A Case study in sleep paralysis: Rosie

In our assessments of sleep paralysis we came to understand there is a link between sleep paralysis and certain disorders including anxiety, general stress and sleep apnea. The following is a brief diatribe wherein I suggest that there is a greater link between those with schizophrenia and schizophrenia like disorders, who have also been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and sleep paralysis. In particular, I will be providing a brief case study of one client and her apparent symptoms. It must be noted here before proceeding that the suggestions made in this paper are speculative in nature: I can not ascertain their validity or reliability without further assessment and deeper analysis. All qualifying personal information has been removed to uphold confidentiality.

Rosie

Rosie is a geriatric African-Canadian living with an intellectual disability and she has been formally diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder bi-polar type, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (sleep apnea), and she exhibits obsessive compulsive like behaviours.

She exhibits typical symptoms for her diagnosis including delusional thought (including persecutory delusions), visual and auditory hallucinations, blunted affect, and alogia. She experiences intense mood swings which invariably affect her behaviour, and she has a general negative attitude. This is particularly exhibited in relation to herself, as well as in her relationships with others. She does not appear to put much faith in others’ reliability or loyalty. It is difficult for her to form and maintain relationships, and she is often closed off from others. In times of great stress she will express her anger and frustration with self harm, screams, shouts, expletives, and eventually aggression towards others. This sort of anxiety can be mediated successfully with anticipatory interventions, and due to her propensity towards anxious states it is best to avoid causing more anxiety or stress.

When Rosie is experiencing a hallucination she appears engrossed in the event as if she is watching a film. It is difficult to pull her from this engrossment and she pays little attention to voices and actions outside of the hallucination. She has demonstrated interaction with her hallucinations through her actions and her speech. At times it appears she is talking to herself, when it is more likely that she is actually communicating or interacting with her hallucination. She does not appear to be negatively affected by these hallucinations or delusions, during the day.

It appears that the ferocity and frequency of her hallucinations increase throughout the day, peaking particularly prior to sleep. I am not sure if this is due to added stress about completing nighttime routine, the thought of sleep, or anticipation of increased hallucinatory experiences.

Rosie uses a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine on a nightly basis. She averages 12 hours of sleep a night, but it appears this sleep is interrupted. This being due primarily to her sleep apnea and COPD. It is my estimation that her hallucinations worsen during sleep, and that this invariably contributes to her interrupted sleep. Not only does this contribute to disrupted sleep, it contributes to her heightened anxiety and stress related to sleep. This in turn increases the likelihood of more hallucinations. I am not sure if these hallucinations stem from her schizoaffective disorder, or if they more likely are linked to sleep paralysis. I can not confidently determine one way or the other.

In moments of sleep paralysis, the dreamer typically is witness to hallucinations, particularly insidious and persecutory hallucinations that cause great fear and stress. In these moments the dreamer tries to escape the situation. Due to the their vividness, these hallucinations appear real, instilling great fear in the one experiencing them.

As Rosie sleeps and dreams she shouts, uses expletives, and screams. Upon arriving to her room to offer assistance, she can be seen with her body twitching, convulsing and thrashing gently. It appears as if she is trying to wake herself up. These may be nightmares, but it is my estimation that she is in fact experiencing sleep paralysis related hallucinations.

I am led to believe this because of the sheer intensity of these hallucinations in comparison to those experienced throughout the day. They appear to be much more intensely felt, and she appears to be much more fearful of these. This indicates to me that they are outside of the realm of normalcy for her. Her attitude towards these hallucinations is that of concern and fear, and it appears as though she is trying to escape the situation both physically and mentally: evidenced by body thrashing and twitching upon regaining control of the body.

Further evidence points towards Rosie’s condition as being related to sleep paralysis. Hishikawa and Shimizu (1995) inform us that motor paralysis due to REM sleep can cause breathing difficulties, including what may appear like choking or suffocating. It may feel as if there is a weight or pressure on the chest, making it difficult to breathe deeply without feeling as if one is being suffocated. This is interesting to note because Rosie has been diagnosed with COPD. Could these feelings also be intensified through sleep paralysis? We know sleep apnea to be one disorder that contributes to the onset of sleep paralysis. While Rosie is diagnosed similarly, could this be contributing to her (as of yet undiagnosed) sleep paralysis? Simply put, her pre-existing breathing condition contributes to sleep paralysis, and her sleep paralysis contributes to her breathing condition, ad infinitum.

Although this information helps us in conceptualizing her sleep paralysis condition, what we are most interested in is the hallucinatory components of sleep paralysis, in particular Rosie’s nighttime hallucinations. I am unable to confirm sleep paralysis as a primary diagnosis for Rosie. Sleep paralysis at this point is mere speculation based on variance in hallucination profile from day to night, the intensity of the hallucination, and the apparent escape tactics used while experiencing these hallucinations. I do believe however, that due to the constant state of stress and anxiety Rosie is in daily, along with her diagnosis of COPD/sleep apnea, that it would be highly likely for her to experience sleep paralysis from time to time. Anywhere from 8% to 44% of people will experience sleep paralysis at one point in their lives, and according to psychologists at Penn State and Pennsylvania University, sleep paralysis occurs more frequently in students and psychiatric patients (Penn State News, 2011). Further, the sleep paralysis project reports that sleep paralysis more often occurs in African American individuals (www.thesleepparalysisproject.org). These statistics do not determine with any clarity that Rosie is in fact experiencing sleep paralysis, they merely contribute to my belief that she is.

In order to determine if Rosie is experiencing sleep paralysis we would need to study her case much further. We are still left with three unanswered questions. Does Schizophrenia contribute to sleep paralysis hallucinations (and what should we consider the primary diagnosis: sleep paralysis or schizophrenia?) Are hallucinations experienced by persons diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizophrenia like disorders more vivid, insidious or threatening in sleep paralysis? And does schizophrenia heighten one’s awareness of hallucinatory experiences, thus making it not only more likely for a person with schizophrenia to experience sleep paralysis, but for them to also be more aware of the accompanying hallucinations?

We are left wondering if the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder is correct, or if perhaps hallucinatory complications arise due to sleep paralysis. Constant stress and anxiety contribute to sleep paralysis, and sleep paralysis is accompanied by hallucinations. We must consider daytime hallucinations. These could be explained by hypnagogic sleep paralysis: sleep paralysis which occurs prior to sleep. It would make sense for Rosie to be in a constant state of exhaustion due to her disrupted sleep caused by COPD. This could be cause for a general lethargy, perpetuated of course by anxiety and stress. The cycle of over-tiredness due to the avoidance of sleep or experiencing disrupted sleep is continuous and unrelenting. This lays way for sleep paralysis and hallucinations, the fear of which contributes to the avoidance and disruption of sleep.

Due to our prior observation that daytime hallucinations appear different from nighttime hallucinations, it would not make sense for us to dismiss schizoaffective disorder as the primary diagnosis. Although I am sure upon further analysis we could make a compelling case for why daytime hallucinations occur, and are experienced differently from nighttime hallucinations, we will not expel resources to do so now.

Rosie is but one case of many, and I believe it is important to conduct further research into the relationship between schizophrenia and schizophrenia like disorders and sleep paralysis. I propose some of our questions would be answered, and upon uncovering these answers we would lay way for many many more questions.

References:

Hishikawa, Y., & Shimizu, T. (1995). Physiology of REM sleep, cataplexy, and sleep paralysis. In S. Fahn, M. Hallett, H.O. Lüders, & C. D. Marsden (Eds.). Advances in neurology (Vol. 67, pp. 245-271). Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven.

Psychologists chase down sleep demons. (2011). Retrieved from: http://news.psu.edu/story/154433/2011/10/17/research/psychologists-chase-down-sleep-demons

Prevalence. (2017). Retrieved from: http://www.thesleepparalysisproject.org/about-sleep-paralysis/prevalence/

Lucid Dreaming and Sleep Paralysis

I awoke motionless, my body pinned to the bed by some inexplicable force. All the muscles in my body felt taut and no amount of will-power could move my arms, legs, neck, not even my smallest finger. I experienced an intense fear and anxiety wash over my body as I tried to shake myself awake. The bed rocked in tandem with the shaking sensation I felt in my body; shaking as though it were convulsing. After what felt like days pass I was able to force my eyes open as my body continued to lay perfectly still in the bed. I stared into the darkness that worked tirelessly to engulf me, and right before my eyes stood a shadowed figure— menacing, looming, insidious. My chest tightened and fear continued to paralyze my body. Unable to move, unable to speak, I stared into the darkness wondering where this eldritch horror had come from. Within seconds it was gone, my muscles slackened and I was able to speak. Unable to return to sleep I lay staring at the ceiling questioning the events that transpired.

I recognize how close within the realm of possibility it was that I was experiencing a hallucination. I am otherwise asymptomatic and have never been formally diagnosed with schizophrenia, paranoia, or as experiencing delusional thinking or hallucinations. The question then remains, what did I experience? Is it at all possible that lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis are closely related phenomena? Can we suggest that, in a way, my dream image projected itself into waking life as I struggled to release myself from the grips of sleep paralysis? Was it a sort of residue from my sleeping state presented in my waking state. This also begs the question of what state of consciousness we are experiencing while we dream lucidly, and how different it is from our conscious state in comparison to non-lucid dreaming. Are we still experiencing yet another state of consciousness while waking from sleep paralysis, or is this merely another corner of our vast conscious experience​?

This is not the first time this sort of lucid projection has happened to me, and I have heard similar reports from others. Jorge Conesa (2002) helps illustrate what exactly could be occurring. He determines that dreamers become aware of their paralyzed state during the sleep paralysis episode, as they become aware of their inability to move. Typically, dreamers try to rouse themselves from the state. He reports having an out-of-the-body-experience (OBE) in 1969 in conjunction with his sleep paralysis episode (Conesa, 2002). This out of body experience, although not entirely the same, seems rather similar to what I have experienced in the past while in a state of sleep paralysis. Being consciously aware of both my paralysis and my lucidity while in this state is increasingly unnerving, and regardless of whether there is a non-paranormal, but rather a realistic and plausible response to my question of how the images in my mind projected into the real world, I am still led to believe that there is a correlation between sleep paralysis and lucid dreaming that creates a bridge of some sort to allow for these projections (hallucinations). This bridge allows for dream content to project in reality. Again, this is a sort of dream residue left from the lucid dream. It is as if the body is roused from the sleeping state too quickly and the dream is still occurring, so these hallucinations occur, creating some level of anxiety and fear in its sleeper. As I force my eyes open I remain mentally aware of the dream content, and rather quickly become alerted to the dream content’s projections in the real world. In the sleepy state however, I find it difficult to make this distinction: that the images I see are dream residue, or mere hallucinations. The fear I experience while in these states is seemingly insurmountable.

It may help before we proceed in these discussions to define lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis, so as to provide our readers with some basis of understanding. Simply put, a lucid dream is a dream in which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. The dreamer may be able to exert some level of control over the dream and it’s direction (Kahan, 1994). Sleep paralysis occurs when the body becomes paralyzed and the dreamer is unable to move, speak or react to the world around them. There are two general forms of sleep paralysis: one which occurs prior to falling asleep, referred to as hypnagogic, or predormital sleep paralysis and the second which occurs upon waking, where the person becomes aware prior to the cessation of the REM period. This state is referred to as hypnopomic or postdormital sleep paralysis (WebMD). Interestingly, sleep paralysis has been linked to such disorders as anxiety, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, generalized stress, and migraines (Ohayon, M.; Zulley, J.; Guilleminault, C.; Smirne, S, 1999; Terrillon, J.; Marques-Bonham, S., 2001). In their researches, Jalal, Romanelli and Hinton found that typically, hallucinations accompany sleep paralysis, due to the heightened awareness of the dreamer (Jalal, Baland; Romanelli, Andrea; Hinton, Devon E., 2015), and this seemingly answers our question of what was occurring: I was experiencing hallucinations.

