Grief and sadness are natural parts of a loss

Feelings; Sadness

Sadness is the most common feeling found in the bereaved and really needs little comment. This feeling is not necessarily manifested by crying behaviour, but it often is. Crying is a signal that evokes a sympathetic and protective reaction from others and establishes a social situation in which the normal laws of competitive behaviour are suspended.

Feelings; Anger

Anger is frequently experienced after a loss. It could be one of the most confusing feelings for the bereaved, and as such is at the root of many problems in the grieving process. A woman whose husband died of cancer said to me “How can I be angry? He did not want to die”. The truth is that she was angry at him for dying and leaving her. If the anger is not adequately acknowledged it can lead to a complicated mourning. This anger comes from two sources: (1) from a sense of frustration that there was nothing one could do to prevent the tragic event, and (2) from a kind of regressive (disabling/helpless) experience that occurs after the loss of someone close. The bereaved might have had this type of regressive experience when he/she was a very young child on a shopping trip with his/her mother. The child suddenly looked up to find that the mother has disappeared somewhere. The child felt panic and anxiety until the mother returned, whereupon, rather than express a loving reaction, the child hauled off and kicked her in the shins. This behaviour is, according to researchers, a part of our genetic heritage, which symbolises the message “Don’t leave me again!”

In the loss of any important person there is a tendency to regress, to feel helpless, to feel unable to exist without a person, and then to experience the anger that goes along with these feelings of anxiety. The anger that the bereaved person experiences needs to be identified and appropriately targeted towards the person that is gone to bring it to a healthy conclusion. However, it often is handled in other less effective ways, one of which is displacement, or directing the anger towards some other person and then often blaming them for the tragic event. The line of reasoning is that if someone can be blamed, then he is responsible, and hence, the loss could have been prevented.
One of the most risky maladaptation of anger is the posture of turning the anger inward against the self. In a severe case of retroflection, an angry person, who is also down on himself might develop suicidal behaviour.

Feelings; Guilt and Self-reproach

Guilt and self-reproach are common experiences of the bereaved; guilt over not being kind enough, over not doing certain things in the past, etc. Usually the guilt is manifested over something that happened or something that was neglected around the time of the death. Most often the guilt is irrational and will mitigate through reality testing.

Feelings; Anxiety (fear)

Anxiety of the bereaved can range from a light sense of insecurity to a strong panic attack. The more intense and persistent the anxiety, the more it suggests the pathological grief reaction. Anxiety comes primarily from two sources, first, the fear of bereaved that he/she won’t be able to take care of themselves on their own. People who experience this type of anxiety often say something like that “I will not be able to survive without her”. Second source of anxiety relates to heightened sense of personal death awareness; the awareness of one’s own mortality heightened by the loss of a loved one (this could refer to some profound sense of inner change, being a different person for the rest of their life like a victim of trauma, a survivor of a very rough patch of life journey). Carried to extremes, this anxiety can develop into a full-blown phobia (also phobia of relationships). Well known author C.S. Lewis knew this anxiety and said after losing his wife: “no one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawing. I keep on swallowing”.
Feelings; Loneliness (a form of sadness)

Loneliness is a feeling frequently expressed by the bereaved, particularly those who have lost a spouse and who were used to a close day-by-day relationship. Even though very lonely, many bereaved will not go out because they feel safer in their homes. They often say “I feel so all alone now” especially after losing their spouse after 50-something years of married life together; “It has been like the world has ended”

Feelings; Fatigue (a form of sadness)

We see this feeling of fatigue frequently in bereaved individuals. It may sometimes be experienced as apathy or listlessness. This high level of fatigue can be both surprising and distressing to the person who is usually very active.

Feelings; Helplessness (a form of sadness)

One factor that makes the event of a loss so stressful is the sense of helplessness it can engender. This close correlate of anxiety is frequently present in the early stage of a loss. Females (or very feminine, caring males) often feel extremely helpless. One woman left with a young child said “my family came and lived with me for the first five months- I was afraid I would freak out and not be able to care for my child”

Feelings; Shock (a form of surprise)

Shock occurs mostly in the case of a sudden, unexpected loss.


Feelings; Yearning (a form of sadness)

Yearning for the lost person is common experience of the bereaved, particularly among females (or very feminine, caring males). Yearning is normal response to loss. When it diminishes, it may be sign that mourning is coming to an end.

Feelings; Emancipation (a state of inner peace)

Emancipation can be a positive state after a loss. A good example here could be a young woman whose father was an unbending dictator over her existence. After losing him, she went through the normal grief process, but she also experienced a state of emancipation, because she no longer had to leave under his tyranny. At first she was uncomfortable with this feeling but later was able to accept it as the normal response to her changed status.

Feelings: Relief (a state of inner peace)

Many people feel relief after the loss of a loved one, particularly if the loved one suffered a painful illness. However, a sense of guilt often accompanies this sense of relief.

