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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Scary Air

by Christy Gualtieri

You’ve most likely heard the saying, “Do one thing that scares you,” a popular – and somewhat useful – nudge designed to move you out of your comfort zone. Doing things that scare you, or even things that make you uncomfortable help give you confidence, trust in your own abilities, and spur you onward into even greater things.

I know all these to be true, my friends, because just the other day I also did something that scared me: I put air in my car tires.

Putting air in your car tires seems to be the kind of thing that 99% of car owners would probably not bat an eye at, probably because it’s one of the most simple ways to take care of your car.  But while I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, there’s a surprising (at least to me) number of “simple” things that I struggle to do. Jello, for example. I can’t make jello.  I’ve burned spaghetti (which you are supposed to boil).  I have been that person at the gas pump who has sprayed gasoline all over her pants during a six-hour drive across the state.  (In my defense, I learned how to drive in New Jersey, where it is illegal to pump your own gas, so I didn’t learn how to until I was solidly ten years behind every other American driver my age not from New Jersey.) So you’ll understand why I was nervous about pumping air into my tires.  It just seemed hard.  There’s the little cap you have to screw off, and what if I lost it? And what if I put too much air in, causing the tire to explode right in my face? What if I couldn’t do it, and everyone would see what a failure I was?

But it’s the autumn, the time of year when the cooler weather necessitates a trip to put air in my tires. And while I am very lucky to be married to an extremely capable man who is more than willing to do things like this for me, I was determined this year to learn the skill for myself. So I drove up to the air pump at the local station, read the instructions, and got to work. I put in the amount of air pressure I wanted, hooked up the pump to my tire (after screwing off the little cap), and it worked! The machine beeped when it was full, and I replaced the cap and moved on to the next tire. No tires exploded in my face, and when I was finished, I replaced the air pump hose back to the machine with total satisfaction.

I was downright ecstatic…until I found out it didn’t work. When I got back in my car to drive away, my tire pressure numbers hadn’t inflated. I was so annoyed! What did I do wrong? What was wrong with me? Would I ever learn to fill my own tires? I drove the short distance home, hoping the numbers would readjust, but they stayed put. I asked my husband what it could be and he told me that he’d show me a few days later when we went out for church, but I wanted to figure it out for myself, today.

And so I did. A couple of hours later, I returned to the same gas station and the man there said the air pump was broken; they’d just hadn’t had a chance to put up a sign.  So off I went to another station down the street with an air pump, absolutely determined to get this right. I put in the pressure numbers, hooked up the pump, and…success! I managed to fully and properly inflate all four car tires by myself. I drove away just as pumped as my tires!

I fully understand how ridiculous this all sounds, especially from a grown woman, but it really was something that scared me and it was something I was able to gain a lot of confidence from. I learned that I was able to persevere and figure out what I wanted and needed to do, and I did it. It’s probably the smallest example in the world, but those are the best kind, because everyone can do them. Even you!

So choose something that scares you today – or at least makes you a little nervous. It can be anything: a hard conversation with a friend, base jumping off the Grand Canyon, whatever. Even putting air in your car tires. But give it a try. Because even if you don’t succeed at it, like I didn’t the first time I tried, you’ll know you got that far, you’re still alive, and you can always try again.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

Existential GPS

Holding Darkness Within

A brief tour inside Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House

by Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC

The psychological difference between horror and terror as a literary or cinematic device is that both serve their own unique function as a vehicle to elicit powerful feelings ranging from dread to revulsion. Terror is typically described as a feeling of fear, suspense and anticipation that precedes a frightening experience. It is the build toward some awful reveal. By contrast, horror is the feeling of revulsion that one experiences following a visually frightening or shocking experience. It is the result of a dreadful realization or the experience of something deeply unpleasant.

the-haunting-julie-harris-1963
Publicity still for The Haunting, MGM 1963

Yet, unpleasantness occurs in many forms. It manifests both individually and culturally and is mostly universal by its very definition. In short, we can recognize it and feel it both intellectually and intuitively. Have you ever felt lonely, out of place, a misfit? Ever wanted something new, but were fearful of what others might think about you? Are there times when you feel the world doesn’t quite get you? So, unless you are void of human emotion or connection, the answer should have been yes to all three questions.

