Sunday, March 16, 2014

You Don't Know Me, Fool! Wait, Maybe I Don't Either!

Hello everyone! In my last post, I spent quite a bit of time talking about the "soil that we've been cultivated in." I pointed out that in order to understand why we are the way we are in the world, it's important that we understand everything that goes into making us who we are.  And our soil is made up of all those things. But one of the major things that contributes to our soil, much more so than what country your ancestors were originally from, is our values.  Generally when people start talking about values the first things that comes to mind are religious values. We start thinking about things like morality and ethics (another post for another time). That's not necessarily what I'm talking about here. In this context, your values are your ideas about what is most important to you and your life. What you want to live by, and what you want to live for.  When we find ourselves watching a television show or a movie and saying "Wow, I don't like that!" Or "Oh yeah! I love that!" Or when we find ourselves looking at and judging other people's relationships (and you know you do), what are those silent forces that are behind your responses? The silent forces that often guide our decisions?  This is our values at work! These are hints of the things that we value bleeding through into everything that we do.
     But how often do we really exam what we value?  Are we even open to such exploration? I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, Carl, at a party this past weekend. We talked about a number of things, but one of the things that we talked about was the way people respond when they encounter others who either have religious views that are different from their own, or have religious views at all when we don't. One thing that I noticed about the way Carl responded was that on more than one occasion, he made the statement, "That's something I don't know anything about." And he would immediately follow it up with questions. Trying to increase his understanding. As a result, we both ended up exploring these topics that people often don't talk about.  I'm convinced I grew from that conversation because I value understanding. I value growth. And I value openness in friendship. 
     So here's what we'll do this week. Let's engage in a bit of a Values Clarification exercise!  The goal of a values clarification exercise is for the influence of each of these values to become fully conscious for us. For us to explore and honestly acknowledge what we truly value at this time in our lives.  In doing this, we can acknowledge what we truly value.  We can be more self-directed and effective when we know which values we consciously choose to keep an live by, and which ones will get priority over others. In this exercise identify your values first. Write them down in a list. And then rank your top five. Simple, yes? I'll provide a list of values below.

Being with people.
Being loved.
Being married.
Having a special partner.
Having companionship. 
Loving someone.
Taking care of others.
Having someone to help.
Having a close family.
Having good friends.
Being liked.
Being popular.
Getting peoples approval. 
Being appreciated. 
Being treated fairly. 
Being admired. 
Being independent. 
Being courageous.
Having things under control. 
Having self-control. 
Being emotionally stable. 
Having self acceptance. 
Having pride or dignity. 
Being well organized. 
Being competent. 
Learning and knowing a lot. 
Achieving highly
Being productively busy. 
Having enjoyable work. 
Having an important position. 
Making money.
Striving for perfection. 
Making a contribution to the world. 
Fighting injustice. 
Living ethically. 
Being a good parent or child. 
Being a spiritual person. 
Having a relationship with God. 
Having peace and quiet. 
Making a home. 
Preserving your roots. 
Having financial security. 
Holding on to what you have. 
Being safe physically.
Being free from pain. 
Not getting taken advantage of. 
Having it easy. 
Being comfortable.
Avoiding boredom.
Having fun.
Enjoying sensual pleasures.
Looking good. 
Being physically fit.
Being healthy. 
Having prized possessions. 
Being a creative person.
Having deep feelings.
Growing as a person.
Living fully.
"Smelling the flowers"
Having a purpose.

Doing this type of exploration can be intimidating. But it also can be so gratifying! It helps us understand ourselves. Helps us understand our opinions and our passions! So I challenge you to engage in this exercise with me. So many of us have heard people say, "I know you better than you know yourself!" Should that ever be true?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

My Soil Made Me Do It!!

