Tag Archives: emotions

Elections, Sanity, and Safety Pins

by Kassandra Lamb

We usually avoid politics on this blog, and I will attempt to do so in this post as well, in that I will avoid coming down on one or the other side of the political fence as much as possible.

But I feel the need to address the social and psychological ramifications of the election that occurred last month. And in light of the fact that tomorrow is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, this seemed like the right time.

I Like Ike campaign button

An Eisenhower campaign button (photo by Tyrol5, CC-BY-SA 3.0 unported, Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve witnessed a lot of elections and a lot of presidencies. General Eisenhower was elected two months after I was born. He was the last president who came into office with no political experience per se.

I was eight years old during the Kennedy-Nixon campaign season. It was so divisive that we school children played in two groups, on opposite sides of the playground. The Kennedy kids and Nixon kids hurled insults back and forth at each other, even though we had no idea who these men were or why our parents hated or loved them. (Yes, this really happened!)

And America survived.

May you live in interesting times.
                                         ~ Chinese curse

We are living in interesting times. Right now, half our country is celebrating and the other half is scared witless. How well we survive these interesting times, individually and as a nation, will depend a lot on how we choose to respond, emotionally and socially.

Regardless of which half of the country you are part of, here are some thoughts to keep in mind, now and in the coming months.

“Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Part of the appeal of Donald Trump for a lot of people was his nose-thumbing at political correctness. Some people definitely get carried away with PC these days—it drives me nuts at times—but the concept exists for a reason.

PC is about not offending people or hurting their feelings.

I had a friend in high school who was of Polish descent, back in the days when jokes about how dumb Polish people were abounded. She would ask people what their ancestry was, then good-naturedly retell the “Pollock” jokes she’d heard, subbing French or English or Italian for Polish. We got the message.

So before you use that non-PC name or tell that non-PC joke, ask yourself how you would feel if it was aimed at you or your group. If you don’t like being called names, don’t call others names.

Also, if you are a Trump supporter and you value your relationships with family, friends and coworkers, DO NOT gloat. Your side won, now be a good sport.

The people on the other side of the divide aren’t just disappointed by this election. They are scared!

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

FDR signing declaration of war

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Japan, signaling U.S. entry into WWII shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th. (public domain)

These words struck such a chord in people’s minds during WWII, not because we as a country had nothing to fear at the time (we had everything to fear), but because the concept that fear itself was a greater enemy rang true.

For those who are afraid, try to develop a wait- and-see attitude. There’s really little choice at the moment. Getting oneself twisted into knots with speculation is not helpful.

And speaking of speculation, I’d also suggest minimizing your exposure to the news media for a bit.

Trump is an outsider. He has little loyalty to either political party. So how this is going to shake out is anybody’s guess at this point.

Try to get on with your life until we see what happens.

“Judge not lest ye be judged.”

You may be thinking, “Well, some people have a very legitimate reason to be scared right now.” Yes, they do, because sadly this election has brought out the bigotry still lurking in certain elements of our society. This is pretty scary for all people who are not white, straight and American-born.

But as one of my African-American Facebook friends pointed out, this is just business as usual in America. The bigotry never really went away, but now the white folks are seeing it more blatantly.

It’s horrible hate crimes have increased and that people are being victimized by these hate crimes. But having our denial shaken about bigotry is not necessarily a bad thing.

And before you judge your neighbor who voted for Trump as a bigot, keep this in mind. Many of the people who voted for Trump didn’t do so because of his bigoted comments. They did so in spite of those comments, because they are either loyal Republicans who believe in the ideology of that party or they are concerned about things like jobs and the survival of their families.

I’m not saying it’s okay to ignore those bigoted comments. I’m just telling you where that neighbor may be coming from. Put yourself in his shoes before you judge. Or better still leave judgement out of the equation, give him a friendly nod, and get on with life.

Hate thrives if we keep stooping to the haters’ level.

“We shall overcome.”

Social change marches on, for better or worse. It’s erratic sometimes, suffers setbacks, but it does move forward over time.

When I was a kid and teenager, premarital sex and having a child out of wedlock were two of the greatest sins. Young people were forced into loveless marriages, thrown out of their parents’ homes without a penny, or shipped off to some home for unwed mothers and then forced to put the baby up for adoption.

Today, the most conservative of families in this country hardly bat an eye when their children cohabitate or give birth without the benefit of matrimony. A very conservative friend told me recently how proud she was of her daughter who waited to marry the father of her child until she was sure the relationship was on solid ground.

Changes that are good, that are kind, that are right, eventually endure.

“Practice random acts of kindness.”

safety pin

photo by jcadamson, CC-BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

I’m wearing a safety pin these days. I ordered two of them from Etsy, one in gold and one in silver, to match all my other jewelry.

Trump supporters, these safety pins are not a political statement! They are not anti-Trump.

They are anti-hate. They are saying to those who are afraid, “I am a safe person to interact with.”

They are symbols of kindness and tolerance. They are an attempt to heal our divided society, not contribute to the divide.

If you find yourself objecting to these safety pins, ask yourself why. Why is it a problem for you if I tell others, through a pin on my lapel, that I am a tolerant person? Does that hold up a mirror to your face and show you someone you don’t like? Your side won; now be a good sport and get on with your life.

If you’re a white folk like me wearing a safety pin, here’s a short article, by a young woman named Maeril, with a great suggestion for how to intervene when you see someone being bullied, while avoiding confrontation or coming across as the “great white savior.” It’s illustrated with little cartoon frames. You move up next to the person being bullied and engage them in mundane conversation, while ignoring the bully until he or she gives up.

Check it out.

Note: With some trepidation, I’m leaving comments open. Please no tirades, blatantly political nor bigoted comments. This post is about trying to understand the other side and healing. Any comments that go beyond the bounds of civil debate will be deleted.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Competition ~ Healthy or Unhealthy?

by Kassandra Lamb

A writer acquaintance recently posted that she’d received 6 one or two-star reviews on the same day, and the wording of them sounded very similar to each other. She suspected some other writer had opened several bogus Amazon accounts for the sole purpose of trolling her and probably other writers as well. (Amazon apparently agreed because they investigated and took the reviews down.)

Yes, I’m a psychologist but there are some things I just don’t get about human beings. I may understand intellectually, but I really can’t relate. Why waste energy putting others down? How does that help you?

It takes a very insecure person to indulge in this kind of unhealthy competition, otherwise known as bullying.

bike race

(public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Now don’t get me wrong, competition can be healthy. Some people find that competing inspires them to improve their performance more so than they would on their own. That’s great, as long as they don’t take it so seriously that they are devastated if they don’t come in first.

Nobody’s perfect, and no matter how good you are, somebody out there is probably better, or can do better on a particular day.

Also it’s healthy as long as you can be a good sport about losing. Comparing oneself to others in a negative way is not good for one’s self-esteem, to say the least.

