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Chapter 14 Healing with the Happiness Response


© Rob Kall, 1996

From the unpublished book, The Happiness Response, By Rob Kall, written in 1990
(seeking a publisher for a new, revised version based on the title
The Art of Positive Experiences and Good Feelings
This is free to read and to pass along as long as you include all of the words in this page file.
If you find this material helps you, please consider treating it as shareware and send a payment to:

Rob Kall rob@futurehealth.org
211 N. Sycamore St.
Newtown, PA 18940
215-504-1700, fax 215-860-5374

"The real test of a happy life is to see how much pain and loss and frustration can be endured and absorbed without spoiling the joy of it." Rufus Jones

The Happiness Response was developed to help you enjoy every day of your life by coping more successfully with ordinary problems and with severe setbacks too. I believe that no difficulty is immune to the power of this program--from low self-esteem, anxiety, emotional problems, depression, pain and physical illness to job dissatisfaction, negative addictions, and marital problems. And the applications of the program are universal. Even business groups can profit from the program as a buffer against burnout, and as an effective tool for customer relations, marketing and sales. Most of the relaxation, mind quieting and self awareness techniques referred to in this chapter are described in detail in chapter ten. Most of the cognitive therapy, mind quieting and behavior therapy techniques mentioned are described in chapter eleven.

Drain the Pain, Ease the Anxiety

Linda suffered with chronic headaches once or twice a month for 15 years. Aspirin, and a prescription pain killer kept her going. Then her headaches began coming two to four times a week, starting at the back of her head, and spreading around the sides to the front, squeezing like a band clamped tight around her forehead. At the same time, she developed insomnia, and the escalating anxiety that followed made her irritable with co-workers and family members.

Recently, Linda received a job promotion and moved to a new house. She used a symptom diary to identify a pattern: the headaches usually appeared in the morning at work, or in the early evening when she got home. Frequently, muscle contraction headaches which start at the back of the neck like Linda's are due to shallow breathing with the chest and shoulders instead of the diaphragm. Linda's shoulders tightened up and she would take short and shallow breaths as she drove to work and when she talked on the phone on the job.

When Linda came for help, I used software I co-designed to perform computerized diagnostic techniques to detect abnormal muscle tension patterns in her body. I found that Linda habitually tightened one side of her back to protect the site of an old injury that had healed years ago. Linda had to learn to relax the healthy side which was actually setting off her headaches by overcontracting when Linda shifted to shoulder breathing.

We taught Linda diaphragmatic breathing (see Chapter 10) to relax her shoulder muscles during each of the 12,000 to 25,000 breaths she took every day, and that eliminated the trigger for her headaches. Proper breathing also quieted Linda's stress response and cooled her irritability. Facial muscle and autogenic thermal biofeedback exercises (see Chapter 10) taught her how to quiet her mind and stress nervous system, further reducing anxiety. Cognitive self talk training helped her take the wind out of the sails of her anxiety when she began upsetting herself with catastrophizing self talk like, "I can't take this pain." She replaced those statements with "I can handle this for 10 seconds." and "I'm handling my aches better than before."

Linda began collecting memories of pleasant experiences from her past, and looking for new ones every day to add to her memory bank. She realized her job offered a wealth of these positive moments. She carefully monitored the shoulder tensing that came when she used the phone, and this also helped to prevent the headaches.

Linda started an exercise program consisting of a brisk walk for 30 minutes each morning before going to work. And during her walk, she did her smile repetition exercises (see Chapters 4,5), as she reviewed her positive experience memories and plans. She also practiced various relaxation exercises twice a day. By increasing her activity level and waking up earlier wake-up she resolved her insomnia problem. Linda was fast becoming the person she wanted to be.

Sometimes, such detective work isn't necessary. Donna's injury in an automobile accident caused her back pain and headaches. None of the conventional relaxation techniques we tried worked for her. They either made her ''antsy'' or claustrophobic. But she responded immediately to positive experience imagery and Zen walking (see Chapters 10 and 11). She also found smile exercises helped against the pain.

We used one C.A.M. Scan session of(computer analyzed muscle scanning) to pinpoint the muscle tension in her back. Then, in the same session, we placed electrodes on the tension spot and had Donna stand and sit in different positions, so she could learn which ones caused the least strain on her muscles and spine.

After five visits and several weeks of home biofeedback practice, Donna was symptom free. Now when she gets occasional twinges of back pain, she knows how to use her Happiness Response skills to minimize and flicker away from the pain to focus on the pluses in her life.

