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Change Counseling Love and Romance Psychology Social Media

On Love v. Admiration

In the movie, My Life As a House, George Monroe is an architect who is let go from his job and discovers he has terminal cancer, of which he withholds his diagnosis from others. After deciding he wants to tear down an old house on a piece of property he has been dreaming about for a rebuild, he tells his ex-wife that he wants to take his son Sam for the summer and build the house with him.

In a powerful scene between father and son, Sam’s repulsed expression of disbelief flies out at his father, “You trying to get me to like you?” George’s response is equally telling, “I was trying to get you to love me.”

The things we do for love. Or, is it love that we’re truly pursuing?

With the rare exception of individuals with personality disorders that manifest in social aloofness, we crave love and connection. Children can create imaginary friends to fill in loneliness, boredom, or fearful emotions. And in the age of the Internet, many of us flock to Social Media to not only see what others are doing, but to curate a world where others might connect with us.

All of this sounds pretty innocuous, maybe even adaptive. Until it isn’t.

I’ve been intrigued by conversation around a fast-growing group of people who are being called out as repeat marathon cheaters. These are people, usually everyday non-elite runners, who engaged in ways to cheat the system in order to gain awards, access to other races, and followers because of their astonishing fast-paced finishes. The numbers of cheaters caught at marathons, half marathons, and triathlons are enough that there are forums and a website dedicated to investigating marathon cheaters and turning them in to the race directors and organizations to determine what, if any, consequences should be rendered. The cheating is so common place enough that Wired magazine recently published a story about the founder of Marathon Investigations and the most perplexing responses and consequences of cheating exposures. 

Ever wonder why they would do it?

I suspect the numbers of marathon cheaters is actually not growing as much as you’d think. Rather, the technology used to catch marathon cheaters has improved in such a way as to punish the cheater in a public way by way of disclosure and the removal of awards, a ban from races, and potentially retroactive removal of finish times if there is a proven history of cheating across multiple races.

In other words, marathon cheaters risk being shamed and despised for their behaviour, if they are caught. And if they aren’t caught, they receive the love and admiration of fans.

Actually, I think these people stumble on another truth. They don’t receive love from their fans. They receive admiration based on achievement. Another way of putting it is that they cull conditional love based on a transaction: I perform, and you compliment me. 

Is It Worth It?

As you might have guessed, this post isn’t about running and marathon cheaters as much as it is about answering a question: is it worth it? And what “it” did you receive?

What “it” are we talking about? 

The subject is Love. Most of us learn about the importance of love when we are children. We see it in the sacrifices our parents and caregivers made in order to provide for our needs, listen to us, take us ball games and movies, and make sure we have opportunities to learn and grow. Love is can be hidden within a voice wishing us goodnight, folded into a homemade cake for a birthday party, and embedded in a hug and a kiss. 

Admiration is a similar feeling as Love, yet with a subtle difference. Admiration involves respect and approval, usually because of something we did to earn that feeling from another. An example of being admired is when a stranger put his/her personal safety in jeopardy in order to save the life of another.  We admire that person for bravery; we don’t love that person (the person is a stranger), as much as we hold in high esteem that person’s choice of action at the risk of personal injury. 

So back to the question, is it worth it. It is my belief that one of the reasons why marathon cheaters continue a pattern of cheating is because they trade Love for Admiration.  Finding and experiencing unconditional, non-transactional Love is rare. What they want is to be loved, but what they seek through cheating is the next best thing: Respect and Admiration for being a high performer. 

If Respect and Admiration means that much to a person, I believe they can  – sometimes do — pursue Admiration at all costs; therefore, it is worth it to them. The ‘likes’ on their Social Media posts, the adoring comments filled with heart emojis and ‘way to go’s, gives the person a lot of validation. It becomes its own kind of pellet food bar, of which a hungry mouse will keep pushing despite the fear of being shocked as long as the memory of getting a pellet of food remains. Rewards light up our brains, even if the reward as an emotional one.

And it works on the negative side of the equation too. Some people will do act outrageously to get attention, even orchestrating daring examples of socially unjust or violent actions. Earning a nickname that inspires fear has become its own kind of admiration in the half light of glowing screens across the globe. 

Can’t Buy Me Love

If Love can’t be bought, can its next best feeling, Admiration, be had by lesser means? In the Age of the Internet and the viral nature of Social Media, the answer could very well be Yes

Let me propose an example. You are a woman, a mom, a wife, and you’ve worked all your life to help your family. You do good things in community, volunteer for charities, do your share of duties in your local PTSA, and help the kids with school. At the end of a long day, you take a glance at your Social Media feeds. What do you see?  The accounts with thousands and millions of followers for women are often in the world of beauty, celebrities in film and music, wellness, politics, and sports figures. Oh, and cat ownership.

While you have changed diapers,  helped the kids get launched to college, supported a spouse through think and thin, perhaps you have not been celebrated and noticed. One of the ways we feel Loved is when we have been seen. And one of the ways many of us have sought to be seen by more people is through Social Media. 

One of the ways we feel Loved is when we have been Seen.