HIshikawa (1979) and Hufford (1982) expand upon hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences (HHE’s) as including auditory and visual hallucinations, feelings of pressure on the chest, suffocating, choking, floating and out of body experiences (as cited by Cheyne, Rueffer and Newby-Clark, 1999). These experiences when accompanying sleep paralysis appear more vivid, elaborate and multimodal, therefore making them more terrifying (Hufford, 1982; Takeuchi, Miyasita, Inugami, Sasaki and Fukuda, 1994; as cited by Cheyne, Rueffer and Newby-Clark, 1999). It has been suggested that a hyper-vigilant state is created upon awakening in a sleep paralysis state, due primarily to the need for survival (Cheyne, J., 2003), and it has been hypothesized that the amygdala is heavily involved in this threat-activation system, which could help explain the hallucinatory components dreamers experience while in their paralyzed stat (Sharpless, B., McCarthy, K., Chambless, D., Milrod, B., Khalsa, S., & Barber, J., 2010).

Paralysis during sleep is not abnormal, we are paralyzed every night in REM sleep. Muscle atonia occurs during REM sleep so that we do not act out our dreams (Carskadon, M. A., & Dement, W. C., 1994). When we wake from REM sleep our bodies should respond accordingly, and our mobility should return. When we experience sleep paralysis our mind becomes aware of our paralyzed state and we continue to experience paralysis, even after REM sleep has stopped. This is where we begin to experience paranormal and otherwise inexplicable phenomenon (witness to otherworldly hallucinations including evil spirits and demons). Terrifying as it is, these visions are harmless and all we are able to do is wait patiently for the episode to end. It may be possible to bring the episode to a swift end by practising and honing methods used to wake the body and mind simultaneously out of this state. It is my firm belief that there is more to sleep paralysis than merely “stress” or “anxiety” and that the hallucinations we witness are much more personalized and tailored to our personal psyche. Understanding any underlying causes may contribute to avoiding or treating sleep paralysis and the accompanying HHE’s. With anything, treating the cause not the symptom will prove much more beneficial than focusing solely on symptom control.

I am still not satisfied with our current understanding of sleep paralysis and HHE’s. There must be some alternate explanation, there must be some personalization of HHE’s. Is it realistic to assume that a window is opened between the dream world and the waking world to allow for the exchange of mental content while experiencing sleep paralysis, or is it much more likely that these hallucinations stem from an evolutionary necessity to keep ourselves safe? They evoke fear and anxiety in us, and stimulate our fight or flight response. According to Cheyne (2003), our threat vigilance system encourages us to interpret ambiguous stimuli as dangerous or evil, in order to guard against potentially threatening objects, thus increasing the likelihood of our survival. Are the ambiguous stimuli only ambiguous because our subconscious mind continues to protect us against much more insidious forms of the stimuli. Upon further analysis of the stimuli, will we find that they actually expose us to deeper and darker parts of our psyche? Is our fear a valid response because we fear the reality of ourselves and the repressed aspects of our minds? This too can be qualified from an evolutionary standpoint: the reason our superego structure protects us from the deep recessed of our subconscious is because the personal and cultural memories, histories and experiences are far too intense, questionable, or gruesome for our conscious psyche to handle. This is why even when we dream and these thoughts and memories rush to the forefront of our minds, they continue to be masked through manifest content. We have heard this many times before in Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (1900): this is not new information. However, it would make sense for our hallucinations to be related to the manifest content in our dreams, and perhaps in our sleep paralysis state our superego is weakened even more and the manifest content evolves into the latent content it so tirelessly tries to mask. Thus our hallucinations more closely resemble the latent content, invoking fear and anxiety in us. We try to escape this wicked reality, and continue to repress even these hallucinations. We fear the answers our mind protects us from, so we fail to ask the questions. 

Although I believe that what we experience can much more readily be explained through personal analysis the question still remains: are incubi, succubi and evil spirits real? They fall more within the realm of paranormal and since this is not only not my area of expertise, I do not have a vested interest in these phenomenon, therefore I can’t justify concocting some mediocre response to this question. I can say, however, that the experience of having encountered one such spirit is of no less value, regardless of how real it is. These experiences do not need to be defined as real in order for us to experience the fear and anxiety they so amply provide us with. Perhaps, in addiction to this, they offer us insight into our psyche and our current mental state. I still believe that the hallucinations we witness while in these states are not unrelated to our previous dreaming state: rather, they are exact or manipulated versions of our dream images. It is possibly the most real way to experience a dream, the absolute most lucid form of dreaming. It is important too, just as with any interpretative practice, to focus on the emotions elicited while in such a state as sleep paralysis. Our initial conception of the hallucination may help us understand previous thoughts or feelings we had prior to sleep paralysis. I have read that it is well within normalcy to have a fear response to these phenomenon, and as was mentioned earlier this may be due to our need for survival (fear is what keeps us safe from harm). However, should we analyze the exact image we experienced in our sleep paralysis state, the emotional response we had to it, and any REM related dreams we had prior to the onset of awareness. With this, we may be able to determine if these are interrelated and how. If we can determine any extraneous stimuli that influence sleep paralysis we may be able to control for it, at least to some degree. These would need to occur on a person by person basis. There are a multitude of ways in which sleep paralysis can be influenced; stress, anxiety, over-tiredness, sleep apnea and so forth. I am unable to use my past experience as an example because the fear I experienced continued to paralyze me well after my muscles slackened from the sleep paralysis. To this end, I was unable to determine with any confidence the exact profile of my hallucination, and my mind was wiped clean of any dreams I had throughout the night. Unfortunately because of this I am currently unable to begin building a case around my sleep paralysis patterns and the kinds of hallucinations I witness while in these states. I can say that I have experienced sleep paralysis all of three times before this most recent experience, and that typically it occurs while my stress is unbridled. I can make no further comments without it being mere speculation. Should this occur again, perhaps my fear will subside long enough so that I can start building a case for these personal experiences.

 

References:

Carskadon, M. A., & Dement, W. C. (1994). Normal Human Sleep: An Overview. In M. H. Kryger, T. Roth, & W. C. Dement (Eds.), Principles of and practice of sleep medicine. (2nd ed., pp. 3-13). Philadelphia: Saunders.

Cheyne, J. (2003). “Sleep Paralysis and the Structure of Waking-Nightmare Hallucinations”. Dreaming. 13 (3): 163–179.

Jalal, Baland; Romanelli, Andrea; Hinton, Devon E. (2015-12-01). “Cultural Explanations of Sleep Paralysis in Italy: The Pandafeche Attack and Associated Supernatural Beliefs”. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry. 39 (4): 651–664.

Kahan T.; LaBerge S. (1994). “Lucid dreaming as metacognition: Implications for cognitive science”. Consciousness and Cognition. 3: 246–264.

Ohayon, M.; Zulley, J.; Guilleminault, C.; Smirne, S. (1999). “Prevalence and pathologic associations of sleep paralysis in the general population”. Neurology. 52 (6): 1194–2000.

Sharpless, B.; McCarthy, K.; Chambless, D.; Milrod, B.; Khalsa, S.; Barber, J. (2010). “Isolated sleep paralysis and fearful isolated sleep paralysis in outpatients with panic attacks”. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 66 (12): 1292–1306.

Sleep paralysis. (n.d). http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/sleep-paralysis.

Terrillon, J.; Marques-Bonham, S. (2001). “Does Recurrent Isolated Sleep Paralysis Involve More Than Cognitive Neurosciences?”. Journal of Scientific Exploration. 15: 97–123.

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Jung identifies the persona as a mask we all wear, a mask that acts to conceal the true nature of our selves, and to provide a positive social image. In order to know a person all masks must be dropped, and all layers need to be pulled back. Only then, layer by layer, do we come to know the other. This too is true of how we come to know our selves.

Saying Goodbye & What I’ve Learned

We work in a vulnerable profession. The people we work with are considered part of the “vulnerable populations”, and through working and living with them they teach us how to become vulnerable. Through our caring for them we start to break down our own walls and open ourselves up to growth, change and learning about ourselves and others. As with any relationship, we form attachments. These relationships are symbiotic, and very rarely do we recognize this. We see ourselves as a sort of essential component in their lives without recognizing the overwhelming impact they have on ours. Our lives become shared experiences –they are very much a part of our lives as we are a part of theirs. I think it isn’t until we face the challenge of living without these people do we realize just how much of an impact they have made.

The people we work with teach us how to communicate, how to express our feelings, and how to foster and maintain relationships. Typically this occurs in such an atypical fashion that we fail to recognize it as a learning experience, or an opportunity for growth. In my experience working in this profession our learning occurs in a very nuanced and subtle way.

First, let me begin by introducing you to one client in particular who had a significant impact on my life. Let us call him “Barry. Barry is a middle aged man with an intellectual disability on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. He uses cryptic language to communicate, talks through his stuffed bears, and exhibits typical symptoms found on the DSM scale for Autism. Typical interventions used are visual stories, following a set schedule, and providing Barry with different options to choose from. Typical of ASD is a stunted ability to express emotions, which we can see when Barry becomes frustrated or upset and is unable to share with those around him, either through body language or words, how he is feeling. This can be frustrating for someone who uses typical modes of communication, and quite often, things get lost in translation. In these situations you need to stop and ask yourself how frustrating would it be to know how you’re feeling, but be unable to share that with another person so that they too understand how you’re feeling? That must be hard. You then have to ask yourself, how can I express empathy and understanding, without being able to understand fully? Carl Rogers shows us how important and essential empathy is in any relationship (Rogers, C., 1951;1961). The ability to understand another person’s soul. The ability to understand the pain, joy, anger, frustration they are experiencing is one of the most intimate and connecting abilities we as humans have. When we emote with another person and they are able to express their complete understanding and acceptance of that we feel a new sort of connection with them, we feel seen and understood. Empathy fosters connectivity and a deeper level of intimacy with others, and it opens doors for stronger communication and relationships. Erich Fromm details the eight basic human needs, one of which is relatedness (Fromm, E., 1941; 1997). Relatedness can be achieved through the relationships we form, sharing our innermost feelings with others, and having them understand those feelings through empathic understanding. Now imagine being a person who has an inability to connect in such a way, a block of some sort which makes it difficult, sometimes what may feel near impossible, to connect with another person in such a way. How would you feel? Perhaps lost, disconnected, frustrated, angry, irritated? The list could go on. What are we to do? Are we to alter our communication, tailor our interactions with this man and others like him?

The reality is that those living with ASD are no less able of communicating, emoting, or experiencing fulfilling empathic relationships, it just takes a bit longer, and it may display itself in a different way. If relatedness is a basic human need, even those with alternative ways of communicating or emoting, will find a way to fulfill that basic human need. What has Barry taught me then? Barry has taught me that we communicate in different ways and the only way we will be able to understand each other is if we are open to and willing to understand each other, even if that involves extra work. With most of our relationships communication comes much more easily, we speak the same language, we express similar emotions to the same triggers, we become comfortable while around each other. This makes us lazy. We are so keen to believe we understand each other we fail to try. Barry shows us to listen to the silence, to attend to the potentially cryptic language, to ask the right questions and to make room for each other. Sometimes in relationships one person takes up more space and that’s okay. In our laziness we fail to see how hard others may be trying. We need to recognize how easy it is for us to emote and connect with others, and how potentially scary it may be for someone like Barry to do the same. This teaches us to be more understanding, patient, and open to forming relationships and perhaps helping others form the same relationships. We don’t all speak the same language, and we’d certainly be boring as a species if we did.

