Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’

We are born into an unpredictable and weird world. For centuries we have been building a pattern of how life should go giving us a sense of normalcy. We are born, go through school, perhaps college or join the military, get married, build a family and work on our career or craft. Occasionally events happen that disrupt this flow such as a recession or a virus pandemic. So, what does this have to do with running out of toilet paper? Actually there is a simple reason that involves a more complicated answer. The simple reason is fear. The complicated answer of why shelves were emptied of toilet paper has more to do with our first 2 years of life than it does with Covid-19.  

When we are born we are in a constant state of trying to determine what kind of world in which we live. Basically, an infant is trying to figure out if their world is safe. This sense of safety occurs when they cry and someone comes to their aid. It could be mom, dad, aunt, sibling or whoever as long as someone answers their cry consistently and gets them fed, changed or held. The baby feels cared for thus secure. When this happens hundreds, if not thousands of times, the baby begins to develop a secure foundation and they learn to calm down and be more relaxed. 

From this foundation, the infant begins to build structure to their life. Think in terms of a building or a house. The structure is built on the foundation that was laid down. A secure foundation and a good structure is built out of a sense of trust and security that has already been established. This is also known as secure attachment. This will also give them self confidence.

Over time as the child grows, this secure attachment and self confidence gives them a sense of control over their lives. As this develops further into adulthood, the grown child has developed the ability to self govern in which they are able to take care of themselves in a confident way. This leads into self-direction, organization and a routine that leads to a daily life that has good structure and everything is okay. Until…a big pandemic breaks out. 

Toilet paper flies off store shelves right along with Tylenol, meat, dry goods and produce. Panic and fear is breaking out and people are hoarding supplies and medications in record amounts. What is going on? Has everyone lost their minds? 

To some degree yes they have, and here is why. Let’s go back to the early life foundation stuff. When the pandemic broke out it shook the secure foundation and questioned the structure of everyday life. That security is not secure anymore and suddenly life feels out of control. It’s like an encroaching fire is coming your way and the panic of an uncertain future begins to take shape. 

The panic buying isn’t a fear that is based on the fear of running out of toilet paper, but this is more about control. When we go into survival mode the first thing that we try to do is regain some level of control in our lives. It’s an attempt to feel secure again. We can’t control the virus but we can control how much toilet paper, chicken, eggs and veggies I have in the house. This provides a sense of security that we lost in the beginning of the pandemic.  

The second reason why we panic buy is fear of missing out or FOMO. This is a big psychological thing that is commonly used by news media, marketing and social media. It’s what drives you to keep scrolling and looking. These industries are experts at presenting information in a certain way to make you feel like you need to keep looking or you are going to miss out. FOMO is now considered in some psychology circles as a legitimate anxiety problem. If everyone is down at the store buying up all the toilet paper and you start thinking there might not be any left then you might start feeling like you are going to miss out if you don’t hurry up and get yours. 

What happens in our brain is that when fear shows up and we begin to feel anxious or panicky our brain sends signals to our adrenal system that goes on high alert. This happens because our foundation is shaken and we feel scared and vulnerable. The world has just become a scary place. At this point, the brain starts working from a place of stress instead of a place of calm. When it does this we begin to lose our ability to think rationally and make good choices. Our brains actually begin to operate at a lower level of functioning. 

Metaphorically it follows a story where a fire broke out in a theater and people started running for a particular exit. When the others in the theater saw this, they ran to that same exit and a panic stampede left several people dead. The sad part is there were 3 other exits in the theater that were not used. For some reason everyone thought they must get through that one exit. What happened is they saw the crowd getting backed up by the door and then panicked that they might not make it out. If only they had taken a moment to look around and see that there were 3 other doors they could have easily escaped. 

So in these unpredictable panic driven buying up all the toilet paper days, there are some things we can do to bring some calm into our lives. Remember the theater story and just stop for a moment, look around and take inventory of your environment. In other words, don’t freak out. Ask yourself what is really happening and think of your choices. Do I have to freak out like everyone else? See if you are falling for the FOMO, which by the way the TP scandal was driven by the news media producing “must buy” lists on their shows. Water cleared the shelves too when there is plenty coming out of our faucets and refrigerators. 

