Archive for the ‘Basic Concepts’ Category

If I say the word “Anxiety”, what picture pops into your head. Is it a person in a waiting room? Is that person waiting for the word on a loved one in an operation? Or is it a grandparent waiting for the news of their newest arrival? Do you picture the pacing outside a divorce court room? Or the guy about to pop the question to his long time love? The reality is Anxiety is all of them.

I had one of the most profound epiphanies that really moved my understanding of how everything we humans experience is tied together. What I discovered was that the single most important attribute humanity has is anxiety. It would be like that tickling feeling that you get just before a bee sting or you put all of your weight onto a pricker thorn while walking barefoot. It is that warning to the emotions that first uncomfortable itch is to the physical body. Via this method, our brains are able to classify and store every piece of information that it receives from its senses. I’ll dig a little deeper into “anxiety math” another day.

The process begins the moment we take our first breath. We are not born with most of our anxieties. We don’t know to judge a race, gender, food (kind of), body type, political party, guns, or buttons (you know who you are.). We have no basis for knowing what love, hate, kindness, greed, and helplessness is. We really don’t even understand completely our own physical pain response. We learn these tings from our environment. If you want to know what your very first thought in the outside world felt like, do this. Swim to the bottom of a 10 foot pool, let out all your air, and wait. When you start to feel a little like you need a breath, wait 3 seconds longer, then swim to the top. That desire to take that first breath held in check by the physical inability to do so, describes that moment just before you emerged and learned how to use your lungs.

To make this simplified and something most all of us can understand, I will use the common variety child toddler example. In this example, a child desires to have a toy his little brother is playing with. He desires to just take it, but anxiety stops him. Anxiety comes from past experiences where the events went as follows. He takes the toy. Chemicals in the brain are released that are positive and committed as “satisfied” to the subconscious. He is happy. However then the little brother cries, mom comes in, punishes the little boy. This releases chemicals in the brain (or closes off release of chemicals can be debated) that commits to the subconscious a negative or “not satisfied” response. his warm feelings of happiness ends. So when the desire to take a toy from his little brother comes up again, here is the steam of thought. He can reject the desire out of hand. This repeated too many times causes depression, especially if it is seen as a survival need. The subconscious reasons, “I must eat, but I can’t eat because I have no food. Every option that I can think of to get food comes with dire consequences. But if I don’t get food, i will die.” So the anxiety cycle spins until depression ensues. Rejecting the behavioral choice out of hand with no other option will not lead to a “not satisfying” chemical release from his brain. But his brain needs happiness. The second option is that he can take the toy and apply techniques that he hopes will stop his little brother from crying. He will try multiple techniques to do this before realizing that mom will always find out. So, finally resolving no other options he can think of (including negotiating, beating, and any other option that he has learned in the past applied towards his little brother.) The last option is that he can adapt his brain not to respond with negatively chemical releases to the mother’s punishment. Thus no anxiety, he takes the toy and doesn’t care about the punishment delivered by his mother. He acted in a way he had in the past demonstrated as wrong, but, no longer cares, he couldn’t be happier. (I think most of us can agree that this results in stronger and more intense punishment from his mom. Or dad then finally gets involved.) This can be the result of an environment where negative stimulus is so constant that the brain becomes numb to its own chemical toxicity, and therefore anxiety. Or if inconsistent results from the punishment loose the connection between action and consequence. This is known as “extinction”. The brain may even try to correct that problem by jolting its anxiety factor by doing risky behaviors just to “feel”. They are not precise and pinpointed. This taking away of anxiety is what Antidepressants do as well. But that too will have to wait for anther post.

I would like ad that this is an example of bad parenting. Alternative options should have been taught to the little boy before punishment was required.

This process is useful in learning a new skill. Weather it be a cave man learning to hunt or an attorney learning to present a case. Anxiety is a required attribute to the personality. This anxiety in itself is not a bad thing. It sharpens skills, focuses the mind, prepared for a life change, and holds people to their commitments. Anxiety is a problem when it is too focusing, the trigger is an irrational (at least for the subject) fear. Or it is so crippling that it doesn’t allow movement or paralyzes emotionally, academically, and/ or physically. When the resulting behaviors from the anxiety are unhealthy, dysfunctional, or in opposition to desired goals, anxiety is a problem. But again, you can’t just reduce anxiety as a blanket proposal. Identifying the trigger and addressing that issue is really the only way. A blanket approach is apt to reduce anxiety that drives one to get out of bed in the morning and go to work, stay in a committed relationship, or save their money instead of gamble it all away. It keeps you from putting your hand near a hot burner, pushing too hard on your razor, or driving your car with reckless dis-concern.