The strange thing is this: even accomplished people, celebrities, and sports figures can fall prey to the this online search for recognition. In those cases, there may be money involved in the form of exclusive sponsorships, and a poor performance could translate into loss of income. There would be incredible pressure to cheat, lie, or embellish a story. I’m not excusing cheating, just providing a possible explanation of why someone who was already accomplished might feel pressured to cheat or lie in his or her industry.

What about the Age Group athlete (a non-elite, non-professional athlete), in running or triathlon? Why would they cheat if there was no other financial reward for an Age Group win?

I suspect that the search for Admiration and Respect are in play. It can feel so good to be called a, “Badass” because you are fast and strong. People are curious about seemingly unreachable feats that require commitment, sacrifice, dedication, and focus. We elevate athletic pursuit to be characteristics of the gods.

Still, you can be the head of a tribe of people – a leader! — if you promote a certain kind of lifestyle that others find challenging — such as being a Vegan* or being Sober**, but in the world of Social Media, being Vegan and being Sober aren’t necessarily enough to win the attention of others. If you’re aware that you hunger to be Admired, you’d better match that Vegan lifestyle with something else, something Hard, something Ideal, something Extraordinary.

Of course, I am pointing out the flaws in this formula for living. Why can’t each person be celebrated for these decisions, just as they are? Why don’t we see them?

On Reading

My point is, that rabbit hole has no end. If you search for a sense of worth by Doing instead of Being, you will be tired. You might get some followers, and you will be exhausted.

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. I personally don’t subscribe to the romantic overtures of expensive dinners and romance packages. You’re more likely to find me continuing to do the little things behind closed doors that lets my loved ones know how much I care. I still make the bed every morning, as much for myself as for my husband, so that the pillows are plumped and inviting, and a fresh pot of brown rice is ready for dinner at the end of the day. It’s mundane, yet it has it’s own Truth.

The love I feel is about having read people. It is not, “love at all costs” based on the accumulation of achievements. It is love based on our ability to see a person and choose to bestow warmth and affection for who they are.

Love is given because we can choose to love someone based on who they “be” in your life, not what they do. If you knew you were loved that way, you would never feel the need to cheat your way to being admired or respected. You would not worry so much what strangers thought about what clothes you wear when you’re on vacation, or what foods you do or don’t eat.

Yet, as I mentioned before, this kind of non-transactional Love is rare. It takes time to cultivated, because not everyone learns it early in life, and there are social forces around us that whisper other truths about what our essential worth is based on: appearance, agility, youth, genius, gender, economics, work performance, possessions.

The false form of love that people seek or fear on the Internet is costly. Yet, if you choose to See, it’s possible to learn how to cultivate Love versus Admiration based on accomplishment.


Note * and **: In case you were wondering, I have nothing personal against either lifestyle choices of Veganism nor Sobriety, and I have seen how some have healed aspects of their physical and mental health with both. I have simply chosen these two examples because of the abundance of writers on the subjects.

Categories
Psychology

Taking Care of Your Mental Health While Traveling

Not every trip away from home is a vacation.

Even when it is a vacation, vacations have its ups and downs, highs and lows. I’ve lost track of how many of my clients, past and present, have mentioned the stress of preparing to get on a plane and be away from home, work, and routine, even though the point of their travel was to relax, unwind, recreate, and connect with their partner and family members.

As we enter the season of the Holiday Triad in America (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day), here are some thoughts on how you can take care of your mental health concerns while traveling.

1. Don’t pitch your routine. If something has been working for you, such as taking medicine at a specific time, regular exercise, avoiding alcohol or sweets, imagine what the stress of travel, whether for business or personal matters, might do to you body and mind. If that morning run needs to get moved to another time of day, that’s fine. Yet your body may grumble at you if you withhold something it has become accustomed to for days or weeks on end. Set a reasonable routine and stick to it.

2. Digital connection, but not all the time. You’re on a beach, watching the sunset while your bare feet rest in the sand. Is this the best time to bury your face in a smartphone, tablet, or computer? Keep in mind your purpose for travel. If it’s business, take care of business in an appropriate environment, and do your best to carve out private, uninterrupted time for you to enjoy the beach, trails, mountains, and ocean without being chained to your work. Your brain will thank you.

3. Rejuvenation, customized to you. Understand what helps you rejuvenate, whatever the purposes of your trip. If a business trip has back-to-back meetings during the day, it might not make sense to squeeze another event that goes late into the night. If you must give some face time at an optional happy hour that actually isn’t optional, come in with a game plan so you won’t walk away hung over, exhausted, and set up for poor night of sleep. Take advantage of hotel spa massages, a relaxing yoga class, nearby walking paths, and quiet time before bed.

4. If your travel time is lengthy, consider scheduling a telemedicine session (also known as online counseling) with your therapist. As long as you are not in a state that has state laws barring online counseling from a therapist across state lines, this may help keep you on track for taking care of your mental health needs during extended travel. If you can’t take advantage of an online session, ask your therapist to give you some structured homework that could help you while you’re on the road.

