Why speaking to yourself in the third person makes you wiser

Mirror

We credit Socrates with the insight that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ and that to ‘know thyself’ is the path to true wisdom. But is there a right and a wrong way to go about such self-reflection?

Simple rumination – the process of churning your concerns around in your head – isn’t the answer. It’s likely to cause you to become stuck in the rut of your own thoughts and immersed in the emotions that might be leading you astray. Certainly, research has shown that people who are prone to rumination also often suffer from impaired decision making under pressure, and are at a substantially increased risk of depression.

Instead, the scientific research suggests that you should adopt an ancient rhetorical method favoured by the likes of Julius Caesar and known as ‘illeism’ – or speaking about yourself in the third person (the term was coined in 1809 by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge from the Latin ille meaning ‘he, that’). If I was considering an argument that I’d had with a friend, for instance, I might start by silently thinking to myself: ‘David felt frustrated that…’ The idea is that this small change in perspective can clear your emotional fog, allowing you to see past your biases.

A bulk of research has already shown that this kind of third-person thinking can temporarily improve decision making. Now a preprint at PsyArxiv finds that it can also bring long-term benefits to thinking and emotional regulation. The researchers said this was ‘the first evidence that wisdom-related cognitive and affective processes can be trained in daily life, and of how to do so’.

The findings are the brainchild of the psychologist Igor Grossmann at the University of Waterloo in Canada, whose work on the psychology of wisdom was one of the inspirations for my recent book on intelligence and how we can make wiser decisions.

Grossmann’s aim is to build a strong experimental footing for the study of wisdom, which had long been considered too nebulous for scientific enquiry. In one of his earlier experiments, he established that it’s possible to measure wise reasoning and that, as with IQ, people’s scores matter. He did this by asking participants to discuss out-loud a personal or political dilemma, which he then scored on various elements of thinking long-considered crucial to wisdom, including: intellectual humility; taking the perspective of others; recognising uncertainty; and having the capacity to search for a compromise. Grossmann found that these wise-reasoning scores were far better than intelligence tests at predicting emotional wellbeing, and relationship satisfaction – supporting the idea that wisdom, as defined by these qualities, constitutes a unique construct that determines how we navigate life challenges.

Working with Ethan Kross at the University of Michigan in the United States, Grossmann has also looked for ways to improve these scores – with some striking experiments demonstrating the power of illeism. In a series of laboratory experiments, they found that people tend to be humbler, and readier to consider other perspectives, when they are asked to describe problems in the third person.

Imagine, for instance, that you are arguing with your partner. Adopting a third-person perspective might help you to recognise their point of view or to accept the limits of your understanding of the problem at hand. Or imagine you are considering moving jobs. Taking the distanced perspective could help you to weigh up the benefits and the risks of the move more dispassionately.

This earlier research involved only short-term interventions, however – meaning it was far from clear whether wiser reasoning would become a long-term habit with regular practice at illeism.

To find out, Grossmann’s latest research team asked nearly 300 participants to describe a challenging social situation, while two independent psychologists scored them on the different aspects of wise reasoning (intellectual humility, etc). The participants then had to keep a diary for four weeks. Each day, they had to describe a situation they’d just experienced, such as a disagreement with a colleague or some bad news. Half were prompted to do so in the first-person, while the others were encouraged to describe their trials from a third-person perspective. At the end of the study, all participants repeated the wise-reasoning test.

Grossmann’s results were exactly as he’d hoped. While the control participants showed no overall change in their wise-reasoning scores, those using illeism improved in their intellectual humility, perspective-taking and capacity to find a compromise.

A further stage of the study suggested that this newfound wisdom also translated into greater emotional regulation and stability. After they had finished the four-week diary intervention, participants had to predict how their feelings of trust, frustration or anger about a close family member or friend might change over the next month – then, after that month was up, they reported back on how things had actually gone.

In line with other work on ‘affective forecasting’, the people in the control condition overestimated their positive emotions and underestimated the intensity of their negative emotions over the course of the month. In contrast, those who’d kept a third-person diary were more accurate. A closer look revealed that their negative feelings, as a whole, were more muted, and that’s why their rosy predictions were more accurate. It seems their wiser reasoning had allowed them to find better ways to cope.

