Mayhem, Misunderstandings, and Mental Health

By: Pooja Shah PsyD [jamiesocial] A few hours after recently traveling out of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), I read that there was a shooting there. Once again, a random act of violence leads me to question life, humanity, and how we relate and connect to one another. As in many other cases, the shooter was described as someone who was kind and good. Individuals who knew this person were in shock and disbelief, finding something like this to be uncharacteristic. As is often the case, this individual struggled with mental health. And, as usual, the conversation is geared toward increasing security and gun control. To Read...

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Your Values, Your Goals: Looking Back During the Holidays

By Pooja Shah, PsyD The holiday season can be difficult for many of us. Although the prevailing belief is that the holidays are a time for family, friends, giving, and hope, it seems that this is not always true for a majority of people. The holidays can be difficult. From an existential perspective, they can be difficult for many reasons, but most importantly because it is a time of year when we are forced to be real with ourselves. We are forced to be honest about what is going on in our lives. To read...

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Beyond Existence

“Pooja Shah, PsyD – As with the concept of “highway hypnosis,” many move through life largely unaware of what they’re doing—an unrewarding state of existence.” “I often recall learning about the concept of “highway hypnosis” during my high school driver’s education class. For some reason, it fascinated me. Every time I caught myself in a spell of this highway hypnosis, I would think back to that day in class.” To read...

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Discover how to make effective choices!

I usually like to start my day with a positive affirmation. Recently I have been moved by those addressing the concept of choice. I find that choice is a reoccurring theme in my life, the lives of my family, friends, colleagues and clients. When it comes to choice and how we respond to it, often it comes down to how one understands choice. Have you ever said to yourself “What can I do, I have no choice.” Or “It’s out of my hands.” I know that there have been periods in my life where I may have been caught saying these things. When I think about those times I imagine I would have been experiencing some type of defeat, sadness or maybe even frustration. I may have felt loss of control and even engaged in self blaming. Looking back, I realize that however much I may have felt or experienced those things I really did have a choice. How I looked at the various issues, problems, challenges, etc. was a matter of perception. When most of us think of choice we think of choice in the context of decision making. What about choice in the context of response and reaction. We are constantly making choices. Although many times it feels like things are out of our control or is just happening, in reality it is most likely a choice. What if I said…when I felt defeat, sadness, frustration, etc. I chose to feel those things. I chose to experience defeat in that moment. I chose to experience sadness in the moment. Or I chose to experience frustration in that moment. I could have chosen a number of different responses; however, in those particular moments at those particular times, I chose defeat, sadness or frustration. Why? Within the frame of existential therapy it is believed that there are various givens in life. These givens of death, freedom, meaning and isolation may impact each of us at various points in our lives, sometimes simultaneously. We has humans may find ourselves struggling with one or another from time to time. Existential therapist may believe that at times frustration and difficulty with choice or recognizing choice may be related to ones belief and experience of freedom.  In the United States, the home of the free, we often find ourselves stuck when it comes to freedom. Often we may seek freedom, but while doing so, we avoid responsibility. This avoidance of responsibility overtime leads to a sense of loss of choice. When we avoid responsibility and choice we avoid who we really are and what is truly important to oneself. In response one may find themselves blindly following something they think they believe in,...

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Triumph your fear!

This blog post was written by Pooja Shah, PsyD.  [jamiesocial] “We have become increasingly disassociated and estranged from the patterns of life and death, uncomfortable with messiness of our own humanity, aging and ultimately, mortality.” –Ted Gup, New York Times. Some existential philosophers and psychologists believe that fear and anxiety are based on a feeling of influx in relation to various existential givens for life. In other words, because we may experience an imbalance with natural and normal parts of life (death, relationships, meaning, responsibility), we experience fear and anxiety. As in the quote above, this often manifests as becoming dissociated, estranged and uncomfortable. To start to understand your fear, it is best to begin by recognizing what is fear, as you perceive it. Often how we perceive fear is not the fear in its entirety. More times than not a fear will have a deeper meaning and cause. For example, a fear of commitment may really have to do with fearing rejection and loss. In most cases, it is related to being extremely uncomfortable with our own experience of “humanity, aging and ultimately, mortality.” In a previous blog I had written about how some individuals find themselves existing and not living, they are merely going through the motions. This is due to fear. Only a handful of individuals will actually seek psycho-therapeutic help to address this experience. As humans we look past our own strengths, our own resources and coping skills and live in constant fear by avoiding the moment, the reality, honesty and the fear itself.  In a culture where it feels as though time slips away from us and we are constantly in crisis or survival mode and we forget who we are, what defines us, and what we are capable of. It is difficult to recognize that we are in crisis or survival mode because we have been taught that if you are able to cope, things will be fine. However, to recognize and overcome fear it is not only about surviving or coping, it is about growing from the experience. Existential and Humanistic Psychologists have been practicing with this notion for years. When we focus on the negative, the difficulty, we become stuck in it. If we search for positivity, hope and strength, even during difficult moments it allows us to open ourselves to things that seemed impossible once before and move towards personal growth. To triumph over your fear, the answer is not to resolve it. Not to let it go. Not to get over it. But to acknowledge and accept it, and to choose to continue to live despite it. Just because you fear rejection, loss and dying, does not mean it...