                  Comparison is the thief of joy. ~ Teddy Roosevelt

And if one’s reaction to losing is to try to tear the winner down, again that’s called bullying. If you’re not that great at what you do, no amount of tearing down the competition (instead of beating them honestly) is going to change the outcome all that much for you. That energy is far better spent on improving your own abilities.

There are some people, like me, who naturally are not particularly competitive. Personally, I can’t get all that excited about writing contests. I’ve entered a few, if the entry fees were low. But often I forget to even go back and check if I’ve won anything.

There are only two things that matter to me regarding my writing quality (or the quality of anything I do):

1. Is it good enough to fulfill its purpose? (With regard to writing, is it giving my readers a satisfying reading experience?)

2. Am I getting better and better at it? (i.e., I’m competing with myself.)

And in the case of some endeavors, competition is pretty much unnecessary. Writing is one of them, in my opinion.

bookstore

Bookstore in Istanbul (photo, public domain, Wikimedia)

Books are not like refrigerators or toasters. People don’t buy just one every few years. Readers buy books all the time. They are a consumable item, somewhere between food and clothing in the frequency of purchase (and to some readers, considered just as much a necessity).

Me, I’d much rather support and encourage other writers, while going for my “personal best” in my own writing.

How about you? Are you more the competitive type or are you more like me?

6 Tips for Coping When Change Is In the Air

by Kassandra Lamb

In addition to the crispness of fall and the hint of wood smoke on cooler evenings, change is in the air at misterio press. We have a lot of new releases coming up, and new series being started by some of our authors.

Change can be both good and bad. And even good changes are stressful.

Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, authors of the very first psychological stress test, knew that. “Marriage” is #7 on their inventory with 50 adjustment points attached to it (“death of a spouse” is first with 100 pts). “Retirement” is #12 and “outstanding personal achievement” is #25 with 28 points.

Holmes and Rahe contended that anything that requires adjustment adds to our stress level, even going on vacation (#41, 13 points) which is mostly about de-stressing.

moving truck outside house

(photo by William Grimes, English Wikimedia, public domain)

The biggest adjustments of course are the life-transition ones—getting married, changing careers, moving, etc. Here are some tips for reducing the stress of such transitions:

1.  Remember that even positive events can still have their down moments. If one approaches life transitions with a black and white attitude, the first thing that goes even a little bit wrong can be devastating, and can then influence your emotional view of later developments.

It’s a natural tendency when we are excited about something to be thrown for a loop if there’s a glitch. The more intense the positive emotion of anticipation, the more intense the disappointment can be if something doesn’t go just right. At such moments, we need to step back and look at the big picture. More on this in a moment.

2.  Research what to expect, good and bad, and see yourself dealing with it. If it’s a big move or a new job/career, find out as much as you can about that locale or vocation. If it’s a new level of relationship commitment, do a lot of talking with your partner about how this change will affect both of you.

Why is it important to be so well informed? Because stressors that take us by surprise are a lot more stressful than those we see coming.

Then visualize yourself in the new situation; this is a form of emotional practice.

basketball game

Practice makes us better, at sports and at life. (2004 Army-Navy game~public domain)

Like the athlete who practices jump shots or the back stroke, if we practice dealing with a situation in our mind’s eye, we will be better prepared for it when it becomes reality.

Imagining the challenges, payoffs and problems of the new situation will also allow us to develop some strategies ahead of time for dealing with them. One time, I took a new job that was an hour from home. It was a good opportunity, better pay, but as I contemplated the downside of that long commute, I felt my excitement eroding. I imagined myself listening to the radio. That helped some.

Then a better answer hit me. Audio books! The commute ended up being the best part of my day.

3.  Realize there may still be unforeseen developments. Don’t let all this researching and imagining and advance problem-solving lull you into believing that you are ready for anything. There may still be some things you don’t foresee, good and bad, but if you are prepared for most aspects of the transition, you can focus more of your coping skills and emotional energy on the things you didn’t anticipate.

4.  Be prepared to grieve, at least a little, for how things used to be. Very little is gained in this life without having to give something up. Realize that missing the freedom of single life doesn’t mean you don’t want to be married, or occasionally remembering a simpler time with nostalgia doesn’t mean you don’t want this new, more challenging job.

Life, and emotions, are more complicated than that. There are trade-offs and nothing is all good or all bad.

Brillant red leaves

We don’t get these vibrant colors in Florida; the deciduous trees turn a sickly yellow or just go straight to brown.  (photo by Mckelvcm CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia)

When we moved from my home state of Maryland to Florida, I found I missed the strangest things, not always the things I’d liked all that much when we lived up north. I missed the crispness of the air in the fall (humid Florida air is never crisp!) But I’d hated autumn when we lived in Maryland because the dreaded winter was right behind it.

After a couple of years of adjustment, autumn is now my second favorite season.

5.  If your life transition involves another person (or persons), maintain a “we’re in this together” mentality. It’s easy to get snippy with each other if things aren’t going perfectly (again, emotions are running high). But a strategy of “we’re over here together and this thing we’re dealing with is over there” will help keep the stress of adjustment from coming between you. And it will strengthen everyone’s ability to cope.

6.  Nurture your sense of adventure. If you can view life transitions as an exciting new opportunity, you’ll be in a more upbeat place to handle the transition. Being anxious tends to make us view change with suspicion and negativity.

If you can balance a realistic, “This may not go completely as planned,” with “This is gonna be great,” this new phase of your life will indeed be more great than not!

At my wedding rehearsal, Murphy’s Law was in full swing. Everything went wrong, and I ended up having a meltdown.

h5a3-my-wedding-going-in

Mom and I intent on keeping me cool on my wedding day!

I was still crabby at the rehearsal dinner, until my mother took me aside. “You’re about to embark on the biggest adventure of your life,” she said. “Do you really want to start it in such a foul mood? Just remember no matter what might go wrong tomorrow, at the end of the day you will be married, and that’s what counts.”

Her pep talk worked as she got me to step back and look at the big picture. Several things did go wrong the next day, starting with my father tripping over my train and letting out a loud “Oops.” But instead of being embarrassed, I laughed along with everybody else!

Two of our authors have new releases that fit this theme of life transitions. And since they are murder mysteries, of course the unexpected happens early on.

Here they are, now available for preorder. I think you’ll love them; I do!

book cover

BELOVED AND UNSEEMLY, Book 5 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries, by K.B. Owen

A stolen blueprint, a dead body, and wedding bells….

Change is in the air at Hartford Women’s College in the fall of 1898. Renowned inventor Peter Sanbourne—working on Project Blue Arrow for the Navy—heads the school’s new engineering program, and literature professor Concordia Wells prepares to leave to marry David Bradley.

The new routine soon goes awry when a bludgeoned body—clutching a torn scrap of the only blueprint for Blue Arrow—is discovered on the property Concordia and David were planning to call home.