Capture Your Concentration

Racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, worry, fear, depressed and inhibited feelings are common symptoms of anxiety, agitated depression, and a full range of panic and stress disorders. Mind-quieting relaxation and thought-stopping techniques and Zen walking (see Chapters 10, 11) are very helpful in dealing with this problem. Think of how a light tap on the gas pedal of your car can return a racing motor to its proper idling pace. In the same way, your thoughts can build up momentum as you get caught up in them. Use the self monitoring techniques of the Happiness Response to develop a self awareness habit that helps you notice the racing early so you can prevent your thoughts from running beyond your mental speed limit. Ground yourself in the present. ''I'm here right now and this is what I'm doing now. My family is safe and the world appears to be in one piece.''

Connect with nature. Refocus your mental filtering by shifting to more right brain thinking. Look at plants, flowers, cloud patterns or water swirling down a drain. Sing, whistle or hum. Use physical activity to ground yourself. Walking, aerobic activity or a series of progressive muscle tense/relax sequences, including smile muscle activity (Chapters 4,6) can help. Quiet your mind and pace your nervous system with relaxed breathing.

Don't Dwell on Doom

Do you obsess over the same bothersome things again and again (guilt, house cleaning, anger, the actions of others, past decisions)? All of Howard Hughes wealth couldn't save him from an obsessive, and ultimately terminal fear of germs which immobilized him, eventually overpowering all aspects of his life. Some people develop rituals that involve obsessive self-talk that reinforces the destructive behavior.

This puts me in mind of Cheryl, 42, who was obsessively worried that she might urinate accidentally. She went to the bathroom at least 20 times a day, though there was no medical problem to explain such frequency. Cheryl's problem became an increasingly intrusive factor in her life. It forced her to stay close to home whenever possible, and required embarrassing leave-taking during business meetings.

We developed a diary with Cheryl to see where, when, and how often her/problem behavior occurred. Then, we worked with relaxation training biofeedback and cognitive restructuring to help her gradually lengthen the time between trips to the bathroom. Cheryl measured her urine output on each visit to demonstrate for herself how small the quantities were. ''I can wait ten more minutes to relieve myself,'' she told herself, as she worked toward control. By using these simple techniques, Cheryl's trips were down to a relatively manageable six a day when treatment ended.

Joe, a 25-year-old construction worker had a similar problem, but in reverse. He suffered from ''shy bladder,'' meaning he could not urinate unless he could be absolutely sure of privacy. If anyone else were present in a public rest room, or even if there were noises made by people outside, Joe's urinary sphincter simply clamped down. He always berated himself when he stepped up to the urinal and couldn't get things started. His self esteem dropped dismally with each experience. Eventually, Joe avoided all public places, just to eliminate the chance that he might have to use a public bathroom. As a bachelor, Joe's phobia cost him the pleasure of evenings out with his friends and the opportunity to meet women. His ''shy bladder'' obsessed him, and it continually eroded his self confidence. He even lost his motivation to work, and lived on savings for almost a year before he came for help.

Joe's low self-esteem was at the bottom of the problem. Each time he became anxious he reproached himself, turning on feelings of shame, self anger and depression. Because our tests showed that his hands grew cold when he became anxious, we used thermal biofeedback to help Joe learn relaxation. Most important, we worked with cognitive therapy to boost his self image. Covert imagery and systematic desensitization (Chapter 09) helped him gradually to begin using public rest rooms, first in a small, quiet shopping mall during the off hours of the day, then in even busier locations at busier times. Joe used an enclosed stall, rather than a row urinal as a reasonable compromise for privacy. Now Joe is back at work, able to use public rest rooms comfortably; he also feels better about himself as a person.

Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior patterns can be defense mechanisms that guard against facing some deeper issue, as in Joe's case, where self-esteem was the core of it all. Some obsessive problems require long term psychotherapy. In some cases of repetitive behavioral disorders the cause can be a biological imbalance that requires intensive drug treatment.

Panic Attack and Phobias

At the Gloria Dei Growth Opportunity Center in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, we've successfully treated hundreds of patients who suffer from panic disorders and phobias. Harriet was a typical agoraphobic--intelligent, loving, nice to talk with, neat, and well organized. But she was also a victim of low self esteem, anxiety and non-assertiveness. She turned to us for help when she found that even the thought of going on a routine errand to a supermarket, department store or a shopping mall, brought on a panic attack. On more than one occasion, Harriet had made it to the market, actually filled a shopping cart with groceries, and was forced to leave it at the check-out counter and flee the store because her anxiety level suddenly rose to near panic proportions.