Welcome to the haunted world of author Shirley Jackson and, in particular, her fifth novel, The Haunting of Hill House (1959). Whether you are a student of literature or psychology, or you just have a morbid curiosity for all the shadowy things that linger at the top of your psyche’s staircase, then The Haunting of Hill House is a book you should read. Author Stephen King has praised it as one of the most important horror novels of the twentieth century. I would add that it is also a novel that reveals the intricate and subtle ways in which mental illness manifests, ebbing and flowing like the shadows and sounds within Hill House.

On the surface, the story of Hill House seems fairly pedestrian. A group of individuals participate in a paranormal study at an alleged haunted mansion (back in the day when those sorts of studies could still be sponsored by a university). Dr. John Montague, a professor and investigator of all things supernatural; Eleanor Vance, a withdrawn and timid young woman who resents having lived as a recluse caring for her invalid mother; Theodora, a bohemian, performer and artist (It is implied that Theo is a lesbian, but indirectly so because this is still 1959); and Luke Sanderson, the young heir to Hill House and resident playboy.

The novel, intentionally guarded in its prose, explores the supernatural while finding common ground with psychology. It takes on each of these subjects with equal amounts of care and skepticism while never fully arriving at any conclusion or endorsement of either. Unseen forces hammer on doors and ceilings, mysterious and pleading messages for the main character, Eleanor Vance, are written on walls, and the ghostly laughter and cries of children are heard in the night. If you want a good scare, Hill House won’t disappoint.

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Top that for an opening paragraph to any novel. Indeed, this sets the tone for what Hill House is and how it will expose the reader to the haunted and fragile psyche of Eleanor. Hill House is indeed the fifth character in this novel; an eighty-year-old mansion, “born bad,” in a location that is never specified built by a long-deceased and cruel millionaire named Hugh Crain (painted on the ceiling of his only child’s dreary nursery are the words “Suffer the Little Children.”)

Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” This description is not only how Jackson presents Hill House to the reader, but how the character of Eleanor moves through her life, guarded and lonely. Things are not as they seem within the walls of Hill House and they are certainly not well beneath the outwardly modest walls of Eleanor, either. Still waters do indeed run deep, and dark.

Terror, not horror, is on the menu at Jackson’s café macabre, and she masterfully knows which ingredients will pack the most punch. Told in the tradition of a Gothic horror novel, Hill House, has been made into two feature films (the original 1963 version directed by Robert Wise is a faithful and absolutely splendid adaptation of Jackson’s ghost story – see it – now), and is the basis of an upcoming television series on Netflix. Jackson’s tale relies solely on terror rather than horror to elicit emotion in the characters and the reader; manipulating the relationships between the characters’ psyches and the mysterious events in the house, while leaving the reader to determine what may have really happened inside the “wood and stone of Hill House” as well as what occurred in the mind of Eleanor.

With Eleanor, Jackson offers the reader a female character who embodies depth, dimension and mystery. Psychologically wounded by her fear of loneliness, fear of others, fear of self, and a fear of the unknown, Eleanor is at once recognizable and common, yet Jackson keeps her slightly detached, slightly off, so that we understand the metaphor being presented to us as we simultaneously walk the lonely corridors and rooms of her psyche and of Hill House.

As Jackson wrote, “Hill House, not sane, stood against its hills, holding darkness within…And whatever walked there, walked alone.”

To be continued… Part 2 of a 5-week series on eTalkTherapy’s psychology of fear.

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Everyday Therapy

Part 2: The Essentials of Developing Quality Relationships

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC

A Series of Articles: 2 of 6 –  How Respect & Appreciation Increase Rewarding Relationships.  

This is the second in a series of 6 articles relating to developing quality relationships.  Developing quality relationships is complex, layered, and many times, grappled with throughout life.  Respect and Appreciation are the focus of today’s article.

Respect is an important factor in each relationship throughout life. First, consider the importance of respect for yourself.  A strong presence of respect centered internally assists with understanding and valuing yourself and others; and dually, with developing quality relationships.  At times, an individual may grapple with respecting one’s self; if this occurs, it’s important to invest time and the work associated with learning ways to develop a high level of respect for one’s self. In addition, this process assists with developing capacities to give respect in each relationship and in a variety of environments.