     So I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the question of why people do the things they do. Why people make the choices they make.  I say "lately" but in reality, I've been thinking about that question for years!  In fact, it's what lead me to the field of psychology.  Growing up in the type of environment that I grew up in (North St. Louis, inner-city) I often found myself looking at the choices all too many people around me were making and asking, "Why are they doing that?" "Why do they think the way that they think?"  Back then I found few satisfying answers. Of course I heard all of the "conventional wisdom" (read that as "common sense" and you all know what I think of that!) which stated that we do what we do because it's what our parents taught us, or because it's just natural. Well, considering some of the behaviors I saw in my neighborhood, I am pretty damned sure that the parents weren't teaching that! At least not for the most part. And not on purpose. But I didn't have the answers. Not yet. 
     I started out by writing that I've been thinking about this question a lot recently. And I have. Though the questions haven't changed, I do have more resources, knowledge, and experience to tap in my journey to discover the answers.  As a psychologist, I have been trained to look for answers by engaging in critical thinking to develop the questions; and then to employ the scientific method to discover the answers. That method of inquiry and discovery has brought me a long way.  However, I've still found myself wanting answers that I simply have not found.  A couple of years ago, while doing course prep for my Abnormal Behavior course, I was at the point where I was preparing my lecture about why we study abnormal behavior and I had the thought that we study this so that we can explore why people function the way that they function or fail to function the way that they fail to function. And we do this with the goal of discovering what makes us function well.  It was then that it hit me. I am still asking the same questions that I was asking growing up in North St. Louis!  Seriously!?!  Picture a 12-year-old, poor, inner-city kid who was exposed to all of the things that go along with the stereotype of the inner-city (and probably much more) and who was often concerned about where his next meal would come from.  Now picture an upper-middle class Ph.D. This guy is a college professor and teaches at a well-respected private university. He recently had a home built in a suburb that he and his wife selected because of the outstanding quality of the school district. Hold the pictures of those two people in your mind. Now ask yourself if you think that when each of them is sitting alone in a quiet place, thinking about the questions that drive them, are they contemplating the exact same questions?  
     These two are both me. And yes, the questions have remained. But I have come to understand more as I open myself up to new ways of understanding.  I have come to understand that everything that I have experienced; everything that I have learned; every person that I've encountered; every church service I've attended; every pearl of wisdom dropped by my father, my reverend or my priest, my boxing coach, my theater coaches, or the guy who always hung outside the liquor store hoping for a quarter towards his next 40-oz; every book I've read; every political speech I've listened to; every story that I've heard that lifted my spirits or broke my heart; they have all had an indelible effect on who I am and how I respond to my world. They are all a part of my soil. The soil that I've been cultivated in. It's interesting to me that when I talk to someone about their soil, the first thing they tell me is, "Oh, my parents were _______ (fill in the blank: Irish, Germany, Chinese, Honduran, etc.) and they want to talk about their family tree. That is fine, but only in so much as that tree is a part of your soil. And only a part. If you really want to understand why you think the way you think and behave the way you behave, you must begin by exploring the soil that you've been cultivated in. Once we begin to understand that, we will come to know ourselves more fully. Happy digging!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Daddy-Daughter Dance Forces Me to Practice What I Preach!

Ok, so two things about me are important for this week's post: First and foremost, I'm a dad to four Fantastic kids! Secondly, I'm always preaching to you guys about the importance of being aware of your self-talk and the impact that has on your feelings. Well...we all slip up sometimes, and I had a bit of a slip-up this weekend at my daughter's Daddy-daughter dance. I must admit, I, like many parents, tend to think of my kids as the tiny little babies that we first brought home. Ok, sure, it gets a bit strange for them when I still try to pick them up and carry them "cradle-the-baby-style", especially my oldest, who has 3-4 inches on me in height! But come on! Can you really blame me? Most of the things a couple decides to bring home stay pretty much the same size over the years! (Consider all the discussion that goes into selecting just the right French-door refrigerator!). But kids keep insisting on growing!  Here they are just this past Summer:

Super cute, right? (I'm not really asking, I was presuming your thought so ;)  Notice how young and sweet they look. Pay particular attention to my one and only daughter, Sabrina. She's 10-years-old in this shot and just as sweet as can be!

   Now, while they are all seriously great young people with really admirable characters, we're going to focus on Sabrina for this post. (Here she is at 10 again:
She's my little girl. My only little girl. Oh yes! That means something! And while I recognize the importance and value of gender equality, I also recognize that I think of my daughter a bit differently. It's funny to me when people say that for parents, girls are so much easier to raise than boys! Uuummm, ok. I'm not feeling ya. Think of all the real additional challenges that she will have to face simply by virtue of her gender.  Ever since the drive home with Sabrina from the hospital, things were different. For starters, I almost ripped the stereo out of the dashboard as it finally hit home for me how pop music talks about girls/women! (You wanna do WHAT to my little girl!!?!!)  A serious sense of responsibility to shelter and protect her slammed down on me with a vengeance!  And therein lies a delimma.  While I want to protect and shelter her; while I want to give her everything she wants, I also want her to be prepared for this world that she'll be a part of. I want her to grow into the kind of woman that she can be proud of.  I want her to grow up strong, independent, self sufficient, and with an indelible sense of her own value! I want her to know that her character, intellect, drive, and heart are her finest qualities and that they are hers alone! I also want her to know that she will never need to derive her sense of value from someone else! In short, I want her to grow up to be like her mother.  