We are so wont to believe that they need us just to live and in the process we other them, believing that without us as their support they would fail to survive. This is the furthest thing from the truth.

Aside from teaching me how to communicate and how to listen, Barry also showed me what it means to be in relation with another person. He showed me how difficult it may be at times, and how two completely different people can develop and foster a meaningful relationship through mutual understanding, trust, and awareness of the other. Although difficult at times, potentially extra-strenuous, the relationship which I built with Barry showed me just how important the qualities listed above (trust, understanding, awareness) are in building a relationship with another person. A quality I did not list but which is equally as important is acceptance. Rogers presents unconditional positive regard as an essential component in a therapeutic relationship (Rogers, C., 1951; 1961) and there is nowhere in my life I have been able to experience this quality more than in my relationship with Barry. In fact, he showed me just what it looks like.

Regardless of what I wore, how I acted, or how I was feeling, he continued to accept me as I was, and continued to acknowledge me as an autonomous person. This may not have happened instantaneously, in fact, there were times where he needed to process why I wasn’t wearing jeans when he asked me to, or why I was upset with something he said to me – but after this period of processing, he would be able to look at me and see me for who I was, and still accept me as my self. This was one of the most powerful experiences I had while living and working with Barry.

As I reflect upon what I have learned from the people I have met and worked with, I come to think very fondly of the intimate moments I shared with the persons I was charged with caring for. Care-work is much more than a profession, it seeps into every facet of your life, and what you learn while working with others stays with you once you’ve severed ties. Throughout my time in this profession I learned not only how to care for others and come to understand the myriad of ways in which we as humans can care for and express our care for others; I learned how to care for myself. Care-work and self-care are inextricably intertwined, and I’ve touched on this before – the importance of caring for yourself and replenishing your energies so that you do not experience burnout. Even outside of care-work however, it is an important take-away: make time for yourself. I will not outline here the endless ways in which you can practice self-care because that would be an interminable digression. The important thing to remember is that care-work teaches you how to handle yourself in a much more understanding, forgiving fashion: and this attitude extrapolates to all other relationships you currently have or are in the process of building.

The next client I would like to discuss is someone who has taught me a number of things including self-acceptance, self-awareness and forgiveness. Let us call her “Rosie”.

Rosie is a senior living with schizoaffective disorder bi-polar type, with observed OCD like behaviours, anxiety and substance over-use/dependency. She spends a significant portion of her time in quiet contemplation and solitude. At times she will scream or yell, shout obscenities or appear to be talking to herself. In these moments it is important to understand who the vocalizations are directed at: are they directed at others, herself, or perhaps her hallucinations? This conundrum eluded me sometimes, but I tried my best to give her her space. In instances where she would exhibit increasing anxiety while vocalizing, it was important to assess whether this anxiety came from my failing to communicate with her, or if it stemmed from an internalized mental experience.

When Rosie exhibits anxiety it may very quickly escalate into self-harmful behaviour. This self-harm is a way to regain power and control, or could very well be a response to a persecutory hallucination. Even though we do not know the reasons behind it, this self-injurious behaviour serves a purpose. Although we do not want Rosie to injure herself, we are unable to control for it at times and the best thing to do is to try to understand her as a person, instead of trying to keep her from injuring herself. Again, here we return to Rogers’ idea of empathic understanding, and unconditional positive regard. The best way to get to know someone, to truly see into their soul and express back to them your complete understanding of them, is to express and practice empathy with them. This becomes difficult with someone like Rosie, who has only ever experienced understanding as controlling. Controlling for anxiety, behavioural issues, injurious behaviour, violent tendencies and so forth. Perhaps the behaviours we fail to understand are her way of trying to communicate and instead of listening and being receptive to this we control the behaviour because it is atypical, therefore wrong. This is how Rosie taught me about self-awareness.

I very quickly became more aware of the things I said, the way I acted, even things as simple as my body language, tone, and facial expressions. Sometimes the way we communicate with each other can misconstrue the things that we are saying. Our tone, body language and facial expressions are saying one thing while our words are saying another. This can cause confusion, and makes it more difficult for trust to flourish. Trust is a fundamental component of any healthy relationship, without trust as our foundation we cannot build a solid relationship. This awareness did not end with myself, I became more aware of others non-verbal communication patterns and was more receptive to deeper meanings. This also led to a greater understanding of the way others communicate and the possibility for their not being alternative meanings. Perhaps, there are other explanations for why the tone did not match the message being shared. Rosie taught me to read into things when needed, and to recognize things at face value when needed.

Along with her lesson in self-awareness she taught me forgiveness and self-acceptance. Forgiveness because we all make mistakes, and she was quick to apologize when needed: sometimes she apologized when there was no need to. Her apologies came quickly, and sometimes she didn’t understand why she was saying she was sorry. I’m sure this stems from something in her past that makes it so easy for her to apologize, sometimes needlessly. The important thing she taught me was that sometimes, even when we don’t know why we’re apologizing, we need to do it anyway. This is because the person we have hurt needs to hear it said – there is always a reason we apologize (to mend broken hearts, hurt feelings and relationships) but sometimes we aren’t always completely aware of why. It isn’t until after the fact do we understand why the apology was needed. Being stubborn about apologizing only increases hurt feelings, making it more difficult to rectify the situation. On the other side of the argument, forgiving someone can be just as hard as apologizing. It’s a matter of pride: Rosie taught me pride means nothing when it comes to mending hurt feelings. Pride merely gets in the way, and relationships are much more important than personal pride. Admitting your faults is a sign of strength.

The last thing Rosie taught me was self-acceptance. Akin to how Barry taught me what unconditional positive regard looks like, Rosie taught me what real self-acceptance looks like. She struggled with body-image issues, and the majority of the time was quite distressed over her weight and the size of her stomach. She would compare herself to others around her wondering why they were so skinny and she wasn’t. Sometimes she would say things that made it clear her desire to be skinny was heavily influenced by those in her life who had told her before how important it was to lose weight and get smaller. There were times of quiet where I’m not sure if she had actually started to think of something else, or if she was sitting ruminating on these negative perceptions of herself. When she didn’t vocalize these feelings, I merely assumed she had forgotten about the issue, but I have a feeling these thoughts remained with her in the back of her mind permeating through every day, and every activity. There were times when she would become increasingly anxious and would vocalize an issue with her stomach or weight. This leads me to believe she was in fact ruminating on these perceptions, and for the most part these fuelled her anxiety. The amount of distress she experienced over something as seemingly insignificant as her weight caused tension in all other areas of her life. I can’t conclude with any authority that Rosie has accepted herself, or that there have been any significant changes in her mindset. She did not lead by example. However, watching Rosie become increasingly distressed over her weight encouraged me to practice self-love and acceptance. She showed me how important it is to accept yourself, be forgiving of your faults and shortcomings, and change what it is about yourself you don’t like.

Just like Barry, Rosie projected acceptance and love more so on others than on herself. In these moments, the importance of self-acceptance was reinforced.

We consider ourselves as care-workers to be the leaders, the teachers, the guides, when in all reality it is our clients who are teaching, leading and guiding us. They open our eyes and minds to a plethora of experiences we would not be open to experiencing if not for them. They also provide us with different ways of seeing and understanding things. There is nowhere in my life where the sentiment of different intelligence’s is more obvious than in care-work. Not only are you exposed to these different forms of intelligence, you are exposed to varying presentations of these intelligence’s. Each new day is a marvel, learning how others see and make sense of the world around them, and coming to the realization that you, sadly, are missing a large percent of the world and its happenings because you are stuck in the monotony of typical modes of intelligence. Your being stuck in these modes not only limits your ability and willingness to see the world from a different perspective, it blocks you from experiencing life to your fullest ability.

I have learned a great many things in this profession, particularly that care-work can be stressful, frightening, and challenging. At times these challenges may overwhelm us, leaving us feeling drained and empty. When we step back and reflect on our experiences we are able to see the work we’ve done has made a difference, but our work is just the beginning. Our care-work is much more a self-reflective experience than it is a mode of treatment or assistance for others. Through this self-reflection, and of course our close work with our clients, we form meaningful attachments. These attachments strengthen our sense of self, and bolster our understanding of the world around us. When we sever these ties we feel the aftershocks of detachment. If there is one thing I can take away from these experiences with any confidence it is that there is nothing more challenging, frightening or stressful than saying goodbye.

Fromm, Erich. (1997). On Being Human. London: The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.

Fromm, Erich. (1941). Escape from Freedom.

Rogers, Carl. (1951). Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable.

Rogers, Carl. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable

Wish Fulfillment & Lucid Dreaming

Our waking life and dream life are dichotomous in nature; they relate to each other in that each realm is reflected in the other. They also tend to influence each other. What we envision in our dreams, or our dream states, could influence our subsequent actions in our waking life, and vice versa. If you find yourself pining after someone in your daily life, you may find images of this individual in your mind when your head hits the pillow. Should you dream up a scenario in which a person in your life is put in a negative light, you may unconsciously treat this person negatively in your waking life.

Images produced in our dream life invariably affect how we experience our waking life, and the same could be said of our waking life affecting our dream life. We begin to develop subconscious ideas about the people in our lives: their attitudes, behaviours, beliefs, and how these relate to us. We may also begin to develop ideas about ourselves, our own motives, attitudes, personality and so forth. These ideas lay just below the surface of our minds in our waking life, and come to light when we dream.

This creates a constant cycle of our waking life feeding our dream life and our dream life feeding our waking life. This cycle continues with each new dream our minds compose while asleep, and with each new day we experience while awake. The times in which our subconscious ideas merge with our conscious ideas is when we are able to recall events in our dreams and seriously ponder about their meaning, validity and the impact they may have on our waking life. At this juncture, we are able to consciously feed into our dream life, potentially influencing what it is we dream while asleep.

Those with particularly creative minds (those who find themselves daydreaming, pursuing abstract thought, painters, musicians, writers and so forth), may be more capable of creating a dream image and seeing it to fruition. The more open-minded one is with dreaming and their individual dream-life, the more realistic it is said person will be able to fabricate dreams, and recall them like memories.

Sigmund Freud wrote extensively on dream-life and dream-work, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) being his magnum opus. He showed us that dreams act primarily as a form of wish-fulfillment. He determined that by analyzing our dreams, and breaking apart the dream-work by comparing the latent with the manifest content and so forth, we may be able to determine aspects of a persons personality, and thus their neuroses. Dreams help us understand what lies beneath— the unconscious mind. With this greater understanding of the unconscious mind we can then piece together areas of a persons life, determine which areas need focus, and essentially fix what is wrong with a persons mind, and by extension their personality/behaviours/attitudes.

Before Freud happened upon this idea of the interpretation of dreams he studied with Breuer, and their work focused on the use of hypnosis (Studies on Hysteria;1895). These studies in Hysteria and hypnosis helped Freud develop Psychoanalysis (“talk therapy”) as a means to assess and cure patients of their mental ills. Although hypnosis has been denounced as “quackery” and de-valued to the point of it being nearly too ineffectual to even mention, we need to consider the philosophy of hypnosis for arguments sake.

Hypnosis is the practice of inducing a state of consciousness whereby the person loses autonomous thought/ability, and is susceptible to the suggestions of others. Interestingly enough, the word Hypnosis comes from the Greek “hypnos” which translates to sleep, and the English “osis” which is a suffix that denotes a process or condition. This is important to recognize.

gustav-klimt-the-maiden-1913_a-g-1584772-8880731

Klimt, Gustav. (1913). The Maiden.