At times, it is important to consider the differences and many similarities in regards to how each individual gives and receives affirmations of respect and appreciation.  For example, showing appreciation for a partner fixing the vehicle and/or making dinner on a busy evening is an important aspect of daily life.  Therefore, giving your loved one positive verbal affirmations assists in showing respect and appreciation; for others, physical engagement, a hug for example, or an act of encouragement supports this intention.  In each relationship, it’s important to take inventory of your thoughts, feelings, reactions, behaviors, and words; and to ask yourself where the motivation for your words and behaviors are coming from.

Consider the following:

  1. Seek out relationships with a give-give ratio: Having respect for one’s self assists in setting healthy boundaries and seeking out healthy and enjoyable relationships. Consider if you feel supported by and support the other individual. The deeper meaning here is that each person supports the other’s gifts and differences- each person has a different set of gifts in life. Respect and appreciation assist in supporting, nurturing, and balancing values, goals, and the complexities of change throughout; even positive change has the propensity to be difficult without each.
  2. The flexibility to grow as a human-being, with mutual trust, support, respect, and appreciation throughout life’s natural changes: Change is inevitable and extremely difficult for some. For many, this brings an uncomfortable awareness and vulnerability. During times when a person has difficulty with feelings of vulnerability and/or experiencing fear and the unknown, engaging in disrespectful behaviors erode the relationship.  At times, the trust and safety factors an individual desires to feel are diminished over time; which destroys the relationship. Many times, each person is left confused as to what happened. Engaging in a consistent respectful dialogue and behaviors, while showing appreciation during change and stressful times, increases feelings of trust, safety, and love, while strengthening the relationship long-term.
  3. Disappointment, Fear, & Frustration: In a relationship it’s important to refrain from engaging in critical, blameful, and harming behaviors where the probability of pain and isolation is evident. The mentioned behaviors destroy individuals and the relationship as a whole. Each person may experience loneliness, and engage in the relationship while tolerating stress and frustration. There are times however, where difficult transitions may assist in grappling with deeper issues, which has potential to increase awareness, life satisfaction, and create new opportunities moving forward.
  4. Implement a balance of strength: At times, it’s vital to express feelings and emotions even when it’s uncomfortable or difficult. In other situations, a level of graciousness and acceptance is inherently beneficial to the self, the person being engaging with, and to the relationship as a whole. With this, it’s important to ask the difficult question of what is driving the decision to share or avoid sharing. The motivation in itself has the potential to change the outcome of whether to share and in what manners.
  5. Respect and appreciation ‘look’ different for each individual and has shifts throughout the lifespan. Reflect on each relationship; if you’re in a relationship where respect and appreciation are lacking, it’s important to address the issues and move forward from there. Many times, this involves adjustments in how a person approaches her/himself, how each individual approaches the other person, and by learning healthier ways to communicate. Therapy is beneficial to assist with working through current and/or old and outdated behaviors that are void of benefit and hindering to growth and the development towards giving and receiving respect and appreciation.

In conclusion, developing respect and appreciation are part of a complex process of behaviors that work towards increasing the quality of intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships, mutual understanding, support (including during difficult times), and enjoyment.  When coupled with communication, a relationship has the capacity to be mutually satisfying and full of support, caring, and positive interactions. COMING SOON: article 3 of 6 in the series: How to Increase Healthy Communication

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

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Existential GPS

Send In the Clowns

Our Collective Fascination and Fear of Big Top Tricksters
by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

Pennywise.

The name conjures a certain image of how we see clowns in our modern age. In his tale, “It,” Stephen King introduced us to a very dark world in the shape of Pennywise and the public’s perception of clowns has never quite been the same.

Coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns (of course psychology/psychiatry birthed a label for it), appears to be more common than we once thought.

A BBC News article in 2008 article cited a study conducted by the University of Sheffield. Researchers there polled children in several British hospitals about redesigns to the décor within the pediatric units. According to the story, all 250 children expressed a fear or strong dislike of clowns.

The full results of the study were apparently never published…Cue the screeching violin music…

More recently, fear gripped certain regions of the country when sinister looking clowns began making random appearances near playgrounds, secluded wooded areas, and old dark roads, just where you would expect to find them or vice-versa, right? Creepy and, in most cases, not very funny.