Marketing is about hosing an anxiety, exasperating and exploiting it, to make you think you need a product to reduce that threat. If you die your family will be destitute, buy life insurance. If you vote for this candidate, he will come take your guns away and then people will break into your house and kill you, vote for our guy. If you don’t buy this nice car with these safety features and pretty shiny appearance, you will get hurt in an accident and you won’t get social acceptance. This is often unhealthy in its very nature.

To sum up the point, we need to stop this demonetization of emotions, especially anxiety, but also depression, guilt, and sorrow. They have purpose. to be honest, I would rather loose a limb or one of my senses then to reduce my anxiety. I have come to understand that these other traits are subsidiaries of anxiety. They all have function and use.


Taking “Athletes Are Not The Only Ones Who Practice – We all practice being who we are.” On to a deeper level and applying generally accepted concepts seems to be a logical next step. Warning, for those of you who don’t like Freud for some reason, turn away now, we will wait……. Now the rest of you, this is very Freudian in nature. The terms and concepts are gleaned from reading his work and the translation of them.

The Recap
In that previous post, I tried to convey how I believe that we learn our emotions and behaviors by observing those around us. The pleasure principle (which I haven’t gotten to yet) drives this learning process. We only can know the things we have been taught, observed, or reasoned through. Reasoning can only ocur with knowlege already gleaned and combining it. Once we find a desire can be fulfilled with a specific chain of actions we practice them until we don’t have to think about it anymore. At that point it becomes a “behavior”. Since this is Freudian in nature, if you are not hip to the lingo, you might find it more pleasurable reading if you read the link under Freud to personality map.

How we learn and practice
So how do we go from a desire to play the violin to being Paganini? I use his name because an urban legend attached to him claims that upon being discovering practicing without a violin, he said, “The violin is just so others can hear what I am playing. I hear it in my head.” He was known for his fast and furious arpeggios. One doesn’t just pick up an instrument and do that. It takes much repetitive motion. The violin offers a sound, and if that sound is the one expected, it is pleasurable. That motion is committed to a part of the unconscious memory for quicker recall. There is no conscious “debate” or second guessing. Muscians talk about their instruments just talking to them, or “feeling the groove”. Masters of their trade do without thinking. Our “desire to action” processes are happening simultaneously are high speeds. (In respect to the title of this blog, imagin how many things your computer is doing as you read this article. Futher, imagine how many things your brain is doing as well as comprehending this text.) The breathing of air is controlled by our unconscious brains. At this very moment you are doing many things that your are not conscious about. But at one time you were. The “id” only expresses the initial desire and the strength and intensity of that desire. The rest is up to the “Ego” and the “Superego”.

The board of Egos
There is enough evidence to assert that the Superego is the place where conscious reason is preformed. It next to nonexistent at birth and is grown out of the minds experiences. (we call this maturing.) The Ego is considered the CEO/ the executer of commands. It however takes every desire to the superego for consideration. At least at first. Debate and struggle between “id” and “Superego” are common and part of the learning process.

The ego just reacts.
The super ego It has a list of known scenarios and their outcomes, picks one that best suits the current situation, and delivers that message to “go ahead with that behavior/ action” or rejects the desire out of hand. If the ego has experienced the ids request so many times, the request to the super ego becomes “just a formality” or just “paperwork”. BUT remember that which is routine once wasn’t and took much more conscious attention. This is what a “professional” is trying to do. It IS what we all do with our emotions that we commonly use. You do not think about smiling, laughing, or getting angry. These emotions are the result of a debate process had deep in your past. So far that you can’t remember the circumstances for the debate. For reasons of speed of decision it is unnecessary to remember how you got there. Once the memory of that debate is repressed, the response is called a Pavlovian response. The debate still continues on, just at a much faster pace and in the unconscious. Speed is important. Remember for every conscious decisions you are aware of, there are million of subconscious ones happening at computer type speeds.

More like a functional marriage or partnership then hierarchical
However the ego and the superego are generally equal in weight in any decision. (This is a generalization and idealized much like most marriages. Many dysfunctional marriages like dysfunctional personalities do not have equal decision making. Some even let their k”id”s run the affairs.) What happens in the conscious mind can occur either pre or post behavioral decision. By that I mean sometimes the superego carries on a conscious debate, (“do I buy an ice cream bar or a cup yogurt cup?) and then the reasoning is passed onto the ego for approval. (This is the stuff that pathological psychology is made of.) However, sometimes the ego makes the decision and the superego accepts it without debate. (The reason I repeat that is that this is the stuff a therapist tries to reach, but often can’t. It is out of reach for the patient.)