Feelings; Numbness (a state of inner emptiness)


Some people report a lack of feelings. After a loss, they feel numb. Again, this numbness is often experienced early in the grieving process, usually right after learning of the tragic event. It probably occurs because there are so many feelings to deal with that to allow them all into consciousness would be overwhelming. So the person experiences numbness as a protection from this flood of feelings. In commenting on numbness, researchers say “we found no evidence that it is an unhealthy reaction. Blocking of sensation as a defense against what would otherwise be overwhelming pain would seem to be extremely normal”

As you review this list of feelings, remember that all the items represent normal grief feelings and there is nothing pathological about any of them. However, feelings that exist for abnormally long periods of time and at excessive intensity may portend a complicated grief reaction.

Fragments from the old book considered to be the must-read regarding grief and grieving: “Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy” by J. W. Worden (1991), p.22-25

What is validation?

Validation is one way that we communicate acceptance of ourselves and others. Validation doesn’t mean agreeing or approving. When your best friend or a family member makes a decision that you really don’t think is wise, validation is a way of supporting them and strengthening the relationship while maintaining a different opinion. Validation is a way of communicating that the relationship is important and solid even when you disagree on issues.

Validation is the recognition and acceptance of another person’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors as understandable.

Learning how to use validation effectively takes practice. Knowing the six levels of validation as identified by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. will be helpful.

The first Level is Being Present.

There are so many ways to be present. Holding someone’s hand when they are having a painful medical treatment, listening with your whole mind and doing nothing but listening to a child describe their day in first grade, and going to a friend’s house at midnight to sit with her while she cries because a supposed friend told lies about her are all examples of being present.

Multi-tasking while you listen to your teenager’s story about his soccer game is not being present. Being present means giving all your attention to the person you are validating.

Being present for yourself means acknowledging your internal experience and sitting with it rather than “running away” from it, avoiding it, or pushing it away. Sitting with intense emotion is not easy. Even happiness or excitement can feel uncomfortable at times.

Often one of the reasons other people are uncomfortable with intense emotion is that they don’t know what to say. Just being present, paying complete attention to the person in a non-judgmental way, is often the answer. For yourself, being mindful of your own emotion is the first step to accepting your emotion.

The second level of validation is Accurate Reflection.

Accurate reflection means you summarize what you have heard from someone else or summarize your own feelings. This type of validation can be done by others in an awkward, sing-songy, artificial way that is truly irritating or by yourself in a criticizing way. When done in an authentic manner, with the intent of truly understanding the experience and not judging it, accurate reflection is validating.

Sometimes this type of validation helps someone sort through their thoughts and separate thoughts from emotions. “So basically I’m feeling pretty angry and hurt,” would be a self-reflection. “Sounds like you’re disappointed in yourself because you didn’t call him back,” could be accurate reflection by someone else.

Level Three is Mind-reading

Mind-reading is guessing what another person might be feeling or thinking. People vary in their ability to know their own feelings. For example, some confuse anxiety and excitement and some confuse excitement and happiness. Some may not be clear about what they are feeling because they weren’t allowed to experience their feelings or learned to be afraid of their feelings.

People may mask their feelings because they have learned that others don’t react well to their sensitivity. This masking can lead to not acknowledging their feelings even to themselves, which makes the emotions more difficult to manage. Being able to accurately label feelings is an important step to being able to regulate them.

When someone is describing a situation, notice their emotional state. Then either name the emotions you hear or guess at what the person might be feeling.

“I’m guessing you must have felt pretty hurt by her comment” is Level Three validation. Remember that you may guess wrong and the person could correct you. It’s her emotion and she is the only one who knows how she feels. Accepting her correction is validating.

Level Four is Understanding the Person’s Behavior in Terms of their History and Biology.

Your experiences and biology influence your emotional reactions. If your best friend was bitten by a dog a few years ago, she is not likely to enjoy playing with your German Shepherd. Validation at this level would be saying, “Given what happened to you, I completely understand you not wanting to be around my dog.”

Self-validation would be understanding your own reactions in the context of your past experiences.

Level Five is normalizing or recognizing emotional reactions that anyone would have. Understanding that your emotions are normal is helpful for everyone. For the emotionally sensitive person, knowing that anyone would be upset in a specific situation is validating. For example, “Of course you’re anxious. Speaking before an audience the first time is scary for anyone.”

Level Six is Radical Genuineness.

Radical genuiness is when you understand the emotion someone is feeling on a very deep level. Maybe you have had a similar experience. Radical genuineness is sharing that experience as equals.

Understanding the levels may be easy. Putting them into practice is often more difficult. Practice is the key to making validation a natural part of the way you communicate.

Consider this example

Joanna calls you and talks about her diet. She complains that she has eaten chocolate cake and other sweets and wants to eat more, but she doesn’t want to gain weight. What level of validation can you use?