In a 2004 article for Trinity University, researcher Joseph Durwin explained two theories regarding our fear of this otherwise innocuous subject. He stated that the fear we experience when exposed to tricksters with names like Bozo, Slappy or Chuckles could possibly be based on a negative personal experience with a clown at a young age. The second theory is that television and film has produced a certain fear of clowns and clown existence. That is, even children who are not personally exposed to clowns are taught to fear them.

Court Jesters were the original clowns, often rude, often pushing the limits of good taste in a world that had little to laugh about. Jesters eventually morphed into the Trickster, and the modern circus clown is the result of the “tramp” or “hobo” clowns of Depression era America. Clowns during this time shed light onto the seedy underside of clown life. They were not “evil” per say, but were seen as “lower class,” “poor souls” and reflected a slightly unpleasant slice of American life in the 1930s. Later, and in the real world, we see the clown emerging with its most disturbed, perverted and horrific persona in the evil shape of serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

To take on the kind of popular mythos that evil clowns have enjoyed over the past several decades then perhaps there  is something more afoot than a passing, albeit morbid fascination. Could it be argued that the fear of clowns is much more deep rooted in our psyches than once thought? Are they the manifestation of a shadow side within each of us? A morbid reflection of all the thoughts and things we keep in the dark, and for good reason?  Is there something relatable for all of us beyond the creepiness, the gore, and the malevolent intent?  A clown, after all, is a just clown. By definition it is “someone who performs in a circus, who wears funny clothes and makeup, and who tries to make people laugh. Someone who often does funny things to make people laugh.”

So, what happened?  Perhaps the answer to that lies deep in our unexplored fears.

To be continued… Part 1 of a 5-week series on eTalkTherapy’s psychology of fear.

Sources:
Durwin, J. Coulrophobia and the Trickster, Trinity University. 2004.
Merriam Webster Dictionary, 2016.

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

A Time of Transition

by Christy Gualtieri

I don’t know if you remember the commercial or not, but years ago there used to be an ad on TV for back-to-school shopping.  It featured a parent literally dancing in the aisles as they threw notebooks, paper, and pencils in a shopping cart, kids trudging behind, as the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” played.

I love that commercial because I identify with it.  It is a wonderful time! When school starts, my kids actually get to learn things instead of spending hours on end bickering over toys or throwing dirt in each other’s faces! They’re happy hanging out with friends during recess instead of crying because their sibling pulled their hair or grabbed their toy or – and this is my personal favorite – their sibling’s foot has moved two inches onto their own couch cushion, and how can I be calm and well-behaved  because THEIR FOOT IS ON MY SPAAAAAAAAACE! MOOOOOOMMM!

It’s been a long summer.

But it’s over now, and the kids are in school, and cue the dancing! The twirling in the store aisles! And…the screaming? The tears over a changed routine? The afternoon meltdowns because things are different and it’s hard to get used to?

Yes, to all of them.  And no, it wasn’t my kids doing that.  It was me.

I had such a hard time transitioning into a new school year this year! New grades, new after school activities, new expectations for homework, new preschool for my daughter, and tons of paperwork sent me nearly into hot, frustrated tears every day.  How in the the world was I going to adjust? My kids seemed fine with it, but me? I was the mess. And then I realized why.

I’ve always had a hard time with transitions: moving to a new neighborhood, starting a new school, starting college, starting pretty much anything.  A new job would start a new world of worrying about my performance; a new addition to my routine would be really unsettling. And I’d get upset about the something new until I got used to it, which I eventually would.

But this year, I wasn’t as upset for as long as usual, and I figured out why.  Because I let myself feel it. I acknowledged that the first couple weeks of this new academic year were going to be tumultuous, and new, and went with that.  I let myself feel unhappy about it and did my best to power through, and here we are: about three weeks in, and I feel settled. I leaned into it, didn’t make myself “get over it faster,” and when I was able to breathe comfortably, I did.

If you’ve had children naturally, you’re familiar with the term “transition,” that short bit of time between the completely agonizing period of labor and the time when you’re ready to push that baby out.  It’s not the longest time of the labor process, but it’s the most painful. That in-between. If you’re in an in-between point in your life right now and you’re feeling that pain, know that something better is coming.  You will overcome whatever it is that you’re transitioning from and moving to a place you can – and will – get comfortable in. Lean into it as best you can, and when you’re able to, take a deep breath.

Until next time, be well!
Christy