5. If you are traveling by yourself, schedule in meaningful social time. Dinners by yourself can feel isolating. Try booking a meal somewhere that hosts a community dinner or themed dinner, where diners share conversation while eating an interesting meal. Sign up for an activity you are interested in where you can be in a group of tourists, such as a trail hike, a boat or kayak trip, or a museum tour. When attending a conference, ask others if they’d like to join you for a meal.*

If it’s not possible to meet with others, arrange to talk with friend or loved one over the phone while you are having a meal. Do your best to replicate social stimulation and connection, while diminishing a sense of loneliness or isolation. If a time change makes this scenario unlikely, try taking your meals in a busy restaurant, and opt to eat by the windows to get natural lighting during the day as well as to take in any views.

For those who travel often, the romance and glamour of travel can hide the challenges of the navigating airports, staying in hotels, and trying to get your needs met. You’re certainly not alone if travel increases your experience of depression or anxiety, or a mix of both. Let friends and family know about your struggles, and make these struggles a part of your conversation with your therapist.

As a reminder, the SDC virtual office will be closed Dec. 23 2019 through January 12 2020 for the winter holidays. If you are thinking of starting counseling for the first time with us, this is a great time to get things rolling. I encourage you to get started while it’s fresh on your mind, and to not put off for tomorrow what you can start today.


* Of course, I urge caution for safety reasons.

Categories
Psychology

Mental Health as a Continuum

Mental Health as a Continuum

by Imei Hsu

What might happen if we changed our view of mental illness and mental health from a problem only a few have, to a health concern that each person checks in with each day? Photo by Imei Hsu.

She shuffled slowly inside of the spare hospital room, eyes alert, and a frightened expression on her contorted lips.

“You see them, don’t you? Shut up, just shut up!” she would snap at the empty space to which she pointed and gestured. Before I could answer, she harumphed, turned on her heel, and headed away from me.

I was 20 years old and working as a student nurse on a psychiatric floor of a large hospital outside of Seattle. At the time, I considered my first months working the evening shift at an in-patient psychiatric ward to be the first time I was face-to-face with people who were diagnosed with a mental illness or were suicidal. I thought that what I was seeing was the real face of mental health and mental illness.

Since then, I’ve come to see those experiences differently. While they were real manifestations of mental health crises and psychiatric disorders, they certainly weren’t the only ones.

What it required from me was to expand my understanding of mental health, moving it from a fixed point when someone expresses all the behaviors and thinking that “checks all the DSM boxes” for one disorder or another, but to see mental health and physical health along a continuum.

What Does That Mean, “Mental Health on a Continuum?” 

Rather than asking a person, “Have you ever been diagnosed as, ‘X disorder?'” we look at your mental health on a range and not a point of arrival.

What this means for the average person who does not show psychopathological behavior (a very small percentage of the population, BTW) is that most of us can recognize a little bit of everything within our capacity of expression.

For example, I can have a day, week, or month where I feel truly saddened by the news of the death of a friend. If I act sad because I feel his absence, I can look at this as pathology (medical model) if it goes beyond a certain amount of time, or my reaction to his death begins to follow a pathway of maladaptive dysfunction. Yet I can also look at this as mental health on a continuum — grief over time — and experience the highs and lows of moving on without my friend. 

I  can say, “I feel depressed and sad,” and that can signal to me that I need to take time to care for my mental health. Mental health care, as seen on a continuum, doesn’t even need a particular trigger in order to employ. One would simply tune in and rate from time to time how one was feeling and responding to the day, and adjust accordingly.

What Could That Look Like?

If we diminished our focus on the stigma and stereotypes of mental illness and replaced it with this continuum model around mental health and mental wellness:

  • maybe we wouldn’t wait so long to ask for care
  • maybe we would encourage one another to talk to someone about how we feel
  • maybe we would slow down and take time to get some of our physical and emotional needs met, big or small
  • maybe we would prioritize “being” over “doing”
  • maybe we would spend less time “chilling out” and more time “tuning in” (less Netflix, more quiet walks?)
  • maybe we would feel more confident to talk about rough times and vulnerable thoughts, instead of dressing up our stories to all be “Instagram-worthy”
  • maybe we would honor mental health hygiene, like we respect toothbrushing and handwashing. Neither of these practices guarantee we’ll never get cavities or a cold, but then we don’t berate people for going to a dentist for extracting a rotten tooth or taking an anti-viral if they get a nasty case of the flu. We applaud them. 

My opinion is not to remove the DSM as a means of recognizing and treating psychiatric disorders, but rather to expand and broaden the picture of how we look at mental health as a society.

If you have a body, you will have mental health concerns across a lifetime. There is no escape. Instead of viewing mental health as something only certain people have to deal with, we can introduce mental health early in education as a natural part of life.

-imei

My thanks to Dr. Cynthia Li (functional medicine) and author of Brave New Medicine, for sharing her journey with life-altering chronic illness and pain. Her well-written story includes her own discovery of disease and dis-ease as a double-sided arrow, resisting the idea that illness only occurs when symptoms cross the threshhold of “here.”  You can find her book online and in your local bookstore.