To unravel the mystery that stands between them and their new life together, Concordia must navigate deadly pranks, dark secrets, and long-simmering grudges that threaten to tear apart her beloved school and leave behind an unseemly trail of bodies.

Available for preorder on  AMAZON    APPLE    NOOK    KOBO

Or get it NOW in paperback on Amazon!

FOR PETE’S SAKE, A Pet Psychic Mystery (#4), by Shannon Esposito

A picture perfect wedding in paradise…what could possibly go wrong?

Pet boutique owner and reluctant pet psychic, Darwin Winters, is looking forward to watching her best friend and business partner, Sylvia, say “I do” to the man of her dreams. But when their wedding photographer turns up dead on the big day—and Sylvia’s superstitious mother believes his heart attack is a sign their marriage will be cursed—Sylvia’s dream wedding quickly becomes a nightmare.

Darwin only has a week to help her detective boyfriend prove the photographer’s death was not from natural causes before Sylvia’s family jets back home to Portugal, and the wedding is off for good.

As more than a few suspects come into focus—including Peter’s model clients, a rival photographer and the director of an animal shelter being investigated for fraud—time is running out. With just one clue from the photographer’s orphaned Yorkie pup to go on, can Darwin help save Sylvia’s wedding and capture a killer? Or will both justice and Sylvia’s wedding cake go unserved?

