Inside: Dr. Albert Bandura

Dr. Bandura is a Canadian Psychologist and Professor Emeritus of social science in Psychology at Stanford University. His major contributions to the field include: the Bobo doll experiment, social cognitive theory, social learning theory, self-efficacy and reciprocal determinism. He has been awarded with the Guggenheim Fellowship for Social Sciences, US & Canada in 1972; and the National Medal of Science for Behavioral and Social Science in 2016. In 2015, “Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live With Themselves” was published. In this interview we discuss the theory of moral disengagement, the contents of this book, and its real-life applications.

Hello Dr. Bandura. Before we begin discussing your book “Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live With Themselves” I would like to ask you a few preliminary questions pertaining to your career as a whole. Firstly, would you be able to tell our readers what initially drew you to Psychology?

My choice of psychology as my profession was by chance rather than by design. I commuted to the University of British Columbia with engineers and premeds. They enrolled in early-morning courses so I searched for a course that would fill the early-morning void. A student left a course catalogue on the library table. In flipping through it I noticed a psychology course that would fill the gap. I enrolled in it and found my profession. In addition to the fascinating subject matter, I was intrigued by the complexity of the discipline. Psychology is the only core discipline that integrates determinants across disciplinary lines in its causal structure: In addition to determinants of intrapsychic life, it includes social, institutional, biological, and cross-cultural determinants as well.

The application of psychological knowledge for human betterment in virtually all walks life was another highly attractive feature of this discipline.

Who would you cite as the most influential people in your life (this can be anyone, it does not have to be limited to those within the field of Psychology). In what way did they influence you?

My parents were the most influential figures in my life. They migrated to Canada from Eastern Europe. They had no formal education or financial resources to build their new life. My father worked on the railroad laying tracks for the Trans-Canada railway. When he saved enough money he purchased a homestead. These homesteaders were the pioneers of the Canadian nation. They had to manually convert heavily wooded land into farmland, build their own homes, schools, churches, small towns and communities. They were extraordinary models of resourcefulness, ingenuity, unwavering self-efficacy, and resilient hopefulness in the face of adversity.

These extraordinary formative years provided the foundation for my theory of human agency, that people have a hand in shaping the course their lives take. In my book, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, I document how people’s belief in their efficacy determine their aspirations, motivation, emotional well-being and accomplishments.

Based on your experience both as a student and as a professor, would you say there are many differences between how things were taught in the past compared to how they are taught now? Are there classes you have not taught but would be interested in teaching?

The small town in which I grew up was woefully short of educational resources. Both the elementary and high school were housed in the same school house. Only a few teachers taught the entire high school curriculum. They were not always well-versed in the subject matters. I had to take some courses by correspondence. A few of us decided we could educate ourselves. The course content was perishable but mastery of self-directed learning has been an invaluable asset throughout my career. The students of today have the entire body of knowledge at their fingertips wherever they may reside. This vastly expands their opportunity to preside over their own learning.

Before addressing specific issues I will explain briefly how people inflict harm and retain a positive self-regard and live in peace with themselves. People adapt standards of right and wrong that serve as guides and deterrents for their conduct. They do things that give them satisfaction and a sense of self-wroth, and refrain from violating their moral standards because such actions evoke self-condemnation. Self-sanctions keep behavior in line with moral standards. However, we are witnessing a pervasive moral paradox in which individuals in all walks of life commit inhumanities that violate their moral standards and still retain a positive self-view and remain untroubled by the harm they cause. They achieve this paradoxical adaptation through eight psychosocial mechanisms whereby they selectively disengage their moral self-sanctions from their detrimental conduct.

Of the eight mechanisms, moral justification is especially powerful. It not only enlists morality in the mission or cause but also disengages morality in its destructive execution. Perpetrators absolve their harmful behavior as serving worthy causes. In exonerative comparison, belief that one’s harmful actions will prevent more human suffering than they cause makes the behavior look altruistic. Euphemistic language in its sanitizing and convoluted forms cloaks harmful behavior in innocuous language and removes humanity from it.

People evade personal accountability for harmful conduct by displacing responsibility to others and by dispersing it widely so that no one bears responsibility. There is no moral issue to contend with if no perceived harm has been done. Judging the harmfulness of given policies and practices is therefore the major battleground in moral disengagement. Perpetrators disregard, minimize, distort, or even dispute harmful effects. In dehumanization, perpetrators exclude those they maltreat from their category of humanity by divesting them of human qualities or attributing animalistic or demonic qualities to them. Rendering their victims subhuman weakens moral qualms over treating them harshly. A further mode of self-exoneration blames victims for bringing the maltreatment on themselves.

In my book, Moral Disengagement, I explain the myriad ways in which people compromise their moral standards in corporate, gun, tobacco and chemical industries; in terrorism and military counterterrorism; the death penalty; and the most urgent problem facing humankind in this century, the preservation of an environmentally sustainable future.

In the introductory chapter in your book, you outline what moral disengagement is, the loci of moral disengagement as well as the social cognitive theory. Would you be able to elaborate on the victim locus, which in my opinion is possibly the most interesting and multifaceted.

As explained above, treating one’s foes as subhuman, deranged, demonic, or bestial reduces moral restraints against detrimental conduct. Bin Laden bestialized the American enemy as “the most ravenous of animals”; ISIS beheaders call their enemy “dogs”; The gun industry called those supporting gun regulation as “loony leftists.” The tobacco industry derogated research that demonstrates adverse health effects as “half-truths in the hands of fanatics,” “scientific malpractice.” Financial traders disparaged their clients as “muppets” (British slang for a stupid person who is easily manipulated); the CEO of a mining company described mining regulators as “crazies” and “greeniacs.” Abu Ghraib guards degraded, humiliated and animalized Iraqi detainees. Naked detainees were forced to wear leashes and crawl for hours like dogs, to bark to the sound of a whistle, and to crawl with guards mounted on their backs like jockeys.