Consider the act of hypnotic induction and an individuals heightened suggestibility. Essentially, during hypnosis, a client is influenced by and directed to fulfill the wishes of the hypnotist. Typically upon “waking” from the hypnotic state, the client is unable to recall what they did while hypnotized. If we compare this to our sleep state we find the two are quite similar. Although we dream many times a night (typically each REM period we experience), we may not recall every, or even any, dream that occurs throughout the night. However, our dreams are important in that, as Freud recognized, they fulfill our wishes. Our dream-life is a voluntarily induced hypnotic state. We voluntarily fall to sleep, and our minds wake to project purposeful animated images throughout the night. If we stopped dreaming, our ego-id-superego triad would cease to work, and we, in our waking life, would devolve back to our animalistic tendencies. Dreams act as a catalyst for psychic release. What we are considering here is our ability to induce hypnotic sleep, and control our dream-life in a way that manipulates our wishes into being fulfilled.

Could we truly control our dream content to the point where our waking-life wishes come true in our dream-life? And if this were to happen, to a sufficient degree, would these wishes become worthless in our waking-life?

When considering this we first have to consider day-dreaming. Day-dreaming is a lucid state of dreaming that occurs while awake – and most often we have full control over the content of our daydreams. It is much easier to manipulate our day-dreams, and easier to note any changes that occur. Most people who day-dream do so as a source of entertainment, a way to pass the time, as a creative exercise. But how many truly assess the content of their day-dreams? How many question the content and it’s meaning? If we are able to focus on the content of these dreams and are able to treat them just as we would dreams that occur while we are asleep (documenting them in a dream-journal, noting themes, characters, colours, images and so forth) we would be able to understand the potentially unconscious aspects of these dreams (particularly noting wish-fulfillment). One could argue that day-dreams are practised specifically for wish-fulfillment.

Now, is there any real way we can transmit what we learn from our day-dreams into our sleeping dreams? If we induce sleep in a similar way as inducing hypnosis, perhaps we could be successful. I believe the most promising method for this is to repeatedly imagine what it is you would like to dream about once you fall asleep. This may be as simple as “practising” a day-dream prior to falling to sleep. An alternative method could be to repeatedly envision dream images while entering a trance-like state (similar to meditation).

It would be interesting to see if we are successful in manipulating our dream content to encourage wish-fulfillment (wish-fulfillment being directly related to real-life waking dreams, not particularly in the oedipal/eros/thanatos sense). Then we must ask what effect would this have on our waking-life? How many times would we need to fulfill our wishes in our dream-life before they become null in our waking-life? Would they merely satisfy the wishes for a set period of time?

We can think of this issue from a drive-reduction theory standpoint (Hull, 1935). Drive-reduction theory helps us understand learning and motivation; we experience drives (we are hungry) and when we fulfill these needs (by consuming food) we reduce the drive. Humans are then in a constant state of drive-reduction. This theory can be applied to our dreams and wish-fulfillment in that our wishes act as our drives (motivations) and, should our dreams successfully fulfill those wishes, they act by reducing our drives (wishes). In this sense will our wishes ever truly be fulfilled merely through our dreams? Would our drive be reduced in waking life if our drive has technically been accommodated for in our dream-life?

The rate of success of our wishes being fulfilled also depends on our individual perception of the fulfillment (does the dream suffice, is the success experienced in our dream-life potent enough to actually negate the need for the wish in waking life)? It is also important to think of our dream-life and waking-life as being the same (in that they are both planes of existence that we experience) yet different in that they are altered planes of existence. What happens in our dream-life has the potential to be illegal or immoral in our waking-life, our dream-life does not follow the same societal rules as our waking-life. Which is the real plane of existence? Is our waking-life actually our dream-life and vice-versa? Are both planes so closely related that it would suffice for a dream or a wish to be fulfilled in one or the other? If we fulfill a wish in our dream-life and perceive it as the height of our success, would the only real difference be that we do not experience a tangible fulfillment of the wish (in waking-life)?

If our planes of existence co-exist and transmit information one to the next, perhaps it is easier to say we are weaving in and out of the planes, and what happens in our dream-life does reflect in and have an impact on our waking-life.

Consider a man whose sole interest is gaining great success and recognition as a musician. If he were to achieve this success in his dream-life, would he find himself less motivated to achieve it in waking life? When we experience something like sexual arousal, we seek a release (orgasm) and when we achieve this very tangible experience of orgasm, we cease our search for sexual release for some time (until we again build up the urge to experience the sexual release). The same can be said for wishes. Wishes are erotic and romantic, they require close and repeated attention in order to be fulfilled –they need built up energies to be achieved. When we experience a dream (day-dream or sleeping dream) focused on the fulfillment of our waking-life wishes, we are experiencing a psychic release akin to our bodily orgasm. This catharsis which we experience psychically is a very real component of wish fulfillment, when our wishes are fulfilled (to a degree) in our psyche or when we perceive them to be fulfilled, we experience a reduction in our drive to fulfill the wish in waking-life because it has, at least to some extent, been “fulfilled”.

What can we say of those who find their energies and motivations increased after such a dream? Perhaps the dream acts as a facilitator, enlightening the dreamer of what it would be like to fulfill the wish. Recall our example of the man who wishes to be a musician. Perhaps his dream acts as a means to fulfill certain aspects of his wish, to contribute to his self-esteem so that he may venture out and learn an instrument and start the rigorous journey of becoming a musician. Or the dream encourages him to be as happy and fulfilled as his dream-self, which motivates him in his waking life to persevere and become as successful as his dream image.

If our dream and waking planes are as interconnected as we postulate, perhaps the wish-fulfillment that occurs in our dreams is merely a contribution to the overall fulfillment of the wish. A motivator and facilitator.

References:

Breuer, J., Freud, S. (1955). Studies on Hysteria. (James Strachey, Trans.). Hogarth Press, London. (Original work published 1895).

Hull, C. L. (1935). The Conflicting Psychologies of Learning: A Way Out. Psychological Review, 42, 491-516.

Hypnosis (n.d). In Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hypnosis

Freud, Sigmund. (1954). The Interpretation of Dreams. (James Strachey, Trans.). London. (Original work published 1900).

Writing hiatus

img_6476Sadly, as I am sure many of you have noticed,  I have not been writing. Not only have I not been writing, I have not been publishing. For the past few months I have been focusing my energies mostly on work, relationships and preparing to move.

I will be returning to Ottawa at the end of this month, and will hopefully find myself with more time and motivation.

Writing is not something I ever expected myself to be so passionate about, and I have had the opportunity to test my own limits and intellect since the genesis of my writing career. This also means I am not particularly familiar with “writer’s block.” True, I have dabbled in writing before, but never to such a passionate and energetic degree as once I began writing about Psychology/Philosophy.

I’ve found you can’t rush writing, and you can’t force inspiration or motivation. If I am unable to produce anything of worth there’s no sense in producing anything at all.

I apologize for this long, drawn out dry spell, and will leave you with a haiku that exemplifies how I have been feeling as of late:

The purple hue of

the wisteria sings to

me as I fall to sleep…

 

 

Creating Art: A four-week long self-study

Art is an important way to express oneself and plays a role in releasing our emotions. I spent four weeks conducting a self-study where I used art as a means of self-expression. There are three steps to this process all of which were documented weekly (each time I expressed myself artistically, the quantity of which varied from week to week. For brevity’s sake, only one instance from each week has been documented and analyzed here).

The steps are as follows:

1.) Assess and record my emotional state

2.) Paint/draw

3.) Assess and record my emotional state (post-expression).

Each of these steps was followed for each artistic experience. One final step is needed to complete this self-study and that is an analysis of each individual painting, each painting experience, and the relationship between the two; each painting chosen from the four weeks will be analyzed here.

The aim of this study is to assess the validity of art as catharsis and to understand aspects of myself that would otherwise go unnoticed.

To assess my emotional state I used the PANAS-X  (Watson,D., & Clark, L, A., 1994)[1] a psychometric tool used to measure positive and negative affect states, as well as four basic negative emotions, three basic positive emotions, and four more complex affective states. Each score has been assessed and those that are of importance for each week will be displayed (pre and post-expression) alongside an analysis of the individual piece.

The PANAS-X uses a nominal 1-5 scale to rate emotions and affect, 1 for very slightly or not at all to 5 for extremely.

Week 1: “Fragmented”

fragmented

Fragmented, self-portrait

In the week leading up to this painting I was feeling sad, lonely, and blaming myself for my feelings of despondency/loneliness. I set the environment by listening to music that reminded me of home –this generated strong feelings of sadness. I did not plan what I was going to paint; I let my creativity flow naturally influenced by my mood and the music.

“Fragmented” is a self-portrait representing how I viewed myself. I am faceless because I no longer knew who I was and I was unable to identify qualifying features of myself (how do I identify myself in relation to a city and culture I have never experienced before, and do not feel at home in). Further I have no eyes because I Was unable to determine what my future looked like, or where I was headed in this city – I am essentially blind, emotionally and mentally. I felt disconnected from myself, and a big part of that feeling stems from the relationships and connections I left behind.

The image is simple yet bold, clearly expressing my inability to identify with the city I am in, or the people in that city. Sandra Turner outlines this feeling in “Encountering what is possible – the impact of role development in facing existential crisis”: “When anything fundamentally threatens our way of being in life, the manner in which we each know ourselves, this becomes an existential threat. This threat potentially brings a loss of a way of life often coupled with a loss of the community to which we have made a commitment. We can no longer act as we normally would and this brings a loss of confidence […]” (Turner, 2002). Although Turner is referring to psychodrama and roles within psychodrama, this sentiment can be applied to my situation.

The act of creation for this piece generated a wealth of emotions – I began crying throughout the process, and found myself still crying post-painting. Staring back at the image of a faceless self I realized how fragmented I truly felt.

After creating this piece I did experience a significant emotional breakthrough, which made it easier to talk about my feelings with my significant other. I was able to understand where I was emotionally and why I was feeling this way. This helped me assess my current life situation and discuss changes I could make in my life to make my transition easier. It opened the pathway of communication about our hometown and it was comforting to know that I was not the only one experiencing these emotions. I had let my emotions completely take over my life, and being able to express how I was feeling allowed me to clear my head, see the bigger picture, and make necessary changes. Not only did the process act as a cathartic experience for me it facilitated continued emotional outlets – by communicating with friends, family and my significant other – I was able to deal more effectively with my emotions, and be more readily able to identify what I was feeling in the moment.

As we can see from the graph below a significant number of negative affects and emotions represented on the PANAS-X were typically experienced at a 1, 2 or 3, more often than at a higher rate. However, those affects that were most strongly felt were more interrelated than others recorded. An overwhelming amount of emotions were centered on dissatisfaction, anger, or blame towards the self, which influenced other significant emotions such as feelings of sadness, loneliness and being downhearted.

It would only make sense that during a time where I was concerned with feeling disconnected and estranged from my self, my friends, and my hometown, I would be experiencing feelings of sadness, dissatisfaction and loneliness more so than I would be experiencing feelings of fear, hostility and guilt. As we can see I did experience these feelings, just to a much lesser extent than the other more salient emotions outlined.

untitled

In comparison to the positive affect scale, I was feeling significantly more negative emotions. If we look at the graph below demonstrating the positive affect, we can see that for the most part my rates were ranging between 1-2, meaning there was no significant differentiation between positive affect states, but there was a significant difference between my negative and positive affect states. The negative emotions I had been feeling did have an effect on my positive emotions influencing the likelihood that I would experience them. For instance, confident, enthusiastic, and happy were all rated at a 1, which is uncharacteristic of my average affect. This indicates that my negative affect significantly influenced not only how I experienced negative emotions, but also how I experienced positive emotions. Since the strength of my negative affect was so strong this actually influenced the likelihood that I would experience positive emotions.

positive1

An important part of this experiment was measuring my affect pre and post expression and comparing the scores. Taking a look at my scores post expression I still ranked experiencing negative emotions and affect more so than positive ones, but to a slightly lower degree. Further, my positive affect increased by 1 point on affects and emotions that had been rated higher in the pre-expression assessment. However, my affect did not change for those scores that were rated lower, possibly because my negative affect was still felt relatively strongly, and possibly because feelings of joyfulness, and cheerfulness were not strongly felt prior to painting. This suggests that the artistic experience did help me emotionally, but it is hard to determine whether it was catharsis or my feelings towards the resulted image that influenced this change in affect.

positive2

These changes suggests that artistic expression does impact affect – it helped me express what I was feeling in a concrete, physical way, which helped facilitate conversation about my feelings.