Not all behaviors accepted are functional or even consciously desired.
Think about the CEO who signs a piece of paperwork that shouldn’t have been considered routine, but he was too busy to look it over. (Think one day you are picking your nose in your car, then you look over and see a hot chic/ dude looking over at you.) That occurs in the subconscious. However, the action itself is “Real” and conscious. So after the behavioral choice is made, the ego is forced to “reason” or “rationalize it”. It is a huge violation of security if the ego condones a bad decision. (This is actually a HUGE concept that will be addressed in the future.) So the superego looks for tangible things to “justify” the joint decision. These types of compulsive behaviors are the result of their pleasure outweighing the other option in that situation so many times in the past that they are not considered with respect to the rational of the current situation. (The CEO is busy and has a billion other things to get done, so he just signs without reading. You pick your nose cause it itches, at home who care, nobody sees it.)

Time and urgency is a factor.
A person will carry on a conscious debate and also applying unconscious criteria at a much slower pace over dinner choices. In these cases the superego is apt to generate the most acceptable suggestion. But a ball coming at a batter at 100mph in a random has to be predominantly driven by the unconscious. Both mistakes and greatness occur when the ego reacts. Then there are variations in between. A salesman tries to push into buying a car by appealing to your pleasure of how things look and smell and feel; all while pushing you to sign before somebody else buys it or the deal expires. The behavior is the purchase of a new car. It is made up of many behaviors before the one where you sign on the dotted line. A good decision can only be made though if good decisions have been practiced and making them have been rewarded. (See The Binary Positive Reward System for a more detailed version of my belief on this aspect.)

Learning the wrong way can be harder to undue.

This is true of the person who pursues an instrument of sporting hobby as much as it can to our emotional lives. This is a really big topic and the one I am driving at with this series of posts. If you learn to swing a club or bat, finger a fretboard, or preform a dance step the wrong way first, it is harder to get your decision making team back into the board room to think about this. If you have a program that plays music on your computer, you have to physically change settings in order to get it to play using a new and different program. This is true of our emotions. That which makes us happy, sad, anxious, and feel loved is ingrained in us from the start. If we are taught to have the wrong or inaccurate emotions assigned to external stimulus, then it is hard to change that. We see this in abusive relationships and those people who find themselves in one after another. For now that will have to do. I will just add that this is why it is so important to pay attention to what your child perceives during those initial years of life.

Other Undebated decision
Ego dominate decision are also made when the subject matter is painful or fear invoking and the mind has already worked to repress the events that lead to the behavior. As mentioned before, in many of these cases the mind might now that the behavioral decisions are not necessarily the best ones, functional, or even healthy, BUT the circumstances that lead to that behavior are too painful to recall and reassess. This is more extreme then just picking your nose or twisting your wrist when you swing. The point is that I wish to make the reader conscious that when you react emotionally, it is driven by a history (a pathology) of experiences. This is an understanding that will help one address behaviors in their lives or the lives of loved ones that seem out of control. That is enough gibberish for now I guess.

This is a concept that I will also refer back to. It is one of the profound concepts. Having to refer back is a reality of this thought and self exploration that I am writing this blog (and hopefully book) for. These understandings are woven together like a grass mat. Remove 1 and the whole thing starts to fray and falls apart.

Why athletes practice
I think that all of us will agree that even the best athletes have to practice to remain “the best”. Here is a question that seems rhetorical at first. “Why?” What is it that Tiger is doing by repeating the same swing, or a Verlander “warms up” before taking the mound, Eliot Fisk practices the same tune over and over again, or Armstrong would do anything else but ride in the Tour for? I would get much agreement if I said, “They do it to make the perfect swing, pitch, performance, ride something they don’t have to think about.” They push it to the unconscious. They strive to make the right behavior is just a reaction. How well a batter does against Verlander depends on how quickly he can assess the speed and trajectory of the oncoming ball and the brain transmits the appropriate commands to all the muscles and ligaments. The less an athlete has to think about it, the better he is at his task. Sometimes athletes learn wrong, or are convinced there is a better way. Golfers often “learn a new swing”. It means replacing that which they have ingrained with the new way. This is considerably more difficult.