You define moral disengagement as a circumvention of moral standards, which often results in good people doing bad things without feeling responsible for their harmful behaviour. In your book, you offer a number of excellent examples that illustrate this perfectly. I am sure we all practice moral disengagement in our own lives (whether on a small or large scale), but it is difficult to wrap one’s head around the way in which certain groups and individuals have been able to commit such atrocities and yet still be able to maintain their sense of moral disengagement. It is my understanding that through self-exoneration, these individuals rid themselves of blame, and guilt (whether that be by shifting the blame onto the victim, which is possibly the most cruel form of self-exoneration, or shifting the blame onto a system). When I imagine committing horrible acts such as those outlined in your book, I imagine myself not being able to fully rid myself of the feelings of guilt, and shame. Do you think that there is a permanent unconscious feeling of guilt that haunts those who commit these acts? Would you consider self-exoneration a one-time atonement, or more of a repetitive necessity, such as confessional. Is this more dependent on the individual and the act committed?

People who remain firmly convinced in the rightness of their cause and successfully disengage moral self-sanctions in implementing their cause have no reason to be plagued by unconscious feelings of guilt. Bin Laden is a good case in point. He provides an excellent example of how extensive inhumanities can be perpetrated with equanimity using the entire moral disengagement practices. Through moral justification, bin Laden sanctifies his global terrorism as serving a holy imperative: “We will continue this course, because it is part of our religion, and because Allah ordered us to carry out jihad so that the word of Allah may remain exalted to the heights.” He displaces the responsibility for the holy terror to Allah; they are carrying out their “religious duty.” Through attribution of blame, he construes terrorist strikes as morally justifiable defensive reactions to humiliation and atrocities perpetrated by “decadent infidels”: “We are only defending ourselves. This is a defensive Jihad.” By exonerative comparison with the nuclear bombing of Japan, and the toll of economic sanctions on Iraqi children, the Jihad takes on an altruistic appearance: “When people at the ends of the earth, Japan, were killed by the hundreds of thousands, young and old, it was not considered a war crime, it is something that has justification. Millions of children in Iraq is something that has justification.” He bestializes the American enemy as “lowly people,” perpetrating acts that “the most ravenous of animals would not descend to.” Terrorism is linguistically sanitized as “the winds of faith have come” to eradicate the “debauched” oppressors. His followers see themselves as holy warriors who achieve a blessed eternal life through their martyrdom.

The soldiers of World War II returned as heroes with pride in their accomplishments because they fought a just war. Many soldiers returned from Vietnam and Iraq haunted by guilt and stress disorders. They were persuaded in the morality of these wars only to discover that they fought under false pretenses with a deeply divided nation on the morality of these lengthy military campaigns. Realizing the falsity of the moral justifications is guilt provoking for the harm done. A new military syndrome has been created called “moral injury” in which soldiers are haunted by feelings of guilt, betrayal, self-loathing and self-harm. Unlike PTSD, which is rooted in traumatic combat stressors, moral injury arises from violating deeply held moral convictions on spurious grounds.

In Chapter 2 you say “in moral justification, rightness is used directly to turn harmful behaviour into good behaviour.” Those who believe they are doing something “right” or for the “greater good” eliminate any blame for their harmful behaviour. Do you think it is more difficult to show the harmful nature of a person’s behaviour when they think they are right and justified in what they are doing? Do you have to first illustrate to them that their behaviour is not right if it is harming others?

In exonerative moral justifications, wrongdoers do not deny their harmful means. They view them as serving worthy purposes. This legitimizes and sanitizes their harmful practices. In consequential utilitarian justification based on common good, some must be sacrificed for the benefit of many. Terrorists, who view themselves as “freedom fighters,” publicize the harm they cause rather than deny it.

Last year there was a tragic shooting at Pulse nightclub, where 49 people lost their lives, and another 53 were left injured. The obvious target in this scenario was the LGBTQ community, but bystanders were so quick to judge the scenario as an instance of religious extremism, and quickly began using the Muslim community as a scapegoat. Why do you think it was easier for bystanders to shift the attention from the LGBTQ community onto the Muslim community in America? Is this a reflection on how both communities are viewed in America?

The killer was an American-born Algerian raised as a Muslim. In his 911 call shortly after the shooting, he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq. Given the hostile national climate regarding Muslims, this tragic incident was readily used as further evidence that Muslims are dangerous.

In chapter 4 you discuss the NRA, and the overwhelming ignorance towards gun ownership presented by the NRA and gun owners in general. There is a dialogue surrounding the NRA that more often than not points the blame to mental illness when it comes to the misuse of firearms (in murder-suicides, mass shootings and the like). How do you propose this dialogue is influencing the stigma surrounding mental illnesses? Do you believe that it is worse in America or in Canada?

Mass killings are performed rapidly with semi-automatic military style rifles equipped with large killing capacity. Lanza killed 20 young children and six staff members with 154 bullets fired in under 5 minutes. NRA shifts the contributing factors to mass killings from deficient regulation of lethal weapons to mental illness. In the oft repeated causal cliché, “It is people not guns that kill people,” the NRA deletes the means by which people kill people.

Only about 4% of violence is attributable to mental illness. The severely mentally ill use guns mainly to kill themselves rather than to kill strangers. La Pierre not only diverted attention to mental illness but demonized the mentally ill as “genuine monsters. . . that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can even possibly comprehend them.”

Canada does not engage in causal displacement. Canadians do not venerate guns, they regulate them, and are spared mass killings.