I find these emotion and relationship effects particularly fascinating, considering the fact that illeism is often considered to be infantile. Just think of Elmo in the children’s TV show Sesame Street, or the intensely irritating Jimmy in the sitcom Seinfeld – hardly models of sophisticated thinking. Alternatively, it can be taken to be the sign of a narcissistic personality – the very opposite of personal wisdom. After all, Coleridge believed that it was a ruse to cover up one’s own egotism: just think of the US president’s critics who point out that Donald Trump often refers to himself in the third person. Clearly, politicians might use illeism for purely rhetorical purposes but, when applied to genuine reflection, it appears to be a powerful tool for wiser reasoning.

As the researchers point out, it would be exciting to see whether the benefits apply to other forms of decision making besides the more personal dilemmas examined in Grossmann’s study. There’s reason to think that they might. Previous experiments have shown, for instance, that rumination leads to worse choices in poker (hence why expert players strive for a detached, emotionally distanced attitude), and that greater emotional awareness and regulation can improve performance on the stock market.

In the meantime, Grossmann’s work continues to prove that the subject of wisdom is worthy of rigorous experimental study – with potential benefits for all of us. It is notoriously difficult to increase general intelligence through brain-training, but these results suggest that wiser reasoning and better decision making are within everyone’s power.

This is an adaptation of an article originally published by The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest.

From: Aeon

 

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Spot the psychopath

„Je bedrohlicher die Situation wird, desto asozialer wird der Mensch. Er wird zum Körper, der sich am Leben zu erhalten versucht. Keine politische, keine moralische, keine religiöse, keine soziale Überlegung kommt dagegen an.“ – Primo Levi

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Psychopath. The word conjures up the image of a cold-blooded killer, or perhaps a fiendishly clever but heartless egoist. There’s Ted Bundy, who in the 1970s abducted women, killed them, and had sex with their decomposing bodies. Or Hannibal Lecter from the film The Silence of the Lambs (1991), who cunningly escaped his various confinements and ended up eating the people he despised. In the popular imagination, psychopaths are the incarnation of evil. However, for an increasing number of researchers, such people are ill, not evil – victims of their own deranged minds. So just what are psychopaths, and what is wrong with them?

According to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist – first devised in the 1970s by the Canadian criminal psychologist Robert Hare and since revised and widely used for diagnosis – psychopaths are selfish, glib and irresponsible. They have poor impulse control, are antisocial from a young age, and lack the ability to feel empathy, guilt and remorse. Psychopaths steal, lie and cheat, and have no respect for other people, social norms or the law. In some cases, they torture defenceless animals, assault other children or attempt to kill their siblings or parents. If caught, they fail to take responsibility for their actions, but tend to blame others, their upbringing or ‘the system’. According to some recent calculations, more than 90 per cent of male psychopaths in the United States are in prison, on parole or otherwise involved with the criminal justice system. Considering that psychopaths are thought to make up only around 1 per cent of the general population, that number is staggering. Because of this close link to criminality, psychopathy used to be known as ‘moral insanity’.

This picture of psychopathy has dominated the thinking of both laypeople and researchers. It’s at once sensational and reassuring. Psychopaths are sick, deranged, lacking in moral conscience. In other words, they’re nothing like you or me. But this is false. There’s no major ability that psychopaths lack altogether, and their deficits are often small and circumscribed. They certainly aren’t incapable of telling right from wrong, making good decisions or experiencing empathy for other people. Instead, they suffer from a host of more mundane problems – such as being overly goal-fixated, fearless and selfish. What’s more, perhaps ‘our’ reactions are closer to ‘theirs’ than we realise. Like psychopaths, we can dial our empathy up and down; and for all the praise we heap on empathy, a closer look at this emotion suggests that it’s nearer to a kind of self-preservation instinct than any ‘warm and fuzzy’ fellow-feeling.

Rather than freakish outliers then, psychopaths reveal important truths about human morality. But are we ready to accept what they might teach us?

When debating what’s wrong with psychopaths, researchers typically pitch two competing moral theories against one another. One approach, known as rationalism, holds that judging right and wrong is a matter of reason, rather than feeling. Some philosophers claim that psychopaths show that rationalism is plain wrong. Psychopaths are as logical as you and me – in fact, they outsmart us all the time, hence their everyday depiction as connivers and con artists. So the fact that they’re rational but still capable of inhuman acts shows that moral sensibility can’t be grounded in reason alone.

