Monthly Archive: September 2014

Addiction – A Coping Strategy

Addiction is a coping strategy. A coping strategy is a specific effort, both behavioral and psychological, that people employ to master, tolerate, reduce, or minimize stressful events.  Alcohol, recreational drugs, prescription drugs, food, shopping, work … all of these and more are Addiction“drugs” we use cope with stress and depression.

I happened across an article by Dr. Joseph Troncale that specifically addressed the connection between drugs or alcohol and anxiety. He talks about how self-medicating with drugs or alcohol in order to calm down ends up generating more anxiety, culminating in a vicious downward spiral of stress à drugs à more stress à more drugs. In his words “This cycle of self-medication and rebound anxiety digs a deeper and deeper hole for the addicted person making treatment and breaking this downward spiral harder and harder as time goes by”.

Another way of looking at this is via the cycle of experience. Last week, I talked about how everything we experience goes through a natural cycle, or wave. If we choose to reach for a drug, not to give us a short reprieve before we deal with something that stresses us, but to replace that experience with something else, we set up a different cycle. In this natural cycle, we begin by sensing something in our environment, which brings it into our awareness. Then we decide if it’s meaningful to us at that moment, and if it is we deal with it. With something that makes us anxious, this means we tolerate the feeling of anxiety until the issue is dealt with.

Using a “drug”, on the other hand, means we bypass anything beyond the initial sensation, spiking instead to a high provided by the drug. Once the effect of the drug wears off, the feeling we suppressed with the drug resurfaces and we spike to a low. That low can feel unbearable and we self-medicate to avoid that feeling, setting up the next addition cycle. The original feeling never really goes away; instead it remains suppressed until we stop the addiction cycle.

There are a few ways of stopping the cycle. Dr. Troncale prefers the monitored gradual withdrawal approach. Twelve-step programs offer a different approach that work for many people. A third approach is finding a spiritual path that inspires and supports a person. What any one person chooses and finds works for them may not work for the next person.

The important thing is to know what is happening so that we can make an informed decision about how we want to live.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit http://www.thejoyofliving.co for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

Equilibrium and the Gestalt Cycle of Experience

I was asked a few days ago about what the Gestalt Cycle of Experience meant. Fritz Perls, one of the founders of Gestalt Therapy, believed that every organism is self-regulating, and that this self-regulation is necessary for maintaining the organism’s internal equilibrium.

Today this is referred to as the Cycle of Experience; Perls called it the Organismic/World Metabolism – how we achieve internal balance as we interact with our world.

How does it work? I hear a sound outside my window that attracts me; it’s the sound of tires, and I wonder who it could be since I’m not expecting anyone; so I decide to get up and take a look, and see that it’s my neighbor, wave hello, and go back to what I was doing before he arrived. Then I hear a shrill noise to my right; it’s the phone, and I’ve been expecting a call from my sister – our mother has been ill and I’m worried. I pick up the phone; it is my sister, and she’s calling to let me know that Mom is on the mend. I hang up, relieved. Then I feel a Gestalt-cycle-of-experiencefluttering in my stomach; it’s nerves and I decide to get a tea to counter this.

We begin by sensing something in our environment, which brings it into our awareness. Then we decide if it’s meaningful to us at that moment. We act: if it isn’t important, we withdraw; if it is important to us at that moment, we energize and deal with it until we are satisfied. Once we feel complete, we withdraw from that contact and that particular cycle is complete. In life, we are always going through this cycle: we sense, become aware, make contact and then withdraw; then something else grabs our attention, and so on throughout the day.

The diagram shows a cycle, but in reality it’s a continuous wave, beginning with sensing and ending with withdrawal, making room for the next sensation.

This is how we would function in a perfect world, where we have no issues, were raised perfectly, and could interact with anything that came into our awareness with complete presence.

There are people like that. But most of us sometimes get stuck along this cycle and aren’t able in that moment to complete it. For instance, what if the last time I heard tires late at night it was followed by an attempted break-in. Now when I hear a similar sound, I might start worrying and stressing, and stop the cycle long before there is any real contact. If I do this often enough, I begin to lose my internal balance, my equilibrium. In place of this contact, I will reach out in different ways to achieve equilibrium using coping mechanisms. I might decide on a shot of scotch, or a cigarette, or find some distraction that occupies my mind away from worry.

We call this “unfinished business”, or in Gestalt terms, a “fixed figure”, and means that the cycle remains unfinished (a topic for another time).

You can read more about this by clicking this link.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit http://www.thejoyofliving.co for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

 

 

Red/White Yin/Yang Balance

I’ve been reading a series of historical novels “Contact: The Battle for America”, written by a pair of anthropologists, Michael and Kathleen Gear. The story takes place in what is now Florida, during the time that De Soto arrives, and the ancients were the ancestors of the later aboriginal nations, including the Cherokee nation. A central theme in this series is the ancients’ belief in red and white power. Red power is YinYangSunMoon_zps4ca755e1active, energetic, creative, male. White power is receptive, nurturing, contemplative, female. The ancients believed that we need a balance of both, and if we become out of balance, then we need to do something (usually in the form of a ceremony) that brings us back into balance. Warriors would be required to do this after returning from battle, before they were allowed back into the community.

It’s a fundamental shamanic belief, or law. Many know it as yin and yang (the difference being that yin and yang are more complex, each already containing the seed of the other). Regardless of who we are, we all need the energetic and active male in us, and equally the nurturing and receptive female. If we get and remain out of balance for too long, then we begin to break down – physically, mentally and emotionally.

Here are some examples: too much energy and not enough nurturing can lead to chronic stress; too little energy and more than enough inner thought can lead to depression. One example that we see more and more is the soldier back from Afghanistan, unable to fit into the society he or she left.

If we find ourselves out of balance, then there are things we can do to re-balance, such as exercise, meditation, healthy living, yoga. If we are too far out of balance, then it’s time to seek help. Take some advice from the ancients, and do whatever you need to do to regain your balance.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit http://www.thejoyofliving.co for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

Diversity

I am in California at an international Gestalt Conference.  The theme is on diversity. Diversity within the practices of gestalt therapists. Diversity among the practitioners within their own community and culture.Blue Planet

What we are all finding is that, with all the goodwill there is, cultural diversity is a difficult river to negotiate.  Even if we were to have a universal translator that automatically translated any language and nuance into any other language, there would still be so much that we would bump into at every moment.

My hope is that we find a way to keep the dialogue going.  It is, to me, an indication of issues that are happening around our Earth, and a good place to begin.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit www.thejoyofliving.co for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.