There seems to be an epidemic of police brutality against African-Americans in the United-States. In fact, you could say that it has existed for quite some time. Why do you think people are so quick to dismiss these cases of racial profiling and defend police officers with the assumption that they were “just doing their jobs”? Do you think it is easier for members of one group to morally disengage when acts of evil do not directly affect them, but involve another group altogether?

Police are granted considerable discretionary power in judging and protecting their safety. Police behavior is often based on their own social and moral codes. Given widespread societal discriminatory practices, some members of police forces are likely to be prone to violence against African Americans. My chapter on Capital Punishment documents the prominent role that moral disengagement plays in public support of the death penalty, jurors sentencing persons to death, and executioners who have to kill them. It remains a problem of future research to determine the role that moral disengagement plays in police violence.

A number of factors shield police from the consequences of violent misconduct. Victims are intimidated from reporting maltreatment. Informal police codes prohibit informing or testifying against fellow officers. Police administrators are quick to defend their officers to protect their public image. As a result, charges of police violence are often dismissed.

After Brexit, there was an an influx of racist and prejudicial behaviour. Do you think that Brexit acted as a vehicle for racism that already existed in Britain, and that this encouraged Native Britons to fully disengage themselves from non-natives? Would this be an example of moral disengagement at the agency locus?

A good share of the British population views immigration as impairing the way of life in their society. As a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom was required to admit a certain number of refugees. This requirement undoubtedly contributed to the social pressure to exit from the European Union (see question 12 for other factors fueling the radical right movement).

You mention that epiphenomenalists argue that there are neural networks that operate outside of our awareness and control, and that this strips humans of personal identity and agency; thus arguing that individuals should not be held responsible for what they cannot control (Pg. 41). This sounds reminiscent of arguments used for rapists, (victims are blamed for enticing rape so the rapist could not control themselves Pg. 20), and incidents of racial profiling in court cases. This indicates to me that there is a bigger issue at hand; this is more systemic than individual. There are a number of systems that have a significant influence on us as individuals, and as a society. We are so easily removed and we are so able to disassociate. Why do you think this is, and how do you suggest we try to be more engaged as individuals and as a society?

In arguing that people’s behavior is regulated by neutral networks that operate outside of their awareness and control, epiphenomenalists face a formidable ethical problem for which they have no solution. It is pointless to hold anyone responsible for their behavior if they have no control over it. Criminals should not be held personally accountable for their crimes, nor police for abusive enforcement practices, jurors for biased sentencing, and jailers for maltreatment of inmates. They can all disclaim responsibility on the grounds that their neural networks made them do it.

Such a view would erode the personal and social ethics that undergird a civil society. How would people create and maintain a civil society if its members were divested of conscious regulation for their actions? Epiphenomenalists have been unable to explain how nonethical neuronal processes produce ethical and socially responsible conduct. The Moral Disengagement book describes their failed efforts. As mindful agents, people are generative, creative, proactive, and reflective, not simply reactive to experience. They use their sensory, motor, and cerebral systems to accomplish their tasks and goals that give meaning, direction, and satisfaction to their lives.

Human adaptation and change are rooted in social systems. Therefore, personal agency operates within a broad network of sociostructural influences. In agentic transactions, people are both producers and products of social systems. Much of the moral disengagement is collective not just individual. Collective moral disengagement at the social system level requires a network of participants vindicating their harmful practices through moral disengagement.

Just this year, a man rose to power in America who is arguably unfit for the job. There have been many debates surrounding his candidacy, and many have turned violent. Do you think the act of voting for him was in some way a reaction to perceived injustices against the American people? How would you explain the justification for some of the aggressive and violent behaviour enacted by both Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters?

We are witnessing a global rise of radical right movements. They are the product of major social dislocations. The change from the rural era to the industrial era transformed people’s lives. We are now in the midst of another sweeping transformative change from the industrial era to the information cyberworld era. Many people are left behind by these dislocating changes. With growing automation, globalization, and outsourcing, they are losing their livelihood and feel marginalized with social elites and immigrants destroying their traditional way of life. The Trumps and La Pens exploit people’s discontent, fears, and resentments and portray themselves as their saviors and social reformers.

After first completing your book I was amazed at how many times I found myself nodding along with what you were saying and fervently uttering agreeance. I started to witness small acts of moral disengagement and I became more aware of the language used to justify certain wrongs. I saw this in my daily life, in political life, and in my work life. This heightened awareness has helped me to truly assess a situation, and to see things from a moral disengagement perspective, so to speak. I think it is human to err, and to make excuses for our mistakes. Perhaps, this moral disengagement is a defense mechanism to protect us from the mental anguish of taking responsibility for horrendous acts. Do you think that moral disengagement is a defense mechanism to protect us from resulting neuroses?

When people engage in behavior that violates their moral standards, they use methods of moral disengagement to neutralize aversive self-sanctions. “Defense mechanism” is a Freudian construct in which psychological defenses are used to repress tabooed impulses. While defense phenomenon are linguistically similar in both approaches the theories differ markedly in the nature of the threat, how it is managed, and the functions the mechanisms serve. In addition, some of the mechanisms in the theory under discussion engage morality in the service of detrimental behavior by portraying them as serving worthy purposes
Moral disengagement does not reside solely in people’s minds. As previously noted, some of it is built into the structures of social systems that enable wrongdoers to disavow responsibility for this harmful behavior. Subordinates view themselves as simply carrying out orders so they bear no responsibility for their actions. Authorities create mazy chains of authorization, sanction, detrimental conduct surreptitiously, keep themselves intentionally uninformed of their use, and devise insulating social arrangements that permit deniability of wrongdoing. Moreover, in the collective form, participation in wrongdoing is widely dispersed, which diminishes a new personal responsibility.