But something isn’t quite right here. If psychopaths are so smart, why do they constantly get caught up with the criminal justice system? In his authoritative portrait of psychopathy Without Conscience (1993), Hare describes a man who was on his way to a party when he decided to get a case of beer. Realising he’d forgotten his wallet, the man – who scored highly on Hare’s psychopathy checklist – robbed the nearest gas station, seriously injuring the sales attendant with a heavy piece of wood.

So while psychopaths aren’t irrational in the sense of being unable to think clearly, they seem to act irrationally. They struggle with what philosophers call ‘reasons for actions’: considerations that underlie our decisions to act, such as the likelihood that what we’ll do will satisfy our goals and won’t come into conflict with other projects or aims. Although bludgeoning the shop assistant does, for example, serve the goal of getting beer for the party, it frustrates the more pressing and underlying desire to stay out of prison. Psychopaths appear to be poor at integrating all the various factors that go into making good choices, and often have poor reasons for their actions.

The psychological evidence confirms that psychopaths have deficits in reasoning that affect how they make decisions. They usually attend almost exclusively to the task at hand (whatever that might be), and ignore relevant contextual information – although when context doesn’t play a role, they do very well. Other studies have found that psychopaths have problems reversing their responses: when actions that were previously rewarded are now punished – or actions that were previously punished are rewarded – they have problems adjusting. Similarly, Hare and his collaborator Jeffrey Jutai found that, if psychopaths are asked to navigate a maze, they doggedly pursue their initial tactic even if doing so causes them to receive painful electric shocks. Whereas most people desist and find other ways to navigate their way through, psychopaths tend not to. This insensitivity extends to social threats, such as angry faces.

These findings support the rationalist idea that psychopathic immorality comes down to some inability to reason well. But you might have noticed that psychopaths don’t experience fear as often, and in the same situations, as do ordinary people. Last time I looked, fear was an emotion. This brings us back into the camp of people who think that emotion, not reason, is central to ethics. Typically they focus on empathy.

When explicitly told to empathise with another, psychopaths could do it

Apart from some notable empathy naysayers, such as the psychologist Paul Bloom at Yale University and the philosopher Jesse Prinz at the City University of New York, empathy is typically held in high regard among theorists and researchers. Part of the reason is its excellent fit with a second major moral theory known as sentimentalism. Dating back to the 18th-century philosophers David Hume and Adam Smith, sentimentalists believe that an ability to tell right from wrong is grounded in a tendency to feel what others feel. Because we suffer along with others, we come to see their suffering as bad or wrong. Thanks to these empathic feelings, we care about what happens to other people even if it doesn’t directly affect us.

One of the best empirical sources for these claims is the social psychological research on empathic concern. Psychologists working in development, such as Martin Hoffman at New York University and Nancy Eisenberg at Arizona State University, maintain that it plays a central role in social competence and moral understanding. Dan Batson argues that empathic concern is a warm, soft-hearted, compassionate feeling for someone in need, which leads to truly altruistic behaviour. Empathy motivates us to treat others well, and it is at the foundation of moral regard for others. Psychopaths appear to validate these ideas, apparently lacking both moral sense and empathy.

However, psychopaths fare strangely well on tests of empathy. Given that these tests are usually based on self-reports and that psychopaths are prolific liars, this is not necessarily surprising. But psychopaths also produce intriguing results on experiments that test physiological and brain responses. Skin conductance, for example, measures how good a conductor of electricity your skin is; it’s a good indicator of your emotional state, since when you sweat in response to stress, fear or anger, your skin becomes momentarily better at carrying electric current. As you might expect, when psychopaths are exposed to pictures of people in distress, they show less skin conductance reactivity than do non-psychopaths. Other tests measure startle responses: if you show a person pictures that they find threatening, they startle much more easily in response to loud sounds. Psychopaths respond normally to direct threats, such as an image of the gaping jaw of a shark or a striking snake, but not to social threats, such as people in pain or distress. Ordinary people react to both.