Level 3 would be a good choice. Joanna didn’t mention any feelings though she is eating for emotional reasons. You could say, “Has something happened? My guess is you’re upset about something.” Then she might tell you that the cat she’s had for six months died yesterday. At that point you could use a Level 5 or 6, depending on how you feel about losing a pet.

When Shawna was a teenager, she almost drowned in a large pond. She was a poor swimmer and swam out further than she realized. When she stopped swimming, her feet couldn’t touch bottom and she swallowed water. She panicked and a friend swam to save her. Since that time she’s been afraid of water. A neighbor invited her to a pool party. A guy who was flirting with her pushed her into the pool and she panicked, even though she was only in waist high water. She tells you that she’s ashamed of her reaction and she hates being crazy.

Level 4 validation would work in this situation. “Given your history of almost drowning, of course you panicked when you were pushed into water. Anyone with a history of drowning would probably react the same way.”

Emotional Invalidation

Emotional invalidation is when a person’s thoughts and feelings are rejected, ignored, or judged. Invalidation is emotionally upsetting for anyone, but particularly hurtful for someone who is emotionally sensitive.

Invalidation disrupts relationships and creates emotional distance. When people invalidate themselves, they create alienation from the self and make building their identity very challenging.

Self-invalidation and invalidation by others make recovery from depression and anxiety particularly difficult. Some believe that invalidation is a major contributor to emotional disorders.

Most people would deny that they invalidate the internal experience of others. Very few would purposefully invalidate someone else. But well-intentioned people may be uncomfortable with intense emotions or believe that they are helping when they are actually invalidating.

In terms of self-invalidation, many people would agree they invalidate themselves, but would argue that they deserve it. They might say they don’t deserve validation. They are uncomfortable with their own humanness. The truth is that validation is not self-acceptance, it is only an acknowledgement that an internal experience occurred.

Verbal Invalidation

There are many different reasons and ways that people who care about you invalidate you. Here are just a few.

Misinterpreting What It Means to Be Close: Sometimes people think that knowing just how someone else feels without having to ask means they are emotionally close to that person. It’s like saying they know you as well as you know you, so they don’t ask, they assume, and may even tell you how you think and feel.

Misunderstanding What it Means to Validate: Sometimes people invalidate because they believe if they validate they are agreeing. A person can state, “You think it’s wrong that you’re angry with your friend,” and not agree with you. Validation is not agreeing. But because they want to reassure you they invalidate by saying, “You shouldn’t think that way.”

Wanting to Fix Your Feelings: “Come on, don’t be sad. Want some ice cream?” People who love you don’t want you to hurt so sometimes they invalidate your thoughts and feelings in their efforts to get you to feel happier.

Not Wanting to Hurt Your Feelings: Sometimes people lie to you in order to not hurt your feelings. Maybe they tell you that you look great in a dress that in truth is not the best style for you. Maybe they agree that your point of view in an argument when in fact they do not think you are being reasonable.

Wanting the Best for You: People who love you want the best for you. So they may do work for you that you could do yourself. Or they encourage you to make friends with someone who is influential when you don’t really enjoy the person, telling you that that person is a great friend when it’s not true. “You should be friends with her. She’ll be a good friend to you.”

There are also many different ways of invalidating. I’ve listed a few below.

Blaming: “You always have to be the cry-baby, always upset about something and ruin every holiday.” “Why didn’t you put gas in the car before you got home? You never think and always make everything harder.” Blaming is always invalidating. (Blaming is different from taking responsibility.)

Hoovering: Hoovering is when you attempt to vacuum up any feelings you are uncomfortable with or not give truthful answers because you don’t want to upset or to be vulnerable. Saying “It’s not such a big deal” when it is important to you is hoovering. Saying someone did a great job when they didn’t or that your friends loved them when they didn’t is hoovering. Not acknowledging how difficult something might be for you to do is hoovering. Saying “No problem, of course I can do that,” when you are overwhelmed, is hoovering.

Judging: “You are so overreacting,” and “That is a ridiculous thought,” are examples of invalidation by judging. Ridicule is a particularly damaging: “Here we go again, cry over nothing, let those big tears flow because the grass is growing.”

Denying: “You are not angry, I know how you act when you’re angry,” and “You have eaten so much, I know you aren’t hungry,” invalidate the other person by saying they don’t feel what they are saying they feel.

Minimizing: “Don’t worry, it’s nothing, and you’re just going to keep yourself awake tonight over nothing” is usually said with the best of intentions. Still the message is to not feel what you are feeling.

Non-verbal Invalidation

Nonverbal invalidation is powerful and includes rolling of the eyes and drumming of fingers in an impatient way. If someone checks their watch while you are talking with them, that is invalidating. Showing up at an important event but only paying attention to email or playing a game on the phone while there is invalidating, whether that is the message the person meant to send or not.