Do you think that knowing about moral disengagement makes a person more likely to take responsibility for their attitudes and behaviours?

When people know the methods of moral disengagement they see through them. This diminishes their effectiveness both personally and socially.

I would like to close this interview by thanking you for participating, and by looking to the future. If you were to give future Psychologists a piece of advice, what would it be?

Fight cynicism that efforts at change are futile. Build people’s sense of personal and collective efficacy to enable them to better their lives. Make it difficult for people to strip humanity from detrimental conduct. Promote moral engagement in social practices that foster inclusive, socially just, and humane societies.

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Tea for Two

We lived our days out within the confines of a safe-haven of inspiration. Where the tea and coffee flowed endlessly, coating our bones and minds with tidbits of information we deemed important enough to share with the rest of the world. Day in, and day out, we would sit and soothe our souls with our words and the rich taste of perfectly ground Arabica beans.

It started out slowly. I watched him write effortlessly playing with words and form, spilling his thoughts onto the page in a calm, articulated manner. This was a vision of genius, and silently I challenged myself to push my boundaries, to test my abilities as a creative force.

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Inside those walls is where I toyed with the idea of myself as a different kind of artist, with a different flare for creativity. Poetry was where I was most comfortable. It was where I flourished. I spent many a day writing poetry, listening to music, and people watching. The more I assayed my environment, the more I became interested in assessing human behaviour, emotion, motivation and the like. I slowly ventured into academic writing, and this academic and creative writing titillated me in more ways than poetry had done for quite some time.

I developed my craft with him by my side, encouraging me and ensuring the flow of Centro House never ended. I have traveled to many different cities, experienced the taste of different blends, enjoyed warm and comforting environments, and I have yet to find a place as inspiring and nurturing as here. The words flow from me like water in a river, soaking my page with the nectar of the deepest perimeters of my mind. Fresh air is breathed into my lungs here. I am reborn and renewed again and again ad infinitum with each sip, with each drop dangling in the back of my throat. It is a religious, metaphysical, fulfilling experience.

It seems unusual to speak of a coffee room with such pious acclaim. But here is where I found myself, here is where I came to be. The writer, the artist, the perfect communion of the two. And two there were: he and I. I’ll have coffee and he’ll have tea; and a little intellectualism for the both of us.

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.

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.

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.

Self-Care in Care Work

Care giving is seen as one of the most selfless professions in which those of us who feel great amounts of empathy use that empathy to “enrich the lives” of those receiving care in a near selfless fashion. Therein lies the problem. Not only are those being cared for seen as lesser in all respects (capable, competent, content, self-aware etc.), those caring for them are put on a pedestal, admired by so many as “martyrs” who sacrifice their own lives in order to help others lead their own. This paints caregivers in the most positive light imaginable, and not only falsely represents what it is we do, but it also sets us up for failure. This perception makes it hard for us to find time for ourselves without feeling guilt or shame. Further, if we don’t feel them others thrust them upon us.
It is quite common to hear people talk about how important self care is and it is especially big in the care-giving field. It has to be. If you are living the majority of your life inside someone else’s home, entirely engrossed in every aspect of their life – it is hard to find time for your loved ones, let alone yourself. Think of yourself as a glass of water, and think of your care-taking clients as an empty glass. You continue to fill this glass with water from your own, always making sure that the other glass has enough. At the end of the day your glass is left empty, and no one is around to fill it back up for you.
This poses two problems: first, you do not have enough energy or resources to continue giving to others, and second, you have absolutely no resources left for yourself! The desire to feel supported is not selfish. In this profession, as in many others, it may be rare that you receive gratitude – from those you support and from your employers. Some days, it may feel as if you are the only one supporting the clients, and it seems your coworker who is supposed to be there to support and complement you and your work is falling behind. At the end of it all, you may not receive so much as a simple thank you, or recognition for your contribution. This can be damaging – it can leave you feeling unsupported in the workplace, isolated from the clients and coworkers, and it can stifle your energetic and optimistic outlook on change and new opportunities for those you support. This may affect your performance, it may affect your feelings of self-worth or efficacy, and it can even affect the way you communicate with others. It can very quickly turn an optimistic and energetic individual sour.
This is why self-care is especially important for caregivers, counselors, and therapists. For those caring for others, caring for yourself is often the last thing that crosses your mind, but it is one of the most important things that we should be practicing on a daily basis.
For me, self-care is rather easy. I love a good book and a cup of coffee, I can paint on my back porch, or I can escape to the woods for a few days. I have been practicing self-care since before I started my university career, and while studying Psychology, became even more aware of how important it was that I continue practicing it.
For some, it may not be so easy. Especially considering the martyr complex that is so often developed in these kinds of professions. The first step to allowing yourself to indulge in well deserved regenerative rest is to create a new image of yourself as caregiver; an image that portrays you as being human, just like those for whom we care.
Next is allowing yourself to talk to those around you about your profession in the most real way imaginable. Let those closest to you know about the struggles that you face daily. If they fail to support you, find someone who will.
Following along those lines, you should also find it within yourself to develop a support network within your workplace. Whether this is with one or two coworkers or even one of your superiors, you should always make sure you feel appreciated and heard in the workplace. Should you find it too difficult to reach out to either coworker or supervisor, allow yourself some “you” time while at work, just to breathe and remind yourself that you may be having a hard day, you may be feeling under appreciated, but you are worth so much, and you have others in your life who recognize the work you are doing, and recognize how essential you are in that position.
Lastly allow yourself time to unwind when you leave their home, and enter your own. It is hard to not bring work home with you, especially for those tending to the needs of others. Even when we leave their home, we are still turned “on” and tuned in to their lives. We have to be. Emergencies happen, staff get sick or don’t show up. When you are truly involved, and care about the people you are caring for it is near impossible to keep them out of your mind. This is especially true for those of us who like to see positive changes happen in people’s lives, and who want to help those changes happen. Regardless, it is important that we learn to leave these feelings at the door when we leave their space.
As a side note, if you feel the desire to vent about work, or you are feeling creative about how to help enhance these individuals’ lives – leave your house. Go on a walk, and think about work outside of your home. Your home is for you, work should never be brought inside.
As I mentioned before it is very easy for me to find ways to unwind – I have my own passions and interests that I pursue outside of work, and these act as forms of self-care for me. For those who have yet to find their passions, it is never too late to start searching. Remember that self-care is about recognizing your worth and your abilities, and making sure that you feel positively about yourself and your life afterwards. This could be anything from yoga ,to dance lessons, to reading, or even taking a bubble bath. Allow yourself time to appreciate you, so that you can strengthen your self-esteem and self-awareness, in order to improve your overall mental health. It helps too that self-care will always result in a positive feeling, that will inevitably seep back into your work and relationships!
Self-care is one of the most important things we can all easily practice every day, and we should not be made to feel guilty about it, because we matter too.