Neuroscientists have also studied the empathic responses of psychopaths. In typical studies involving functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the areas of the brain associated with empathy don’t activate in psychopaths to the same degree as in control subjects. But when the neurobiologist Harma Meffert and colleagues from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands explicitly instructed them to ‘feel with’ a hand that is being caressed or shoved aside, the researchers discovered that psychopaths were able to muster a normal response. In other words, when explicitly told to empathise with another, psychopaths could do it.

The neuroscientist Jean Decety and colleagues at the University of Chicago unearthed something similar. He showed psychopaths pictures of limbs in painful situations, such as a hand stuck in a car door, and asked them to either ‘imagine this is happening to you’ or ‘imagine this is happening to someone else’. When psychopaths imagined that they were in the painful situation, they showed something very close to the typical empathic brain response – but when they imagined someone else was in that very same situation, their empathy-related brain areas didn’t activate much.

If psychopaths have an empathy deficit, then, it is a very puzzling one. A different way of measuring brain activation throws further light on the puzzle. Electroencephalograms (EEGs) measure brain activation over time, as opposed to fMRI studies, which produce measurements of brain activity at one particular moment. EEG studies with psychopaths are quite revealing: it turns out that their initial brain response to people in distress is largely intact. Psychologists call this the ‘orienting response’, which is the act of turning your attention to a stimulus – in this case, another person in trouble. This is associated with the sympathetic nervous system that mobilises a defence response. This first reaction appears to be entirely involuntary in psychopaths and non-psychopaths alike. It’s what happens in the later stages that is different: instead of their defensive response continuing to get stronger, and their attention becoming even more focused on the person in distress, the psychopaths’ response weakens and begins to die down. Why?

Other empathy studies offer hints. It turns out that doctors show something of the same response as psychopaths do when exposed to people being injected with needles. Since doctors are perfectly able to empathise with others when they need to, the thinking is that the reduced response must be due to the person herself exerting cognitive control over her emotions. Because they have to do things to patients that are unpleasant or even painful, doctors get used to it and suppress their normal empathic responses.

That explanation fits with what we know about the relationship between empathy and reward: studies have found that men improve their understanding of what others think and feel only when they are paid to get it right, while understanding others is reward enough for women. Leaving aside such thorny gender issues, we can conclude that people are able to modify their empathy according to punishment, habituation or reward. So perhaps we should think of empathy and psychopaths the same way: they dull their empathic response to others in pain, but they are not naturally insensitive to it.

This evidence forces us to rethink not only psychopathy, but also empathy and its role in moral aptitude. First of all, it’s a mistake to think of what is wrong with psychopaths in terms of lacking abilities. They’re neither unable to comprehend what it means to have a goal or an end, nor are they incapable of feeling empathy for others. They have deficient abilities, we might say, but these deficits are typically small and dependent on the context.

Similarly, on the empathic front, psychopaths aren’t total outliers – in fact, many people describe them as extremely charming and personable. Hare is one of the greatest experts on psychopaths, and in Without a Conscience he describes how he was conned by a psychopath, who invited him to give a paper at a conference. He was supposed to receive an honorarium and have his travel paid for, but never saw a penny. Although he spent a nice evening with the guy at the conference, he never suspected a thing. The larger point is that for psychopaths to be able to fool experts, and to be able to persuade people to do things they would not otherwise do, they can’t be emotionally stunted robots. The usual story is that they are good at faking it; but another, more plausible, explanation is that empathy can’t really be faked, and that psychopaths are simply better at turning their empathy on and off.

Psychopathy suggests that an important part of morality rests in our propensity to be personally distressed

What makes this account of psychopaths’ problems particularly interesting – but also subversive – is that they start to look a lot more like ordinary people. Take empathy with others in distress. An ordinary person goes to great lengths to avoid experiencing this emotion – by averting his gaze from the beggar on the street, or choosing another channel when news of conflict and disaster come on the TV. In some cases, it makes sense to protect oneself from the pain of others’ pain. We can’t possibly change the fates of all who suffer, no matter what we do. Then again, many of us could be more effective if we really tried. What can I personally do about the crisis in Syria? Probably more than I’m doing at the moment. Most of us don’t shy away from helping others because we can’t but because we’re unwilling to expend the time and resources that would be required. So psychopaths might not be so aberrant in their refusal to feel for those who suffer. Perhaps they are simply at an extreme end of a spectrum on which most of us find ourselves.