The change in my negative affect can be explained by my newfound understanding of my emotional and mental state – upon completion of the piece I was able to see the whole picture. After completing the image the reason my negative mood states decreased, in particular feelings of loneliness and downheartedness, is because I was able to put into words how I was feeling and I was able to share these feelings with a confidant. As mentioned before, the painting represents a physical manifestation of my emotions in regards to my self, my relationships and my hometown. As we can see in the graph below, similar to the positive affect scale, not all affects were affected or altered.

negative2

It is of particular interest to note the changes in my feelings of anger, sadness and loneliness – because they all interact with and affect each other. Since the painting experience acted partially as catharsis I was able to express some of these feelings of loneliness and sadness in my image. Once these feelings were expressed I was able to understand them better and the source of these feelings. This of course made it easier to communicate my feelings, which further acted as catharsis.

Limitations to this process include that I cannot determine whether my emotional expression was better facilitated through the music, or if my resulting emotional state was due to painting, listening to music, or a combination of both. Regardless, this process made me introspect a great deal, focusing mainly on my negative emotional state in the previous weeks leading up to the experiment. My emotional state was significantly more potent directly prior to the expression (within 2 hours), but averaged the week prior.

 Week 2:”Floating”

floating

Floating

The process for this particular piece was in contrast to “fragmented” – I did not need music to motivate my emotions or memories, in fact, the expression was very much a result of my environment and current life events. By environment I am referring specifically to my apartment and the influence the rooms and noises outdoors had on my emotional state. The time of day, the activities I was doing at the time (drinking coffee, writing), and the sound of the street mixed with the birds reminded me of home. This made me feel very much at ease, relaxed, and tranquil, and played a significant role in my overall affect. Of course, because I was thinking of home and feeling more connected to my home I undoubtedly experienced negative emotions as well as positive ones – the difference is that the negative emotions were felt less strongly than the positive emotions. For instance, while painting I was focused more on my positive feelings: feeling proud, happy, inspired and so on, than I was on my negative emotions.

As we can see in the graph below the negative affect scale averaged a score of 1, whereas the positive affect scale averaged a 3, which translates to “moderately felt” on the PANAS-X affect scale. It is interesting to note that even though I felt positive emotions and averaged a much higher positive affect than negative, I still felt negative emotions, and these surely impacted the expression of my positive affects.

If I were to have not felt negative emotions to the minor degree that I did (for instance, while I was rating my inspiration, pride and happiness around a 3 or 4, I was simultaneously rating my feelings of loneliness and downheartedness as a 2), my positive affect would not have been affected so greatly. That is, had I rated my loneliness and downheartedness at a 1, my feelings of inspiration, happiness and so forth perhaps would have been rated between a 4-5, making my positive affect much stronger than my negative affect.

negative3

positive3

What we should also consider is how my general positive affect further influenced other aspects of my emotionality. For instance, my ratings on the self-assurance dimension were quite strong as well in comparison to the week prior, where my scores of confidence, pride and strength were around a 1. The average score for the self-assurance dimension was 2.83 (rounded up to a 3), indicating that my positive affect had a significant influence on other dimensions of positive emotions, particularly aspects of self-assurance (my feelings of inspiration and happiness influenced my feelings of confidence and strength of ability).

selfassurance

When we look at the image “floating” itself, we can see each of these positive emotions reflected. The reason this image was so easy for me to paint was because I was feeling very expressive physically, and so it was easy for me to direct that passion and energy into creating this piece. The image displays myself floating with balloons – showing a lack of gravity.

This demonstrates how I did not feel held back by anything at the time – particularly my emotions. This image represents a sense of free-floating lack of attachment – to my surroundings and to any given situation. I felt so strongly connected with my home that I was spiritually, or emotionally transported to a time and a physiological as well as psychological state reminiscent of those experienced on a similarly positive day in Ottawa. These feelings of floating were also influenced by the fact that I had received positive news, which essentially made me feel “on top of the world”, which is reflected in the image.

After the painting was complete I completed the post PANAS-X and found that the majority of my ratings did not change much from the pre PANAS-X. This can be explained by the fact that I was not experiencing negative emotions or mood states that needed to be altered or shared. Typically, when we experience negative emotions we want to return to baseline – which are neutral or positive mood states. When we experience positive mood states however, we have already achieved what we are aiming for. It makes sense then that my affect did not change much after completing the image.

The only difference between scores was found in the negative affect but was only reflected in the ratings of upset, downhearted and sad – which only changed by 1 point. The reason for these changes can be explained through reflection upon the piece. Although I was still generally in a positive mood state and experiencing feelings of pride and confidence, I was still feeling disconnected from my home and a lack of connection to my current environment. Therefore, upon reflection, I was able to ruminate more on my feelings of sadness and downheartedness in regards to missing my hometown which, generated these feelings even more.

Week 3: “Caught Between Two Worlds”

caught-between-2-worlds

Caught between two worlds

The process for this image was similar to that of floating in that it was very much a product of my emotions motivated by my current emotional state. What I had discovered at this point in my experiment is that the majority of my emotions have been centered on and influenced by my feelings towards my hometown and my strong desire to return home. I have discovered a lack of rootedness, which as Fromm declares, is one of our eight fundamental human needs (Fromm, 1941).

The image presents myself caught between Ottawa on the right, and Halifax on the left. It evokes a strangely calm and serene acceptance, an acceptance that no matter whether I remain in Halifax or return home, I will invariably be caught between both worlds. Should I return home, I would be more content because my roots will surround me, I will be comfortable, and fall back into my regularly occurring routines. However, should I return home, I will also be left with ruminating feelings of loneliness and sadness because the majority of my family will be in Halifax while I am in Ottawa –defeating the purpose of returning home. Should I remain in Halifax I will maintain the feelings of emotional stagnation but remain close with my family – which is incredibly important. My unresolved feelings towards Ottawa will keep me from growing roots in this new city.

Ottawa is painted in much more lively colours than Halifax is – the reason for this being I am much more attached to and drawn to Ottawa than I am to Halifax. The majority of my experience while in Halifax has been very emotional, leaving me feeling sad, lonely and detached much of the time. I am also quite fearful of water and being on boats, which plays into this image. I feel much more grounded in Ottawa hence the choice of parliament to represent Ottawa, whereas I feel very scared, and unsure of my surroundings while in Halifax, hence the use of water as the defining image.

All of the colours in this image work together to demonstrate my current emotional state. Although the colours draw a clear line between right and left dichotomies, and which emotion is felt for which city they are still relatively muted expressions of my feelings. This demonstrates the calmness of my sadness, loneliness and yearning. At this point in time I had been experiencing these and similar emotions and had quite some time to ruminate on them. In fact, the emotions that I had been feeling up to this point in time had essentially petered out. I am still feeling the same emotions just at slightly less intense levels. For instance, the emotions related to Ottawa and yearning to return home is still felt, and the majority of the emotions that I rate more strongly have been expressed each week. If we take a look at the graphs below we can see that I have experienced a mixture between negative and positive affect with a tendency more towards sadness than anything else.

I believe at this point my feelings of positive affect have strengthened, possibly because I have come to terms with my negative feelings. My negative and positive affects will undoubtedly continue to influence each other, but my feelings have calmed to a certain degree.

neg4pos5

As I mentioned the majority of my high ratings were found on the sadness emotion scale, similar to past weeks. Although I was still experiencing feelings of sadness and loneliness I was simultaneously rating my positive affects at more median rates, while my sadness emotions were rated at more median rates as well.

sad

This is the most interesting week so far in regards to my affect. I experienced relatively muted and mixed emotions. I experienced sadness while simultaneously feeling inspired or interested. Which leads me to believe that my emotions do generate creativity, and that by directing them into a productive outlet this facilitates further understanding of said emotions and affect states.

This piece facilitated communication between my partner and myself and I felt even more secure upon completing this image. The security I felt was linked to my desire to return home and the final decision I had made. I have come to realize that environment influences my contentedness, and that I should not be living to fulfill other peoples dreams or wishes.

What I learned throughout this experiment is that my feelings are stemming mainly from one source and are generated through thoughts attached to this source, environments that remind me of my friends, memories attached to Ottawa, and my past experiences. I discovered that I am much more rooted to Ottawa than I had previously thought.

My post expression scores on both negative and positive affect scales did not change significantly enough to graph the results and present them here. I believe that this lack of change is due to the fact that my affect was already so muted; expression in this case did not alter my emotional state much.

 

Week 4:“My Creative Mind”

mycreativemind

My Creative Mind

In the final week of my self-analysis I found that my emotional state from the previous weeks had muted significantly. In the first week of the experiment I was feeling very lonely and downhearted, in fact, I was taking these feelings out on myself and I was blaming myself for feeling such a way. I had led myself to believe that I was feeling negatively towards myself because of internal aspects instead of external aspects.

In this week the majority of my art works were expressive of my own creativity, and very much an appreciation for the evolution of my artwork. Based on the form and colour, you can see a direct change in emotionality. This image in particular is expressive of my creativity and I employed a limited number of colours. The colours that I did use were expressive of calm, contentedness and serenity. The colours elicit a feeling of general calm that has come over me throughout the four weeks. This calm is in direct relation to the resolution of my feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness felt in the first two weeks.

My brain is painted in similar colours as the surrounding image, representing a calm felt at the cerebral level— these feelings of calm emanate throughout my environment but are also felt within myself.

As we can see below my negative and positive affect scales are similar to the preceding week. I was still feeling sadness, downheartedness and loneliness but these were muted in nature. I believe that these feelings were more muted in comparison to previous weeks because I had an opportunity to deal with the underlying issues.

neg6

As we can see my general negative affect was rated quite low with the majority of scores being rated as a 1, and the remaining scores being a 2. When these scores are compared to my positive affect we can see that I was experiencing positive affect more so than negative affect and at greater intensities. Each of the positive affects were closely related to each other – that is, my feelings of inspiration were correlated with my feelings of determination, enthusiasm and strength. These scores had changed from the first two weeks because I dealt with my negative affect throughout the subsequent weeks.

pos6

For this week I felt it was important to show both my sadness emotion scale scores and my serenity emotion scale scores. My sadness emotions were rated lower than the previous weeks, but I was still experiencing feelings of downheartedness and feeling blue, which I believe is due mainly to my missing my friends and hometown.

sad2

In comparison my serenity emotion scale indicates that although I was still experiencing underlying sadness emotions, my serenity emotions were quite high. My feeling of relaxed in particular is important to note. I believe that this emotion was rated so high because although I was still dealing with negative emotions I have come to terms with why I was feeling these emotions, and I developed a plan to alleviate these feelings.

At the beginning of this experiment I was overwhelmed with my emotions and had a difficult time verbalizing the issues I was facing. Now, at the outset of this experiment I have a better understanding of my emotions and their source. This helped alleviate some stress and anxiety.