The severity of these panic attacks had sort of sneaked up on Harriet over the years, and now she was able to take only short excursions and only with close friends and family. She became expert at turning down invitations, and at coming up with last minute cancellations when she hadn't been assertive enough to decline in the first place. Her need for neatness and organization had lead Harriet to require unrealistic levels of control over every situation. Her anxiety over losing control created an emotional prison for her.

Harriet had not been to a movie or to any other public event in many years. Her husband hadn't minded her reclusive behavior when the children were toddlers because opportunities to go out were rare anyway. But now he wanted more fun and adventure in his life, and Harriet wanted to get her life rolling too.

Cognitive therapy, assertiveness training (described later in this chapter), diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation training and autogenic thermal biofeedback combined with systemic desensitization (Chapter 9) and exposure trips to real, not visualized locations were the ingredients of Harriet's success. She gradually rebuilt her self-confidence and strengthened her ability to cope.

While most patients join groups which offer mutual support Harriet was also able to draw strength from her belief in herself as a good mother and a caring person. She merely transferred the nurturing energy she used to help others to herself and her own needs. She gradually realized the impossibility of requiring total control of her environment and she learned to forgive herself for her anxiety. Harriet also began a moderate exercise program that helped her become accustomed to shortness of breath and rapid heart rate as appropriate in certain situations, since she previously associated these sensations only with panic attacks. Now she leads a normal life, though she is still sensitive and somewhat compulsively neat.

High Blood Pressure Control

Jill, age 42, was always in a hurry. You could sense it in any conversation with her. She would finish your sentences so she could get her next idea in. Jill had high blood pressure with no medical explanation for it, called essential hypertension.

It has long been accepted that self regulation and self awareness techniques can control essential hypertension, which is the most common form of high blood pressure. According to researcher James Lynch, M.D., merely speaking causes the blood pressure to rise quickly in hypertensive patients. True to form, Jill's blood pressure often went up 40 points systolic and 20 points diastolic when she got into a conversation!

The latest biofeedback and self regulatory approaches to controlling blood pressure are so effective that they help many patients to reduce or eliminate their need to reduce medication. If you have unexplained high blood pressure, tell your doctor you'd like to try autogenic thermal biofeedback (Chapter 00) with hand- and foot-warming, plus diaphragmatic breathing (Chapter 00) as part of your therapy. Then learn to connect with people through your heart, with patience and acceptance, without being critical or easily offended.

On our program, Jill was able to lower her blood pressure from 155 to 135 systolic and from 98 to 85 diastolic through self regulation and by practicing quiet and gentle speaking. At first, she told me it would be impossible for her, but I persuaded her to make a relaxation tape for herself in her own voice, that helped achieve the goal. The results gradually spilled over to the rest of Jill's life. Best of all, she was able to stop her anti-hypertension medication and begin to enjoy social situations that once produced anxiety and discomfort.

Beating Irritable Bowel Syndrome

As a corporate executive Carol was required to meet with prominent members of the corporate and civic community regularly. Occasionally she suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, which is marked by frequent diarrhea and the need to get to a bathroom quickly. After a few close calls, Carol's anxiety seemed to aggravate the frequency of diarrhea episodes. Muscle and temperature biofeedback were used to teach her to relax. Systematic desensitization helped her to halt her phobia as soon as it began. She did it with imagery of positive experiences from the past and with imaginary experiences of freedom from gastrointestinal discomfort in the future.

Cognitive interventions can also be very helpful in such a situation. It's important to identify upsetting self statements like ''I'll probably have an accident.'' or ''That trip will be too upsetting for me. I'll worry the whole time.'' Once such negative statements are identified, you can come up with reasonable replacements for them. The same approaches used in hypertension management can also be used here. Recall positive experiences that prove you can go places without problems.

The Anger Myth Exposed

Some say it's good to express anger, but I don't think so. It evokes negative emotional response patterns that leave you feeling bad. Anger is like diarrhea or vomit. Usually it's not the food we've eaten, but some other bug that's already in us. The sooner we get the real culprit out of our system the sooner the problem goes away. Anger is a toxic emotion that makes us feel terrible. It's an indication that something is out of balance. It is better not to get yourself angry. Rather than holding back your anger, it's better to find alternate coping mechanisms so you don't need to energize the anger in the first place.

How do you do that? The Roman philosopher, Seneca, said "A physician doesn't get angry at the intemperance of a mad patient, nor does he become upset when tongue lashed by a man in fever. Just so should a wise man treat all mankind, as a physician does his patient, and look upon them only as sick and extravagant." By being more patient and forgiving of other people's errors, frailties and mistakes, you can go a long way towards taking the wind out of your anger's sails. Anger is a response to the threat of loss. If you are mistrusting or paranoid, you'll get angry more often or more easily because you'll perceive more potential threats. Try to expect the best from the world and people.

