More ArticlesDevelopmental psychology

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sometimes you are not avaliable for anyone because you need to be with yourself

I feel guilty. Sometimes there is no one because I need to be with myself. There are those who confuse my choice with selfishness and get angry, the most intelligent people understand and respect me because sometimes they also needed to disconnect from the world.

There are moments when we simply can’t keep up with the rhythm the society is trying to impose on us and it is necessary to move away to regenerate or simply to pause. Although we are not fully aware of it, the obligation to be always connected and ready to respond generates a tension that can become the drop that overflows the vessel. That's why sometimes you need to close the doors to the world and take some time to stay alone.

The risks of relegating ourselves to the background

Many times we end up relegating ourselves to the background, we set aside to give priority to other people or activities. Consequently, we end up losing ourselves in the bustle of the day. We postpone the necessary rest and disconnection to resolve small emergencies, respond to messages, and maintain relationships.

The problem is that if we continue to put ourselves in the background, we will end up disconnecting from ourselves or, worse, getting sick. In fact, we must remember that to take care of others we must first take care of ourselves. To enjoy the presence of others first of all we must be able to enjoy our company.

Living in such a competitive and hyper-connected society forces us to concentrate too much on the small urgencies of life, or to meet the needs of others by ending to forget ours.

At that point we will begin to experience some changes, the first warning signs we are about to reach the limit are:

- Constant fatigue.
It is an extreme tiredness that we can’t recover from even resting, because it is the product of the stress and tension accumulated over a long period of time.

- Frustration. When we give too much of ourselves, somewhere inside we know we have to disconnect but, since we can’t, we can begin to experience a great frustration. It's as if we were trapped in a shortage that we can’t get out of.

- Irritability and impatience. Everything is bothering us, even the small stimuli that before passed unnoticed, because our senses are hyper-stimulated and our nervous system is at the limit, so it reacts in an exaggerated way to the environment.

- Loss of sense. There is a point where we can start thinking that nothing has sense, the things we first liked lost their attractiveness and we become apathetic and disinterested, as if we were living with the automated pilot. This is because we are sunk into our responsibilities by neglecting the most hedonistic part of life.

The interesting part is that living in a hyper-demanding and challenging environment ends up acting as a narcotic that makes us insensitive to our needs. That is why sometimes we just have to stop.

5 good reasons to spend time alone with ourselves

1. Recharge the batteries. The time spent alone helps us to relieve the tension that others are dropping on our shoulders. Basically, it is an opportunity to restore emotional balance and recharge your batteries. It is no coincidence that a study at the University of Illinois found that people who felt comfortable with their own and worried about defending these spaces were less likely to suffer from depression, reported less physical discomfort and showed a greater satisfaction in life.

2. Restores self-control. The ability to resist temptation, make good decisions, and control our behavior depends largely on self-control. However, it has been shown that self-regulation is not an infinite capacity but is consuming during the day, to the extent that we use it. A study at Northwestern University found that our self-control is particularly sensitive to complex and demanding interpersonal relationships. Therefore, being alone helps us regain this ability and the emotional control of our reactions.

3. Allows the brain to recover. Being alone is crucial to the brain as this way we allow it to "disconnect". In fact, a study conducted at the Center for Regenerative Therapies of Dresden found that silence contributes to regenerating neurons. The point is that when we are alone and in silence is activated what is called the "default mode network", allowing to rest at those areas of the brain that we exploit more when we are connected. This allows us to clarify ideas, focus and think more clearly. Far from daily distractions we can think better.

4. It allows us to connect intimately with our "self". Surrounded by too many stimuli it is difficult to connect with our essence. The time spent alone allows us to rediscover ourselves and listen to our inner voice. These moments are extremely precious because they are a break in life to take care of the "little baby" inside us, know how it is and what it wants.

5. Improve interpersonal relationships. It may seem a contradiction, but spending time alone allows us to be more relaxed and focused, this will be reflected positively in our interpersonal relationships. We will be able to deal better with daily problems without altering and we will enjoy more the presence of others.

How to recover the control?

When you perceive the world is turning too fast, it's time to stop. If you feel that the pressure of those around you is excessive and prevents you from being yourself, stop and rearrange your priorities.

It is likely that the others need you, but to help them you need to be strengthened and this means disconnecting and resting. Reprogram your daily routine and eliminate all the little "urgencies" that occupy all your time and energy unnecessarily.

It is important that you pursue your goals, but without stressing too much. And if necessary, take some hours or a day to stay alone with yourself. It's not selfishness, it's a necessity. You do not have to be for anyone, because at that moment you need yourself.

Disconnect and be concerned only for your mental health. Learn how to put yourself in the list of your priorities.

Sabater, V. (2017) A veces no estoy para nadie, porque yo también me hago falta. En: La Mente es Maravillosa.
Kirste, I. et. Al. (2015) Is silence golden? Effects of auditory stimuli and their absence on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Brain Struct Funct; 220(2): 1221-1228.
Finkel, E. J. et. Al. (2006) High-maintenance interaction: inefficient social coordination impairs self-regulation. J Pers Soc Psychol; 91(3): 456-475.
Larson, R. & Lee, M. (1996) The capacity to be alone as a stress buffer. J Soc Psychol;136(1): 5-16.
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Monday, October 16, 2017

OCD treatments: How they act and their effects

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be very disabling. OCD symptoms, both compulsions and obsessive thoughts, end up occupy much of the person's time, to the point that they represent a problem in the personal, social and professional plan. Psychological therapy is effective, but since many people do not seek immediate help but after many years, in some cases it may be necessary to integrate it with a pharmacological treatment.

