results as well.

In conclusion, don’t spend your dollars on expensive Brain Training programs unless you just would like to play it for fun (at least it is less likely to increase your risk for ADHD like other video games).

References:

Owen, A. M., Hampshire, A., Grahn, J. A., Stenton, R., Dajani, S., Burns, A. S., … & Ballard, C. G. (2010). Putting brain training to the test. Nature465(7299), 775-778.

A Beginners Guide to Mindfulness Meditation

“THINK OF MINDFULNESS, THINK OF ALL MEDITATIONS, AS MENTAL SKILLS TO CONTROL EMOTIONS AND TO SHAPE THE IMPACT THAT EXTERNAL EVENTS, SUCH AS SIGHT, SOUND OR HEAT, HAVE ON THE SENSORY BRAIN.”

~ Christof Koch, Scientific American MIND: Neuroscientists and the Dalai Lama Swap Insights on Meditation.

Seated MeditatorHow to start a Mindfulness meditation practice:

  1.  First, know that the more you do it, the easier it gets. That’s why I advise you to not become discouraged after your first few tries—it will indeed seem difficult to the modern day brain, but there are steps you can take to prep your brain for meditation.
  2.  Move first. Run, do Vinyasa yoga, go climbing, dancing, play a sport—do anything to get your jitters out. This also preps your brain for more focus since you’re consumed in the activity.
  3.  Minimize distractions: go pee, make sure you’re satiated, lock the doors, dim the lights, tell your roommates to not disturb you, etc.
  4.  Set your timer (Start with as short as 3 minutes, then work your way up minute by minute).
  5.  Choose a comfortable position—lying down, in childs pose, seated meditation (be sure to elevate your hips by sitting on a block or pillow, this will make keeping a long lengthened spine a ton easier). 
  6. Begin monitoring. Turn your senses inward; come outside your body and observe what’s going on in there from a third person perspective:
    •  Thoughts: Notice them but don’t attach stories to them. Simple let them come and go, no matter how silly they are or how much you’d like to block them out. If painful ones emerge, don’t ignore them, rather breathe through them.
    •  Muscular tension: Scan your body for areas of tension. Start from your toes and work your way up to the crown of your head. If you do spot one, exhale and decontract those muscles. You don’t need to be working them right now. *Pay extra attention to your neck, shoulders, jaw, and eye lids.
    • Emotions: Notice your heart rate, breath rate, stress levels, mood, etc. once again without attaching stories to them.
  7. Take your time to turn your senses back to the real world. Smile, and enjoy your meditation buzz (I like to stay away from technology for a bit because it tends to kill it pretty quick)!

Like I said, start small and work your way up. Don’t worry about your wandering mind– I can assure you that it will do its thing and go everywhere. Simply redirect your awareness inward whenever you notice and don’t beat yourself up over it. You’ll be surprised how much easier it gets after practice. You can also make it more fun by playing calm music and burning aromatherapy oils in the back. :)

Best of luck!