If you feel confident and in control of your life, you'll be able to feel more secure, safer and less threatened. Self regulation can give you more control and the Happiness Response program also aims at helping you create an emotional gyroscopic stabilizer in you to balance you through hassles and times when you might be susceptible to feeling threatened.

Learn to dissolve and dispel welling anger by catching its early signs and using your head and your heart, instead of your aggression, to cope with the situation. Replace the anger reflex with forgiveness and the knowledge that you are in control. You don't want to get angry because it leaves you feeling weak and dispirited. The trick is to prevent yourself from developing angry feelings. That way you don't have to hold back the anger that grows inside of you. Albert Einstein said ''Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.'' Since it is we who unleash the wild animal part of our brain within us when we allow anger to flame, we do indeed act the fool.

There is growing evidence that holding back anger may be associated with cancer prone individuals. It's not the holding back of anger though. It's the lack of trust, irritability, tight holding on to negative feelings, free floating hostility and propensity to be easily upset or offended that's causing the held back anger.

In the Bible, Solomon says, "Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?" Treat anger like a fire which can burn out of control or be harnessed and put to productive use, like motivating you to return a defective product or giving you the courage to face someone you need to complain to.

Help for Angerholics

Most of the time, Dave is a loving, caring, very happy man. But he comes from a long line of big hearted, yet hot tempered, men, so coping with anger is a great challenge for Dave. Sometimes he manages to do it very well. You could call him a recovering angerholic. He falls off the wagon occasionally but he keeps getting better in his efforts. He has learned to apologize; he explores ways to prevent angry outbursts, and he's better at communicating his needs, likes and dislikes. If you have a temper, it is important to face the anger in yourself so you can do something about it.

Try this anti-anger exercise: Make a contemptuous face and then switch to a genuine smile with your upper teeth showing; you'll feel the similarities and differences in your facial muscle patterns. Switch from happy to angry, exuberant to disgusted, silly to depressed. Note which feelings come easier and feel stronger. These may signal ''ruts'' in your nervous system that are habitual responses for you. Explore them further. Is it easy for you to intensify an angry, disgusted or depressed face? If so, it may mean you set yourself up to fall into unnecessarily strong negative feelings each time you let that face intensify automatically. Try to minimize the force of that facial expression in a real situation. You'll see a change in your anger score.

The Anti-Anger Inoculation

Dr John Novaco adapted the stress inoculation technique (Chapter 9) for coping with anger. The idea is to plan ahead for anger episodes and inoculate yourself against them by developing a better understanding of how you get angry and skills for taking better control. Identify what situations, threats, behaviors or patterns anger you. Pinpoint the body sensations you feel when angry. Think of how you respond to anger: explode, get nasty or irritable, do a slow burn, become depressed, feel guilty, stress symptom flare-up, become ill?

Now develop interventions for fine tuned control and focus of your anger responses. Recognize anger as responding to some kind of a threat. Identify what the threat is and decide if anger will be an effective and appropriate response.

If it's appropriate, anger can be a great energizer, but it must be kept under control. I bought a lemon automobile and showed the sales manager at the car dealership how angry I could get. I wanted him to know it would not be wise to have a customer as dissatisfied as me coming back for service time and again, meeting new show-room customers over the 60 months of my warrantee. Well placed anger got my point across. But anger would have hurt my case if I had continued to rage uncontrollably once the dealer agreed to take the car back.

List the different results of your anger. Does it energize you? Cause aggressive action instead of assertiveness? Allow you to say no? Distance you? Give you courage to ask for what you want?

After you get angry, review the experience. What were the results? Were the goals of your anger activity met? What were the side effects? Figure out how the same results could have been accomplished without anger, or with less anger.

When you feel angry, recognize it and use the inoculation techniques to make conscious decisions about how to direct your anger in positive ways. Keep it in control, or better yet, replace the anger with healthier strategies.

Tips on Asserting Yourself

Angry outbursts are often symptoms of the person with assertiveness problems. Steve was a really good guy, sometimes too good. He never said no. He just agreed to, and apologized about, everything until he was so frustrated, he either felt terribly depressed and miserable about himself, or blew up in a rage over some small incident. He desperately needed assertiveness skills. How about you?

