When Things Fall Apart by Pam Chordron

Here are some paragraphs from this book:

“When the bottom falls out and we can’t find anything to grasp, it hurts a lot. It’s like the Naropa Institute motto, ‘Love of the truth puts you on the spot.” We might have some romantic view of what that means, but when we are nailed with the truth, we suffer. We look in the bathroom mirror, and there we are with our pimples, our aging face, or lack of kindness, our aggression and all that timidity– all that stuff.

This is where the tenderness comes in. When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very honorable and tender place, and tenderness could go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch and I met throbbing quality. There is definitely something tender and throbbing about that groundlessness.

Things falling apart as a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: Room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

(pages 7-8).

10 Reasons why you need The Emotional Extremist’s Guide to Handling Cartoon Elephants book this holiday season

1. The Cartoon Elephant book, after being temporarily unavailable through Amazon, is now back on the market. The retail price is $26.95, but sometimes Amazon will let it go for a bit less.

2. Cartoon Elephants approach painful emotions with humor. If there is an elephant in the room in your family, this book is the starting point for approaching avoided conversations. You will recognize yourself and others in this book. There is no finger pointing or blaming.
3. Cartoon Elephants is something you can put on your coffee table. Because it is a graphic book with pictures and fun fonts, it is an easy read. The elephants will fit nicely next to big picture books about Africa and Asia.
4. The Cartoon Elephant book is being used to teach people in Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills groups about emotions. Loaded with psycho-educational material and teaching points, it cleverly accomplishes the task of making people think they are reading something fun yet giving them something valuable.
5. This book is not hard to read. There is no “plugging away” at chapters. If you want to bring something to someone’s attention in a way that is universally applicable, this book will do the trick. You don’t need to have painful emotions to appreciate elephants- you just need to have emotions.
6. If you are going to buy someone a self-help book for Christmas, this is safe bet.
Whether they believe it or not, everyone has cartoon elephants. The research proving this to be true is cited in the back of the book.
7. This book can be used and re-used, read and re-read. You can share it with family members, friends, or long lost relatives. It won’t go out of style. Emotions, as a rule, will be with you as long as you live.
8. You will get some food for thought about how and where you see yourself in relationship to your elephants. This is great for discussion groups, weekend retreats, and writing workshops.
9. This book is great for people of all ages. If you’re trying to get your kid to read something important, heavy, and deep, you can give them this book. It won’t take long to read and it is much more fun with illustrations.
10. The book will be the perfect introduction for my live series on emotions starting January 20, 2014. Of course you don’t need the book to sign up, but if you have the book you will have a better appreciation for cartoon elephants in general.



Third wave behavior therapies, functions of behavior, depression, and dead conversations

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that you really cared about that ended up with them saying something like: “I’m not good enough.” “I don’t deserve that.” “I’m not worth it.”

As a recipient of this conversation, you may have been tempted to argue, disagree, convince, or encourage the person to think otherwise. While this strategy may have communicated a sense of caring or encouragement, it is quite possible that this conversation quickly fell into a polarized, deadened, undesirable re-occurring conversation. The difficulty with having these conversations is that they typically don’t end in any personal problem solving and both parties leave the interaction with a sense of dissatisfaction.

The “third wave behavior therapies” are a cluster of treatments that encourage people to look at the function and the context under which behaviors occur. For instance, if we were to think about the function of this conversation, we could start to ask a bunch of questions that would help us get at something a little bit more useful than a repeated and unsatisfying conversation.

Getting people to understand function is, in my experience, kind of hard. Function has to do with what purpose is this behavior serving. Context can help us understand under what conditions this behavior occurs.

Here are some questions that I might consider useful in considering the function of this type of conversation: What is the person wanting? How is the person expecting this conversation to end? Is convincing the responder that he/she doesn’t deserve something a way to avoid something difficult, not take a risk, do something that could change the situation for the better (but doing it is too scary)? Is the person seeking reassurance or connection? If the person wanted more of a connection with the recipient, what might be a more effective way to get it? What would be a better way of spending time together that would be more meaningful? What is the benefit, value, or use in convincing another person of one’s non-deserving status?

Third wave behavior therapies (or functional and contextual treatments) include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Functional Analytic Psychotherapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Three really wonderful books based on the “third wave” of thinking and can help people “get” more of what I’m talking about include ACT Made Simple by Russ Harris, Overcoming Depression One Step at a Time by Michael Addis and Christopher Martell, and Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong by Kelly Wilson.

I will also add that, for my surviving depression teleseminar this coming June 3 (click here for more info), I’m going to help you take a closer look at the function of worry/ non-useful thinking/ rumination- and give you some strategies for figuring out what this behavior is all about.

Book Review: The High Conflict Couple by Alan Fruzetti

Are you looking for a book that gives the lay person’s guide to understanding the nuts and bolts of DBT? I love Alan Fruzetti’s book, The High Conflict Couple. I often encourage my clients to read parts of it because it gives a really lovely overview of problems of emotions in relationships. And I certainly don’t think you have to be part of a couple relationship to benefit from what he has to say.

I especially like the way Fruzetti puts a coherent and descriptive framework around the many frustrations of being understood. His model applies on many levels and (I believe) is extremely helpful in assisting clients to identify and talk about what actually happens to them without blaming themselves or others.

Here is a brief quote from page 71: “The central points are, first, when expression is accurate, the other person can more easily understand, and thus validation (communication of understanding) is easier to provide; and second, when the response you get from your partner is validating, this helps keep your emotional arousal in check, which in turn makes it easier to express yourself accurately.” Alternately, he suggests that heightened emotional arousal can lead to inaccurate self-expression, which in turn can lead to being misunderstood and invalidated.

Alan Fruzetti has definitely packed in a lot of good information into this inexpensive paperback book- which makes it worth returning to on multiple occasions. His materials on validation are quite valuable and are often revisited in my groups.

ACT Made Simple by Russ Harris

I have to give some attention to this book because I really, really like it. This book is practical to use for both clients and therapists, has very compelling exercises and handouts, and really gets at the heart of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT (a relative of DBT). This book is amazingly accessible.

ACT is known for addressing values and long term goals. This is about your life- in context! The big picture includes searching for meaning and direction. Often we get so caught up in problematic and self-defeating thoughts that it takes us down a road we aren’t willing ourselves to follow. We miss what we hold dear when we get caught up in trying to get rid of discomfort. Getting in touch with what matters can guide our interactions or distress in a direction that we are willing ourselves to go- even though current experience is painful.

The other thing that I really love about this book is the plethora of creative suggestions for relating to thoughts. If people could see their thoughts and feelings, sort of speak, their number of options for what to do with them could increase. The agenda here has to do with changing our relationship to our thoughts and feelings, rather than try to suppress, change, or get rid of them.

Here is a sample of what is in the book, taken from “Attempted solutions and their long term effects” on page 87. “What have you done to avoid or get rid of problematic thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations, or emotions? Did your thoughts and feelings go away? Did they return on the long run? Has this brought you to a rich, full, and meaningful life? What has this cost you in terms of time, energy, or money; negative effects on health, well-being, work, leisure, or relationships?”

If it’s cost you quite a bit, it might be time to try something else.