Nonverbal self-invalidation is working too much, shopping too much or otherwise not paying attention to your own feelings, thoughts, needs and wants.

Replacing Invalidation with Validation

The best way to stop invalidating others or yourself is by practicing validation.

Validation is never about lying. Or agreeing.

It’s about accepting someone else’s internal experience as valid and understandable. That’s very powerful.

This is a shortened version of the article published originally by Psychology Today:

How does the survivor prepare themselves for confrontation with the abuser?

The below described considerations refer to adult victims of childhood sexual abuse who might be considering confronting their abusers in adulthood.

Survivors seek support before confronting the parent abuser:
– Conversations with therapists about recovery including confrontation
– Conversations with the siblings about support in confrontation
– The threat of “the abuse news” to the integrity of the family
– Survivor expectation of abuser“ acknowledging (validating) and apologising”
– Family expectation of survivor “forgiving and forgetting”

The aim of the confrontation is to step out of the victim position
– The confrontation is optional to step out of the abuse related victim position
– the content is about validation of memories / consequences of the abuse for the survivor
– sometimes the confrontation happens spontaneously with no preparation
– it is important to consider the option of the false memory syndrome (wrongful accusation)

The power of the confrontation should belong to the survivor:
– it is the survivor who initiates the time, place and the form of the confrontation
– the place of the confrontation has to be safe for the survivor (own home, own work place, therapist office, a public place like a restaurant)
– effective confrontation can be done in therapy with/without the abuser being present
– effective confrontation can be done in a phone call/a letter without the abuser being present
– it is the survivor who wants to set the records about past straight
– it is the survivor who says things from herself about herself to the abuser operates from within her own integrity
– the confrontation is supposed to provide closure to the victim/ a finished business
– the confrontation is supposed to clarify the relationships within the family

The doubts of the survivor about confronting the abuser could be caused by:
– a fear of hurting abuser’s feelings
– a guilt about putting herself first, before the abuser
– uncertainty about the past events (amnesiacs)
– fear of unexpected health consequences of the abuser (heart attack, stroke, etc)
– fear of rejection of the memories of abuse by the parent
– fear of anger reaction of the abuser
– fear of being socially ostracised/abandoned by this parent or by the whole family

The survivor has to stay realistic about the denial of the abuse by the abuser, which grows along with the level of social condemnation of the crime that had been committed

Contents extracted from the book by Catherine Cameron “Resolving Childhood Trauma. A Long-Term Study of Abuse Survivors (the US population research)” (Year 2000, Sage Publishing), Chapter 12 – Confronting the Abuser

Depression and genes

“Depression runs in families, we know. But it is only very recently, and after considerable controversy and frustration, that we are beginning to know how and why. The major scientific discoveries reported last week by the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium in Nature Genetics are a hard-won breakthrough in our understanding of this very common and potentially disabling disorder.

If your parents have been depressed, the chances that you have been or will be depressed are significantly increased. The background risk of depression in the general population is about one in four – each of us has a 25% chance of becoming depressed at some point in our lives. And if your parents have been depressed, your risk jumps by a factor of three.

However, controversy has long swirled around the question of nature or nurture. Is the depressed son of a depressed mother the victim of her inadequate parenting and the emotionally chilly, unloving environment she provided during the early years of his life? Or is he depressed because he inherited her depressive genes that biologically determined his emotional fate, regardless of her parenting skills? Is it nature or nurture, genetics or environment, which explain why depression runs in families?

In the 20th century, psychiatrists ingeniously teased out some answers to these questions. For example, it was found that pairs of identical twins, with 100% identical DNA, were more likely to have similar experiences of depression than were pairs of non-identical twins, with 50% identical DNA. This indicated clearly that depression is genetically heritable. But well into the 21st century, the precise identity of the “genes for depression” remained obscure. Since 2000, there has been a sustained international research effort to discover these genes, but the field has been bedevilled by false dawns and inconsistent results.

That is why the study published last week is such a significant milestone. For the first time, scientists around the world, with leading contributions from the UK’s world-class centres of psychiatric genetics research largely funded by the Medical Research Council at the University of Cardiff University, University of Edinburgh University and King’s College London, have been able to combine DNA data on a large enough sample to pinpoint which locations on the genome are associated with an increased risk of depression. So we now know, with a high degree of confidence, something important about depression that we didn’t know this time last year. We know that there are at least 44 genes, out of the 20,000 genes comprising the human genome, which contribute to the transmission of risk for depression from one generation to the next.

However, this raises at least as many issues as it resolves. Let’s first dwell on the fact that there are many risk genes, each of which contributes a small quantum of risk. In other words, there is not a single smoking gun, a solitary rogue gene that works like a binary switch, inevitably causing depression in those unfortunate enough to inherit it. More realistically, all of us will have inherited some of the genes for depression and our chances of becoming depressed will depend in part on how many and their cumulative impact. As research continues and even larger samples of DNA become available for analysis, it is likely that the number of genes associated with depression will increase further still.