So how do I raise a strong young woman while inside all I want to do is pamper her? I'll tell you. It's by purposefully and deliberately checking myself. By making sure that I'm not committing all of the thinking errors that I've been discussing in this blog.  So what happened this weekend? How did the "slip-up" occur? It was all because of the gosh-darn song by Bob Carlisle, Butterfly Kisses!! That song had never bothered me before. NEVER! 

So here's what happened. Sabrina and I attended her Daddy-Daughter Dance on Saturday night. I was floored from the start by how beautiful and grown-up my 11-year-old little girl looked! (You can see for yourself...

Yep, she almost as tall as I am!

Things go incredibly well at the dance. We went out to dinner first and I was so proud of how she carries herself! We went with another Daddy-daughter couple who we like a lot! So the whole evening was pretty rockin! Then they announce the last dance. It's that darned song! It started out fine. Sabrina is an excellent dancer! Then I start listening to the lyrics. I'm picturing my little girl. And, in my mind, she's this tiny little thing, and that's when it hits me. I realize that as we dance, she's resting her head on my shoulder, just like when she was a baby, only now, she doing it while standing on the floor! The irrational self-statements go absolutely BALLISTIC then! I'm basically telling myself that she's already out of the house and in a career, maybe with a family of her own! I feel like I'm having a panic attack! Sabrina looks up into my eyes and says, "Daddy, are you crying?"  "I'm okay, Sweetie" I tell her. But then she begins to cry, too!  

Eventually, and thankfully, the blasted song ends and Sabrina gives me a great big hug and tells me she'll always be my little girl. And though I know she'll grow up into an amazing woman, I believe her. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Common Sense is Really Not All That Common At All!

     "Everybody knows that!" This is a statement that I heard my son make an one evening when we were sitting down for dinner. And the interesting thing about this is he was acting as though he was sort of annoyed that one of his brothers didn't know this thing that he thought that "everybody knows".  This is something that I find we do all too often. The thing that comes to mind when I consider this social phenomenon is the problem of common sense.  One way that common sense is defined is: 
  "Sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence."
and this conceptualization of common sense is evident throughout history and literature:
"Common sense is in spite of, not as the result of education." 
Victor Hugo 
"Common sense is the measure of the possible; it is composed of experience and prevision; it is calculation applied to life." 

 Henri Frederic Amiel 

 "I have great confidence in the common sense of mankind in general."

Thomas Jefferson 

"Common sense is genius stressed and its working clothes." 

 Ralph Waldo Emerson

But I believe George Seaton said it best when he said, "Faith is believing in something even when common sense tells you not to."  We are so used to thinking of common sense as though it where a universal answer! Yet when we think it through, we recognize that an overreliance on common sense leads us to fail to recognize the value of sense that is common to people outside our own experience. 
This is one of the ways that we mislead ourselves. We are so convinced that common sense is this thing that we should all share.  Yet, we fail to realize what commonsense is actually based upon. Common sense is only common in so far as it is consistent with the experiences that we have had. Our common sense does not extend beyond what we've been exposed to, beyond what we, ourselves, have experienced.  Therefore, common sense is not so common at all! Consider this, if I've spent my entire childhood traveling all over the world with my family, to me, common sense would suggest that many people speak different languages and have different cultures. If, on the other hand, I've spent my entire life in, say, a small town in rural America, common sense might tell me that everyone speaks the language that I speak and knows the creeks and trails that I walked throughout my childhood. Why might I think that? Because that is my experience! That is all I know! And if I talk to my neighbor, or the kid I rode to school with, or that really nice lady at church, they would all know the same things. Therefore, it might seem like "common sense", but in reality, it is not necessarily common at all.  We convince ourselves that, because we live and breathe these things every day, that it is an absolute truth! But truth goes far beyond our limited experience. And like my son at the dinner table, we have an expectation that people share our common sense, and when they do not, they are somehow less-than

That being said, let's identify this as Thinking Error #8: Our common sense is not necessarily so common

You might wonder how I explained to my son he would do well to stop supposing that everyone shares sense that is common to him. I actually used the example that I read in a text book by David Myers. Dr. Myers suggested that you try this exercise. He said imagine that you could fold a sheet of paper in half 100 times.  And he asked how thick would it be. The average sheet of notebook paper is one .1 mm thick. What would common sense tell you? Would it tell you that you should multiply .1×100? Nope. That wouldn't do it. Remember, you are continuing to fold the product in half until you've done it 100 times! Common sense would go on to tell you that it is impossible to fold a sheet of paper in half 100 times. You see? Because is it something outside our experience, we have trouble even visualizing it! The answer? Somewhere in the neighborhood of 800,000,000,000,000 times the distance between the earth and the sun! Hey some that is almost unimaginable! Which means it is beyond our common sense. So, despite the fact that Dr. Phil McGraw would tell us that "common sense needs to be more common", I encourage us to move beyond common sense. This will allow us to be open to understanding that is outside our immediate experience, knowledge that goes beyond what we've been exposed to, and insight that will enrich our lives.