Clomipramine is the most commonly used drug for treating obsessive compulsive disorder

Since the 1990s, clomipramine was one of the most commonly used drugs in the treatment of OCD. It is estimated that those who consume it report an improvement of at least 40% in the intensity of the symptoms. In fact, when comparing its effectiveness with other drugs such as fluoxetine, fluvoxamine and sertraline, clomipramine is the most effective.

However, we must not forget that, as with other depression drugs such as tricyclic antidepressants, clomipramine also has side effects such as dry mouth, constipation and urinary retention. In addition to causing nausea and tremors, which affect sexual response. Some people complain of chronic fatigue and suffer from weight gain. Obviously, the risk of suffering from these adverse effects significantly increases with doses higher than 250mg per day.

What is the mechanism of action of drugs for obsessive compulsive disorder in the brain?

So far, the only drugs that have been shown to be effective in treating OCD have been the antidepressants that interact with serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the many chemical messengers or neurotransmitters that allow a nerve cell to communicate with another.

However, instead of being directly linked to each other, most neurons are separated by a liquid-filled space where synapses occur. For an electrical signal to pass from one neuron to another, a neurotransmitter is released that floats freely to the adjacent neuron, where a specialized part of the receptor is located. The receptor is like a lock and the neurotransmitter is the key. The key in the lock activates an electrical signal that passes through the receiving neuron to transmit information to other parts of the brain.

In addition to the adjacent neuronal interaction, the released serotonin actively generates a safety copy in the neuron in which it has been released. This serotonin reuptake pump acts by recycling serotonin, helping to recover it when it is necessary to release it again. It may also serve to reduce the amount of "noise" that would arise if an excess of serotonin production occurred during synapse.

Clomipramine has a number of chemical properties including the ability to bind to the serotonin reuptake pump and prevent the movement of serotonin in neurons. Medicines such as clomipramine that are blocking the serotonin pump are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

What other medicines are used to treat OCD?

In addition to clomipramine, several selective SSRIs have been shown to be effective in treating obsessive compulsive disorder, including fluvoxamine (Luvox), fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil). Some studies suggest that citalopram (Celexa) may also be effective in treating the obsessive compulsive disorder.

SSRIs are more effective in treating OCD than other antidepressants that do not interact with the serotonin reuptake pump. Therefore, all SSRIs can treat depression, but not all antidepressants are effective in treating OCD. For example, desipramine, which is not an SSRI, is a very effective antidepressant but is ineffective in treating the obsessive thoughts. This level of specificity of the drug responses indicates that a biochemical imbalance may be the basis of the compulsive obsessive disorder.

Several clinical trials have been carried out in patients with OCD in recent years using a new generation of powerful and selective antidepressant drugs that block serotonin reuptake (fluvoxamine, paroxetine, sertraline and fluoxetine). Unlike clomipramine, none of these drugs lose their selectivity in blocking serotonin reuptake in the body. In addition, unlike clomipramine and other tricyclics, these drugs do not have any significant affinity for brain receptors, considered responsible for undesirable side effects. In other words, selective SSRIs are drugs with fewer side effects and the risk of overdose is very low.

How long does it take for the medicines to take effect?

SSRIs need time to take effect. Before the symptoms begin to diminish, it is necessary to follow a treatment for 8-12 weeks. Once the improvement is achieved, the pharmacological treatment is usually continued for at least another 6 or 12 months. In some cases, the drug assumption can be reduced successfully, although in the absence of psychological therapy symptoms may reappear.

It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of patients suffering from compulsive obsessive disorder present significant improvement in symptoms with SSRIs. A person who suffers from DOC and has had a good response to an SSRI may indicate that time spent on obsessions and compulsions has decreased from 6 to 2 hours a day, which allows him to lead a more normal and satisfactory life.

It is interesting to note that the time a person has spent with obsessive compulsive disorder does not predict how well he will respond to the treatment. There are people who have suffered from this disorder for decades and now feel much better with medicines. However, it should be remembered that psychotherapy continues to be a cornerstone in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder and is not replaceable by drugs.

Christopher Pittenger, C. & Bloch,M. H. (2014) Pharmacological treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychiatr Clin North Am; 37(3): 375–391.
Kellner, M. (2010) Drug treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Dialogues Clin Neurosci; 12(2): 187–197.
Marazziti, D. (2001) Citalopram in refractory obsessive-compulsive disorder: an open study. Int Clin Psychopharmacol; 16(4): 215-219.
The Clomipramine Collaborative Study Group (1991) Clomipramine in the treatment of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry; 48(8): 730-738.
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Friday, October 13, 2017

Be good to yourself is better than be good to the whole world

"A young and good martial arts student was learning under the tutelage of a famous master.

One day the master was observing a practice session in the yard and realized that the presence of the other students was interfering with the young man's attempts to refine his technique.

The master could perceive the young man's desire to show himself as an expert to the others and his frustration for failing to do so. He approached and gave him a pouch on his shoulder.

- What's the problem? - asked.

- I don’ know - said the young student visibly tense. - No matter how hard I try, I can’t do the movements properly.

- Come with me, I'll explain it to you - said the master.