Dream Analysis: A Four Weeklong Self-Study

“Our scientific consideration of dreams starts off from the assumption that they are products of our own mental activity. Nevertheless the finished dream strikes us as something alien to us” (Freud, 1900).
Dreaming is a dissociated state of unconsciousness, in which we experience images, sounds, and sometimes even taste and smell. There are a number of theories on dreams; their meanings, the significance of images, the cause of dreams, what they can tell us about our subconscious psyche, etcetera. The two most notable are those of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Freud first introduced his theory in “The Interpretation of Dreams” in 1900 (Freud, 1900).
Freud believed that dreams are “the royal road to the unconscious.” Our unconscious mind consists of mental processes that we are not aware of – they are repressed materials that need to be brought to our conscious awareness through analysis. During wakefulness our unconscious mind remains dormant, and during sleep it slowly awakens, through dream images, or symbols, otherwise known as dream content. Freud distinguished two forms of dream content – manifest content, which refers to the actual images presented that the dreamer remembers upon awakening, and the latent content which refers to the underlying meaning of the images (pp. 311-312).
Freud demonstrated the need for the latent content to be translated into manifest content, in order for us to dream. In one aspect, this is to protect our psyche, due to the volatile nature of the latent content. This process is known as dream-work, which involves condensation, displacement and secondary elaboration. Condensation refers to the process of joining two or more ideas or images into one (pp. 312-39). Displacement refers to the transforming of a person or object that we are actually concerned about, into someone or something else (pp. 340-44). Finally, secondary elaboration refers to the unconscious mind putting the wish-fulfilling images and events in a logical sequence, obscuring the latent content further.
All of these components of the dream-work act together to produce our wish fulfillment, which is the most significant and basic understanding of the meaning behind our dreams (pp. 588-64), Freud stated that “[…] the dream, in its inmost essence, is the fulfillment of a wish.” (pp.160). This wish fulfillment can be sexually, anxiety or ego driven; it is entirely individualized. In fact, Freud shied away from universal symbols and their definitions. “Dream dictionaries”, therefore, should be avoided at all costs. While analyzing a dream, it is imperative that we focus on the context and individual circumstances.
Although dreaming can be assessed in such as way as to understand a persons’ subconscious better, interpretations are more rooted in subjective, rather than empirical, evidence. Since we are unable to deduce with confidence what a dream image means in relation to an individual under examination, we may only speculate. Therefore, dream analysis cannot act as a diagnosis for a potentially neurotic individual. It can, however, act as a window into the unconscious, and help with future diagnoses.
By analyzing dream images and sequences, we can better understand the individual’s general affect, the sources of their stress, and their anxieties. By understanding these three things we may also provide coping techniques to manage stress, and deal with the anxieties. Dreams are not merely baseless images projected in the minds eye while we sleep, they tell us stories about ourselves, and the world around us. Based on this idea, I have taken to documenting my dreams for the past four weeks and analyzing them.
Alongside the dream journal, I incorporated a mood diary in which I would rate the type of emotion I felt during or after waking from the dream, its intensity, and the most vivid image related with the emotion (on a scale from 1-5, 1 being little to no feeling and 5 being felt very strongly). This did not occur with every dream. This scaling of my emotions simply acted as a way to interpret the dream better.
Dream 1
The dream begins with my mother, sister, father and I at our old house. The house was dark and much smaller than I recall it being. As the dream progressed, the hallway in the house shrank more and more. There was a horrible storm happening, and we were scrambling trying to survive the storm. A very large condo building was struck by lightning and fell to the ground. This was out of place because the street our house was on was far too small to have a condo building.
All of a sudden my partner is with me, and I am explaining the chaos of the situation to him, and that in these situations I am in charge of getting the safe-box from the garage, along with the suitcase of “preparedness” which is filled with food and clothes. I pull out a key and open the garage door, and for some reason I have to close it and lock it as well, even though our lives are in danger. The entire time this is happening I feel very anxious. We go back inside the house, which is even darker than it was before, and it feels even smaller than it was before we left to go to the garage. It feels as if the walls are closing in, and it is hard to breathe. My parents are screaming and yelling; the chaos is palpable. My parents and sister are unable to move, and they have no idea where to go. I grab the clothes on the couch and yell “we have to go”, as my father lights a match and sets my skirt on fire (putting fire under my ass), but it just sets my skirt on fire and I have to stop drop and roll, which doesn’t work so I have to actually take my skirt off and stomp it out on the couch. After removing my foot from the skirt I notice that it is now stained orange. We are trying to leave the house now, and as we are leaving the living room and heading into the entryway the hallway becomes a very long single-file corridor, and it seems like we are running up it forever. My dog is at the front door waiting for us, running around in circles wagging her tail and whining. I am responsible for grabbing her too. I grab her by the collar and pick her up, (she is not a small dog in reality, but in the dream she feels even heavier, and keeps slipping from my grip). We start running away from what is now a firestorm. There is fire in the sky, and there are flaming buildings everywhere. The sky is orange, red and yellow. We are running so slowly, but it doesn’t seem to matter how hard we push to run faster, we are still running at the same slow pace as once we started.
I announce to everyone present “we just have to get to the water, the water will quell the fire.” My dog is now running ahead of us. Neighbours are fleeing their homes, and one of them yells at my father “how much do you have in safety?” “17,000” was my father’s response. For some reason, the neighbour declares he will match that, so now we have $ 34,000 in “safety” money. The whole street is dark and gloomy, and the entire scene is almost apocalyptic.