Available for preorder on  AMAZON    APPLE

~~~~~~~~

How about you? How well do you cope with life transitions, and change in general?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

15 Things We Should Do (or Learn) by the Time We’re 62 (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’ve been at a writer’s conference all weekend, so no time to write  a blog post. It was an incredible and very different kind of conference, and I’ll tell you all about it next week, but right now I’m resting up.

So I thought I’d offer up this older post that was quite popular. I wrote it around my birthday two years ago and I’m planning to do an updated version in a few weeks.

15 Things We Should Do (or Learn) by the Time We’re 62

This was inspired by a Huffington Post blog post my daughter-in-law shared on Facebook recently, called 30 Things That Will (Probably) Happen in Your 30’s. I highly recommend it.

So having just turned 62, I thought I would share the things I think are most important to do in life. I figured 62 things would be a little much, so here are 15:

woman's bare legs with bikini on pier next to her

photo by Gisele Porcaro from Brasília Brasil CC-BY 2.0

1. Go skinny-dipping, at least once.

Do it again if you enjoy it.

2. Buy something expensive that you don’t need but you really want.

Enjoy it without guilt!

3. Enjoy sex! (Enough said.)

4. Love passionately at least once in your life, even if you get your heart broken!

5. Learn not to listen to negative people or those who put you down–ignore them, walk away, tell them to f**k off, if you must. Do not hit them; they are not worth going to jail for.

6. Hang on through the bad times; they will pass. Savor the good times; they will pass.

7. Hug your children and tell them you love them every day; if you don’t have your own, hug somebody else’s kids at least once a month (with their permission so you don’t get arrested).

As a matter of fact, hug the adults in your life as often as possible. Hugs are the vitamin C of the heart.

Couple hugging on a beach

photo by Mark Sebastian CC BY SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

8. Acknowledge that you are angry at your parents for some of the things they did or did not do when you were a kid. Get some therapy about that, or at the very least, yell at an empty chair pretending it is your mom or dad (or both) sitting there.

9. Don’t talk to them about it unless you really think it will make your relationship better in the here and now. DO talk to them about it if you DO think it will make things better.

Then, work on forgiving them. They did the best they could with the parenting skills they learned from their parents. You will probably do better, but your kids will be angry with you for something different.

10. Take care of your body; indeed strive to love it. It’s the only one you’ll get. So do the best you can with what you’ve got and then don’t worry about how you look.

Artist painting in watercolors

A watercolor painter in Italy (photo by Dongio, public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

11. Find a career doing something that will make you glad to get out of bed in the morning; if your job doesn’t do that for you, pursue your passion through an avocation.

Life is too short to not spend at least some of it doing something that thrills you!

woman's hands, knitting

photo by Johntex, CC-BY-2.5, Wikimedia Commons)

12. Along those lines, be creative! Paint pictures, write stories or poetry, carve duck decoys, knit scarves for people who won’t wear them–you don’t have to be great at what you’re creating, but there is something about being creative that feeds our souls.

13. Learn not to say anything if you don’t like the person your son or daughter is dating. After the break-up, stifle your own anger and be a good listener/counselor (this will become your role more and more with semi-grown and grown children).

If they marry the person you don’t like, definitely keep your mouth shut! If they marry a good person, tell your daughter/son-in-law how glad you are that they’re part of your family. Repeat some variation of this message at least once a year. (Are ya listenin’, Gina? 😀 )

friends holding hands

photo by Mathias Klang from Göteborg Sweden CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia

14. Cherish your friends. At the end of the day, you will count them amongst your greatest treasures.

15. Laugh with them often, for laughter is a healing balm for the heart.

Anything you think should be added to the list?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series. And she now has a new cozy mystery series out, the Marcia Banks and Buddy Mysteries.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Mind & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Part 2

by Kassandra Lamb

PTSD brain

public domain, Wikimedia Commons

There are still some aspects of PTSD that we psychologists can’t fully explain, but there’s a lot that we do now understand. And our more recent discoveries about the brain, that offer those explanations, give me confidence that someday we will have all the explanations.

Here’s a short list of the most common symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  1.  Experienced an event that involved a significant threat to the physical integrity of self or others.
  2.  Recurrent and intrusive thoughts or images of the event and/or flashbacks (acting or feeling as if the event was reoccurring).
  3.  Recurrent nightmares, insomnia.
  4.  Intense distress and physiological arousal when exposed to internal or external cues (triggers) that symbolize or resemble some aspect of the event; avoidance of those triggers.
  5.  Anxiety attacks and/or outbursts of anger.
  6.  Hypervigilance and exaggerated startle response.
  7.  Depression and/or irritability (an early symptom of mild to moderate depression).
  8.  Difficulty concentrating, memory problems.
  9.  Numbing of feelings and/or general responsiveness.
  10.  Inability to recall important aspects of the event (dissociative amnesia).
  11.  Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.

PTSD is the only psychological disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the bible of mental health professionals) where the cause of the disorder is listed as one of its criteria for diagnosis. The person has to experience a traumatic event, and it’s not hard to figure out how something that overwhelming would cause intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares.

But why #4 and #5? Why such an intense physical and emotional reaction to some minor reminder, that can even lead to a full-blown anxiety attack? Let me repeat the definition of trauma from a previous post: an event so emotionally overwhelming that it cannot be processed emotionally or cognitively at the time that it happens.

The emotions of that event have not yet been processed. They’re stored in the brain in their raw and still quite intense form.

revolving brain

The two hemispheres of the brain color-coded as red; the cerebellum as beige (animated image by -Database Center for Life Science CC-BY-SA-2.1-Japan via Wikimedia Commons)

Also, think back to last week’s post about where things are stored in the brain and what parts of the brain are and are not easily accessed consciously. Negative emotions, mental images, and learned associations are all stored in relatively inaccessible places–in either the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex or the cerebellum.

So it’s difficult sometimes to intentionally bring these memories and emotions back into conscious awareness so that they can be processed and put to rest. But because of learned associations with those “internal and external cues,” it’s all too easy for the intense emotions from the traumatic event to get triggered in day-to-day life.

How does this work? Let me give you an example.

One of my clients experienced a trauma during her childhood while she was standing across the room from a large fan. (For the sake of confidentiality, I won’t go into details.) Later in adulthood, she became phobic of fans. Whenever she saw a moving fan blade, she would have a full-blown, run-screaming-from-the-room anxiety attack. But she had no idea consciously why she had these attacks over something as dumb as a fan (The fan itself had nothing to do with the traumatic event; it was just present in the room.)

The memory of trauma was stored–as images and raw emotions–in her right hemisphere. The learned association (classical conditioning a la Pavlov’s slobbering dogs) between the sight of that fan and those intense emotions was stored in her cerebellum.

The neural impulses that were triggered whenever she saw a fan would look like a big V on the right side of her brain–the image of the fan in the here and now is processed in the right hemisphere, the neural impulse zips down and back to her cerebellum to the learned association, then is flung back up to the right hemisphere to stir up that old memory and its associated feelings.

Voila, anxiety attack. And with little or no awareness in the conscious mind of what was going on (because it tends to be focused mostly on left hemisphere activity, i.e. verbal thoughts).

angry woman

(photo by Lisa Brewster CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

Intense anger can also occur with PTSD. This anger is a leftover feeling from the traumatic event. Whenever we feel threatened, anger is part of our response, even if it is trumped by fear at the time. Later, when we are once again in a safe environment, that anger can surface. And it can come out in ways that make it appear (even to the person feeling it) to be about here-and-now events, when it’s really about the past. This can be very destructive to relationships.

I think #6 and #7 are fairly self-explanatory. If something really scary has taken you by surprise in the past, you’re likely to be more on guard all the time, and startle more easily. And struggling with all this would certainly be depressing.

 

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

photo by cellar door films, from WANA Commons

Up to this point, we have been talking about the intrusive symptoms of PTSD–the ways that this disorder intrudes into and disrupts the person’s life. Numbers 8 through 11 refer to the dissociative symptoms.

The human psyche, like the rest of our internal systems, is designed to help us survive. If something is too emotionally overwhelming, the psyche strives to block it out of awareness.

It may do this by suppressing the feelings, but often it’s not able to just suppress the specific feelings related to the trauma. So all feelings become numbed out to some degree. In the extreme, all or part of the memory of the event may be blocked out. But again this blocking of memory may be more generalized, making it hard to concentrate and remember things in general.

I’ve had several clients who had memory and/or concentration problems that interfered with their schoolwork or jobs. But once certain traumatic events (that their minds were working overtime to suppress) had been processed, they rather suddenly went from C to A students or could now easily remember things (like people’s names) that they’d had great difficulty with in the past.

image by Khaydock, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

image by Khaydock, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

(Note: How the mind blocks out feelings and/or memories is one of those things we don’t yet have an explanation for, but lots of scientific research confirms that this does happen.)

Sometimes that numbing of feelings makes it hard for the person to connect with others. Also, the experiences they’ve had may leave them feeling irrevocably different from most people. Group therapy and support groups are particularly helpful for this symptom, as well as the others.

Besides group support, the most effective therapies for PTSD are the ones that help the person finally process the memories and feelings related to the trauma. Depending on the trauma (and the therapeutic approach used), this can take some time, and it can be painful to relive those feelings. But releasing the emotional charge on those events and putting their meaning into perspective allows the person to move from trauma survivor to getting on with living and thriving.

And here’s an interesting tidbit from the scientific research. In last week’s post, I talked about how memories are stored where they are first processed. Research has found that traumatic memories are stored in the cerebral cortex right next to the emotional parts of the brain (called the limbic system). But after therapy, when those memories have been re-processed, they are now stored further out in the cerebral cortex, away from the emotional limbic system. Concrete proof that the feelings have truly been discharged and the experience of that memory has been changed!

Any thoughts on all this? Do you know someone who suffers from PTSD, or have you struggled with this disorder?

PTSD is on my mind these days because of my new series, About a young woman who trains service dogs for PTSD sufferers. Please take a moment to check out Book 1 in the series, To Kill A Labrador.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

6 Fascinating Things to Understand About the Mind (and PTSD)

by Kassandra Lamb