The master and the student came out of the building and reached a torrent. The master remained silent on the shore for a while and then spoke.

- Look at the stream. There are stones in its path. Is it trying to impress them? Do it perhaps bump against them for frustration? It simply flows and continues its path. Be like the water.

The young man took note of the master's advice and within a few days he barely noticed the presence of other students around him. Nothing could affect his way of performing the movements, which were becoming more and more perfect".

This beautiful story tells us of the need to find balance and inner peace instead of trying to impress the others and get their approval. In fact, when we depend on the acceptance of others, there is a contradiction: the more we seek it, the more it becomes impossible to obtain and we are less considered.

The parable uses water as a resource by the way that in Buddhist philosophy it has a special symbolic value because it perfectly incorporates its teachings. The water flows constantly, adapts to the shapes of the containers and overcomes all kinds of obstacles. It is its ability to adapt without losing its essence that makes it so special.

The risks of seeking approval from others

1. We move away from our essence more and more. When we seek approval from others, we suppose that some of our features will not be accepted, so we try to hide them. We wear a social mask that moves us away from authenticity and "compels us" to interpret a character. Of course, living in this "theater" is tiring because we have to continually repress many of the thoughts, attitudes and emotions we naturally feel.

2. We live on an emotional roller coaster. When the opinion of others becomes the compass that guides our steps, we volunteer get on an emotional roller coaster because our mood begins to depend directly on external evaluations. We feel happy whether we are flattered or deeply unhappy and frustrated if we are criticized or refused. At that point, we are no longer owners of our emotions and we give the control to others. We become reactive people to the mercy of others.

3. We forget our dreams. It is something terrible, so terrible that we normally erase it from our mind, but when our life revolves around the approval of the others, we abandon our dreams and plans to fit and embrace the goals of others. In this way we end up losing intrinsic motivation, which is our driving force and lose our passion. So we end up living the lives that others want, not the life we ​​want.

Can you be yourself without "hurting" others?

One of the obstacles facing people on the road to authenticity and personal liberation, is the fear of make suffering people they love. However, grow up, pursue our dreams, be independent and feel good with ourselves, should not be problems for the others. Conversely, if they really love us, they should be happy to see us grow and realize our dreams.

The problem is that when we create a relationship of dependency with someone looking for his approval before making decisions, from the most insignificant to the most important, we are giving him a huge power on us. Many people feel comfortable in that role, they feel pleasure in having power over our lives and do not want to break that bond. But often these people become more and more demanding, they are getting closer and their need to control becomes disproportionate. In these cases, break the bond is a question of psychological survival.

Of course, when we become independent, begin to want different things and make our decisions, these people will be "disappointed" because they want to maintain the bond of dependence. In a sense, the disappointment is a form of emotional manipulation. In fact, we must remember that often the bonds that keep us together are also the ones that imprison us the most.

In those cases you should not be afraid to "hurt" that person because you are not really doing anything wrong, but you are giving him an opportunity to mature. You are elevating the relationship to a higher level where there is no dependence, but there are two mature people who love to stay together enjoying each other's individuality without toxic dependencies.

Do not be yourself, be the better version of yourself

One of the worst advices we can recive is to be encouraged to be ourselves. We must keep in mind that many people have been successful as they are, but many others have failed miserably. Many people were happy being themselves, but others were deeply unhappy.

The wisest advice is: be the best version of you. This does not mean that we should give up our essence, but we must learn to give the best of us. For example, being a person prone to anger at the end will bring only problems, besides making us feel bad. This does not mean that we should hide disappointments or sorrows, but we must express them in an assertive way. The goal is not to please the others but to be able to handle our emotions because, accumulating hatred and resentment will end up damaging us.

The secret for being the best version of ourselves is very simple: when we have developed a good inner equilibrium, we know exactly what we want from life and we are in peace with ourselves; all this translates into each of our actions and allows us to relate ourselves more safely and authentically.

In fact, being authentic does not mean to explode when we feel angry and frustrated or say the first thing that comes to mind without reflecting on the consequences, this is simply a childish behavior.

According to Jean Paul Sartre: "Who is authentic assumes the responsibility of what he is and recognizes himself free to be what he is".

The authentic person practices congruence, expresses what he feels and thinks assertively. However, authenticity is not confined to congruence, it is not simply "being oneself", but it also implies a deep inner knowledge, the ability to assume responsibilities, and a solid self-esteem that does not depend on the opinions of others.

The authentic person is sensitive to the emotions and opinions of others, it could not be otherwise, but decides not to subordinate his decisions to their judgments and criticisms. The most interesting thing is that when we're fine with ourselves, when we are mature and have a profound knowledge of ourselves, the others notice it and we get their respect and admiration, although this is not the ultimate goal.
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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why do we become anxious?

Anxiety is a state of uneasiness and worry, implying that we are waiting for something negative to happen. It is certainly not a pleasant state, but it is important to understand why anxiety is produced. In fact, this is a defensive mechanism, just like fear.

What is anxiety? Anxiety is a sensation that acts as a warning mechanism in front of those situations that we feel dangerous or threatening. This is a normal reaction we all feel and it would be worrying that it would not be activated in certain situations. Therefore, it is important to understand that anxiety in itself is not negative.

The functions of anxiety

- Protection. One of the functions of anxiety is to protect us from the dangers that threaten us. If something worries us, it immediately increases our level of attention, our senses intensify to allow us to better monitor the environment. The problem is when we become hypervigilant and scary, isolating ourselves from the world to avoid danger. In those cases the protective function of anxiety is exaggerated.