The second big fallout of the research on empathy in psychopaths is a profound rethinking of empathy itself. The empathic concern that most psychologists talk about sounds nothing like the aversive response to others in need that appears to be lacking in psychopaths. This aversion is better thought of as ‘personal distress’ – an unpleasant experience that can be described by words such as ‘grieved’, ‘alarmed’, ‘disturbed’, ‘upset’. It arises as a defensive reaction to others’ pain or fear – something we feel as much for ourselves as for the other, and that we try to avoid whenever we can. Most psychologists think that personal distress is contrary to morality. Why? Because it leads us to avoid the person in need. Turning this issue on its head, then, psychopathy suggests that an important part of morality rests in our propensity to be personally distressed. We are motivated not to harm others because witnessing pain and distress is distressing – for us.

The psychopath’s response to people who suffer indicates that what we recognise as morality might be grounded not simply in positive, prosocial emotions but also in negative, stressful and self-oriented ones. This is not some cuddly version of empathy, but a primitive aversive reaction that seemingly has little to do with our caring greatly for the humanity of others.

Yet what exposes our common humanity more than the fact that I become personally distressed by what happens to you? What could better make me grasp the importance of your suffering? The personal part of empathic distress might be central to my grasping what is so bad about harming you. Thinking about doing so fills me with alarm. Arguably, it’s more important that I curb my desire to harm others for personal gain than it is for me to help a person in need. Social psychology research has focused on how we’re moved to help others, but that’s led us to ignore important aspects of ethics. Psychopathy puts personal distress back in the centre of our understanding of the psychological underpinnings of morality.

The last lesson we can learn concerns whether sentimentalists or rationalists are right when it comes to interpretations of the moral deficits of psychopaths. The evidence supports both positions. We don’t have to choose – in fact, it would be silly for us to do so. Rationalist thinkers who believe that psychopaths reason poorly have zoomed in on how they don’t fear punishment as we do. That has consequences down the line in their decision making since, without appropriate fear, one can’t learn to act appropriately. But on the side of the sentimentalists, fear and anxiety are emotional responses. Their absence impairs our ability to make good decisions, and facilitates psychopathic violence.

Fear, then, straddles the divide between emotion and reason. It plays the dual role of constraining our decisions via our understanding the significance of suffering for others, and through our being motivated to avoid certain actions and situations. But it’s not clear whether the significance of fear will be palatable to moral philosophers. A response of distress and anxiety in the face of another’s pain is sharp, unpleasant and personal. It stands in sharp contrast to the common understanding of moral concern as warm, expansive and essentially other-directed. Psychopaths force us to confront a paradox at the heart of ethics: the fact that I care about what happens to you is based on the fact I care about what happens to me.

Source: Aeon

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FIRE OF DISCONTENT

Most people are discontented, are they not? But they find satisfaction in the easy things of life whether it is mountain climbing or the fulfillment of some ambition. The restlessness of discontent is superficially turned into achievements that gratify. If we are shaken in our contentment, we soon find ways to overcome the pain of discontent, so we live on the surface and never fathom the depths of discontent.

„How is one to go below the surface of discontent?“

Your question indicates that you still desire to escape from discontent, does it not? To live with that pain, without trying to escape from it or to alter it, is to penetrate the depths of discontent. As long as we are trying to get somewhere, or to be something, there must be the pain of conflict, and having caused the pain, we then want to escape from it; and we do escape into every kind of activity. To be integrated with discontent, to remain with and be part of discontent, without the observer forcing it into grooves of satisfaction or accepting it as inevitable, is to allow that which has no opposite, no second, to come into being.

„I follow what you are saying, but I have fought discontent for so many years that it is now very difficult for me to be part of it.“

The more you fight a habit, the more life you give to it. Habit is a dead thing, do not fight it, do not resist it; but with the perception of the truth of discontent, the past will have lost its significance. Though painful, it is a marvelous thing to be discontented without smothering that flame with knowledge, with tradition, with hope, with achievement. We get lost in the mystery of man’s achievement in the mystery of the church, or of the jet plane. Again, this is superficial, empty, leading to destruction and misery. There is a mystery that is beyond the capacities and powers of the mind. You cannot seek it out or invite it; it must come without your asking, and with it comes a benediction for man.