Stress provokes an inflammatory response by the body, which causes changes in how the brain works

This is telling us that we shouldn’t be thinking about a black-and-white distinction between us and them, between depressed patients and healthy people: it is much more likely that our complex genetic inheritance puts all of us on a continuous spectrum of risk.

What are these genes and what do they tell us about the root causes of depression? It turns out that many of them are known to play important roles in the biology of the nervous system. This fits with the basic idea that disturbances of the mind must reflect some underlying disturbance of the brain.

More surprisingly, many of the risk genes for depression also play a part in the workings of the immune system. There is growing evidence that inflammation, the defensive response of the immune system to threats such as infection, can cause depression. We are also becoming more aware that social stress can cause increased inflammation of the body. For decades we’ve known that social stress is a major risk factor for depression. Now it seems that inflammation could be one of the missing links: stress provokes an inflammatory response by the body, which causes changes in how the brain works, which in turn cause the mental symptoms of depression.

Knowing the risk genes for depression also has important implications for practical treatment. There have been no major advances in treatment for depression since about 1990, despite it being the major single cause of medical disability in the world. We need to find new ways forward therapeutically and new genetics is a great place to start the search for treatments that can cut through more precisely to the cause or mechanism of depression. It is easy to imagine how new antidepressant drugs could in future be designed to target inflammatory proteins coded by depression risk genes. It is exciting to think that the new genetics of depression could unlock therapeutic progress in psychiatry as well.

Finally, although I think these genetic discoveries are fundamental, I don’t see them as ideologically divisive. They don’t prove that depression is “all in the brain” or that psychological treatment is pointless. The genetics will be biologically pre-eminent but, as we understand more about what all these “genes for depression” do, we may discover that many of them control the response of the brain or the body to environmental stress. In which case, the treatment that works best for an individual patient could be a drug targeting a gene or intervention targeting an environmental factor such as stress.

In short, I believe that a deeper understanding of the genetics of depression will lead us beyond the question we started from: is it nature or nurture, gene or environment? The answer will turn out to be both”.

Author: Edward Bullmore is head of the department of psychiatry, Cambridge University and author of The Inflamed Mind (Short Books). This article has been originally published on 29 Apr 2018 by The Guardian

Shadow in the light


This “3-2-1 shadow integration” process is a valuable exercise in discovering hidden and denied parts of ourselves. We often receive messages from our environment telling us about something that annoys us, disgusts us or something that keeps returning to us over and over again without any clear indication of what is really going on. If you feel like facing “it” – go ahead and try it! All you need is your honesty about the situation, a bit of acting skills and, if you choose so, a bit of writing skills.

First choose what you want to work with.
It is usually easier to begin with a difficult person to whom you are attracted or by whom you are repelled/disturbed (a boss, a parent, a friend).

You could also pick an image from your dream or a body sensation that distracts you or causes you to fixate on it (turn it in your mind over and over again).

Please note that disturbance could be either positive or negative.


A/ it makes you negatively hypersensitive, easily triggered, reactive, irritated, angry, hurt, upset. It may keep coming up as an emotional tone or mood that pervades your life

B/ it makes you positively hypersensitive, easily infatuated, possessive, obsessed, overly attracted or perhaps it becomes an on-going idealisation that influences your motivations or mood.


Observe the disturbing person/image/sensation very closely and then write on a piece of paper how does it look like/how does it feel in vivid detail using 3rd person narrative and present tense such as  “they are”, “they look”, “they smell”, etc. This is a way of detailed exploration of your experience with a clear focus on what bothers you about it. Do not minimise your disturbance. Do your best to describe your experience as fully and in as much detail as possible.

Enter a simulated dialogue with the person/image/sensation as if you were talking to somebody next to you (you /yours/etc). This is your opportunity to enter into a relationship with the disturbance. Talk directly to the person/image/sensation). You may start by asking questions like:
– Who are you/ What are you?
– Where do you come from?
– What do you want from me?
– What do you need to tell me?
– What gift are you bringing me?
Then allow the disturbance to respond back to you. Imagine realistically what they would say and actually write it down or vocalise it. Allow yourself to be surprised by what emerges in the dialogue.

Now, be the person/image/sensation. Depending on whether you chose to speak or write, express yourself in the 1st person (I / me / mine) as if you were able to see the world from the perspective of that person/image/sensation.
Allow yourself to discover not only similarities between the person/image/sensation and yourself but also how you really are one and the same.
Make a statement of identification i.e. “I am the zombie and the zombie is me”
This, by its nature, will almost always feel wrong (after all it is exactly what your psyche has been busy denying!). Try it anyway since it contains at least a kernel of truth.
Open yourself to the experience of the feeling that your psyche excluded – do it until this feeling starts resonating with you as your own. This is the process of re-owning your shadow. By engaging the shadow you integrate it (let it consciously be visible to you as yours).
If you complete this step successfully, you will experience a shift in awareness, shift in your feelings, and changes in attention/focus that was taken up by your denial. You will know that the process has worked because you will actually feel lighter, more peaceful and open. Sometimes you can also feel a bit high. It makes a new kind of participation in life possible.