- Motivation. Anxiety is a powerful driving force of behavior. When we want to do something good and give the best of us, anxiety is triggered, bringing us an extra amount of energy to go ahead with our projects and get the most out of it. Once again, the problem begins when the level of anxiety is too high and makes us doubt about our abilities or drives us to perfectionism.

- Growth and development. Some degree of anxiety can stimulate personal growth. In fact, feeling a little generalized anxiety about what's going on in our lives and worrying about the future, can encourage us to leave our comfort zone. Anxiety drives us to find out what we want to change, and then pushes us to do that. But sometimes anxiety puts down roots and we find ourselves trapped in a ruminant mechanism that, instead of pushing us to growth, blocks us.

What causes Anxiety?

Anxiety, as an adaptive mechanism, is positive and functional, and is not a problem. However, in some cases it does not work properly and anxiety disorder occurs, which can become very disabling and cause great discomfort, both psychologically and physically.

Predisposing factors

- Biological factors. It has been seen that having direct relatives suffering from an anxiety disorder increases the risk of suffering from this problem. In generalized anxiety, for example, it is estimated that one third of the risk of suffering from this disorder has a genetic component.

- Temperamental factors and personality. People who consistently inhibit their behaviors and those who have a tendency to neurosis maintaining a negative affectivity, have a greater risk of suffering from anxiety disorder.

- Environmental factors. Anxiety can also be established as a coping model learned in childhood. Some stress-stricken lifestyles cause the appearance of anxiety.

Triggering factors

- Situations beyond our psychological coping resources, such as the loss of a work or a beloved one.

- Events of vital importance requiring considerable effort to adapt, such as divorce or diagnosis of a serious illness.

- Obstacles that limit our ability to achieve our goals or maintain what we have already achieved.

Maintaining Factors

- Fear of anxiety. When we are anxious, especially when we are suffering from anxiety attacks or panic attacks, usually afterwards we’re afraid to experience once again these attacks. This fear of anxiety does nothing but aggravate it.

- Loss of faculties due to anxiety itself, which means that we have fewer resources to deal with problems or even appear new problems in areas that were not conflictual.

- Inadequate coping strategies that accentuate the problem and the sense of inability to solve it, and this generates great desperation.

Normally, there is no a single factor that can explain why anxiety occurs and retains in time, usually depends on a confluence of situations and forms of coping.

The mechanism through which anxiety is generated

In our daily lives, our brain constantly evaluates all the stimuli from the environment to analyze if some can be dangerous. In this mechanism, both areas related to basic emotions are involved, such as the amygdala and thalamus, as well as the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for giving a logical meaning to what we are experiencing.

Basically, this is what happens at the cerebral level:

First stage - Initial assessment of the threat. There is an automatic and fast recognition of the stimuli. In this way we can classify them as threatening or not.

Second stage - First activation in front of the threat. The cognitive, emotional, physiological and behavioral reactions typical of anxiety are put into motion. At this stage we act basically for instinct, so we can feel the need to escape from the place or hide. Appear also automatic thoughts about the situation that lead us to overestimate the damage and the probability that it will occur, in addition to experiencing a strong intolerance to uncertainty.

Third stage - Thoughtful thought. At this stage we are already able to think more or less clearly about these automated ideas and what we are feeling. The prefrontal cortex comes into action and assesses the real dimension of the threat, as well as the resources available to deal with it. Obviously, the information processing is a bit more complex and takes longer.

A problem in one of these phases can explain why anxiety is produced. For example, our risk recognition system can be hyperactive, which means it will also react to situations that do not represent a real risk. In fact, it is a common problem in our society and in the case of social anxiety, in which we perceive as risks many social situations that are completely innocuous.

It may also happen that we are trapped in the second stage, in this case ruminatory thoughts fit our minds and we only think of the worst consequences, and this keeps us stuck in anxiety.

Finally, it might be that we do not have the cognitive skills needed to deal with the situation precisely and combat anxiety, in which case those concerns that create the anxious state are maintained for a long time and could even appear major depression.

APA (2014) Manual Diagnóstico y Estadístico de los Trastornos Mentales. Madrid: Editorial Médica Panamericana.
Matthews, A. (1990) Why worry? The cognitive function of anxiety. Behav Res Ther; 28(6): 455-468.
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Monday, October 9, 2017

Negativity is Contagious: Surround yourself with people who can get the best of you

Attitudes and moods are contagious, especially when we’re exposed to them for a long time. Much of the responsibility depends from the mirror neurons, fundamental for the empathy and to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the others. This ability is positive, but it also has a negative impact, because we can easily spread the negativity of those around us.

Negativity generates more negativity

Although we are not always willing to admit it, a study conducted by the University of Indiana has revealed that the opinions of the others affect us and influence our behavior. These psychologists have found that negative opinions have a greater impact and generate a change of attitude than the positive thinking.

In the experiment, the participants examined several products. They then shared their opinions with others, both positive and negative. The researchers found that negative opinions influenced the attitudes of the participants to the products, making them feel even worse. And the worst thing is that those who previously had a positive attitude were the most susceptible to the influence of the negative opinions of the others.

Moreover, when people had the opportunity to interact face-to-face with those who had these negative opinions, they were more likely to strengthen their negative attitude and was appreciated an even greater polarization. This experiment launches a clear message: negativity generates more negativity.