Feelings:
• Claustrophobia – 4
• Fear – 2
• Anxiety – 4
• Stress – 4
• Doubt – 3
Interpretation
The dream images are obvious here, but there are too many to analyze individually. The most significant images are: the fire, the house, and the money. Though we should also pay close attention to the symbolic power of the family members. Some key concepts we should be mindful of while making these interpretations are the three concepts, which make up the dream-work. Displacement is a prominent theme throughout the dream, especially in the storm, which actually represents the chaos I feel in my everyday life. This dream occurred at a time in which I was very stressed in my waking life; I was working a part time job, unable to make enough money to save and pay down my debts, all the while trying to get my work published. In this instance then, my waking life is reflected in my dream as a chaotic storm. This follows throughout the entire dream, and additional latent feelings can be found manifested in the dream images. For instance, the image of my parents, and the chaos surrounding them, reflects my feelings of worth in relation to them. I feel the need to make them proud and to not disappoint them. Again, this reflects my waking state at the time. I remember having feelings similar to these in my waking state, particularly concerning my job position. I was concerned that I was not fulfilling their wishes for me, and that I perhaps had made a mistake moving out to the east coast. I was able to make ends meet, but I was not fulfilling myself artistically or financially (I was unable to focus on paying off school debts or saving money). One of the last remarks made in the dream is that concerning money; one of the neighbours yells to my father asking how much we have in safety money, to which my father responds “17,000$.” The neighbour decides to match this, making it 34,000$. This is not a random number; this is how much money I originally owed in student debt upon graduation. This relates to the amount of stress I was feeling in my waking life, which reflected in my dream. My part time job at the time was not paying enough to pay down my debt, which made me feel anxious, stressed, and stuck.
The walls of the house closing in on us not only represent physical claustrophobia, but it also represents how I feel under pressure to the point of suffocation.
The instance of my father putting fire under my ass is interesting to consider. The image and what it means is very clear; I feel pressured to make myself, as well as my parents proud. It is interesting to note that the house in my dream is not the house I most recently lived in with my parents; in fact, it is the last house I lived in before heading off to university. I believe that this represents my growing up and away from my parents and family. The reason I believe this is because the rest of the dream images suggest a powerful parental influence, where I would not have felt as strongly at our new home as my last. Upon returning to my parents’ newest house I would have been in my 3rd year of university, not quite an impressionable teenager living by my parents “rules” anymore. The reason this house is shown in my dream and not my parents’ most recent house, is because although I still feel a strong need to make my parents proud, I was much more concerned about it when I was younger, and living in my parents home.
As you can see, a great number of dream images indicate responsibility; I am responsible for procuring the safe-box, I am responsible for motivating my family out of the house and storm, I am responsible for grabbing my dog. This is also linked to the immense pressure I was feeling at the time. The last remark I make in the dream is that we have to get to the water; the water will quell the fire. Water is typically seen as a symbol of renewal, life, and cleanliness, whereas fire is typically symbolic of destruction and death. The juxtaposition between these two images is paramount. I am the only one responsible for fixing the issue at hand, and the fire, above all other images represents the immense pressure I am under. The water, on the other hand, gives this idea of removing pressure – I suggest we must get to the water, in order to quell the fire. This is a clear message: although I am under pressure, and extremely stressed, I have the power to diminish that stress by dealing with it, or quelling it.
This dream is rich with images, representing my waking mental and emotional state. I was very stressed and anxious at the time about a number of things: making my parents proud, money, being successful in a new city, and generally wanting to succeed at life.
The final scene of the dream, the apocalyptic state of the neighborhood, succinctly demonstrates the state of my life at the time. My living situation was chaotic and emotional. I was away from family, friends, my hometown, and everything that represented my childhood and youth. I was out on my own, in a foreign city, with only my partner to rely on. This is why my partner appeared halfway through the dream; the whole scene was chaotic, and I was feeling pressure from all sides, except from my partner. It is interesting to note that this support was made exceedingly evident in my dream images.
Dream 2
I was in a very old building that felt very much like a castle with a number of anonymous figures. There were a number of rooms and staircases and the interior of the building was very dark (not only were there little to no lights on, the wood and paint was all dark).
After limited exploring I found a photo album that had a number of professional photos of me in it, and one in particular stood out to me. I was standing at the top of a double spiral staircase with my back to the camera. I was wearing a burgundy mermaid gown, with a long train cascading down the one side of the staircase. My hair was done up in a beehive, and my arms were stretched out along the railing of the middle portion of the staircase. I took a picture of this image with my phone and posted it on facebook with the caption “I miss modeling.”
The next thing I remember is stepping out of the shower wrapped in a towel and trying to catch the ferry. I was running down the dock, which was wet and slippery making it difficult for me to run. There were a number of people in my way, and a group of guys were teasing that they would throw me in the harbor, which made me very anxious because I had just showered. I had an underlying feeling of embarrassment relating to the fact that I was almost naked, and a fear of losing my towel.