We all practice being us
I think that I can still keep heads nodding if I say that sports and music are more then just physical but also mental. Aside from the above mentioned motor related mental connection, there is also an emotional related attribute to any activity. For example, I play darts a lot. I am actually not as good as I should be for as much as I play. (ADD might be partially to blame for this.) I know how to hit the bull’s eye every time. Yet at best, when I am playing a relaxed game with people who are just doing it for something to do at the bar, I only hit it 33.3%. That percentage dramatically increases when I force myself to focus OR I am in a clutch game. My whole mental focus must be grabbed and forced into one task. I play with others who do not have to put as much a conscious effort to achieve the same results. To them, the task of throwing darts has been assimilated into their subconscious. The reason I like darts so much is because it takes such concentration that it distracts me from the chaotic and painful life that has surrounded my day to day. That only works because it isn’t that natural for me.

What do you practice
So here is where I try to walk you into a new understanding. Athletes and musicians are not the only ones who practice. In fact, emotionally we have all been practicing (at least) since the moment we were born. We have been trying to learn what behavior to emulate since day one. A desire turns into a conscious debate of all the possible reactions to that desire that we know of. A conscious debate turns into an action. If that action brings us a pleasurable result, it is registered as a “behavior”. We repeat that behavior until it becomes a personality trait. A personality trait is something we do without conscious debate. When a mental health professional is tasked with addressing or changing a behavior, it is their job to trace that process backwards. This is called a “psychological pathology”. When it becomes a personality trait, it is a reaction. It no longer requires conscious thought. Because of that reason, patients often don’t even remember where they learned it. Many times they are not even aware they are doing it.

A later post to discuss the mechanics
Because I want to tackle this in bits, I will hold off on going too deeply into the process of debate and reaction as a concept. But the lesson is that how we treat our parents, siblings, family, friends, spouses, and children are the result of lifelong practice. (doesn’t matter if that “life” is a couple of years or 80 years.) BUT we do things without thinking about them. This concept can be applied to everything from aspects of abuse to lifestyle choices. AND, just as breaking an arm can change the physical aspect of an athlete’s performance, a major emotional break can change personality traits. (Think about what has happened to Tiger Woods since he had that marital trouble.) Sometimes for the better, sometime not. If you are reading this, for the most part everything you do (including reading boring blogs written by crazy laymen about psychological issues) has been practiced in some aspect long before you did it. Then there is “anxiety” caused by trying a different approach. HMMM. More stuff for later.

Personality Maps

Posted: September 18, 2010 in Basic Concepts

     This concept of “personality maps” is my own as far as I know.  Of course, I spent quite a bit of time “reinventing the wheel” in reference to anxiety before somebody said, “oh that is exactly what Freud said.” So maybe this is something that I haven’t read. It is a collection of ideas that I have gathered from all of my reading. By “personality map”, I don’t mean the “what type of person are you?” flow chart.  I mean the each and every decisions you make can be traced back to birth.  The influence of both nurture and nature play their role on what leads you to those self imposed rules that become your personality.  Most often these influences occur in very indirect and or subtle ways. 
   If you could actually “See” your personality, it WOULD look something like a flow chart.  The decision to do what you do, say what you say, and do them in your own special way are all the result of expanding this flow chart.  There is a long way between crying to get food, and getting up in the morning and going to work in order to get food.  But it is a learning process.  After awhile you learn to mouth basic words.  Then your vocabulary developed and you learn to ask more precisely for what you want.  No longer are the parents trying to figure out if you need changed, are cold, or are hungry.  BUT, of course our world around us isn’t stagnant either.  Our parents have varying moods, behaviors, and reactions.  As we grow demands to fend for ourselves are slowly increased. By the age of 1 we are no longer allowed to just cry for our food.  By 10, you are expected to at least get it yourself out of the fridge.
      So, for example,  say it is your personality to be quick tempered.  You weren’t born with this destiny.  Maybe you were a “colicky baby”. That turned into frustrated parents. However, a baby doesn’t understand the words and emotions their parents are feeling.  They just understand getting their needs met. But as the baby watches their parents answer their needs with this look of frustration in their faces, they attach that look to getting attention.  As they grown they learn that they need to get that look to get the response they feel they need.  Of course parents get used to the level of reaction and the baby now a child learns more intense ways to get the response.  This spiral of action/ reaction occurs until the behavior becomes so natural, that it is a “personality trait”.
   As evidence that this is the case, I offer shows like “Super Nanny” where children’s behavior is changed.  It is changed not only by a new way of “punishing” the children, but in the way the parents react to the children.   They stop getting the response they expect.  This cause an “insecurity” that forces them to try something else. So children stop hittting each other or throwing things, because it doesn’t work to fulfill their need.