Sadness spreads like a virus

Psychologists at Harvard University have analyzed the link between emotional states and relational models. They did not take into account those spontaneous or shared emotions that we often experience when we share the same experiences with other people, but have focused on the impact of emotional changes that affect the affective states of the people closest to us.

They have thus discovered that there is a "pattern of propagation", as for viruses, and that the sources of contagion were greater in the case of sadness than happiness. In other words, every happy friend increases our chances of being happy by 11%, but we only need a sad friend to double our chances of being unhappy.

These psychologists conclude that negative emotions are like flu: the more friends you have that have flu, the greater the chances of getting infected, the same applies to sadness and despair.

Even hostility and bad mood are contagious

We quickly perceive the bad mood and hostility, and as soon as we do it something changes in our brain, it changes our way of perceiving the world. We will interpret the interactions more coarsely, and this will make us assume the same attitude that will end up spreading.

This was demonstrated by Florida University psychologists who asked a group of people to attend a meeting with a randomly assigned partner. They discovered that those who had been exposed to rude attitudes were more likely to be rude to their next partner. And the interesting thing is that this attitude could last for a whole week.

In a second moment they asked the participants to identify words in a series of confused letters. They saw in this way that those who had been exposed to a rude attitude were more likely to find words related to negative emotions. This shows that the interactions that we maintain act as a filter, so if we are exposed to negative interactions, we will tend to analyze everything from a more negative point of view and that is exactly what we find.

Surround yourself with persons who get out the best of you

Even if we do not want it, the moods of the people around us may end up having a great impact on our emotions and attitudes. That is why it is important to be very careful when choosing who we let enter into our intimate circle.

Being constantly exposed to bad mood and negativity will end up presenting a bill to pay, so it's crucial to be surrounded by people who can get the best out of us. Of course, we also have to make sure that we become people with whom the others deed to relate.

The good news is that when we are aware of the fact that there is an emotional contagion, we can act as balancing players by encouraging the others to focus on the most positive side of things. It is true that positive emotions are far less contagious, but it is still the best gift we can make to someone when it's going through a bad time.

Foulk, T. et. Al. (2016) Catching rudeness is like catching a cold: The contagion effects of low-intensity negative behaviors. J Appl Psychol; 101(1): 50-67.
Hill, A. L. et. Al. (2010) Emotions as infectious diseases in a large social network: the SISa model. Proc Biol Sci; 277(1701): 3827-3835.
Duhacheck, A. et. Al. (2007) Anticipated Group Interaction: Coping with Valence Asymmetries in Attitude Shift. Journal of Consumer Research; 34(3): 39
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Friday, October 6, 2017

Learned Helplessness: A terrible psychological prison

When we experience negative things we like to believe that we can change them, influence their course, and turn them into something positive. But this is not always the case, and when people feel they have no control over what is happening to them, they tend to give up and accept their destiny. It is what is known as learned helplessness or learned desperation, one of the worst things that can happen to us and where no one can protect themselves.

What is learned helplessness?

Learned helplessness is the belief that whatever we do we will not get a different result. It is a brutal psychological prison that completely disconnects us from reality and blocks any possibility of liberation or change. The worst thing is that the first learning will remain imprinted in our brain, leaving a mark that will affect our way of perceiving ourselves and the world.

The first studies on learned helplessness have been made on animals. Psychologist Martin Seligman saw that when they were continuously subjected to negative stimuli and had no chance to escape, at some point they simply stopped trying to avoid the stimulus, surrendered and behaved as if they were completely helpless. The worst thing is that when they were given the opportunity to escape, they did not take advantage of it because they had learned in the past that they could not escape.

The story of the chained elephant by Jorge Bucay reflects exactly what impotence is learned:

- When I was little I loved circuses, and what I liked most of them were animals. I was particularly struck by the elephant, as I later learned was also favorite animal other children. During the function, the huge beast boasted a size, a weight and a huge force... But after the performance until shortly before returning to the stage, the elephant always remained tied to a small stake in the ground with a chain that held its legs.

However, the stake was only a tiny piece of wood buried just a few inches in the ground. And although the wood was thick and powerful, it seemed obvious that an animal capable of starting a tree with his strength rennet, could be released easily from the stake and run.

The mystery still seems evident. What holds it then? Why not flee?

As a child, I still trust the wisdom of the elders. Then I asked about the mystery of the elephant... One of them told me that the elephant ran away because he was not performing.

Then I did the obvious question:- If you are performing, Why they strung? -.
I do not remember getting any coherent response.
Over time, I forgot the mystery of the elephant and the stake...

Some years ago, I discovered that, lucky for me, someone had been wise enough to find the answer:

- The circus elephant is no exception because it has been tied to a stake like it since was very, very small.

I closed my eyes and imagined the helpless newborn elephant subject to the stake. I am sure that, Impostor elefantito digs at the moment, shot and trying to sweat it loose. And, despite its efforts, he failed, because that stake was too hard for him.

I figured out that I was asleep and the next day I tried again, and the next day and the next... Until, one day, a terrible day for the story, the animal accepted his helplessness and resigned himself to his fate.

Undoubtedly, the learned helplessness is not exclusive to the animal kingdom, often the same happens to people, so we are unable to perceive and take advantage of opportunities for change or relief when they appear. We can live chained to poles that deprive us of freedom, especially when we think we can not do certain things simply because we once tried and failed. At that moment we have clearly recorded in our mind the message "we can not do it". In fact, it is a fairly common situation in depression and in the victims of violence.