XXX Practical example:

Scenario: I’m dreading going to visit my childhood best friend. I notice my sense of uneasiness about going there and my resistance to make a move and go there. My uneasiness is connected with his lifestyle.

STEP 1- FACE IT – I am horrified to see once again how my friend’s wife runs his life and how he seems to be happy about it. He’s got a super safe, dead end job and he is surely betraying himself. I am sure he’d be much more happy walking on the wild side of life once in a while. It makes me sick and it drives me nuts to be around him.

STEP 2- TALK TO IT – Start a dialogue with your friend about his lifestyle.
– “Why do you let your wife make all the decisions in your life?”
– “I don’t- I simply respect her perspective”.
– “What about your job- are you satisfied with it? It’s a dead end job to me!”
– “Hey- it’s a good, honest job- I really enjoy it.”
– ” Why don’t you form your own company and do something more advantageous?”
– “I prefer what I’ve got. It’s more secure and takes less work. What’s wrong with that?”

STEP 3 – BE IT – Become your friend and speak for him as if you were him. This is an exercise in empathy – go and see his life through his perspective.
-” I really want safety and security and a smooth, predictable life”.
– “My wife gives me a chance to have more time for myself. We understand each other very well and she knows what I want so she can decide well for both of us”
-” My job is not very challenging but that’s ok- I’m not very stressed and I have a life, don’t need to work late hours, I don’t have to compete in a hostile environment or speed to join the rat race”.

RE-OWNING YOUR SHADOW – Suddenly you might realise that you must have ignored and forgotten about your own needs for safety and security so much that your friend’s lifestyle triggered your disowned needs inside you.  Your friend, just like you, has needs for both thrills and safety/security, unpredictability and comfort. You could possibly feel more free inside after acknowledging both aspects of life- the wild side of life and the quiet side of life and a possibility to make choices re lifestyles. You could also possibly become aware of when you lost touch with your desire for safety/security in life – when your parents took charge for everything and when you had no good reason to create safety/stability for yourself.

INTEGRATIN THE SHADOW – In real life, when visiting your friend, you could stay with him for a day or so but then go to sleep in a hotel and go out in the evening to get a bit of a wild night life. In this way you could give yourself an experience of both aspects of life.

When visiting your friend you could think of your situational lack of opportunity to be independent in life and appreciate the comfort given to you by your parents. Being aware of your own circumstances might let you relax more while spending time with your friend. The feelings of dread and uneasiness would then be no longer valid when you are going to be planning to visit him at his place.

Source: Ken Wilber, Terry Patten, Adam Leonard, Marco Morelli, “Integral Life Practice – a 21st Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening, 2008, based on pages 50-53

The I in Dreaming

dream dolphins

Dreams don’t reveal your secrets and desires… they are far more important than that

By Emma Young – a writer based in Sydney, Australia

“The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of he unconscious of the mind.” So wrote Sigmund Freud in his 1900 classic The Interpretation of Dreams. He saw this idea as a “once in a lifetime” insight, and for much of the 20th century the world agreed. Across the globe, and upon countless psychoanalysts’ couches, people recounted their dreams in the belief that they contained coded messages about repressed desires. Dreams were no longer supernatural communications or divine interventions – hey were windows into the hidden self.

Today we interpret dreams quite differently, and use far more advanced techniques than simply writing down people’s recollections. In sleep laboratories, dream researchers hook up volunteers to EEGs and fMRI scanners and awaken them mid-dream to record what they were dreaming. Still tainted by association with psychoanalysis, it is not a field for faint-hearted. “To say you’re going to study dreams is almost academic suicide” says Matt Walker at the University of California Berkley. Nevertheless, what researchers are finding will make you see your dreams in a whole new light.

Modern neuroscience has pushed Freud’s ideas to the sidelines and has taught us something far more profound about dreaming. We now know this peculiar form of consciousness is crucial to making us who we are. Dreams help us to consolidate our memories, make sense of our myriad experiences and keep our emotions in check.

Changing patterns of electrical activity tell us that the sleeping brain follows 90-minute cycles, each consisting of five stages- two of light sleep at the start, then two of deep sleep, followed by a stage of REM (rapid eye movement sleep). There is no characteristic pattern of brain activity corresponding to dreaming, but as far as we know all healthy people do it. And while dreaming is commonly associated with REM sleep, during which it occurs almost all of the time, researchers have known since the late 1960s that it can also occur in non-REM sleep – though these dreams are different. Non-REM dreams tend to be sparse and more thought-like, often without the complexity, length and vivid hallucinatory quality of REM dreams.