J.Krishnamurti, Commentaries On Living – Series II,
Chapter 35 – ‚The Fire Of Discontent‘

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Chronic pain

Chronic pain is an ongoing epidemic. It debilitates around 28 million adults in the UK alone. Yet society seems to have grown comfortable with there being no cure. Perhaps this is because we have been searching for the wrong type of answer, in the wrong place.

I should begin by briefly explaining my own experience of chronic pain and what, seemingly against the odds, has helped me find relief.

After graduating from university last summer, I suffered a repetitive strain injury in both hands while doing a temporary office job. I stopped being able to work and had to put on hold my pursuit of a career in writing. I couldn’t use a computer, write with a pen or even eat with a knife and fork without severe pain. I underwent months of physiotherapy. This helped build my confidence slightly, but the pain continued. I was repeatedly told that I needed to change my posture including how I sat, stood, walked and slept. As a result, I became hyperaware of my body. The pain began to spread to my neck and arm. Diagnoses including scoliosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome and pinched nerves were proffered and I was given exercise after exercise while receiving conflicting medical advice. The problem was affecting every part of my life and I needed to find answers.

Strange as it might sound, I wanted there to be something wrong so that the pain I was experiencing would be recognised and, hopefully, treated. I had tests done for various diseases, and to detect muscle or nerve damage, but nothing was found. Confused looks on the faces of the medical professionals I saw only increased my own emerging self-doubt.

Eventually, I was told that I had chronic pain, that there wasn’t a cure and I would have to learn to manage and not aggravate it. This was deeply depressing, not only because I wanted to be able to write. As anyone who suffers from ongoing pain anywhere in the body knows, it can make even the most basic daily tasks a huge challenge. My condition was finally described as work-related upper limb disorder and it was concluded that I had developed a resistance to repetitive work, which seemed nonsensical and felt wholly unsatisfying.

It was only when I began to understand that the mind and body, rather than being separate, are intimately connected, that things started to finally change for the better. I had been aware that stress could sometimes induce physical symptoms such as headaches, but I would never have believed that psychological factors could be the cause of such severe, scary and concrete pain. It was only at moments of peak desperation that I was able to entertain this idea. My symptoms were definitely real, but they were also mysterious; they moved around and the intensity of the pain varied from day to day. I would describe the sensations I experienced as burning, pressure, sharpness and tingling.

So what was going on? First of all it is important to know a bit about how pain works. Acute pain is a helpful process that occurs when there is an injury or illness. It gradually decreases and dissipates once healing is complete. If pain persists after three months, it is deemed chronic. Chronic pain doesn’t always originate from an injury, and, if it does, it can continue even once healing is complete. What this tells us is that the driving force behind it is the brain.

But that doesn’t mean it’s “all in the mind”. Far from it. Chronic pain is associated with physical changes in the brain at the cortical level. These changes can produce something called “central sensitisation” – where the nervous system goes into overdrive and previously normal sensations generate intense pain. A whole vocabulary goes along with this: allodynia is the term for when non-harmful stimuli, such as a light touch, results in pain. In hyperalgesia, harmful stimuli produce heightened or prolonged pain.

Why do some people experience chronic pain? We don’t know for sure, but studies show that particular psychological and personality traits are risk factors for chronic pain conditions. Some vulnerable individuals, they suggest, learn to filter emotions and actions “through the lens of pain”. An interplay between early lifetime and environmental and epigenetic factors appears to be at work.

So our emotional lives can have a real-world effect, in terms of changes to the brain and increased pain. Those real world effects then influence our emotions in turn. The two systems are intertwined: in fact, they are one system. These insights, though doctors are often aware of them, have not changed the day-to-day practice of most medicine – yet.

Once you understand that the mind and body are not separate, it seems plausible that, if pain tells us when there is something wrong physically, it can tell us when there is something wrong mentally too. I decided to listen to my body and integrate that with what was going on in my mind. After much research and finding the right help, I set out to heal emotionally. I stopped taking pain medication, stopped physio and started moving how I used to. (I want to stress that no one should take any steps to alter their treatment without consultation with a doctor.) I considered potential repressed emotions from life events, including in childhood, and used different techniques to explore them all. This enabled me to acknowledge things, feel them and sometimes let them go. As my fear and pain levels gradually decreased, I began to resume normal physical activity, including writing and typing. It is not easy to access feelings that our brains, in simple terms, may have pushed aside and replaced with pain. But it comes with great rewards and a sense of empowerment.