I started out today with the goal of writing about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Then I realized I needed to start elsewhere, with a bit of an explanation of how the human mind really works. So this is Part 1 of a two (maybe three) part series on the mind and PTSD.

Freud

Sigmund Freud (public domain)

Sigmund Freud introduced the concepts of the conscious mind and the unconscious mind in the early 1900s. His theory was quite controversial in its day and for quite a few decades afterwards. But a century after its introduction, most of us accept that there is stuff going on in our brains that we’re not currently aware of consciously.

But what exactly are these things called a conscious or unconscious mind (or the term often used by lay people–the subconscious mind)?

They aren’t really things at all. These aren’t actual places in the physical brain. There is no barrier somewhere in there that separates what is conscious from what is unconscious. Indeed, information flows back and forth between the two states of awareness all the time.

Here are six pieces of information one needs to know to understand the workings of our conscious/unconscious minds. I find them fascinating and hope that you do too.

NUMBER 1: Limited Time and Space
What we think of as our conscious minds, memory experts would call our working memories. Whatever one is thinking about at any given moment is in his/her working memory.

brain scan of working memory at work

The active parts of the brain during working memory tasks. (public domain)

Unfortunately, working memory is a pretty small space. There’s only room for about five to nine “chunks” of information at any given time. And unless one is actively focused on/thinking about a particular piece of info, it will drop out of working memory in about ten seconds or so.

Makes you wonder how we humans ever accomplish anything intellectual, doesn’t it?

NUMBER 2: Attention
If we pay attention to something, we can hold it in working memory (aka our conscious awareness) much longer. And if we are not focused on something (some verbal thought, piece of information, feeling, mental image, etc.), it will fade into the background (i.e., slide back into the unconscious mind), crowded out of working memory by whatever we are paying attention to at that moment.

Most information stored in our brains is available to our conscious minds IF the right memory cue comes along to bring it to the surface. But some things can get buried pretty deep in the unconscious, either due to lack of attention for a long time or to active pushing aside by our defenses (more on this next week).

Have you ever had the experience of something triggering a very old memory and you think, Gee, I haven’t thought about that in years?

NUMBER 3: Connections
The third thing to understand is that our minds automatically make a lot of connections between various things. This is called conditioned learning.

Ivan Pavlov

Personally, I think Ivan’s a lot cuter than Sigmund. (public domain)

Anyone who’s ever taken a psychology class has heard about Ivan Pavlov, the Russian physiologist who first had the Eureka moment regarding conditioning. He was studying the rate of salivation in dogs when presented with food, but after a while, he noticed that the dogs in his lab were salivating before the food was presented. They’d start slobbering in response to the sight of the equipment used to measure their drool, or to the lab attendant’s footsteps coming to get them out of their cages.

The dogs’ brains had learned to associate these other sights and sounds with the fact that they were about to be fed. And a biological phenomenon over which the dogs had no conscious control, salivating, occurred whenever they experienced these cues.

It’s imperative to our survival and sanity that our brains make all these little connections. They make life so much easier.

A moment ago, I scratched my hand without thinking about it. I hadn’t even noticed consciously that the hand had an itch until I was scratching it. And even then I might not have noticed if I hadn’t been casting about for an example of unconscious connections.

Without these learned associations, I wouldn’t have automatically scratched that little itch. The itch would have had to build until it was so annoying that I became consciously aware of it. Then I would have to stop and think and ask myself what has helped make something stop itching in the past. Oh yes, scratching the itchy spot usually helps.

Humans would have long since died off if they had to give that much conscious thought to every little need. There would be no time nor space in their working memories to solve problems or invent things.

NUMBER 4: The Form Our Thoughts Take
Neural impulses are firing in various parts of our brains all the time, but once we develop a fair amount of active language (usually by age 4 or 5), we tend to be most aware of our verbal thoughts. In other words, we consciously think in language most of the time.

Visual images also play a role. We may consciously call up an internal vision of something that happened in the past, or of a place we’re planning to go.

This morning, I accidentally drove past the post office, where I had planned to mail some letters. No problem, I thought as I visualized the big blue mailbox in front of my grocery store. I can mail them at the store. (My next errand.)

wedding day

I can recall being hot but I can’t feel it again consciously.

Memories of other things we’ve sensed may come into our conscious awareness as well, but most likely those thoughts will be verbal. When I think about my wedding day, during one of the hottest Augusts in Maryland’s history, I remember that it was hot. But I don’t actually feel that heat again. Likewise, I can recall that I felt both scared and excited that day. But I’m thinking about those feelings, not actually re-experiencing them.

The visceral sensations associated with memories and previous feelings are not all that accessible via our conscious minds.

Which brings us to…

NUMBER 5: Where Things Are Stored
First, let me point out that information tends to be stored in the part of the brain where it was first processed (or later, where it was re-processed; more on this next time). There’s a long biological explanation for that, which I think we’ll skip. Please just take my word for this little tidbit.

There’s a lot of stuff constantly being processed and stored in various parts of our brains, but to keep this simple I’m going to focus on the functions of three parts of the brain.

For most people (all right-handed ones and some left-handed ones), language functions occur in the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex. (The cerebral cortex is the outer layer and the highest level of the brain, where actual rational thinking occurs, among other things.)

The cerebral cortex hard at work.

The cerebral cortex hard at work.

Visual perception (i.e., the processing of what we see) and sound modulation processing (i.e., tone of voice, etc.) occur mostly in the right hemisphere.

So if someone says, “Now don’t you look lovely tonight, my dear,” in a mildly sarcastic voice with a slight sneer on their face, your left hemisphere processes the words themselves. But your right hemisphere sends out a “snark alert” after interpreting the body language and tone.

But here’s the thing–sometimes those interpretations of visual and auditory info don’t make it into the conscious mind, because that information is being processed in the right hemisphere and we are more prone to be aware of our verbal left hemisphere’s thoughts. If at that moment when the subtly snarky comment is being processed, we’re thinking, “Gee, I’m glad I wore this outfit tonight,” that thought may crowd the interpretation of the body language and tone of voice out of conscious awareness.

But they’ve still registered in the right hemisphere. That part of our brain knows we’ve just been dissed, even if our conscious mind is oblivious. (And the memory of that event is mostly stored in the right hemisphere–the images, tone of voice, etc.)

Okay, let’s look at where emotions tend to be processed and stored. Research indicates that our positive emotions–joy, pride, anticipation–tend to be processed mostly in the left hemisphere, while the negative ones–fear, anger, disappointment, sadness–are mostly in the right hemisphere.

Do you see where this is going? You walk away from that person assuming you’ve been complimented when in reality you’re feeling hurt and belittled, and you don’t even know you’re having those feelings, because none of that ever made it into conscious awareness. So you end up being in a bad mood or maybe you pick a fight with your mate, accusing him or her of never appreciating how you look.

And you’re totally oblivious to the fact that your mood and behavior have been affected by the jerk with a smirk on his face.

revolving brain

The two hemispheres of the brain color-coded as red; the cerebellum as beige (animated image by Database Center for Life Science CC-BY-SA-2.1-Japan, Wikimedia Commons)

This brings us to one more part of the brain that is important to understanding the conscious vs. unconscious mind. The cerebellum is a section of the brain at the lower back part of your head. It is not part of the cerebral cortex, so it is completely outside of conscious awareness and pretty much beyond the reach of logical thought processes.

Research indicates that all those learned associations I mentioned earlier are stored in the cerebellum. So they operate outside of conscious awareness.

Which brings us to the part of this that relates to PTSD.

NUMBER 6: Memories, Old Associations and Feelings Can Be Triggered Without Our Conscious Awareness
Let’s go back to the jerk with a smirk for a moment. I didn’t make that example up. That really happened to me. The host of a professional gathering met me at the door with that greeting.

My conscious mind (left hemisphere) was preening at the compliment but unconsciously, my right hemisphere picked up on the implied slam that I usually looked like crap.

As the evening progressed, I found myself feeling more and more insecure and self-conscious–not a normal reaction for me. I’m pretty secure in my ability to get along with people and be well-liked. But that evening, I found myself stumbling in conversations and even becoming physically clumsy.

mirror

For some reason, looking in the mirror often helps me connect with my unconscious mind (photo by Surii, CC-BY 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I finally took myself off to the ladies’ room to have a little chat with myself. Looking in the mirror, I thought, “What’s wrong with me? I haven’t felt this awkward since middle school.”

Sometimes when you ask your unconscious mind a direct question, it gives a direct answer, if you’re paying attention. I immediately flashed to a mental image of that scene at the door. Only this time I heard the tone and saw the sneer on a conscious level.

A little background info here. I was what my mother politely called a “late bloomer,” and my classmates in middle school, being the delightfully civilized creatures that they were, teased me unmercifully about my nonexistent figure and overall gawky appearance.

The host’s tone and sneer had triggered an association (via my cerebellum) to those middle school memories and the self-conscious feelings from that time in my life (stored in the right hemisphere). All this happened outside of my conscious awareness and created a totally out of character reaction, both in my emotions and behavior.

Knowing the man as I did, I suspected he’d done it on purpose. This guy, a colleague I could barely tolerate, liked to mess with people’s heads.

I slapped on a big smile and went back into the room where the event was being held. Sailing past him, head held high, I paused briefly to thank him for hosting such a successful gathering, with a hint of sarcasm in my tone. He gave me a strange look. I hope that I successfully hid my own smirk.

Next time – how all this explains PTSD symptoms.

How about you? Has anything like that ever happened to you, where you acted out of character without understanding why? Do you find the human mind as fascinating as I do?

Please take a moment to check out my new release, Book 1 in a new series about a young woman who trains service dogs for combat veterans with PTSD.

ToKillALabrador FINALTo Kill A Labrador, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery

Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) likes to think of herself as a normal person, even though she has a rather abnormal vocation. She trains service dogs for combat veterans with PTSD. Then the ex-Marine owner of her first trainee is accused of murdering his wife, and Marcia gets sucked into an even more abnormal avocation–amateur sleuth.

Called in to dog-sit the Labrador service dog, Buddy, she’s outraged that his veteran owner is being presumed guilty until proven innocent. With Buddy’s help, she tries to uncover the real killer.

Even after the hunky local sheriff politely tells her to butt out, Marcia keeps poking around. Until the killer finally pokes back.

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Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

10 Ways to Make Your Imperfect Holiday a Happy One (encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

Since I’m traveling today, on my way to visit my son and family, I thought I’d re-run one of my more popular posts. (The mp blog will be on hiatus until January 12th)

Merry Christmas, Everyone!!