Despite their differences, both types of dreams seem to hold a mirror to our waking lives. Dreams often reflect recent learning experiences and this is particularly true at the start of a night’s sleep, when non-REM dreaming is very common. Someone who has just been playing a skiing arcade game may dream of skiing, for example (Sleep, Vol. 33, p. 59). The line between waking experience and non-REM sleep has also been observed in brain scanning studies. Pierre Maquet at the University of Liege, Belgium, looked a the later stages of non-REM sleep and found that the brains of volunteers replayed the same patterns of neural activity that had earlier been elicited by waking experiences (Neuron, Vo. 444, p. 535). Many REM-sleep dreams also reflect elements of experience from the preceding day, but the connection is often more tenuous – so someone who has been playing a skiing game might dream of rushing through a forest or falling down a hill.

Sleep on it

We do not simply replay events while we dream, we also process them, consolidating memories and integrating information for future use. Robert Stickgold of Harward Medical School in Boston recently found that people who had non-REM dreams about a problem he had asked them to tackle subsequently performed better on it (Current Biology, Vol. 20, p.1). Likewise, REM sleep has been linked with improved abilities on video games and visual perception tasks, and in extracting meaning from a mass of information (Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Vol. 92, p.237).

“It is clear that the brain does an immense amount of memory processing while we sleep- and it certainly isn’t mere coincidence that while our brain is sorting out these memories and how they fit together, we’re dreaming” says Stickgold. He suspects that the two types of dream space have different functions for memory, though what these functions are is a matter of debate. Non-REM dreaming might be more important for stabilizing and strengthening  memories, Stickgold suggests, while REM dreaming recognizes the way a memory is sorted in the brain, allowing you to compare and integrate a new experience with older ones.

Jan Born and Susanne Diekelmann at the University of Lubeck in Germany, however, have looked at the same evidence and come to the opposite conclusion- that REM sleep supports the strengthening  of a new memory , while non-REM sleep is for higher-level consolidation of memories (Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Vol. 11, p. 114). “I think this means that we’re still lost when it comes to understanding the role of different sleep stages in memory” says Stickgold.

Also unclear is how central is the role of dreams in memory formation. During dreaming is certainly not the only time our brain consolidate memories. For example, when we daydream certain areas of the brain, called the default network, become active. We now know this network is involved in memory processing (New Scientist, 8/11/2008, p.28) and many of the same brain regions are active during the REM sleep. What’s more, daydreaming, like REM dreaming, can improve our ability to extract meaning from information and to have creative insights.

Does this mean we don’t actually need dream sleep to process memories? Not necessarily, says Walker, who points out that the way new memories are replayed in the brain is different in daydreaming and dreaming. Rat studies show that reruns happen in reverse when the animals are awake and forward when they are sleeping. No one is quite sure what this difference means for memory processing, but Walker believes it shows that daydreaming is not simply a diluted version of sleep dreaming. Maquet agrees. “Different brain states may all have somewhat different functions for memory. Memory consolidation is probably organized in a cascade of cellular events that have to occur serially”, he says- some while you are awake, and then some while you are asleep.

Even if dreaming is crucial for memory, Walker for one does not see this as its main function. “I think the evidence is mounting in favour of dream sleep acting as an emotional homeostasis: basically, rebalancing the emotional compass is a good way at the biological level “ he says. Everyone knows how a short nap can transform a cantnankerous 2-year-old and Walker has shown something similar in adults. He found that a nap that includes REM dreaming mitigates a normal tendency in adults to become more sensitive to angry or fearful faces over the course of a day, and makes people more receptive to happy faces (Cerebral Cortex, Vol. 21, p. 115).

Walker has also found that sleep, and REM sleep in particular, strengthens negative emotional memories (Cerebral Cortex, Vol. 19, p. 1158). This might sound like a bad thing- but if you don’t remember bad experiences you cannot learn from them. In addition, both he and Stickgold think that reliving the upsetting experience in the absence of the hormonal rush that accompanied the actual event helps to strip the emotion from the memory, making it feel less raw as time goes on. So although dreams can be highly emotional, Walker believes they gradually erode the emotional edges of memories. In this way REM dreams act as a kind of balm for the brain, he says. In people with post-traumatic stress disorder this emotion-stripping process seems to fail for some reason, so that traumatic memories are recalled in all their emotional detail- with crippling psychological results (New Scientist, 21/02/2009, p.34).

As with memory processing, REM and non-REM dreaming may play different psychological roles . Patrick McNamara of Boston University has found that people woken at different sleep stages give different reports of their dreams. REM dreams contain more emotion, more aggression and more unknown characters, he says, while non-REM dreams are more likely to involve friendly encounters (Psychological Science, Vol. 16, p. 130). This has led him to speculate that non-REM dreams help us practice friendly encounters while REM dreams help us to rehearse threats.