With the increase in my general positive affect and the decrease in my general negative affect I have been able to mediate my emotions, and have become much more content. Of course, just as the positive affect scale, the emotions rated on the serenity emotion scale are very much interrelated, which could explain why my scores did not differ much. Since my feelings of relaxation were so high so too were my feelings of being at ease and calm. Again, these feelings and the positive affects are interrelated, which could explain why the scores on both scales were rather similar.

serenity

The post expression scores did not differ significantly enough to display here. Although I was feeling lower levels of downheartedness and upset, these changes were not even significant enough to indicate nominally (the changes would have been between .25-.5, and the PANAS-X uses a 1-5 nominal scale). Therefore, although there was a slight difference between scores they were not significant enough to mention.

Conclusion

There is a positive relationship between my use of art as a form of expression and my affect states. Over the four weeks I came to understand my emotional state on a deeper level, and came to understand the root of the majority of my emotions/affects. In assessing my affect state both before and after artistic expression I was able to assess the potential immediate impact the expression had on my mood state. I found that for the most part my mood state did not improve significantly directly after the artistic process, rather that the act of artistic expression acted more as a facilitator for further communication and analysis. Post expression was more oriented towards analyzing the underlying emotion states and how to deal effectively with them.

This four week process was interesting for me to notice the changes in my affect and emotion states, particularly because I found myself dealing primarily with one main issue that had been effecting my mood state for quite some time. I was able to focus on this issue and explore different ways to deal with it, which led to improvements in my overall emotionality.

As an additional effect, I found that painting actually became a source of improved mood and I began seeking it out and looking forward to the opportunity to paint throughout the day. Therefore, there were three main effects: improved mood, catharsis and communication, all of which were interrelated.

Limitations

This is a self-study and therefore lacks external validity. Further, there may be confounding variables (the use of music), which may interfere with our assessment of the usefulness of artistic expression in facilitating catharsis and dealing with emotions. As a final note, this study was based entirely on introspection, which is not easily tested and not entirely reliable.

 

References:

Fromm, E. (1941). Escape from Freedom. New York, NY: Farrar & Rinehart.

Turner, S. (2002). Encountering what is possible –The Impact of Role Development in Facing Existential Crisis. ANZPA journal, vol. 11, 31-37.

Watson, D., & Clark, L, A., (1994). The PANAS-X: Manual for the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule. Retrieved from http://ir.uiowa.edu/psychology_pubs/11/

[1] Permissions to use the PANAS-X were granted me by David Watson. The PANAS-X is copyright David Watson and Lee Anna Clark (1994) at the University of Iowa.

The Power of Listening

The reason therapy works for so many is because therapists are trained to listen to their clients, and this active listening lets the client feel that they are important and what they have to say is important. When someone accesses therapy it is typically because they have something they need to communicate and have no one in their lives that will listen. This may present itself in different ways; either they have no one who is available to listen, or they feel threatened in some way by the people in their lives – perhaps what they have to say could be misconstrued as damaging to their character, or may be generally embarrassing – but they still need and are seeking help. They are seeking someone to offer an active ear and a non-judgmental, empathetic approach to their situation.

I do not believe that active listening and empathy are limited to therapeutic settings. Typically when laymen think of therapy they imagine a client lying on a couch pouring out their feelings across from a clinician expressing “how does that make you feel?” This is not how all therapy unfolds, and a lot of therapy does not have to be as structured. However, because of this conceptualization of therapy, it is believed that if there is no couch or no closed room, therapy cannot happen. This is not necessarily the case.

I have met with a number of persons who have needed counsel outside of typically identified therapeutic settings, and the same components were present – empathy, non-judgmental attitude and active listening[1]. Empathy and active listening are two very closely related actions which can be combined in order to create empathetic listening, which Burley-Allen characterizes as resisting distractions, noting and acknowledging the speaker’s verbal and non-verbal communication, and being empathetic towards the speaker’s thoughts and feelings (Burley-Allen, 1995).

image-17Interpersonal connectivity : sharing thoughts, feelings and emotions

Stewart and Logan (2002) identified three competencies in developing empathetic listening, which include focusing, encouraging and reflection. All three competencies work together to encourage the speaker to communicate their feelings, issues and desires. It also allows the speaker to feel more at ease while discussing their thoughts. Ender and Newton (2000) demonstrate the importance of paraphrasing the thought and feeling of what the speaker has said in a non-evaluative way, while still interpreting their understanding accurately. This is important because we do not wish to make the speaker feel uncomfortable, or uneasy. We want the speaker to feel able to express him or herself free of judgment, so we must take care to withhold judgment from both thoughts and feelings. This is directly linked to empathetic understanding, which as we know, is the understanding of the clients’ views and experiences from their frame of reference (Ender and Newton, 2000). Cuny, Wilde and Stevens (2012) point out that through empathetic listening and understanding we can help the client/speaker develop personal understanding. Empathetic listening can be used to promote communication, develop cognition and enhance self-concept. Empathetic listening and understanding also promotes a specific attitude which translates to the client as them having worth, and something to offer, which helps develop self-confidence (Cuny, Wilde, & Stevens, 2012).

Stanley Jackson states that “the psychological healer, in particular, is one who listens in order to learn and to understand; and, from the fruits of this listening, he or she develops the basis for reassuring, advising, consoling, comforting, interpreting, explaining or otherwise intervening” (Jackson, 1999). This demonstrates the importance of listening for the counselor, outside of building trust and offering a cathartic experience for the client. Of course, listening is important in assisting the client through catharsis, building trust between client and counselor, and aiding in self-development, esteem and efficacy; but it is also important in understanding the client and situation better. We are unable to help a client without first knowing, and understanding, what it is they need help with. It is true, that listening in and of itself is powerful in facilitating healing for the client; but we must be able to provide further assistance after the fact, through proper application of interventions or therapies.

The most relevant person to mention while discussing the power of listening is of course, Carl Rogers, who championed empathic listening in his client-centered therapy. Rogers identifies the value of empathy in a multitude of ways. First he states that empathy indicates to the recipient that someone cares for, accepts and values who he is as a person (Rogers, 1975). He states that empathy “dissolves alienation.” That is, it breaks down barriers between person and therapist (Rogers, 1975). The analysand in question is requiring attention and care, possibly for issues that may arouse judgment or isolation. Through our use of empathy we no longer see alienation as an option, and we allow the clients to fully express themselves, to fully experience the all too needed catharsis. This of course, leads to better therapeutic results.

There cannot be active listening without empathic understanding; the two go hand in hand, and work in conjunction with each other. By understanding a person more fully through our listening, we pave the way for the client to understand himself in a full or complete way without inhibitions (Rogers, 1975). Rogers indicates that by our full understanding of the client we offer them a way to understand their self, which facilitates congruence (Rogers, 1975).

Rogers and Farson (1987) show that people who are listened to in such an active and sensitive way learn to apply such methods to themselves, and listen with more care and are able to vocalize more precisely how they are feeling and what they are thinking. They identify that there are two essential components to what a speaker is saying; there is the content of the message, and the feeling or attitude, which underlies the content. Both are equally important and must be attended to in order to understand the complete picture, (Rogers, C., & Farson, R., 1987). There are a few ways that we as listeners may attend to these underlying messages: firstly, we must consider the emotions, and respond to the feelings conveyed by the speaker. By our responding to the feelings we acknowledge the speakers emotional state, and offer a space where they may feel safe and able to express themselves. Secondly, we must note all cues; facial expression, verbal cues such as inflection, speech style, and body language. All of these things may work together to let us know more of what the speaker is trying to convey. For instance, a client may wish to express they are feeling hurt, but may fear reprisal and so they may try to mask these feelings. It is our job as listeners to study their body language, facial expressions and tone, all of which may help indicate the underlying emotion the client may be shying away from expressing. In this way, we may respond not only to the content, but also to the underlying emotion, which truly shows the client that we are listening and that we care.

Active listening is an important component of any therapeutic scenario, and can be employed in every interaction with another person. It demonstrates respect, builds trust, and facilitates a relationship between speaker and listener. It tells the speaker that they are valued, and it encourages them to value themselves.

Many consider listening as a passive component in therapy, when in fact it is the most significant component in any therapeutic scenario without which we would not have an understanding of the other person. Listening is a powerful tool, and truly listening leads us to develop healthier, stronger relationships with our clients, and leads our clients to better understand themselves and relationship dynamics. Listening is an all too important tool that we can apply to every scenario, and offer our clients when we find ourselves with nothing but our attentive ears to give.

 

[1] Therapy cannot occur without a licensed practitioner, just the same as art therapy cannot occur without a licensed art therapist. However, we can employ therapeutic methods while counselling our clients in atypical settings (within their homes, at school, on the street).

 

References

Burley-Allen, M. (1995). Listening: The forgotten skill: A self-teaching guide (2nd ed.) New York, NU: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Cuny, K, M., Wilde, S, M., & Stevens, A, V. (2012). Using Empathetic Listening to Build Relationships at the Center. In. Yook, E, L. & Atkins-Sayre, W. (Eds.), Communication Centers and Oral Communication Programs in Higher Education. UK: Lexington Books.

Ender, S, C., & Newton, F, B. (2000). Students Helping Students: A guide for peer educators on college campuses. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Jackons, S, W. (1999). Care of the Psyche: A history of Psychological Healing, New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Rogers, Carl. (1975). Empathic: An Unappreciated Way of Being. The Counseling Psychologist. Vol. 5, No. 2-10.

Rogers, C., & Farson, R. (1987). Active Listening. From Communicating in Business Today R.G. Newman, M.A. Danzinger, M. Cohen (eds) D.C. Heath & Company.

Stewart, J., & Logan, C. (2002) Empathetic and dialogic listening. In J. S. Stewart (Ed.), Bridges, not walls: A book about Interpersonal communication. (8th ed., pp. 208-229) Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

 

How We See Art Helps Explain Our Psyche

In our assessment of art as a creative, emotional and psychic expression, we can understand its nature to be based almost entirely on the innermost workings of our personal psyche. Art, just as dreams, can be completely meaningless, simply a mixture of nonsensical images, colours and lines. However, upon further analysis these may represent archetypes, unconscious and internalized problems, or act as a mode of wish fulfillment. As an onlooker, we are unable to fully understand the meaning behind an individual’s artistic expression – in fact we analyze it in such a way that we ascribe our own unconscious feelings and conflicts onto the image. Jung illustrates this in Modern Man in Search of a Soul when he says: “whatever we look at, and however we look at it, we see only through our own eyes” (Jung, 1933). This portrays that although there may be multiple interpretations of a particular image, our analysis of the image will assuredly express more an aspect of ourselves than any aspect of the artist.

Jung summarizes archetypes and their meanings in his book “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious” (Jung, 1969) and though these may assist in our initial assessments we should not rely on them to get at the core of the image. Just as what we see in an inkblot helps determine our internal processes, so to does our assessment of another person’s art. Therefore we should allow for projection in our interpretations. Through this projection of our self in the assessment, we can be led to understand ourselves more through the viewing, and analyzing of others art. What we assess as an artists motives, are more closely our motives.

This is not to say that in our assessment we may not get at, to some degree, a better understanding of the artists personal motives (for by chance or human nature, we may share the same or similar motives as the artist under analysis. In fact, if we are to follow suit with the idea of the collective unconscious and our understanding of archetypes presented by Jung, it is not too far off to say that our assessment, although I am speculating it will mainly be our own self projected onto the piece, will in fact have some element of truth to it). We will not be able to determine what an image is expressing without asking the artist himself. Even then, we may be at an impasse, because our question may be met with trepidation. Perhaps the artist has created a most intimate piece illustrating his inability to fulfill his self in any realm of his existence – and this is embarrassing to express. An alternative scenario; the image in fact, means absolutely nothing. It is absolute nonsense, and this too, is embarrassing to express. We hold our artists in absolute reverence, we put them on a pedestal and see them as higher beings with greater insight and understanding of the human psyche – they are more in tune with themselves, with nature, with their fellow man. Why then, would an image an artist create mean absolutely nothing? We automatically feel the need to ascribe meaning to an image. In fact, even in its nothingness, we still find meaning – “artist A created an image of lines and boxes, circles and splashes of paint. He indicated that it means absolutely nothing, with that we can deduce that he feels that he is absolutely nothing and life has no meaning.” These statements are not entirely erroneous, but they are unfounded. They are based entirely on speculation.