~~~~~~~~~

This time of year is supposed to be joyful – full of good food, time spent with family, tinsel and bright lights and lots of packages under the tree.

We tend to have high expectations for the season, and also to feel that we have to meet others’ expectations so that everyone has a fabulous holiday! The reality sometimes falls short, and all too often in our attempts to make the holidays perfect, we end up short – as in short-tempered, and major stressed out!

Maybe we need to loosen up on some of those expectations… and prioritize what’s most important for ourselves and our families. First, let’s break things down a bit. We have gifts, decorations, food and family (I refer to Christmas below, but the same ideas apply to other holidays of the season.)

(This is actually a shopping mall in Canada; photo by Benson Kua, from Wikimedia Commons)

A shopping mall in Toronto, Canada (photo by Benson Kua, CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

GIFTS: Some people (like me) love to shop; other’s loathe the process. If you fall into the latter category the first thing you can do is…

1. CULL THE GIFT LIST. Do you have people on your list for whom you have no idea what they want or like? Then you probably don’t know or like them well enough to be spending money on them. Are there relatives on the list with whom you exchange token gifts, neither party really caring whether the other likes what they get?

See if you can get them off the list without offending them. Suggest that you not exchange gifts, just enjoy each others’ company. (They may very well agree with great relief.) Or buy them something inexpensive and consumable, and repeat next year. You don’t have to be creative when nobody cares. (My mother-in-law got scented hand lotion from me every year. She was fine with that.) Suggest your extended family draw names and each person gets, and gives, just one gift.

2. SHOP EARLY. Whether you love or hate shopping, this is good advice. Yes, there are great bargains closer to Christmas but there’s also a lot more pressure. And these days, retailers often have sales going off and on throughout the fall.

Christmas shopping tends to bring out the procrastinator in many of us. It feels like such an overwhelming task. But the longer we put it off, the worse it will be. On the flip side, the sooner you start, the less pressured and the more fun it can be.

My brother and I begin in October with an all-day shopping trip. I love to shop; he’s not that keen on it. But we make it a fun outing. And because it’s only October, we know we have lots of time to find those items that don’t jump into our cart that day.

Get started early and get done early. You will be the envy of all your friends, and so, so much more relaxed as the holidays draw nearer.

3. DO YOU HATE TO WRAP? Or do you love it? If you love it (as I do) starting early on your shopping means you have plenty of time to enjoy the wrapping process. I make it part of my evening routine as I watch TV. Wrapping three or four packages a night, I’ve got it done in no time. And it gets me in the holiday spirit!

tow of red gift bags

Photo by Melinda & Cristiano, CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr/Wikimedia

But if you hate it, I have two words for you…

Gift Bags!!! For a buck or two apiece, your wrapping is done!

DECORATIONS:

4. DECORATE FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY, NOT THE WORLD. Unless you totally get off on decorating (I know a couple people who do), keep it simple. Ask yourself what is most important for you and yours?

For years I struggled with those #%@&* outside lights, stringing them over trees and bushes and freezing my tuckus off in the process. Today, the inside of my house is a Christmas wonderland, because I enjoy putting up those decorations. But outside, there’s a wreath on the front door and a pre-lit table tree in the dining room window. That’s all my neighbors are getting from me.

And you know what? None of them have complained.

5. MAKE IT A FAMILY AFFAIR. When I was a kid, my father was in charge of decorating the tree. He was meticulous. All the ornaments had to be balanced, the tree totally symmetrical. (He was an engineer.) He would carefully put one strand of tinsel on each branch.

449px-Christmas_Tree_(1) pub domain wiki

A slightly off-kilter tree, but still gorgeous! (public domain–Wikimedia)

He made my mother nuts!! And my brother and I fled to our rooms until the tree was done.

The blinkin’ tree doesn’t have to be perfect. Get the whole gang involved and it will be done in no time. And if you must have symmetry, you can move a few ornaments after everyone else is in bed.

FOOD: If you love to cook, go for it. If it’s not so much your thing (like me), look for ways to keep it simple.

6. PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME. I learned this from my grandma. Every year, she came over to our house on Christmas Eve. She made the dressing that night, and prepped the turkey. The next morning, Mr. Turkey just needed to be transferred from the fridge to the oven.

7. IS THAT BIG MEAL REALLY WHAT YOU WANT? Again, ask yourself what really matters. You just had a big turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Is it crucial that you have another one a month later?

A few years ago, my family was facing some stressors around the holidays that made us want to simplify things as much as possible. We decided we would have a cold buffet for Christmas dinner, for just that year. I baked two turkey rolls the day before and my daughter-in-law and I made or bought various salads. I was sure it would be a letdown not to have the traditional big Christmas dinner.

Guess what? We didn’t miss the traditional dinner one bit! The meal was just as tasty, and so much less stressful. Instead of spending inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen prepping and then cleaning up from a big meal, we spent that time balancing plates on our laps and laughing and talking as we enjoyed each other’s company. We’ve been doing Christmas dinner that way ever since!

FAMILY: This is, after all, the heart of Christmas, being with family. But how do we define our families?

8. SPEND CHRISTMAS DAY WITH THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER THE MOST. One of the mistakes I sometimes see people making on Christmas is that they spread themselves too thin. Christmases were special for me as a kid because they were relaxed. We opened our stockings, then had a leisurely breakfast. We opened our presents, then had a leisurely dinner.

Christmas with the extended family.