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5 Tips to Effectively Communicate with your Partner

This blog post was written by Pooja Shah, PsyD.  Relationships are difficult and more times than not and at the root of most issues is communication. A common mistake with communication is making assumptions and believing that the other individual understands without knowing for sure. Use these tips to begin communicating effectively and clearly with your partner.    Listen: Most of us believe that this is an easy task and that we are pretty good at it. Miscommunication often occurs when one partner is actually coming up with a response rather than fully listening to the other. Take time to notice if this is something you do. If so, start to consciously stop and focus on the conversation. Chances are, if this is something you do with your partner, this is probably something you struggle with in most of you relationships. Repeat: Before you respond to your partner’s statement, take time to repeat what you heard them say. This will give them the opportunity to notice if there was anything that they may have said that was not understood, the way they were hoping. If this is the case, take a moment to clarify. Clarify: If you discover that your partner may have misunderstood you, take time to clarify it in a different way. Often individuals assume that if their partner did not understand them it is because they do not care, they were not listening, or they do not agree, when often it is just misunderstanding. Sometimes, what may sound logical and clear to one person may not be to another. Taking time to clarify what you mean can help reduce any miscommunication. State: When you are in an argument, have a question, or are asking for a favor, whatever the purpose may be, state your needs clearly. No matter how in sync you are with your partner, it is not okay to assume or believe that they will know what you mean or can read your mind. Even the closest partners need to be aware of mind reading. To assume that your partner knows what you mean can create great miscommunication. It is best to just state what you need as clearly as possible. If it is a task that one needs, laying out steps can be very useful. Make no assumptions: To effectively communicate both you and your partner must stop making assumptions. When we make assumptions we end up placing expectations on the other individual. Expectations that are often unrealistic, considering the other person may not even know that those expectations...

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Self-imposed Abusive and Unhealthy Relationships

  This blog post was written by Pooja Shah, PsyD.  [jamiesocial] After a night of partying with friends, Jane woke up the following day feeling miserable. She found solace in the kitchen as she ate half a box of cereal, polished off the leftover pizza, then finished two cans of diet soda and three scrambled eggs. Minutes later she found herself in the bathroom, kneeling over the toilet bowl. Soon after she found herself back in the kitchen, this time she went for… And so the story goes… We often hear about how difficult it is for someone in an abusive relationship to leave the relationship. This is the case for several different reasons and varies with each individual. What happens when the abuse is brought on by yourself? What if what feels separate and out of control is actually completely a part of you? Something that is integrated within you but seems out of control. How do you leave then?   This is the challenge many individuals struggling with behaviors such as an eating disorder, addiction, obsessions or compulsions, to name a few, experience. Often I encourage clients to personify negative behaviors, such as an eating disorder, sex addiction, gambling addiction, etc. A very common technique used by therapists, personification helps the individual separate themselves from the behavior as they work towards healing. In doing so, we can then begin to separate the individual, our authentic self, from the behavior and talk about it as though it is a relationship. A sample dialogue using the above scenario would go something like.… Jane: “I am feeling good today. I think I will go for a walk.” Ed: “You are right. You sould go for a walk.” Jane: “I feel awesome.” Ed: “Yeah right, you definitely need a walk, you are like a whale today, and maybe instead you should RUN down to McDonalds. Those fries sound good to me and how about a nice cheeseburger?” Jane: “No, I feel good, there is no reason for that.” Ed: “You know only I can tell you what is good for you. You don’t know anything. You never make the right decision for yourself. Only I can tell you what will make you feel better. Don’t you want to feel better than good? Just listen to me and do it.” Jane: “I am fine, I do not want it.” Ed: “Ummm…those fries, I can just taste them warm, crisp. Besides you already wasted the day. You are so fat, what’s a few more fries and cheeseburgers? On the way maybe we can get some tacos. You can’t do anything right, you always cave. I know you will this time as well. You...

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Own your life: stop going through the motions

This blog post was written by Pooja Shah, PsyD.  [jamiesocial]  “Somewhere in my life, I stopped living and just existed.” Many clients often find themselves saying this exact statement throughout the course of their treatment. The statement evokes both terror and relief . What does it really mean to stop living and just exist? To come to a place in your life where you recognize this aspect means that you are ready and open to change. In this blog, I will attempt to make sense of the emotional response and how you can better manage it. When clients come to realize their mere existence, it can be terrifying.  The prospect of living seems too daunting and impossible. Many find themselves asking, “How can I start to live if I didn’t even know I stopped in the first place?” To discover and recognize that you have been going “through the motions” may feel overwhelming and defeating. Some feel like they do what’s expected of them and not what they truly want or wish. Additionally, some believe, that at some point in their lives, they lost focus on what was important and their true values. They describe a feeling of being trapped in a plastic bubble, preventing them from reaching outside of the bubble. It’s common to experience depression, stress, and anxiety in these times. The terrifying feeling is finally recognizing that you are in this bubble and not knowing whether you have the skills or tools to get out or if you will just suffocate. Why seek relief? Clients find that after acknowledging the experience, it feels as if a weight has been lifted. The actual acknowledgement  of fear allows them to face the truth, which ultimately brings relief in that they no longer have to lie or pretend to others. The relief also extends to the ability to be self reflective and honest. When we go through life believing we did not know something was impacting us, more times than not, a small part of us always really knew, we were just afraid to admit it. When we are trapped in the bubble, the recognition of the bubble existing is what will allow one to move forward and grow from it.  Yes, initially we may feel we do not have the tools or the ability to get out of the bubble, however, after the initial fear and panic, we will start to recognize it is only a bubble. And all we need to do is find the weak spot so it can then pop, burst, break, etc. It is this recognition that will allow us to feel relief. This is also known as hope. A feeling that change and...

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