Why are we unable to react to certain situations?

Martin Seligman explains that we are incapable of reacting to painful situations because at some point of the journey, and after trying to change the course of things without getting the expected results, we inhibit and fall into a state of passivity. In other words, when we feel helpless and believe that there is no solution, we throw the towel, to the point where we are unable to see the opportunities for change that arise. It's as if we were putting the bandage of the past on our eyes and let this determine our future.

In a sense, the learned desperation is a kind of psychological adaptation mechanism, as the time comes when the forces abandon us and we are unable to continue to handle so much pain and suffering, so we reduce the activation level to preserve the few resources left. In fact, the inability to react is always the result of a deep psychological deterioration.

The symptoms of learned helplessness

In the learned helplessness are involved fundamental areas: motivational, cognitive, emotional and behavioral, giving rise to a series of thoughts, feelings and characteristical behaviors.

- The person lost the motivation to continue fighting, threw the towel surrendering to the circumstances. In other words, it assumes the role and mentality of the victim, which manifests itself in behavioral behavior through deep apathy.

- The person does not learn from mistakes, feels that can not do anything to improve his situation and takes his destiny as immutable. Mistakes cease to be growth tools and become evidence of the existence of fatality.

- The person falls into a deep depression and in despair and develops a pessimistic vision of the world, convinced that he is incapable of coming out of that situation. It can often feel like a leaf in the wind or a puppet of fate.

- The person does not make important decisions because he feels he can not change the course of his life and have no control over it, so he closes in himself and passively undergoes the circumstances.

In fact, learned helplessness has been associated with various psychological disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and phobias. For example, a shy person in social situations may begin to feel that he can not do anything to improve his symptoms. That feeling of lack of control can lead to the avoidance of social situations, and this can worsen its timidity and trigger a social phobia.

In which contexts appears the learned helplessness?

Learned desperation can be seen practically in all areas of our lives, professional, social and personal. In the professional sector, it is very common because many obstacles to change are being put in many work environments. When a person has proposed new ideas and all have been rejected, he ends up adapting to his role and becomes a passive employee without any motivation.

It is also seen at personal level, especially in those people who have been given many restrictions or labels when they were children and were not taught to handle failure. If a person grows up with the idea of ​​being incapable, he will carry that idea for most of life and it will become a limit to his development. That is why phrases such as "do not even try to do it" or "you are not able to do anything" become a stone that damages self-esteem and dignity. Those who have listened to them throughout their childhood will not only be afraid of challenges but will not even be able to identify good opportunities.

Of course, it also happens at a social level, when it comes to the belief that do whatever we are doing, nothing will change, so we relsign to the political, economic and social system. In fact, the saying "better known evil than good yet to know" perfectly reflects the concept of learned helplessness.

Robert Lobel's award-winning video "Wind" is perfect for understanding the learned desperation at socal level with a touch of humor. It is important to be aware of this kind of learned helplessness because when this feeling is shared by many people, it ends up becoming a nefarious destiny that nobody questions.

Tolerance to failure protects us from feelings of despair

All people do not react in the same way to adversity, there are those who develop the learned helplessness and others who become more resilient. The key lies in coping resources that we can activate in those moments.

That's why Seligman himself defends the need to fail. We need to feel sad, angry and frustrated. Protecting us from these emotions makes us more vulnerable because we do not learn to persevere.

The ability to be resilient is basically based on confidence in our ability to overcome adversity and develops only when we have the ability to fight and become the makers of our lives. Developing an internal locus of control is critical to resisting the worst challenges because it allows us to be aware that, although the circumstances affect us, ultimately do not determine the course of the events.

Learning how to intervene in the environment in which we live and get results, both positive and negative, allows us to understand that we have some degree of control and that external variables are not always responsible for what is happening to us. After all, we can always choose how we react to situations.

Learned helplessness is not a life sentence. We must remember that nothing is eternal, even if passing through a bad time everything seems gray. Change occurs when we begin to become conscious, rebuild self-esteem, and find a new meaning to life, so that we can gradually recover power.

Chang, E. C. & Sanna, L. J. (2007) Affectivity and psychological adjustment across tow adult generations: Does pessimistic explanatory style still matter?Personality and Individual Differences; 43: 1149–1159.
Garber, J. & Seligman, M.E. (1980) Human Helplessness: Theory and Applications. Nueva York: Academic Press.
Seligman, M.E.; Maier, S.F. & Geer, J. (1968) The alleviation of learned helplessness in dogs. Journal of Abnormal Psychology; 73: 256-262.
Seligman, M. E. & Maier, S. F. (1967) Failure to escape traumatic shock. J Exp Psychol; 74(1): 1-9.
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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

10 self-control techniques for children

Teaching self-control activities for children is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. In fact, self-control is one of the most important life skills and a predictor of the success we can have. This has been demonstrated by a classical psychology experiment developed in the late 60's at Stanford University.

The experiment that has shown the importance of self-control for kids

Walter Mischel recruited 4-year-old children to carry out his experiment. When the children entered the room they found a table on which there was a sweetie and a bell. The psychologist told them he had to leave the room for a few minutes and that if they could resist the temptation and not eat the sweetie, when he returned he would give them two sweeties instead of one. He also told them they could ring the bell to call him, but in that case they could just have eaten the sweetie on the table. In practice, the children realized that if they waited patiently and repressed their impulses, the reward would be greater.