Christmas with the extended family, on 12/26. We’re having a ball, can’t ya tell? 😉

We went to visit the extended family the day after Christmas, or the following weekend. We saw everybody eventually, but NOT on Christmas Day!

The first year I was married, my husband and I tried to keep everybody happy. We got up extra early to exchange our own presents, then went to my parents’ house for brunch. Then we jumped in the car and drove for two hours to have Christmas dinner with his family.

Never again!

9. WHAT IS YOUR FAMILY OF CHOICE? If you don’t like your biological family, do NOT spend the most precious day of the year with them. Politely tell them that you want to spend Christmas with just your spouse and your children. If you’re not married, it’s okay to make your close friends your family of choice. If it feels too hurtful to say no to your biological family on December 25th, then designate another day–perhaps Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas–as your “family of choice” Christmas.

Last but definitely not least…

10. BE JOYFUL. The bottom line here is that this is a joyful holiday! So do your best to set it up so it is fun and relaxing for you and those who are most important to you!

Any other ideas for simplifying Christmas preparations and minimizing holiday stress? (Note: since I am traveling, it may b e a couple of days before I respond to comments.)

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

“Control Yourself!”

by Kassandra Lamb

Note: In light of the events in Paris Friday evening, I considered changing this post, which had already been written and uploaded. But I decided to leave it alone, as the topic is relevant. We are all reeling emotionally a bit right now. I will write a post soon on coping with the reality of terrorism. But for now, here is the original post scheduled for today…

Road rage, mass shootings, domestic violence… Self-control is highly valued in U.S. society, and yet we seem to be more out of control than ever.

Maybe that’s because we’re going about it all wrong.**

Now I’m not saying this is a simple issue–it’s not. A lot of different factors play into the escalating violence, but one of them is how we attempt to control our emotions.

We often try to do this by suppressing them, and this doesn’t work well over the long haul. Those feelings don’t go away; they just go underground.

The word emotion comes from the ancient Roman word, exmovere, which means “energy that moves.” Those Romans were wise beyond their century, because that is exactly what emotions are: energy that has to move. It has to move up and out of your system in order to dissipate. If you try to stuff it down in your subconscious mind, well, “energy that moves” just doesn’t stuff too well.

(by Jens Bludau CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(by Jens Bludau CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Suppressed emotions tend to act like volcanic pressure–they build up to a lava-hot temperature and then spew out of every available crevice.

(**Note: this post is the follow-up to my guest post on misconceptions about emotions over at Jami Gold’s blog last week.)

 

There are three things that have to occur for an emotion to go away:

1. The emotion needs to be acknowledged for what it’s REALLY about. This is tougher than it sounds because sometimes, often even, we don’t know the real reason! The emotion may have been generated by an unconscious reaction to something in the environment that never even registered consciously, such as a subtle edge of derision in someone’s tone of voice. Or the reason may be forgotten because you didn’t act on it at the time.

Remember the adage for couples, to never go to bed angry with each other. This is why. By morning, you may have forgotten why you are angry, but the anger is still in there unresolved. Now it will come out indirectly and most likely in inappropriate ways.

by Nasrulla Adnan (Nattu) from Malé, Maldives CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

by Nasrulla Adnan (Nattu) from Malé, Maldives CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

So when you find yourself tempted to stuff a feeling down, stop and ask yourself WHY you are feeling that way. Try to identify WHEN you started feeling that way. See if you can track it back to its source so that you’re aware of its true cause. Then…

2. The situation causing the emotion needs to be resolved. I don’t think most people would even say that this sounds easy. Lots of emotionally-charged situations are complicated and it’s not that simple to just “resolve” them.

But keep in mind that changing the situation or the people who are the source of the emotion is not the only option. Sometimes we can just get away from the situation/person. Or we may be able to shift our attitude toward the problem in a way that makes us feel better about it.

When I changed careers from psychotherapist to college professor, I found myself feeling very anxious for no apparent reason. Sure this was a new challenge, but I had taught the occasional non-credit course before, so why was I on the verge of panic? Then I noticed that I wasn’t all that anxious when going into a classroom to face students. It was mainly nervousness whenever I thought about my department chair.

I figured out that this was mostly because I was no longer self-employed. I had gotten used to being able to do things my own way with no one looking over my shoulder. To make matters worse, I was adjunct faculty, which meant the department chair could just not rehire me for the next semester if he didn’t like me or my teaching style. I no longer felt in charge of my ability to make a living, and that was pretty scary.

That first semester I discovered two things. One, I loved teaching, and two, the anxiety wasn’t dissipating all that much. I didn’t want to quit, so I reframed my attitude. I lived in the Baltimore area at the time and there were about 50 colleges or universities within commuting distance.

I told myself that I was still self-employed, that I was a “contractor” contracting out my services as a teacher to schools (which was technically true). If I didn’t like a particular school or a department chair gave me a hard time, Well, I’d just go elsewhere.

Poof, most of the anxiety evaporated. I now felt in control of my fate again.

3. The emotion needs to be vented in some fashion. Sometimes this occurs as we are resolving the situation (since the cause of the emotions is getting fixed in some way). But sometimes we still need to “let off steam.” This does NOT necessarily mean that we have to vent the emotion AT the person who caused it, however. That isn’t always a great idea. Marriages have ended and jobs have been lost over inappropriate venting.

There are a variety of ways to do indirect venting. You can write a letter to the person, then tear it up, or you can talk it out with a friend who can be trusted to keep your confidences.

Just don't let anyone catch you talking to the man in the empty chair ;) (photo by Fred J, CC-BY-SA 1.0 Wikimedia)

Just don’t let anyone catch you talking to the man in the empty chair 😉 (photo by Fred J, CC-BY-SA 1.0 Wikimedia)

Or you can talk to yourself, pretending that you are confronting that person (either in your head or out loud, as long as there’s no one around to think you are losing it).

I realized that one factor in my angst about teaching was that my department chair had acted kind of strange the day he hired me. And he continued to act that way. My assumption was that he didn’t like me very much.

Finally it dawned on me that he wasn’t real sure how to take me. (I’m a rather intense person.) And that made him tense and awkward around me. When I got it that this was his issue, not mine, I got a little pissed. But I wasn’t about to confront him. He wasn’t mistreating me; he was just a little weird around me. A confrontation would have made it far worse, assuming that he didn’t outright fire me.

So I pretended he was sitting in a chair in my kitchen. (I started this imaginary conversation in his office, but that was too intimidating, so I moved it. Hey, it’s my imaginary conversation!) I told him I was annoyed that he had made me uncomfortable because he was uncomfortable. Of course, people in your imagination always act the way you want them to, so he apologized. (In real life, he would have thought I was nuts.)

The rest of the anxiety dissipated, and the next time I crossed paths with the man, I noticed that I no longer felt uncomfortable around him.

I taught at that school for nine years and loved every minute of it.