Feelings
• Fear – 2
• Embarrassment -3
• Worry/anxiety – 3
• Nostalgia – 4
• Lost – 4
• Disconnected – 4

Interpretation
The overwhelming feeling throughout this dream was nostalgia, with underlying feelings of fear, anxiety, and embarrassment.
The building is where the dream begins, and the atmosphere therein was one of loss, of being lost. Not only was the building old, and non-descript, but it was also one in which I am unable to say with certainty that I have visited before. Further, there was a near absence of light within. The figures that were with me were not identified. I am sure they represented important characters within my life, but within my dream I could not identify them. If we take into consideration the time in which this dream occurred, we can interpret this sequence of images as my personal feelings of being lost. This dream was documented in early January, a time when tensions were high and I was feeling more homesick than I had been in the previous months. I was feeling disconnected from my friends and family, who are hundreds of miles away, and I felt as though I was lacking a bedrock of emotional support. This may help us to understand the significance of the anonymous figures – there are people in my life, but I did not feel capable of connecting or sharing my emotional frustrations with them. This of course, connects well with the feeling of being lost. Not only was I physically lost in the dream I was emotionally lost, which mirrors my waking state. I was feeling very lost in a foreign city, which was further amplified by my feelings of disconnectedness with important figures in my life.
The feeling of nostalgia was deeply rooted in the photo album and the images of myself modeling. I spent a significant portion of my time in Ottawa modeling for shoots, with different photographers, bridal shows and with my best friend. Moving here, I no longer had the opportunity, or gumption to model or even bother looking for modeling opportunities. This image resonates with me because my time in Ottawa was characterized largely by my ability and willingness to try new things, and accept myself. It was almost as if moving, and leaving that behind, made me separate myself from who I was becoming, and devolve into an earlier version of myself, or some version of myself I thought was expected of me. The statement “I miss modeling” has a deeper meaning than just I miss modeling, rather, I miss who I was when I was modeling, seeking and accepting those opportunities and the person I was becoming and allowing myself to become. The image itself was a very idealized version of myself, which was not congruent with my actual, perceived self at the time, and was more in line with my actual self prior to moving. This of course, caused a significant amount of anxiety while experiencing the dream, and after the dream. The reason I was pictured at the top of a double spiral staircase is significant in that, it represents the difficult journey we face when self-actualizing. Each staircase represents an aspect of the self, and a certain path we can take in order to self-actualize and become the person we are meant to be. The centre, being the image of myself, the ideal-self, is the end point, where I reach self-actualization, and realize fully who I am. The fact that my train is falling down one set of the stairs indicates an incongruence between my real self and my ideal self, meaning, that, I am finding it difficult to self-actualize. This image of my ideal self is very connected to who I was becoming, and now that there is a break in my realization, incongruence has developed.
All of this is tied very much to my self-image, and feelings of nostalgia. The fear of nudity and the images of the crowd and people taunting or teasing me are linked to my self-image, and my feelings of being watched and judged. The towel in a sense represents a mask that I have worn in the past, and that I felt I was wearing at the time of this dream. My fear of losing the towel, especially in front of others, is that they will see who I am in reality, the “me” I fear others will not accept.
There is no real transition in the dream, from being inside the building to running down the dock, but there is a significant contrast. Inside the building I was shrouded in darkness, and there were significant feelings of being lost and disconnected, whereas in the sequence of me running down the dock, it was daylight and there were multiple people around with faces, expressions and identifying features. It is significant to note that I was still finding it difficult to run down the dock, and that it was slippery and wet. I was however, running away from the building I had been in. The contrast between the building and the outdoors, was that I was essentially running away from who I was inside the building. I was running away from those feelings of being lost and disconnected, and now, different people, different colours, different fears and anxieties were in my surroundings. I was still avoiding people, however, especially the group of taunting boys, who wanted to throw me into the water. In my dream, the reason I was afraid of being thrown into the water was because I had just showered – however, in waking life, I am actually afraid of the water to some degree because I have difficulty swimming. When I was in my adolescence I did not want to get my hair wet while in a swimming pool because I wanted to hide my forehead and my eyebrows, which I thought were ugly aspects of myself. This feeling has stayed with me into my young adulthood. This is a very real way to mask the self, I fear embarrassment from people seeing me without my bangs, because I do feel a sort of security with my bangs covering my forehead. In a way, they do act very much like a mask.
My strong desire to avoid the water was not only because I had just showered, but also because I feared that my mask would be washed away. I was not ready to reveal who I am, because at the time I did not know who I was. My feelings of disconnectedness were not just with others, I felt disconnected from myself; there was a significant incongruence that I needed to deal with.
This dream is very much a dream of identity and self-image. It is interesting to see the transition from feeling lost, nostalgic and disconnected, to feeling anxious, embarrassed and still a little lost. Coming out of the darkness into the light, is in a way a realization of these feelings of incongruence, and the desire to change that. The need to self-actualize without considering the judgment of others around me is paramount.
Dream 3
The dream began inside a boutique where I was trying on clothes. The change room had doors that were very low. This made my head, shoulders, and chest visible just above the top of the door. Two girls were standing outside of my change room chatting with each other. The one barged into the change room I was in, and started to dance around and push me around. When I told her she needed to leave, she became very upset with me, but she did leave.
Her and her friend remained outside the change room and began videotaping, and the friend was pretending to be me. I did not hear exactly what was being said because I was focused on the dress I was trying on. The dress was a shiny, metallic brown prom gown that had a mesh cutout on my chest, all the way down to my privates. This means that all of my intimate areas were showing. All of a sudden the owner of the boutique called me into her office, while I was still wearing the dress, and she informed me that the girls from earlier has accused me of assaulting them. She showed me the video that they had made, which was of them assaulting each other. Both the owner of the boutique and I began to laugh because it was clearly not me in the video.
The issue resolved itself, but I decided to buy the dress even though it was 3000$.
Feelings
• Shame – 2
• Being pushed around/stepped on – 4
• Anxiety – 3
• Anger – 4