If your negative self talk is particularly self punishing, you may need some assertiveness skills. The way you interact with others can cause you considerable stress and emotional upset. The non-assertive person either blows up and becomes aggressive or wilts and says nothing, and feels terrible guilt and/or anger at the same time. Assertiveness training can help you to say no or ask what you legitimately want, need or deserve, calmly, not angrily, and without guilt.

Psychology researchers Wolpe and Lazarus show that everyone is assertive sometimes. They concluded that the goal is to increase the variety of situations and the frequency of assertive actions, and to decrease instances of angry blow-ups and passive collapses.

You are assertive when you stand up for yourself and say what you want or need to say, without letting others take advantage of you, and without getting angry. Non-assertive people tend to minimize their own rights. Often they don't believe they have a right to their own feelings or preferences when contradicted.

I've seen many patients who are non-assertive because they have low self-esteem and many negative automatic thoughts and cognitive distortions. Improving any of these will strengthen the others. Use the behavioral techniques described above to build your assertiveness. Insist on your right to happiness. Make a decision to take your share every day.

Marital Magic

In all the surveys taken to determine what makes people happy, a good relationship is always near the top of the list. It makes sense, since we all need support from somebody as we go through life. But if one partner is unhappy, inevitably the other is unhappy in some way too. So it's essential to work as a team, each helping the other to be happy as possible. And the most effective tools for achieving that state are: unconditional love, flexibility, communication, negotiation and accommodation.

Learn to respond lovingly, as a helper, when your mate is upset, regardless of whether you are the cause of it. Teach your spouse how to help you when you need some loving support. Give love whenever you can and don't expect it back immediately or in the same measure. These are the pillars that support a marriage, as well as any other loving relationship.

After five years of marriage, Arlene and Jack had reached a point where they were arguing angrily almost every day, and they both felt great emotional pain. Arlene saw herself as the more generous and emotionally giving one, and she believed Jack took advantage of this. ''Jack doesn't care about me,'' she confided. ''He holds back his feelings just to hurt me.''

Jack was frustrated and wounded by the way his marriage was going. Like many men, he was reluctant to show his emotions, and the idea of expressing the warm, cuddly feelings Arlene expected made him uncomfortable. Besides, her expectations in this regard seemed limitless.

At 45, Jack saw himself as a hardworking, dependable, faithful husband who wanted to please. ''I work hard. I'm a good father and provider. But she's never satisfied, no matter what I do. She's always mad at me, either for not helping her enough or for enjoying my leisure time,'' Jack told me. Their talks and the negative way Arlene and Jack interpreted each other's behavior only perpetuated the problems and the bad feelings that characterized their relationship.

Spouses frequently dwell on negative past experiences and reflexively see negative patterns in the other's behavior. In his book, Love Is Not Enough, Dr. Aaron Beck tells how he uses cognitive therapy to teach positive approaches to spouses in their relating patterns. Couples need to identify any distorted ideas they have of the relationship, or of their partner's behavior or feelings. For example, Arlene saw Jack as uncaring and mean, and she needed to re-frame her perception of him. She learned to reinterpret his behavior, to realize that he was a caring husband, but didn't know how to express it. Jack needed direction too. They agreed that each week they'd work to improve a on specific behavior of their own.

Jack agreed to spend five minutes with Arlene each evening when he came home from work, before turning on the television. He would massage her feet at least twice a week, he said, and he promised to help carry the wash to and from the laundry room.

Arlene agreed that Jack would have each evening from 8:00 to 10:00, to relax in his own way. She also agreed to tell him when she needed some extra attention, instead of merely getting angry at what she perceived as Jack's indifference. Arlene could expect to get some hugs or massages or conversation at some time during that same evening, if not immediately.

At first it was difficult for Jack to keep his part of the bargain. But practice produced more natural, automatically positive feelings, and, gradually, Jack began to enjoy fulfilling his end of the deal. As Arlene reframed Jack's behavior in a less negative light, she saw him as a good husband, trying to be even better, certainly not a loser. Giving more than she got also became easier for Arlene, because she allowed herself to enjoy the giving without resenting Jack's reticence anymore.

In your own relationship, one of the partners probably gives more easily than the other. If you are that one, appreciate your capacity to give and embrace the opportunity to do so. Work to increase your love, even though you don't always get what you want in return. Ken Keyes,jr., advises, in his book prescriptions for happiness, to increase your love, even though you may not get what you want. Love started your relationship. Use your smile activation, even in the "as if" mode that feels fake, when feelings are sore, to help you re-connect with your spouse, heart to heart. Use anger control techniques to inoculate yourself against over-reacting to pet peeves and other little irritations that set you off.