There’s no getting away from our emotions, and as already mentioned, stuffing them down doesn’t really work (we just think it does). But those pesky feelings can be fairly manageable if we can remember these three steps: sort it out, resolve it, vent it.

How about you? How good are you at “controlling” your emotions? Or are you just stuffing them?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington mystery series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

5 Common Myths About Emotions (that we can use as authors)

by Kassandra Lamb

I’m over at Jami Gold’s blog today talking about myths about emotions and how writers can tell better stories by understanding these misconceptions. Please hop over there and check it out!

But first join me in saying a huge Thank You to veterans!!

image by Moeez CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons

Happy Veterans Day!! (image by Moeez CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons)

5 Common Myths about Emotions

Homo sapiens have been sentient beings for thousands of years, and still we do not truly understand our own emotions. Yet we are fascinated by them.

Because, like it or not, emotions rule our lives. We all strive for happiness, and feel an array of emotions–anger, fear, sadness–when life thwarts those efforts.

Why do readers read? Some read solely to escape the emotional roller coaster of real life, but others seek to absorb themselves in the emotional lives of the characters so that they can better understand and live their own lives.

By understanding the misconceptions about emotions that we humans tend to believe out of ignorance or cling to out of denial, we can write better stories. By challenging these misconceptions and digging a little deeper into the human emotional experience, we can write enlightening and inspiring stories!

Read More…

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington mystery series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Achoo, I Think I’m Coming Down with a Depression

by Kassandra Lamb

Hapci-frDepression is considered to be the “common cold” of mental disorders because it is, well, so common. All of us get at least a little depressed at times.

If you’re thinking, Not me; I never get depressed, then you may have some misconceptions about depression. You don’t have to be extremely sad or down to be considered depressed.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders–the bible of mental health professionals–the mandatory symptom required for a diagnosis of depression is a “depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day” OR “markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities.”

In other words, not wanting to do the things you normally want to do is depression.

During the summer of 2002, I spent most of almost every day on my back deck reading mysteries. I had cut my psychotherapy practice back to just a few clients, in anticipation of retiring the following year, and I was only teaching one summer class.

We owned a horse farm at the time, and there were ALWAYS projects that needed doing. Normally I loved projects! And I loved riding horses.

My horse farm in Maryland -- I still miss it (but not the icy winters!)

My horse farm in Maryland required a lot of upkeep. But I loved it! Still miss it (not the icy winters, however 🙂 )

But that summer I only did the projects that were absolutely necessary, and I had to push myself to do those. I rode maybe once every two weeks, and again, had to push myself to do so. My main trail horse ended up foundering, a disease that can be caused, in part, by inadequate exercise!

In September, I went to my doctor–who’d known me for years–for my yearly check-up. I told him how I’d spent the summer. He gave me a worried look. “Kass, you’re depressed.”

I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging open at that point. And yet I knew he was right. How could I have lounged around all summer on my deck without realizing that I was depressed?

Because I hadn’t felt down or sad. I just didn’t want to do anything–which was totally not me. Usually I was full of energy and couldn’t wait to dive into projects.

Another misconception about depression is that it means there is something seriously wrong with you. Nope, normal human beings get depressed on a regular basis. (“Common cold,” remember.)

Depression can be caused by biological and/or psychological factors. People who chronically struggle with depression often have some biological factors operating against them. They may have inherited a tendency toward depression or bipolar disorder or may suffer from hormonal imbalances that affect mood.

The psychological factors can come from a variety of losses, from changes in one’s routine to the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. They can also be related to things from our past that we haven’t yet resolved.

My depression that summer was a combination of biological events. I have a mild case of bipolar disorder (inherited from my father), and I was entering peri-menopause, the period before true menopause when the hormones are all over the place. Often when the depression is more a matter of loss of interest in normal activities rather than a blatantly down mood, it’s biological in nature.

A psychiatrist friend of mine once commented that depression is a disease of fatigue. That is so true!

-Avoid_fatigue_-_Eat_a_lunch_that_packs_a_punch-_-_NARA_-_513896 pub domainAs I’ve aged, I’ve really seen this. Anything that makes me tired puts me at risk of becoming depressed–allergies, a slowed metabolism from a flaky thyroid gland, side effects of medications. You name it–if it slows me down, it depresses me.

So what can we do about this common cold of mental disorders? If it’s related to a loss, we may need to acknowledge the loss and let ourselves grieve (not as easy as it sounds; more on how to do this in our 11/17 post next month). If it’s more biologically caused, we may need medication to combat this.

But keeping the fatigue factor in mind, there are other things we can do. Getting enough sleep eating right, for example. I find that regular exercise also helps to combat the depression. Anything that is a natural stimulant to our system can help.

I’ve had depression on the mind lately because of the book I’ve been writing and editing–Suicidal Suspicions. I worried that it was too dark and, well, depressing. My early readers have reassured me that it isn’t. They tell me that the mystery, subplots, and moments of humor in the story keep it from becoming too heavy.

I hope you agree. Today is its official launch day! And it’s the last day that you can get it for $1.99 (tomorrow it goes up to $3.99).

SuicidalSuspicions FINALSUICIDAL SUSPICIONS, A Kate Huntington Mystery, Book 8

Psychotherapist Kate Huntington is rocked to the core when one of her clients commits suicide. How can this be? The woman, who suffered from bipolar disorder, had been swinging toward a manic state. The client’s family is threatening to sue for malpractice, and Kate can’t fault them since she blames herself. How could she have missed the signs?

Searching for answers for herself and the grieving parents, Kate discovers some details that don’t quite fit. Is it possible the client didn’t take her own life, or is that just wishful thinking? Questioning her professional judgement, and at times her own sanity, she feels compelled to investigate. What she finds stirs up her old ambivalence about the Catholic Church. Is her client’s death somehow related to her childhood parish?

When she senses that someone is following her, she wonders if she is truly losing it. Or is she getting dangerously close to someone’s secrets?

AVAILABLE NOW on Amazon US   Amazon UK   Amazon Canada   Amazon Australia   NOOK   KOBO    APPLE

ALSO PLEASE STOP BACK SATURDAY FOR OUR HALLOWEEN POST (AND THE LAUNCH OF KIRSTEN WEISS’S NEW BOOK)!!

KWeiss_Hermetic_5_25x8_5 72 dpi(Psst! It’s available for PREORDER NOW at AMAZON and KOBO ~ coming soon to B&N)

The Hermetic Detective, A Riga Hayworth Paranormal Mystery

A Monstrous Assassin. A Metaphysical Detective.

Housebound with five-month-old twins, Riga Hayworth just wants to get back in the metaphysical detecting game. But when she’s called to help an elderly woman, haunted and alone, a deadly threat follows Riga home. Can Riga prevent a tragedy and protect her family?

The Hermetic Detective is the seventh and final book in the Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mystery novels. Buy this book to finish the epic series today.

 

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and has started a new cozy series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy mysteries (coming soon).

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