Dr. Saz

***** If you have questions, comments, or challenges please feel free, no, feel encouraged, to post in the comments section below! Oh, I accept positive feedback, too! I'm just kind like that. 😉

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Passing of an Icon and The Challenge to Love--Mr. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”Nelson Mandela

This week we witnessed the passing of an incredible icon. Mr. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela based his entire life on the principle of dialogue and the art of listening and speaking to others.  And he was convinced that if we all did this, we could have a profound impact on the world. He encouraged people to enter into dialogue – often about difficult subjects – in order to address the challenges we face today.  I've been moved by the sentiments shared by so many at his passing. I'm struck by the fact that, as I look back on his life, his many trials and tribulations, I feel challenged to act. To do something designed to make this great world better.  Former Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell, talked about what it would be like if our politicians attempted to carry out there duties with the level of love and compassion that Mr. Mandela eventually showed. I loved this quote from BBC News:

Mr Powell said that Mr Mandela was a guide to him when he became the first black US secretary of state:

What I liked telling people was I was the first secretary of state who happened to be black, and I put that descriptor behind the title. We have to get beyond these labels depending upon your gender or your colour or your background. I'm proud of being black, and I'm proud of being an immigrant of British subjects, but at the same time I want to be seen as an American. And I think Nelson Mandela was able to create that kind of an image within South Africa. We are not black South Africans or white South Africans, we are South Africans who happen to be black or white. We are one family, one nation, one people.

I really think that says it all!

I'll finish this post by sharing with you the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by India Arie:

Yeah Yeah!
Yeah Yeah!

[Verse 1:]
I wish there was a video game
to teach you your ancestors name
I wish there was a phone number

like 1-800-Save-Your-Brother
I'm thankful for the radio station
Not afraid to put the truth in rotation

there is certain information
That you can only get in conversation when...

Young People, who talk to
Old People, it would make us
Better People, all around...
(Yes it would)

And if Old People would talk to
Young People, it would make us
Better People, all around....
(Yes it would)

[Verse 2:]
We went from radio to TV
Now we're going from LP to CD
Don't be afraid To try something new

I can help you with the brand new technology
Help me with the age old philosophy
Together there's so much we can do when

Young People, who talk to
Old People, it would make us
Better People, all around...

And if Old People would talk to
Young People, it would make us
Better People, all around....

They say that every
Generation gets worse
They call it a generational curse

These problems don't just drop out the sky (yeah)
Listen to Mahatma Ghandi's words
Be the change you want to see in the world
Start with yourself and healing will multiply
AAAAAAH, that's what happens When..

Young People, who talk to
Old People, it would make us
Better People, all around...

If Old People would talk to
Young People, it would.....
Better People, all around....

If black people
Would talk to white people
It would make us
Better People
All Around....

If Republican people would
Talk to Democratic people
It would make us diplomatic people
[laugh] All Around.....

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, WINDSWEPT HOLDINGS LLC

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fun With Relationships! A Rational Guide to Screwin' 'Em Up!

Hey, All!
     I was having a conversation with a friend of mine a couple of days ago and he was lamenting the challenges he's having in his current relationship. And by now, you guys know me. I'm sensitive. I'm supportive. I'm compassionate.  And I'm totally impatient with the idea that other people are responsible for making us feel we feel! Now I know that relationships can be incredibly hard. And I recognize and appreciate that the desire to have a partner with whom to share our lives is very human. In fact, I believe that it makes us better people overall! When done correctly, and it's working well, it drives us toward our capacity to be our best selves! And that's great for the whole world! Of course, the vast majority of us have also had relationship challenges. And there are effective ways of managing ourselves during these challenging times and less effective ways…

     Okay back to the friend I was telling you about. He actually said to me, "Dude I seriously hope that I can get back together with her! She is awesome! I mean, you know… I'm not all that great. Whenever I'm around her, she makes me feel like I'm not that smart or not very interesting. I mean I look okay, but...she's AWESOME!"  In an attempt to be supportive all I said was, "So you don't feel really good about yourself when you're around her?" And my friend replies, "Oh no! You can't apply your "rational" (air quotes here) stuff here! This is emotion stuff man! And we men have emotions too! I think I've gotta be more emotional with her. (Oh yeah, I think to myself, I'm sure that's exactly what she needs!). And then before I can even defend my "rational stuff", my friend says to me, "okay fine! Go on and do your "rational thing"! (More air quotes) Tell me how that would even fit in this real life situation. I was like, cool. Then I told him about some Emotional Blocks to Relationships.  I talked to him about some possible ways that he might be making himself upset or angry.