As expected, one third of the children decided to eat the sweetie immediately and another third waited a while before playing the bell. However, there was a group of children who patiently waited for the highest reward.

Ten years later, this psychologist contacted the parents of the children who participated in the experiment. He then discovered that children with greater self-control had become independent teenagers, with intrinsic motivation, capable of coping with difficulties and failures. On the contrary, the children who immediately gave up to their impulses became less tolerant to frustration, more disorganized and with a predominantly extrinsic motivation.

These results, which have since been replicated in other experiments, suggest that self-control is formed at an early age and is a cornerstone of the personality and the way to react to the challenges of life. The good news is that there are several self-control activities for children so that they can learn how to control their impulses and manage their emotions even when they are younger.

3 core components of self-control

First of all, it is crucial to understand that self-control is the ability to regulate emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in front of temptations and impulses. It is an executive function that helps us adjust our first responses to achieve the goals or better adapt our behavior to the environment.

However, self-control is a complex ability in which other skills are involved:

1. Introspection. To exercise self-control, you must first be able to recognize emotional states and stop before reaching the point of no return. This means that it is essential to develop self-observation or introspection capabilities.

2. Pulse block. At a later point, you need to block the pulses so you can think of a better response. The ability to block instinctive reactions does not develop completely until the age of 7, when the prefrontal lobes are mature enough but can be stimulated even at an early age.

3. Auto-reinforcement. Finally, it is important to understand that self-control is not an inexhaustible capacity, it is necessary to go hand in hand with self-motivation. It means that the child should feel satisfied with his results, perceive that he is moving in the right direction, so you need to reward him and congratulate him for his achievements.

Techniques for the development of introspection and the ability to block impulses

1. Game of the statues

It's a funny and very effective technique to develop self-control in younger children. It consists of the fact that the child remains motionless when he or she hear the word "statue". To further complicate the game, you may include grimace or strange movements to try to make the baby laugh.

The goal of this technique is that the child learns to control his impulses, thus stimulating the development of prefrontal brain areas that do not mature until about 7 years of age.

2. Weather forecast

The goal of this technique is to promote the child's emotional awareness, making him develop introspection. At the beginning he has to be guided, so it is important to sit next to him and ask him how he feels at the moment. You can ask, "What is the weather inside there?"

If he feels relaxed and calm he can say that the sun shines, if is worried can say that there are clouds and if he feels very tense that is about to start raining. The idea of ​​this technique is that he observes the "weather" that is inside him but without attaching to those moods.

In this way he will learn to quickly identify the signs of anger and rage, increasing his emotional awareness.

3. The volcano

It is a very effective self-control activity for children, especially in those moments when the child seems to be exploding. The idea is to use images to make him aware of his behavior so that the child can perceive when he is behaving improperly and stop before reaching the point of no return.

We ask him to imagine his interior as if it were a volcano, which contains all its strength and energy. It has to be explained to him that, like the volcanoes, his inner volcano also loses control and erupts, causing his emotions to explode. This will teach him to distinguish anger, rage, irritability, or frustration.

Children's Relaxation Techniques

4. Touch water or sand

It is a holistic self-control technique that uses sensory stimuli, perfect for children who calm down through the senses. You just need to find the most relaxing stimulus for each of them.

Some can calm themselves by playing with water, adding a little soap to it to get foam or bubbles. Others relax by playing with sand. The key is that the most sensitive children have a lot of fun with different materials and aromas, so they can be used to calm their emotions.

3. Soap bubbles

This self-control technique for kids pursues the goal of reaching calm by regulating breathing. But since it is difficult for small children to use diaphragmatic respiratory techniques designed for adults, this is a fun version suitable for them.

It consists in imaging bubbles, for which the child will have to control his breath. It will have to blow gently so the bubbles will form. At first we can accompany him and show him how to do it.

The interesting thing is that by controlling the breathing you can balance many other functions of the body, such as heart rhythm, so that little by little the anger and anxiety disappear.

6. The frog

The goal of this technique is to make the child understand how to learn to breathe deeply and give a positive output to emotional states. It is explained to him that he can imitate a frog, an animal capable of making big leaps, but also being very quiet, observing what is happening around him without reacting immediately.

So he is asked to breathe like a frog, slowly, by inhaling the air through his nose while as he swells his belly and releasing it gently through his mouth as he deflates. While breathing like a frog, many thoughts may appear in his mind, so you teach him to notice them and let them go, focusing only on the breath and the tummy movement.

7. The anti-stress ball

This self-control technique for adults also works for children. In fact, we can help them build their own anti-stress ball, a simple and fun thing.

You need to have a thick balloon, or put one inside the other to make it more solid and fill it with rice or sand. It is important that the ball is not too big because it must fit the palm of the child's hand. He can also paint on it a face or personalize it as he prefers.

Then, when he feels tense, anxious, frustrated, or irritated, he just has to take the anti-stress ball and play with it.

8. The jar of calm

This technique should be part of the educational resources of all parents because it works just like yoga, meditation or relaxation, helping to free the mind. The secret lies in the fact that the movements of the purple inside the bottle have an almost hypnotic effect that captures the attention and helps the kid to free the mind from all those thoughts that fuel anger or anxiety.