The interpretation of nightmares

Antii Revonsuo enjoys his nightmares. “At least in hindsight” he qualifies, “as though they were good horror movies where you don’t know it’s movie until it’s over”. But when Revonsuo, at the University of Turku in Finland, thinks that nightmares are the main biological reason for why we dream- they allow us to stimulate scary encounters, and so be better prepared for them in our waking life.

“The theory predicts correctly several features of our dream content” says Revonsuo. For example, he and his colleagues have found that about two-thirds of the dreams of healthy adults involve at least one threat. About 40 per cent of these take the form of aggressive encounters- running away from an attacker or getting into a fight. Such encounters are high among children, accounting for over half of threat dreams in Finnish kids and three-quarters among traumatized Palestinian children.

Revonsuo argues that children’s dreams are closer to our evolutionarily original form of dreaming because children haven’t yet had a chance to adjust to the modern environment. He has found that between 40 and 50 per cent of children’s dreams contain animal characters, often as enemies, which is similar to the instance among adult hunter-gatherers. The figure is just 5 per cent in western adults. “I don’t think any other dream theory has made such specific predictions and shown that they hold” he says.

It is a neat idea, but Robert Stickgold at Harvard Medical School in Boston cannot believe that’s all there is to dreaming. “I think Revonsuo has made the same mistake as Freud- which is to limit dreaming’s functionality. I think dreaming is absolutely about threat rehearsal some of the time. Bit it is absolutely about other things, too.”

So what do dreams mean?

All this suggests that we couldn’t function properly without dreaming, but it doesn’t answer the perennially intriguing question: what do dreams actually mean?

For some sleep researchers the answer is simple- and disappointing. Born argues that dreams themselves have no meaning, they are jut an epiphenomenon, or side effect, of brain activity going on during sleep, and it is this underlying neuronal activity, rather than actual dreams, that is important. Walker finds it hard to disagree. “I don’t want to believe it. But I don’t see large amounts of evidence to support the idea [that dreams themselves are significant] he says.

Those researchers who refuse to accept the notion that the content of dreams is unimportant point to work by Rosalind Cartwright of Rush University in Chicago. In a long series of studies starting in the 1960s she followed people who have gone through divorces, separations and bereavements. Those who dreamed most about these events later coped better, suggesting that their dreams had helped. “Cartwright’s work provides some of the most solid evidence that dreaming serves a function says Erin Wamsley at Harvard Medical School. There is no hard data showing that dreaming is not an epiphenomenon, she admits, but the same could be said about waking consciousness.

In fact, Wamsley’s own research hints that the form and function of a dream are connected. She worked with Stickgold on the study which found that non-REM dreams boost people’s performance on a problem. Their volunteers wee given an hour’s training on a complex maze then either allowed a 90-minute nap or kept awake. The dreamers subsequently showed bigger improvements, but the biggest gains of all were in people who dreamed about the maze. It dod not seem to matter that the content of these dreams was obtuse. One volunteer, for example, reported dreaming bout the maze with people at checkpoints- though there were no people or checkpoints in the real task- and then about bat caves that he had visited a few years earlier. Stickgold didn’t expect this to improve volunteer’s ability to navigate the maze, and yet this person got phenomenally better”.

He points out that the dream content is consistent with the idea that during dreaming memories are filled with other past experiences for future reference. “Dreams have to be connected in a meaningful, functional way to improvements in memory- not just be an epiphenomenon” he says. “I say this with fervent emotion , which is what I use when I don’t have hard data”.

Such evidence may one day be forthcoming, though. In the past, there has been no objective way to record what someone is dreaming, but that could change. Yukiyasu Kamitani at the ATR Brain Information Communication Research Laboratory in Kyoto, Japan, and colleagues have used fMRI scans to recreate scenes that volunteers were picturing in their mind while awake. The team hasn’t yet done this with dreams, but it is theoretically possible, says Kamitani. It would not be like watching the movie, he adds, “but it may be possible to predict what kind of dream a person is experiencing using currently available technology”.

Some may think all this peering and prodding at our dream world is taking away its magic but the researchers don’t see it that way. While you are dreaming, your brain literally reshapes itself by rewriting and strengthening  connections between neurons. So although dreams do not reveal the secret you, they do play a key role in making you who you are. “The mystery and the wonder of dreams is untouched by the science” says Stickgold. “It just helps us appreciate better how amazing they really are.

Source: New Scientist, 12 March 2011

What’s mind got to do with it?

people in the information space

What is on your mind?

“Mind waits for the feelings to shift and change all by themselves.

Mind does not dictate when this will happen, or how long it will take.

Mind just holds the space for it to happen.

As the stage manager, Mind sets the tone, the lights, the colors.

And then Mind steps back and allows feelings to enter the stage,   

to share their pain and experiences and memories”.