A pressing issue we need to address in regards to interviewing the artist about the meaning behind the image is that introspection is not entirely scientific. Although Wundt demonstrated its importance through his voluntarism (Wundt, 1894), it lacks reliability and we are unable to measure or quantify it. If we consider the scenarios above, although the artist is of course, capable of introspection, he can very easily modify what he finds in his psyche. That is, we may ask “what does this image mean” and he may be embarrassed to share the truth, therefore, he may alter the truth and we may receive an inaccurate understanding of the image. Therefore we should not focus on understanding what the image means from the artists eyes, but instead we should allow our analysis to help us better understand our own psyche, through the projections we make in our analysis.

Though archetypal images may suffice to supplement our depiction of the images we should not rely too heavily on them, and in the process of analyzing images we should use them solely as motivating forces. If we rely too heavily on them we will be faced with resistance. When we are met with resistance surely this indicates that what we have uncovered is not only true of the image, but also true of our selves. Though we may be encouraged to protect our egos through this resistance, we should not work against it. In fact our resistance indicates that we have uncovered a truth about our selves previously unknown. This truth may frighten us to some degree, hence we will respond with resistance. Resisting the truth will not result in a protected ego, as we are wont to believe; in fact, it will result in a fragmented, damaged, and fearful ego. Fearful of what we are aiming at discovering – our true self.

It is easier then for us to determine the meaning behind an image using an archetype because we can separate our self from the interpretation. There is no aspect of our psyche in an interpretation that relies solely on archetypes.

How then, should our interpretation follow if we are to focus our attention mainly on our unconscious psyche? This interpretation would be similar to our assessment of a Rorschach inkblot; assuredly, our interpretation of art can be used as a projective measure involving Freudian free-association. To the reader who is confused in the importance of our allowing these deep, potentially dark truths being revealed to us through our interpretations, the answer is simple. We uncover these truths so that we may face them and deal with them. We uncover these truths so that we may consolidate them into the whole of our being, in order to actualize and find congruence between all the selves –the perceived, real and ideal.

As humans we use art to express ourselves and to connect with others, and for this reason it is one of, if not the most, important ways we can understand the self.

Let us take for an example one piece of art along with my interpretation of said piece of art. I have provided my affect state and preoccupations prior to my interpretation so as to provide a reference point for my interpretation.

I have also provided a previous interpretation I have made on the same piece of art in order to compare the two interpretations, and determine the extent to which my affect and preoccupations have had on the interpretation.

Current affect/general feeling:

  • Proud (of what I have achieved in the past few weeks)
  • Confident
  • Content
  • Reserved
  • Insecure

Current preoccupations:

  • Self image
  • Others perceptions of myself and body
  • The change of seasons
  • Creativity and being successful through my creativity (recognition from others, acceptance from others based on my artistic abilities, being recognized as artistic and creative)untitledSalvador Dali “Dream caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate a second before awakening”

The image above is by Salvador Dali, and I have interpreted this image before, nearly a year ago. The main focus of the image is a nude female figure prostrated on the stone floor exposing her self, seemingly proudly. Her form seems to be based off of an ideal figure, and the gaze is very focused on her body rather than on her face. The soul can be found through looking into someone’s eyes, which demonstrates to me the potential that this woman is idolized as the perfect female figure, without her internal aspects being taken into consideration.

On the other hand, if we look at this from a female perspective, we are able to understand the image more so as a woman being proud of herself, (we could still apply the same understanding of the soul here, and say perhaps that she is proud of what society has told her to be proud of, namely, her body, while shunning “unfeminine” aspects of herself – her mind, her creativity, her self).

If we look closely we can see there is a rifle pointed at her face. Perhaps this is a “shaming” her for being so expressly proud of her self, and failing to be modest. The tigers fall in line with this understanding as well, and can be seen as an extension of the rifle. They are leaping towards the woman in a rather aggressive fashion – their mouths agape. This could represent another form of shunning – telling women how to behave, how to dress, how to demonstrate her pride (or to not do so).

What is interesting to note however, is that the focus is still on the woman –regardless of whether other aspects of the image are pointededly demeaning her for her confidence, pride, and immodesty. This to me indicates that although women are told on various occasions in various different ways how to behave or how to feel about their bodies and minds, they still continue to persevere, and are able to determine if they will be proud, and how they will express said pride. There is a constant battle between woman and societal demands indicating what is and what is not “feminine.”

My previous interpretation was made August of 2015, and can be found below.

My initial interpretation was made from a Freudian perspective; that is, I assumed the guise of Freud, and my interpretation followed in suit of his dream analysis approach. Therefore, there was none of my own psyche being reflected onto the image.

The image is riddled with sexual desire and motivation. The woman is prostrated on a rock exposing herself to the oncoming tigers (representing men); begging to be devoured. The fact that tigers represent men here demonstrates their animalistic tendencies and their express interest in the female figure represents the carnal urge of eros. We must also pay close attention to the pomegranate from which the tigers are springing. The pomegranate is a representation of the female womb; the female womb bears fruit, that is, provides life. Here then, we can see a life cycle in action; men come from women, and spring to women following their carnal urges, in order to perpetuate the cycle. Similarly, the fish too, often represents the woman.

The atmosphere of the image as a whole supports this idea of sexual reproduction. The main focus in the background of the image is the body of water which is a life force, a source of baptismal renewal, rebirth. Water is found to be necessary in every instance of life – we as humans need it to survive, as do animals and plants.

Further, the rifle could be seen in two ways: holding the female figure hostage against the male advances, or, as shaming the female figure for submitting to male advances. Should we consider this from a modern societal perspective, we can see how true the latter is. Women tend to be held hostage in their own bodies: they are met with a plethora of demands – demanding them to be sexual beings while simultaneously maintaining their modesty (because their worth is linked very strongly to their chastity). Therefore, in this image the woman is simultaneously submitting to the male desire and being shamed for it.

The reason I am not providing an affect scale or preoccupations for this final interpretation is because it was completed from a Freudian perspective, therefore it was not influenced by my personal experience.

If we look at the first interpretation provided and compare it with the affect scale provided, we can see just how related they are. At the time I mentioned feeling quite preoccupied with my personal worth, based predominantly on my physical appearance and how others perceived me. In my interpretation of the image I focused on the female figure and her exposing herself to the viewers (namely society). Further, I found it easy to associate her turning her face away from us as viewers as a demeaning of her cognitive, internal functions (her intelligence, soul, creativity). As we can see, I mentioned I was preoccupied with my own creativity – being creative while obtaining appreciation and acknowledgement for my creativity and ability.

In this instance then I was seeking said appreciation and acknowledgement (hence the audience of tigers ascribed in the image). Tigers are a wild animal characterized as vicious therefore it makes sense that I would interpret these tigers as society (society being any onlooker, not necessarily society as a whole. It has an additional connotation). Although I am seeking validation (validation of my appearance, acceptance as an aesthetically pleasing being, as well as validation in my creativity), I am simultaneously trying to survive without it. I acknowledge my want to express myself freely, to accept myself (the inner and outer aspects of my self) without relying on the approval of others while waiting for said approval; hence the female figure prostrated on the rock for all to see (and be judged and shamed for her exposing herself both physically and psychically). There is a dichotomy in the interpretation, as well as in my preoccupations and affect states (as is normal for us as humans to experience.)

For instance, my affect states were noted as content and confident (in my creative abilities, and the past successes I had made) but also referring to my body and aesthetic. I, as many women, struggle with accepting my body and with seeing myself as “beautiful” or worth recognizing as such. Typically my feelings of self-worth fluctuate, as does my confidence in myself as an aesthetically appealing person. It is interesting to note that my confidence in my internal abilities fluctuates, but not as often as my confidence in my external qualities. It makes sense then that I should not only be focusing mainly on the external aspects of the female in this image, but too that my affect state of confidence/contentedness would be juxtaposed with reservation and insecurity. In fact, this is relatively normal for me. Although I may feel confident with myself, there tends to be an underlying feeling of insecurity in my body. I mention too that the female figure seems to be idealized; perhaps unconsciously I was comparing myself to the image of the female figure already calling into question my current confidence.

As we can see, my interpretation of Dali’s image falls closely in line with my current preoccupations and affect states. Does this indicate that my hypothesis is correct, and that we should be right in assuming that our personal interpretations of art may uncover unconscious aspects of our psyche? Perhaps, but as mentioned before, we cannot conclude with any certainty that this is correct, because these speculations are relying very strongly on introspection. Introspection is helpful, but as already mentioned, cannot be quantified, and therefore cannot be scientifically studied. This is not to say that we should not be using art interpretation as a way of understanding others and ourselves.

Consider our dreams, which Freud determined were manifestations of our wishes and desires (typically of an erotic nature). These help us to understand aspects of our selves that may be buried within our unconscious, and through interpretation may come to light so that we may incorporate them positively into our self. The same can be said of our interpretations of artistic pieces (they, like dreams, are comprised of symbols, archetypes, images that denote specific meaning). There are a plethora of different meanings we can ascribe to an individual image, just as we can ascribe to a dream image, or a poem. Found within the meaning we ascribe to the image are aspects of our unconscious, aspects of our psyche that may have not been fully consolidated into our self – bring them to consciousness and we may incorporate them into our self, or should they be of an entirely neurotic nature; deal with them appropriately.

Just as the Rorschach inkblot test acts as a projective measure, our interpretations of artistic images can act in the same manner, providing us with another venue for understanding our self and coming closer to actualization.

 

References:

Dali, S. (1944). Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening [Painting]. Retrieved from http://www.dalipaintings.net/dream-caused-by-the-flight-of-a-bee-around-a-pomegranate-one-second-before-awakening.jsp

Jung, C. G. (1933). Modern Man in Search of a Soul. New York: Harvest. p. translators’ preface

Jung, C.G. (1969). Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious [sic], Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1), Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Wundt, W. (1897). Outlines in Psychology. Trans. Charles Hubbard Judd. Leipzig, Germany.