Thoughts (Internal self-statements):
I'm not very (smart) (interesting) (attractive)… Why would anyone be interested in me?

FEELINGS (which we experience as a result of the self statements)
putting ourselves down, depression

BEHAVIORS (how we act then)
Acting shy, avoiding contact, not initiating conversations, etc.

While I'm not perfect, I am certainly not worthless! And while I make mistakes, I recognize that I'm human and I am likely to make mistakes. But I can still value myself and desire to be valued by the person I'm in a relationship with!

I need the approval of this significant person in my life or I'm no good at all!

putting ourselves down, depression

Acting dependent on the person for happiness, well-being, direction, etc.

Just because another person doesn't like something about me, or doesn't value something in me, does not mean that I am worthless!

And for the 3rd example I tackled his anxiety-producing self-statements!

I just couldn't stand being rejected or thought badly of! Especially by that special person. Or "I couldn't stand being feeling uncomfortable"


Being nonassertive or self-conscious. Withdrawal; failure to take risks, to become intimate with others.

I don't like being rejected, but I can handle it. It's not awful and it's not horrible! It's only uncomfortable, and it won't kill me!

Not don't get me wrong. It's possible that he really could be in a bad relationship. If you really do find yourself feeling like crap all the time when you're around your partner, maybe this relationship really is eating away at you…

If that's the case, it's time to get out!

Of course I could go on, but you guys get the picture  So go out there and do your relationships up right! Remember that the way that we talk to ourselves can not only impact our own experiences, but also impacts our relationships! So...

I almost said "Good luck", but a really bright friend of mine (thanks, Marie!) pointed out something really interesting to me the other day. She said that luck isn't something that you have any control over at all and thus, you can't take any responsibility for what happens. Instead she prefers "Good success!" That encourages us to go out and do something and do it well. I like that!

Dr. Saz

***** If you have questions, comments, or challenges please feel free, no, feel encouraged, to post in the comments section below! Oh, I accept positive feedback, too! I'm just kind like that. 😉

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gaylord Opryland Resort is Mind-bendingly Huge!

  Once a year I attend the annual meeting of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
  in order to get my scientifically supported treatments fix and to mix it up with some seriously high-powered psychological minds! As you might imagine, it's five days of intellectual frolic and fun.  Actually this organization is made up of thousands of psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, and other mental health professionals who are seriously committed to the idea that the only mental health treatments that should be used are those which have been demonstrated to be effective. They all believe that people who are suffering, and those who simply want to enhance their function and well-being, deserve only the most sound and ethical treatment possible. It really is a fantastic organization. 

And this year, where was the conference held, you ask? Well, none other than the absolute heart of Country...Nashville, Tennessee! At the Gaylord Opryland Resort!  Leave it to a bunch of mental health professionals to choose a place with the size and feel of the Vegas strip, without the gambling, for getting down to some serious psychologizing! I mean, look at this place!  I've never walked so much in my life!

And this is only a small part of it! I'll bet it has it's own zip code and can to seen from outer space! (At the very least, I'm sure the country music can be heard throughout the galaxy!) And during all of this psychological, scientific power-lifting, we've got to let loose for a bit! And where was that done? Why, we're in Nashville, so of course we'd have our traditional ABCT Conference Saturday Night Dance at, none other than the World Famous Wildhorse Saloon!

We had the top two floors! And how did we know that the top floors were reserved for us? Why, this feller told us!

As an aside, perhaps some of you kind readers who are better versed in the phenomenon of country music culture could help me understand country line dancing. Wouldn't you want to mix it up a bit every few songs or have, I don't know, maybe a "free dance" segment...

Anyway, of course the conference isn't all song and dance (ha! I think I made me laugh with that one!).  Now you've got to picture me sitting there soaking in all in! Feeling my psychological juices flowing and taking part in intense conversations with people of like mind!  Ok, not all of the conversations were exactly intimate...

(Can you guess which seat I sat in for this talk? I'll make you a fantastic dip if you can.) but there is some seriously fantastic work being done there. And honestly, by some of the greatest thinking available!

So that was my last few days.  ABCT keeps me excited about my field. And I love that, as a part of this organization, I'll always be driven to not only provide the best care that I can, but to continue to use psychological science to further my understanding of what truly works in recognizing, assessing, treating, and preventing psychological suffering.