Develop a family positive experience bank. Try to spend time reviewing unshared PEs from each day, and try to plan shared positive experiences. Think of PE sharing and intensification as a form of foreplay that can keep your little "o"s going on a regular basis.

Any relationship has ups and downs, since none of us is perfect. But sometimes, people change so much, or create such bad chemistry between themselves, that the relationship must be ended. Divorce hurts terribly, but divorce mediation counseling can help make the process more civil and less adversary. In the interest of your own future happiness, try to separate as friends, forgiving any failures in your former partner and in yourself.

Perfectionists are Far From Perfect

Perfectionists are very hard on themselves, often suffering from low self esteem. They often feel angry at themselves, experiencing shame or disgust or guilt for not living up to the unrealistic expectations they have of themselves. Unfortunately, perfectionists often expect everyone around them to be perfect too. It's no wonder that free-floating hostility permeates perfectionism.

The perfectionist fears success, because this leads others to expect future successes. Considering the low self esteem that characterizes perfectionists, this responsibility is a frightening one. That's why perfectionists are often procrastinators. They put off the start or end of a project, because they fear that the finished product won't meet their characteristically high standards. They wait until the last minute to start the job, and use the late start to excuse an inferior final result.

This was Ken's way. He was always late, finishing projects at the last minute and feeling frustrated. ''I know I could have done better than this, but I needed more time.'' he'd say. His perfectionism caused the procrastination that cost him valuable time. And if he did start a project early enough, he got stuck so long at doing one part of it ''just right'' that he always blew the schedule anyway.

Ken needed to adopt the attitude that helped psychologist Albert Ellis to be such a prolific author, in spite of a heavy professional schedule. Ellis explained that he simply refused to spend unreasonable time and effort in re-writing to make the product perfect. There is a balance, he said, between wanting to do the best job and using the time available most productively.

Try these remedies for perfectionism:

1. Stay in the moment to minimize worry about the next time and give yourself plenty of time for whatever you tackle.

2. Use cognitive reframing to establish more realistic expectations

3. Relax to quiet the anxiety that can energize your sense of time pressure, self punishing, guilt and embarrassment

4. Set goals that establish realistic criteria so you can base your success on a reasonable, planned level of performance

5. Practice systematic desensitization, in which you imagine situations where you allow yourself a less than perfect performance. Relax during the imagery and say to yourself, ''I can do a pretty good job (perfect or not) and I'll start now, rather than avoid doing a job at all, or procrastinating until a poor job is inevitable so I have to make an excuse that I didn't have enough time left to do it.'' Base your performance evaluation on the time available for the project and say to yourself,''This is the best I can do with the time, energy and resources open to me.''

For additional help, review the techniques described for anxiety and racing thoughts in chapters six and nine.

Letting Go of Addictions Big and Small

Undesirable habits that run out of control, hurting the victim and everyone around are very difficult to control once they reach full throttle. An addiction can take over your life. At its worst, you filter everything through the perspective of that need. Work becomes something to get through, so you can drink again, or use a drug, or place a bet. Lying, irresponsibility and conflict become a regular part of your life. This is terrible for your self esteem, and it betrays and sabotages any support from the people who care about you.

Cigarettes, overeating, sugar, chocolates and caffeine are lesser addictions, but they can diminish your day-to-day happiness too. They take away from your health, energy, vivacity, appearance and your self esteem.

Overeating and food addiction can make and keep you overweight, looking less than your best. This effects self esteem every time you overdo it. Smoking wastes time, costs money you could use for better things, makes you smell so some non-smokers avoid you and, of course, dramatically increases your risk of life threatening diseases and more frequent respiratory problems.

All of the smaller habit disorders are really many small habits that add up to the big one. The following description of a habit quitting strategy shows how to take your habit or addiction and break it into more manageable parts.

Covert desensitization is an effective approach to eliminating a bad habit. First, think of the pleasurable aspects of your habit and create a hierarchy, from the least to the most pleasurable of these. Then create an aversive, unpleasant, negative experience hierarchy. Describe situations which bring out your disgust or fear. Nausea is the most commonly listed unpleasant image. Other repulsive concepts that might work for you include: stomach pain or diarrhea, disgusting insects, putrid foods or smells, mangled dead bodies, spiders, snakes, dental drilling, getting an injection or having blood drawn, and phobic stimuli like heights, closed in or wide open spaces, or negative feelings, and the situations that produced them, like rage, fear, hopelessness, desolation, shame, or disgust. As my kids would say, these negatives are ''yukkie'' but they can be powerful tools you can use to pry yourself free from your habits or addictions. Just as collecting positive experience memories can help you feel good, collecting at least some negative memories can also help you take greater control of your life.