To prepare the jar of calm you have to fill a bottle of transparent plastic half with hot water and then add a little of transparent liquid glue and glycerin, the glue will make the water become denser, so the more you put in it and the slower it will be the movement of small grain of purplish.Then add the purplish and a little bit of water, leaving a finger so the content has space to move. When the kid needs it, he can shake the jar of calm and relax.

Self-control techniques for older children

9. The traffic light

It is a self-control technique for children to learn how to adjust their impulsive behaviors and anger explosions. To apply it, the hyperactive child must learn to identify the signs indicating that he is angry or irritated. When he perceives them, he has to "act" as if he were a traffic light.

Red indicates that he must stop; that is, to remain quiet until he calm down. Yellow indicates that he has to think about what's going on and look for more assertive solutions. Green indicates that he can act to implement the solutions.

At first, it is advisable to accompany the child, teaching him to identify the signs of anger or irritation and apply the colors of the traffic light together with him.

10. The Wheel of Chances

It is a self-control technique that consists in creating together with the child a wheel that represents a list of possible activities that can make him calm down when he feels angry or frustrated. The wheel will be shaped like a cake and drawn on a cardboard, where small spaces will be drawn where the activities are written or, if the kid is very small, he’ll be asked to draw or paste a photo that represents them.

Some examples of anger-related activities can be: drawing, counting up to ten, jumping, listening to his favorite music ... Any activity that helps him relax is ok, as long as it does not compromise the integrity of the child or those near him.

It is important that the child strives to propose activities that relax him. Then, when he feels frustrated or angry, he will only have to turn the wheel of possibilities and accomplish the activity that matches him.

Shoda, Y.; Mischel, W. & Peake, P. K. (1990) Predicting adolescent cognitive and self-regulatory competencies from preschool delay of gratification.Developmental Psychology; 26(6)
: 978–986.
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Monday, October 2, 2017

This Buddhist tale sums up 3 great truths hard to be accepted

They say that once a famous Chinese poet decided to study Buddha's wisdom. To do so he traveled a long way to find a great Zen teacher and when had the opportunity, he asked:

- What is the most important teaching of the Buddha?

- Do not hurt anyone and do just the good - replied the master.

- What nonsense! the poet exclaimed. - I've traveled thousands of miles to find you because you're considered a very wise master, and that's the answer you give me? - Even a three year old child would be able to say that!

- It may be that a three-year-old child is capable of saying it, but it is difficult to put it into practice, even for an old and wise man as I am, - said the master smiling.

One of the most interesting things in Oriental philosophy, such as Buddhism and Taoism, is their simplicity. These ways of understanding and being in the world are not trying to tie us to an infinite list of moral standards, many of which only serve to make us transgress them and feel guilty, but offer us a much easier way to find the mental equilibrium. However, some of the ideas they promote are very difficult to accept, especially for Western minds. Here are some Buddha sayings to be inspired of.

1. You're not what you say, you're what you do

We think our beliefs and values ​​define us as people. In a sense it is so, but this statement is not entirely true. We are no better people simply because we believe in something or have accepted certain values ​​as our standards of behavior. What transforms us into good people are our actions. Words and thoughts without action remain only good intentions.

In fact, the world is full of people with good intentions that in decisive moments do not act according to the values ​​and beliefs they are proclaiming to the four winds. This parable encourages us not to fall into the mistake of thinking that we are better simply because we have more "pure" ideals or good intentions. We must ensure that these values ​​and ideas have a practical outlet. We must make sure there is a congruency between what we think, feel and do. We are not only good people for what we think or feel, we are so for what we do.

2. Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to y

In Taoism there are no ten commandments or complicated laws that determine what is good and what is not. There is only one rule: do not hurt the others, abstain from causing harm, suffering, and pain.

We should behave with the others in the same way that we would like them to behave with us. It is a very simple rule because before any moral dilemma we should just ask ourselves: would we like someone to behave this way with us or with the people we love?

The problem with this rule is that implies that the responsibility of our actions is entirely ours, and terrorizes those who prefer that it is a religion, state or society that decides what is right or wrong because in this way they have an excuse to escape their conscience. It's always easier to blame the others instead of assuming the responsibility for the mistakes we made.

Of course, this seemingly simple rule also has another important implication since it is imperative that we are first able to love ourselves. If we fall into self-destructive habits, we will end up doing only harm to the others. To accept and practice this truth you will need to do a great work inside yourself, something that many people are not willing to do.

3. Maturity is not adding, but learning to subtract.

The society has been concerned about creating fake needs. So it keeps us busy and stressed while we’re trying to get everything that gives us the security or the well-being that we desire. In fact life is much simpler, and once our basic needs are met, we do not need much more to be happy.

We mistakenly think that life consists in adding more and more. Add people even if they do not bring anything to us. Add other things even if we do not need them. Add other warranties even if they are nothing but mirages. Add more social roles even if we are unable to interpret them well and feel comfortable in them. We think that adding is synonymous with success and happiness, when in reality it's just an expression of fear, dissatisfaction and chaos. Accepting that we do not need to add, but learning how to subtract, it is difficult because it implies a radical change in how we understand life. But the result is extremely liberating.

The Zen master of the tale invites us, in a way, to free ourselves from this need to add and complicate everything to embrace simplicity. He teaches us that sometimes the great truths are the simplest and that to find the balance sometimes it is necessary to return to the origins and remove from the things all the superfluous layers that we have built around it.
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