 

 

Manifestations and Methods of Dealing with Self-Hate.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a tired old cliché we continue to repeat in instances of self-doubt, self hate, or low self-esteem. We fail to realize that if we were to believe this statement to be true, then it would erase our incessant self-loathing. For if beauty is in the eye of the beholder why do we continue to rely on others in order to increase our physical self esteem? We too hold the power of sight, and could easily turn this statement and our sentiments about our bodies on its head.
Acting interdependently within society is an inherent human need, but more often than not we mistake this for dependence, and find ourselves relying on others when we are in fact fully capable of self-sustainment and reliance. It is true that in our day to day lives we rely on others to provide us with food (via farmers and restaurants), and that we rely on others to provide us with monetary gain in exchange for our labour. But it is also true that we rely on ourselves for our physical, emotional and mental well-being.
Consider our need for sleep, and the myriad of reasons for which we need sleep. We are responsible for maintaining sleep patterns that allow us to remain functional. The same can be said for food, we satiate our hunger need, as well as our need for procreation and sex, affection,  and happiness – we have complete control over these needs and our ability to satiate them.  It is easier to shift the onus onto others, it makes it easier for us to cope and come to terms with our shortcomings. This does not work in the long-term.
When we shift the blame onto others we are actually perpetuating this idea of absolute dependence, we are relinquishing our power. And when we shift the blame for our self-hate onto others, we expect them to change, and we expect them to alter our conception and perception of ourselves. This is not possible.  There will always be different “in-groups” and “out-groups”, and we will always be individuals within these. We cannot expect all others to accept us as beautiful or creative or intelligent, and expecting this from others, demanding this from people will only result in perpetuating our negative self-view. So instead of blaming others, which we are so wont to do, we should choose to work within ourselves, to not judge, to accept and understand ourselves in all of our seemingly loathsome attributes.
In fact, this is what Maslow was referencing when he spoke of our need for esteem. We cannot rely on others for our esteem, for when others stop stroking our egos we will find ourselves empty, our reserves of efficacy and pride: depleted. So we must find it within ourselves.
In order to understand esteem, we first must understand self-hate, and its fashionable persistence within our society and ourselves. We will discuss how self-hate manifests, and what self-hate does to the person and their relationships.
To look in the mirror and magnify “negative” aspects of our visual appearance or to concentrate on minor flaws is almost considered “normal” in that nearly everyone treats their bodies with such reproach. This attitude of fashionable self-hate is not normal, and can be quite debilitating. We take it as being significant to us, and our understanding not only of our selves but also of our culture and our relation to society. While it is true that the media may influence us from time to time, and it may have a stronger hold on some than others; assuredly it manifests its strength subconsciously, so that many will argue that we have no control over it. This is not true – if it is manifested subconsciously, then what we must do is bring this supposed control into consciousness. We already do this daily when we blame the media for “negative portrayals” of both men and women. This indicates that we recognize the negative influence these images have on our bodies, and our perceptions of ourselves. Instead of trying to influence the cessation of these images, we could be directing our energy towards altering our own negative self-perceptions. In fact, if these images hold their strength in the subconscious, would they not still be echoed in the recesses of our psyche, even after the images were wiped away from media outlets?
selfhate
So this means blame shifting is not the answer. In fact, it leaves us just as isolated and hopeless as before, because instead of changing our attitudes we blame those who supposedly made us feel that way to begin with. This creates an “Us VS Them” dichotomy, which we perpetuate through our blame and self-hate. It does not deal with the root of this self-hate.
Our self-hate does not limit itself to our bodies alone, although this is typically where it begins. Our idea of our “self” is very much rooted in our bodies; we perceive an aspect of our physical appearance as unattractive, and this extends into  psychical aspects of our self. Since our bodies are so often seen as the totality of our selves, what is perceived to be wrong with the outside is undoubtedly wrong with us internally. This is partially influenced by the shame and guilt we feel as we strive to attain the supposed beauty standards our society has provided us with. Shame, because we realize to a degree how superficial it is to mark our lives as successful based on appearances alone, and guilt because we have what others do not have. Guilt because we altered our appearance in some way so as to change our selves entirely from how we were born. Not only do we feel guilt and shame for attaining these standards, we feel guilt and shame for not attaining these standards. It is a double-edged sword, and in reality, one might say, “we cannot win.” This is true, if we continue to place the blame outside of ourselves.
Through all of our comparisons with others, we lose our selves, and begin the process of life-long self-hate sustained by other blaming.
Guilt is a strong motivating force in our self-hate. We feel guilty for not attaining what others were naturally born with (or had unnaturally altered), and we feel guilty still for accepting our bodies as they are. It is similar to the Christian guilt culture, components of which have become engrained in our culture regardless of our attempts to delineate from it. Paul Hiebert says of guilt: “Guilt is a feeling that arises when we violate the absolute standards of morality within us, when we violate our conscience” (Hiebert, 1985). We violate our conscience by concerning ourselves with our worth as a person steeped in vanity and superficiality. This then infects our psychical perception of ourselves through our guilt and shame. We are made to feel guilty for concerning ourselves with such superficial aspects of humanity (that is, aesthetics), and we feel shamed for doing so as well. He continues by saying, “Guilt cultures emphasize punishment and forgiveness as ways of restoring the moral order,” (Hiebert, 1985), and Freud claims this need for punishment as an “unconscious sense of guilt” (Freud, pg. 136). We punish ourselves through our self-hate, which permeates every aspect of our waking life, and too, of our dream life.
There is no escape from our self-hate. As I mentioned earlier, we must practice self-hate. It is an integral part of our understanding of our selves (this is because we do not know ourselves, we know what ourselves should not be; we know the judged and scrutinized aspects of ourselves). Our routinized self-hate dictates our waking life, without it, we would feel too free, we would feel guilty for not feeling guilty about our bodies. This too, makes it so we cannot develop and sustain esteem, and cannot discover our selves, truly, as much more than bodies. Self-hate is proof of our inability to advance in our self-development.
In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud exclaims that “it is almost as though the creation of a great human community would be most successful if there were no need for concern with individual happiness,” (Freud, pg.99). Individual happiness, which can be found in our own self-acceptance and development.  If we avoid self-happiness, we cannot foster our self-worth, and potential. We as individuals are the backbone of our societies, and our individual happiness arguably impacts the greater whole of society. In our self-hate we remind ourselves that we are not important on an individual level and continue to compare ourselves to those around us, feeling guilty in any attempt we make for individual contentedness.
Our self-hate doesn’t only affect us. It inevitably takes a negative toll on the people around us – friends, family, and strangers alike.  Through the comparisons we make on a day to day basis, which only confirm our utter disdain for ourselves, we end up projecting these negative feelings onto those around us. While dealing with close relatives and loved ones, it manifests itself as negative affect, for no apparent reason. It may result in unneeded conflict and arguments, and we may seek out their validation; vying for their positive attention, in the hopes that these positive remarks will eradicate any longstanding negative feelings we have of ourselves. We know this not to be true, for if they acknowledge that, for instance, no they do not notice the flaw you are mentioning – it confirms that the flaw may still be present they simply do not notice it. Or worse, regardless of what they say, it will never be enough. We are our own worst enemies.  These behaviours and attitudes create conflict and generate and foster hostility, putting strain and stress on a relationship where there was none before.
Similarly this occurs in public with strangers. We react to strangers with our self-hate too, but in a much different way. We get to a point where our negative self-talk no longer does justice to how we are feeling, and we begin to displace our feelings onto other, innocent strangers. These feelings and reactions, too, generate self-hate. We convince ourselves that each individual who we see is in fact ugly, gross, or poorly dressed; thoughts we are actually having about ourselves. In this instance, we may not be knowingly doing this. We may truly believe we feel that way about the person in question which indicates that our self-hate is in fact, rooted very much in our unconscious, and has yet to come to the forefront of our minds. It may seem that this form of self-hate is much less insidious, or dangerous, when in fact, it appears to be much worse, for the sole fact that we are unable to address it.
These reactions create negative feelings within us that last throughout the course of a day, even after the activating stimulus is no longer in sight. We may ruminate on their appearance, assuming negative things about their body and person. This rumination fosters negative feelings in us and when questioned by others we may find ourselves lashing out, creating conflict, again, where no conflict is needed or warranted.
I mention subconscious self-hate, that is, self-hate presented when displacing our feelings onto strangers. I detail this as the most insidious form of self-hate, but that is not to say that the self-hate felt consciously on a daily basis is not as debilitating or harmful. The two are both incredibly damaging to our psyche, our development, and our relationships. In fact, I believe there is some possibility that many, if not all forms of self-hate present themselves in both ways simultaneously. For even when we believe we are dealing with our conscious self-hate, we may find new issues, new flaws developing, coming to the forefront of our minds that we may now ruminate on.
It is a constant, tiring battle we must face. But there are ways that we can combat our feelings, and there are reasons why we should do so.  I have already alluded to some of the many reasons why we should combat our feelings of self-hate, but to provide an overview they are as follows: to foster healthier interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships, to clear the path to self-actualization, to experience more positive life-fulfilling emotions, and to free up time to be more productive and creative.
Our self-hate not only debilitates us emotionally and psychically, it tends to consume a great amount of our time, time we could be using for many more important things in our lives (spending time with family, finishing a project or two, to suck the proverbial marrow out of life). We will find, when we eliminate our self-hate rituals, all areas of life will improve (personal contentedness, relationships, success in hobbies and work).
How then do we combat these relentless feelings? I am not proposing a cure all, especially because we have to admit and realize that we are all too human, and should we quiet a single ocean on our map of self-hate, another is bound to stir. We must admit too, that each of us is far different from the other and what may work for some, will not work for all. Therefore, I propose a number of different activities one can practice in order to quiet, and hopefully eliminate the negative voice inside.
The best way to combat these thoughts is to challenge them, and to change the negative into positive. This can be done through journaling – keeping a journal of every negative thought or statement you make about your appearance (or inner aspects of yourself as well). For those who are more visual it may help to add images throughout the journal (for instance, should the statement be about the size of your eyes, or the shape of your nose, illustrate the body part to accompany the statement made). This should be practiced throughout each and every day, for every statement or thought made. After each statement has been documented in the journal you should take 5 minutes to change the statement into a more positive or neutral statement. This statement now acts as a personal mantra, to be recited in front of a mirror whenever the negative thoughts begin to resurface.
An alternative to this is to give yourself a pep talk in front of the mirror every morning, anytime where these negative feelings seem to be resurfacing. You should allow your speech to act as a running dialogue between yourself – that is your negative perception of yourself, and your true self. Do not worry about what is being said, this is a time to air all of your grievances about your body, and to question their validity.
Writing and visual art may also prove helpful while dealing with our self-hate. Poetry, short fiction, or creative narrative can help to create a dialogue with yourself, and can help you to illustrate the extent of your self-hate, and how you see it as damaging and debilitating to yourself and others. Visual art acts as a great visual aid that may accompany your writing, or act as a stand-alone cathartic outlet.  These methods act more as catharsis than addressing specific thoughts or attitudes you have about yourself. Although these may create a dialogue, you should not feel the need to make something more come out of the creative process than the finished product, and a relief of stress. If the natural progression is for you to analyze your finished piece, then so be it, but you should not be forcing it. These methods are good ways to supplement what you have already been doing to combat your negative thoughts, and help you to de-stress, and “unload” your thoughts and feelings.
The last method I have to offer is more time-consuming than the others, and involves a great amount of patience and attention. It again acts as a visualizing of your self-hate and a physical realization of its eradication. In some way create what represents your self-hate the best (this could be a diorama, a painting, a poem, a clay mold of a word or phrase) – and allow yourself some time to focus on it. Allow yourself to talk about it, what it makes you feel, how it steals time and energy from you, how you will no longer let it have a hold on you – then destroy it. Physically destroy whatever it is you have created, in any way you think works best. As you create the dialogue with yourself, and physically and mentally combat that which has been holding you back for so long you are psychically changing the way you see and think about yourself.
Remind yourself that you are stronger than these thoughts, you are stronger than that which has held you back, and will only continue to hold you back if you allow it.
We are slaves to our self-hate, and we feel so debilitated and drained when we find it near impossible to recognize our own role in that. We should not blame others for the way we feel about our bodies, or for the way we allow those thoughts to infiltrate every aspect of our lives. We need to hold ourselves accountable for the way we attack ourselves, and devalue ourselves willingly. Change the narrative and change the perceptions we have about ourselves. Self-hate can be very damaging, and only we have the power to change it and change our lives. We will always find issues with ourselves to ruminate on when we compare and devalue our bodies and measure our worth on our physical appearance.
Freud reminds us that “[…] in spite of all our pride in our cultural attainments, it is not easy for us to feel comfortable,” (Freud, pg. 137), this too, can be said of our bodies, and our perceived place in society. This does not mean that we have society or culture to blame rather, we can go against what we believe society is telling us, and we can change the pride we have for our culture into pride in ourselves.
References:
Freud, Sigmund. (1961). Civilization and Its Discontents. (Eds. and Trans. James Strachey). New York: Norton and Company. Originally published in 1930.
Hiebert, Paul G., (1985). Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.