Start with an image of the positive experience associated with your habit, walking into the bar where you drink regularly, saying hello to the regulars, for example. In your mind you take your coat off, sit down and your regular beer is there waiting for you, as usual. You put your hand on the bar and feel a wet, disgusting sensation. Someone has squashed a fat cockroach on the bar and you've put your hand and sleeve in its disgusting, oozing remains. It makes you feel nauseous. You grab your jacket, quickly walk out of the bar and respond to the fresh air. You go home, shower, and feel much better.

The idea is to link your addictive pleasure images with your aversion images to weaken your need or desire to repeat the addictive behavior or to use the substance. Then take these three steps:

1. Imagine a vivid situation from your positive hierarchy.

2. Bring in one of your aversive imagery situations to turn off the pleasure in the scene you're imagining. Use negative facial muscle and whole body emotional activation to intensify the negative feelings. Grimace, tighten up your muscles, take a taste of something bitter.

3. Imagine stopping the habit or addictive behavior and feeling better right away. Use real positive experience images from the past and add some you can realistically anticipate.

After a while, test the effectiveness of your efforts in real life. Walk past a bar you've never visited and use your aversive imagery. Stop the imagery when you walk away. Then switch back to healthy positive experience imagery to reinforce your positive action.

The same step-by-step, behavioral approach can be and is, used by professionals to treat many types of addiction and habit problems.

Addictive substances and behaviors (like gambling and sexual excesses) can crush your self image, though you may expect them to do just the opposite for you. They add considerable stress to your life as a whole rather than the calming effect they seem to promise. The stimulants take you up and then let you crash. Many drugs give temporary highs, and, in the process, destroy your body's natural ability to turn on and experience good feelings. That's why withdrawal feels so bad. The longer you wait, the worse it will be. So stop now! Of course, alcohol or drug addiction should be handled with the help of a physician.

Getting Straight Again

Psychologist Paula Bram Amar, at Eugenia Hospital in Philadelphia, uses a computer to analyze recovering addicts psychophysiologically. She measures their response to stress and to relaxation tasks as a means for evaluating how their bodies are imbalanced and dysregulated-- after they've finished the withdrawal phase of their treatment. Patients on a specific addictive substance have a characteristic physiological pattern. But when they discontinue the substance, they rebound to a different, but still abnormal, dysregulated pattern that can work against their full recovery. Dr. Amar uses individualized biofeedback-aided, pattern specific self regulation training programs to re-regulate and normalize the systems of these patients, making it easier for them to stay on the wagon.

Strengthen Your Immune System

There is an emotional and motivational aspect of pain and illness that can be profoundly affected by many psychological factors. The Happiness Response can help. Chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9 will all provide useful approaches for reframing, and conceptualizing your problem and then dealing with the stress it produces.

We know that stress can weaken some people's immune systems and can directly affect their resistance to disease. (Some ''hardy individuals'' seem to thrive on stress and actually get healthier.) Both Getting Well Again by Carl Simonton, Ph.D.and Love, Medicine & Miracles by Bernie Siegel, .M.D, detail approaches to illness that maximize your innate healing and regenerative powers. Dr. Siegel says that, ''All disease is ultimately related to a lack of love, or to love that is only conditional, for the exhaustion and depression of the immune system thus created leads to physical vulnerability.'' He also suggests, ''All healing is related to the ability to give and accept unconditional love.'' So you need to make every effort to weave love into your life.

If you suffer from chronic illness, it's may seem easier to do nothing; but don't give in to inaction. Take an aggressive approach by planning positive experiences for yourself on a regular basis. Even with a devastating illness, you can study your positive experience bank to identify many positive experiences you can still enjoy, though perhaps on a more limited or briefer basis. You can use the KPEI to identify positive experience categories you didn't have time for or the priority for before.

(A)Breath Strength into Your Immune System

Learn to breath diaphragmatically. One important function of breathing in addition to getting oxygen into the lungs is the pumping of the lymphatic circulatory system. The lymph system is the body's vacuum cleaner, collecting fluids throughout your body that are not in the blood vessels and filtering them through your lymph nodes. These nodes are like immune system turbo-charging filters. They add germ killing lymphocytes to the lymph fluid right before it re-enters the blood stream, and they contain phagocyte cells which attack and destroy foreign bodies and metastasizing cells. Since diaphragmatic breathing helps the lymph circulation to function optimally, it's probably the best relaxation technique for people with cancer and other immune system related problems.