Interpretation
The main feeling that I felt at the end of this dream and upon awakening was anger, specifically in relation to how I had been treated. The change room doors already had my body partially exposed to the entire store, which caused a great deal of anxiety. I found it difficult to try on the clothes and ignore my surroundings – I found trying to crouch down and hide my body very distracting. This contributed to the feelings of shame as well.
The girls pushing into the change room and ignoring the fact that I was there made me very angry, but also caused a great deal of anxiety. I felt that I was almost invisible, even though most of my body was exposed to the store. This reflected my current feelings in my waking life. At the time of this dream, I had been denied approval for my vacation request, which meant I would not be able to see my family, who lives 3 provinces away. This made me feel like I was being stepped all over, and not being taken seriously or even considered. Further, the environment at work had been quite tense for the preceding months: I was given more responsibilities but there was no change in my position, nor was I seen as any more capable.
The scenario with the girls framing me for assault was rooted entirely in my feelings of being blamed for things I had not done or said in waking life. In my waking life I felt very much like an invisible, disconnected scapegoat that was only paid attention to when it served another persons aims (that is at work, or with acquaintances/friends).
Another interesting thing to note is that this was at a time in my life when there were a number of familial issues happening, and I felt as though I was under a microscope, which is mirrored by the exposure of my private body parts. I felt very exposed and very harshly judged by those around me in waking life.
I believe the store owner represents my ego in this dream sequence, the voice of reason. My ego assessed the situation and questioned my actions, making sure that I had in fact, not committed the assault. This is in direct relation to my waking life where my ego was assessing what I was being accused of in waking life, and analyzing whether or not I had done what I was being accused of. The resolution of this dream proved to me that I had not, but the fact that I still purchased the dress that exposed intimate parts of my body demonstrates that I felt it necessary to prove something to those around me.
Dream 4
The dream began in an English class in a room in my old high school. All of my former classmates were in the room, and a particularly domineering and autocratic teacher was teaching the class. We were going through the class reciting poetry that we had written for a class assignment. I had a book of my published poems that I described as a mix between Kurt Vonnegut, Ezra pound and “all of my emotions.” Although I was very excited to read some of my poetry out loud, the teacher skipped me and told me we did not have time to hear everyone’s poems, and that my poems were not all that important.
This scenario made me feel very anxious, and I was able to recognize that I had already graduated high school, so I began to wonder why I was there.
Feelings
Anxiety – 3
Upset – 4
Neglected – 4
Invalidated – 4
Worried – 3
Interpretation
This dream is very much an anxiety dream about acceptance and recognition. The setting takes place in high school because high school is a time of self-development; it is a time where we struggle with our own identities. In high school, like most other adolescents, I was concerned with being accepted and recognized as unique and valuable in my uniqueness. This has continued on throughout my life, well into my young adulthood. Although I feel I have formed a relatively strong ego, and I would identify myself as a self-actualizing individual, I still continue to seek validation, particularly from my parents.

The teacher in this scenario then, would represent my parents. This is not to say that my parents are particularly domineering or autocratic, but I have lived my whole life wanting to impress them and make them proud. Recently, I have taken to writing as an outlet for a number of things, and have had the opportunity to have some of my articles and poems published, which of course, has led my parents to tell me how proud they are of me and how impressed they are with my work. We can consider this in drive-reduction terms; my secondary drive is to make my parents proud, but just because I make them proud once, does not mean this need will be satiated indefinitely. In fact, according to Clark hull and the drive reduction theory, we have drives that we need to reduce, and so we reduce these drives by drinking water (satiating our need for thirst, which is a primary need) or by getting paid (satiating our need for money, a secondary drive). But after a while we become thirsty again, or we spend the money that we made. Therefore, we are in a constant state of needing to reduce these drives – that is what my drive to make my parents proud is like. This could potentially stem from an inferiority complex, where I feel it is necessary to over exaggerate my accomplishments because I feel inadequate in some aspects of my life (either as an artist, as an intellectual, etc). According to Adler this is caused either by neglect or over nurturing, but I believe this can also be due to a perception of either or. Neglect and over nurturing are not limited to the physical, they can be tied to the emotional and psychological, and sometimes can be unintentional.
An inferiority complex not only leads me to over exaggerate my accomplishments, it makes me act in such a way as to take offense when people fail to acknowledge my accomplishments. I have been writing a blog with my personal essays on psychology and mental health, and perhaps feel neglected and invalidated because these essays are not receiving as much attention as I think they should from those who mean the most to me.
This is of course, a perception that stems from feelings of inadequacy that I have felt since adolescence. In a way, my need to attack psychological research and essay writing so fiercely is because I feel inadequate because I did not accomplish what I feel I should have while in university, and because I feel that I should have accomplished much more in relation to my field at this point in time. The need for recognition and acknowledgment, however, is something that I will have to overcome on my own.
Conclusion
I have learned through this entire process that it is helpful to analyze my dreams because it helped me identify the issues within my life that need the most attention. Any attempt at self-analysis is intimate and undoubtedly helps you understand yourself better. Dream analysis has helped me to understand my intentions, motivations and emotions, and has actually helped to alter my behaviour in waking life. When you have insight into your cognition, and your ego strength, you are able to apply positive changes in your waking life. We can learn a great deal from our dreams.