  As we get older, changing those behaviors become harder and harder.  As a new born crying to get what we need has worked 100% of the time the first time we do it.  If that baby gets beyond that early, well it can be a huge impact.  Of course a new born hasn’t much in its repertoire, so it will most likely key trying the crying gig.  But as a child get to be 1, 2, or 3 the “formative years” happen.  Children of that age have a large pallet of emotions and expression to test out.  This leads to confirming or rejecting behaviors.  On this pallet is mimicking their care givers on the nurture side, and natural expressions driven by chemical and number of receptors on the nature side.  All of this behavior is to ensure the person gets food, sheltered, and clothed.  The goal of any system is efficiency of understanding.  Effiiciency means “gained with least effort”, “path of least resistence”, or “eating the lowest hagning fruit to first”. “Understanding” meaning, to do without further thought.  Think subconscious. 

  So, how a person goes from being a helpless new born baby to the CEO of a rising company is a series of choices and results.  That same child could have become a serial killer or career soldier with just nuances in the environment that surrounded him. Just as something as seemingly innocent as a pushing a fairytale about Santa Clause to a young impressionable mind can lead in some people to traits like lying, untrusting, or clinging to irrational beliefs.  Interpretation is based on a repeated history. But that will wait for a different post for sure.

    So i guess the homework for the reader is to think about your fears, or personality traits that are obvious.  What in your past could have happened to encourage that behavior.  Were you droped as a kid? now maybe yoiu are affraid of heights? Did you recieve anxiety that one of your parents had.  Again, for future expressions.

We are all born.  Upon this event we know 3 simple facts.  We just left a place where we were nourished (food), protected from harm (sheltered), and were personally warm (clothing).  From the moment we are struck to breath, we are on a quest to return to that status we left just prior to birth.  Everything we do from that point is a learning process. We cry, people swoop in and wrap us with a blanket, hold us in their arms, and shortly there after feed us.  So our very first lesson is that if we cry, we get our needs attended to.  (Many of us never move much beyond this reaction.)  From there the lessons get more and more complicated.

Every single action, (conscious or unconscious, voluntary or involuntary) addresses at least one of these needs if you trace back thought your decision map. Ironically the one we are least consciously aware of is the one that seems to have the most profound affect on our behavior.  That is “protection from harm”.   Nobody sees how sitting on the couch watching football as stemming from that “protection” need.  But as Dr. Brizendine explains in her books, getting attention from our caregivers is key to our feeling secure.  This dates back to our less evolved family members who needed strength of numbers to increase the chance of survival.  (While the reasons have changed, the need for popularity hasn’t changed much.)  If one of your primary caregivers is watching TV on the couch every Sunday, then getting that persons attention may have come in the form of enjoying the game with them.  They may have even encouraged you to do it, giving you reassurance for participating and mimicking their own behavior.   Depending on the time, environment, age, or mental state of the child, this could have happened as little as only few times or even once to associate “watching football” with being secure.

My father always brewed wine.  My ex said to me, “you are just like your father.”  I tongue in cheek said, “No way, he made wine, I brew beer.  That is completely different.”

I want to deal with “security” (shelter) in much more detail now. I will probably address it over the the course of many posts on various issues.   But it really ties the other two together.  People don’t watch sports, participate in hobbies, or go shopping because they are hungry.  But, they do eat beyond their needs to feel secure.

Happiness is fulfillment of all three of these needs.  If one doesn’t have a need met they feel anxious.

So, it seems to me that in this instance, I disagree with Freud. (Although this is out of context.) I think we all suffer from “vaginal envy” or more accurately womb envy. We are all trying to recreate that general feeling we felt before we ever knew there was any other way TO feel.

“Women! What can you say? Who made ’em? God must have been a fuckin’ genius. The hair… They say the hair is everything, you know. Have you ever buried your nose in a mountain of curls… just wanted to go to sleep forever? Or lips… and when they touched, yours were like… that first swallow of wine… after you just crossed the desert. Tits. Hoo-ah! Big ones, little ones, nipples staring right out at ya, like secret searchlights. Mmm. Legs. I don’t care if they’re Greek columns… or secondhand Steinways. What’s between ’em… passport to heaven.” (Al Pacino- “Scent Of A Woman”)