Elizabeth, a middle manager for a billion dollar corporation, and the mother of two daughters, aged 13 and 6, from two former marriages, had a heart attack at the age of 41. She was angry and frightened about what happened to her, yet Elizabeth was determined not to change her life or lose any parts of it she valued. She rested a while, then went back to her job as soon as possible. A second heart attack followed shortly after the first. This time, Elizabeth took a harder look at what was important. She stopped working and learned to take a more peaceful posture in response to her husband's frequent immature behavior--angry outbursts. She took a positive experience inventory and began doing things that made her feel good--working in her garden, spending more time with her daughters and exercising regularly. She had to create a new, non-superwoman self image. Though Elizabeth still missed her high pressure job now and then, she created a new life and a new lifestyle that allowed her to survive and still live well.

Dispel Depression

Joan frequently felt tired and short on motivation. On bad days she cried or blew up at her husband. She lost regular contact with her friends because she just didn't have any energy to expend on them. Joan reached a point when she felt incapable of doing anything to help herself. Her life was miserable.

We all experience occasional times when our emotions drop lower. And if we stay low enough long enough, the condition is bona fide, clinically diagnosable depression. But depression is not a black-or-white, on-off-phenomenon. The way we perceive and interpret the problem influences how we cope with it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson characterized depression more than a century ago: ''There are moods in which we court suffering, in the hope that here, at least, we shall find reality, sharp peaks and edges of truth. But it turns out to be scene painting and counterfeit., The only thing grief has taught me is to know how shallow it is.''

Though most depressions are caused by reactions to our environment, some are due to biological factors. Both types generally respond to an improved overall fitness level and the betterment of any particular physical problems. The universal biological rhythms we all experience throughout the day that take us up and down and are likely to amplify the effects of other elements in our life that move our moods up or down.

Psychiatrist Aaron Beck, M.D., published a very important study showing that cognitive therapy was just as effective in treating externally caused depressions as were antidepressant drugs.

Use the smile exercises (Chapters 3,4) when your activity or emotional expression is slowed or depressed to loosen you up and energize your emotions. You may have to go through the motions of pumping smile iron a while before the gloom begins to lift.

You can learn to cope better with normal bouts of depression if you accept the truth of the flicker factor-- that the darkness will go away, that it is not forever, that its presence signifies the coming of better feelings. Your depression will lift and you will be happy again.

Joan wanted to help herself, but her depressed attitude made it difficult to do. She couldn't see any light at end of the tunnel. ''I have nothing to feel good about.'' she told me. She was filtering out all her past and current pleasures and satisfactions, dwelling only on her predominant negative feelings.

I gave Joan several homework assignments. First, I told her to record her frequently repeated negative self statements. It was easy for Joan to come up with that list. We analyzed statements like, ''I'm never happy.'' and ''Nothing ever works out right.'' Then we developed a written list of reasonable alternative statements like, ''I'm not feeling happy now, but I have felt happy before and I will feel happy again.'' and ''This isn't working out as well a I want right now, but it might when I try again later.''

When I asked Joan to begin a positive experience library (Chapter 00) from her past and present, she said she didn't have any joys or successes in her life. I instructed her to note when she smiled or engaged in any activity that made her feel better--not necessarily good, just better. At first, Joan actually brought back loads of negative experiences, and just one or two positive experiences. With coaching and encouragement, she began to recall older positive experiences and started recognizing positive experiences in each day of her life. Eventually, as her filter began to become more positive, her depression became more manageable. She began to experience some joy in life once more.

Trade Anger for Generosity

When someone is rude, mean, emotionally assaultive, or dishonest, I tell him or her, ''What you're doing bugs me, but it's bad for you.'' I try not to get angry, try not to swallow the same bitter pill. When I'm on top of my emotional self regulation skills, I reverse my close-to-being-angry, flushed, almost- frowning face to a smiling one. I talk to the good part of the person who's losing his cool, and say, ''Take it easy. That kind of anger will kill you. It can lead to heart trouble.'' or when someone cuts in line or goes out of turn, I'll say ''When you deliberately break the rules, you really hurt your self respect.''

The better I get at this caring approach, the more new friends I make. More important, I replace my old anger response with one that makes me feel good about myself.

Think of your Happiness Response as a way for you to become a positive mirror for the world, to not only see the best and brightest points of light, but to illuminate the darkest corners-- in yourself and along your path through life. Share your happiness and positive experiences as you would share your money, for charitable uses. It will come back to you many times over.

End Chapter 14

You can also access other related materials from the Positivity Central Page

Contact me with comments, suggestions, etc at Rob Kall rob@futurehealth.org