The way I came to understand all this happened to be through a book, The Mindbody Prescription by Dr John Sarno. Others might be influenced by a sympathetic doctor, a news article or even this piece of writing. I’ve almost completely recovered – a dramatic shift after eight months of debilitation. I will keep practicing the techniques I’ve learned, and studying the science, since I’m aiming to get back to full health.

Pain is complex. Sometimes, even when it’s long-lasting, it can be a sign of ongoing injury or undiagnosed disease. It’s important to seek medical advice in order to exclude potentially dangerous conditions. I’m aware that even in cases, like mine, where there isn’t an underlying structural problem, it might be difficult or impossible for others to replicate my experience. I simply hope that mounting evidence will demand a change within the practice of conventional medicine: most importantly a change in the way patients’ conditions are explained to them, one that means they aren’t made to feel hopeless, or crazy.

We have come far in trying to remove the taboo around mental health, so why not take a step further and join the “mental” to the “physical”? The prize would be that many chronic pain patients might start to feel a little less lost and, hopefully, find the tools they need to begin to heal.

  • Hannah Millington is a London-based English literature and writing graduate

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Power of Narratives…..

Siehe dazu auch: Fiktionen und Kooperation

In the movie The Matrix, humans are imprisoned in a virtual world by a powerful artificial intelligence system in a dystopian future. What they take to be reality is actually a computer program that has been jacked into their brains to keep them in a comatose state. They live their whole lives in that virtual simulation, without any way of knowing that what they appear to be experiencing with their senses is actually made of AI-generated code.

Life in our current society is very much the same. The difference is that instead of AI, it’s psychopathic oligarchs who are keeping us asleep in the Matrix. And instead of code, it’s narrative.

Society is made of narrative like the Matrix is made of code. Identity, language, etiquette, social roles, opinions, ideology, religion, ethnicity, philosophy, agendas, rules, laws, money, economics, jobs, hierarchies, politics, government, they’re all purely mental constructs which exist nowhere outside of the mental noises in our heads. If I asked you to point to your knee you could do so instantly and wordlessly, but if I asked you to point to the economy, for example, the closest you could come is using a bunch of linguistic symbols to point to a group of concepts. To show me the economy, you’d have to tell me a story.

Anyone who has ever experienced a moment of mental stillness knows that without the chatter, none of those things are part of your actual present experience. There is no identity, language, etiquette, social roles, opinions, ideology, religion, ethnicity, philosophy, agendas, rules, laws, money, economics, jobs, hierarchies, politics or government in your experience without the mental chatter about those things. There’s not even a “you” anywhere to be found, because it turns out that that’s made of narrative, too.

Without mental narrative, nothing is experienced but sensory impressions appearing to a subject with no clear shape or boundaries. The visual and auditory fields, the sensation of air going in and out of the respiratory system, the feeling of the feet on the ground or the bum in the chair. That’s it. That’s more or less the totality of life minus narrative.

When you add in the mental chatter, however, none of those things tend to occupy a significant amount of interest or attention. Appearances in the visual and auditory field are suddenly divided up and labeled with language, with attention to them determined by whichever threatens or satisfies the various agendas, fears and desires of the conceptual identity construct known as “you”. You can go days, weeks, months or years without really noticing the feeling of your respiratory system or your feet on the ground as your interest and attention gets sucked up into a relationship with society that exists solely as narrative.

“Am I good enough? Am I doing the right thing? Oh man, I hope what I’m trying to do works out. I need to make sure I get all my projects done. If I do that one thing first it might save me some time in the long run. Oh there’s Ashley, I hate that bitch. God I’m so fat and ugly. If I can just get the things that I want and accomplish my important goals I’ll feel okay. Taxes are due soon. What’s on TV? Oh it’s that idiot. How the hell did he get elected anyway? Everyone who made that happen is a Nazi. God I can’t wait for the weekend. I hope everything goes as planned between now and then.”

On and on and on and on. Almost all of our mental energy goes into those mental narratives. They dominate our lives. And, for that reason, people who are able to control those narratives are able to control us.

And they do.

View at Medium.com

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Respect, appreciate and understand your body reactions….

Stephen Porges and Gunther Schmidt

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