If you can, sit for a while without distractions and just focus on what you’re feeling at the moment. Learn how these feelings are just a part of the experience you are facing. When we understand what we are feeling, it allows us to take ownership of ourselves which helps us to feel more secure. It’s a return to working on our foundation. Here is an example of what this looks like; “I am shaken, and my future feels uncertain at times. I don’t know what to do about it, but I will take this one day at a time and do the best that I can.”   

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I’m watching a Batman movie the other night and found myself psychoanalyzing the movie, particularly the main character. What is it about a superhero that people find so intriguing? I think identifying with a superhero is reminiscent of a quote from Henry David Thoreau, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I find Batman perhaps the most interesting of all the superheroes. Batman leads a life of two identities that would make Sigmund Freud proud and perhaps provide for a strong argument for the basis of Freud’s id, ego and superego. The id plays the villain, Bruce Wayne plays the ego and Batman is the superego. Bruce Wayne sees the moral problems of the id and must turn into the superego (superhero) in order to counterbalance the issue.

But wait a minute, isn’t this behavior of playing the superhero a type of codependent behavior? After all, isn’t rescuing someone in distress a type of controlling behavior? I think it all depends on how you look at the situation and the motivation behind the behavior. What is driving it, working behind the scenes? Yes, I am overthinking this, but there is something at work here, a dynamic at play that affects many people who seek counseling. Batman can be used as a metaphor of how people hide their problems and mask their true identity. What a lonely place that must be, always hiding and afraid to be truthful and out in the open of being your true self. I wonder what it would be like for Batman to stand in front of an A.A. meeting and peel off that mask. Oh, the vulnerability of true identity can be terrifying.

This is not an attempt to tear down Batman or deconstruct his character, I love the creativity and full richness of the story lines. Kudos to the creativity of the writers. This amounts to nothing more than a therapist’s musing of the psychological observations I have made.

The superhero, in my opinion, is a type of person who is caught up playing a role that is trying to fix, rescue or control an outcome for others. In modern terms, it’s male codependence. For the superhero it’s about more than just a person, it’s all of humanity. By the way, who decided that Batman knows best for everyone? Yes, there is evil in the world that creates destruction on a widespread scale and there are those who come together for the greater cause of mankind to lessen those evil schemes. But there is a common theme found in superheroes, something must be done and that something must be done by me.

I guess for me and my psychotherapeutic mind, this is about a man who hides in a cave and does not allow his real identity to be shown. I found myself confused when I began to think about who the main character is, Batman or Bruce Wayne. Perhaps it’s both and Batman is just a part of Mr. Wayne’s identity, or vice versa. When he (Batman/Mr.Wayne) emerges into public he comes into view as one of two identities. I’m having trouble trying to figure who the real person is and who he wants to be, Bruce or Batman.

If this man were to sit in front of me during a therapy session I suppose my best question to him would be two-fold going straight to the core issue, “what is it about your parent’s death (they were murdered) that causes you to do what you do today, and how has this affected your identity as a person?” I cannot help but wonder if this is not really a question of identity, but a boy who is lost and angry. Batman never resolved his anger of his parent’s death and has swore to himself to uphold justice wherever he finds it. In some circles, this might be even construed as being passive-aggressive. Mr Wayne, please get therapy for your unresolved anger because people are becoming too dependent on you for helping them out of their perceived predicament of helplessness.

I admire the author’s of Batman and how the story originally developed in the 1930’s. I cannot help but wonder if they realized that they may have been creating a story from their own psyche or that of another. There are countless stories throughout history of someone who was wronged and vowed justice or revenge in return. Yes, Batman and superheroes for that matter are all fictional characters, but they represent something that is very real and that is the projection of human behavior. A feeling of being wronged put back into being right. Does that include destroying bad guys? Or is this an issue of unresolved anger?

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Stress! Just the mere sound of the word can conjure up feelings of uneasiness just knowing there is something tied to it that is unpleasant. So let’s take a minute to examine the word and find a way to fight stress with S.T.R.E.S.S. Stress is often unavoidable in life so like many other things it cannot be fully eliminated but it can be managed effectively if appropriate steps are taken.

Stress is a natural reaction to a perceived threat, fear and excessive worry. If it goes on too long and turns into chronic stress it can begin to impact our overall health both physically and mentally. Below is acronym for S.T.R.E.S.S. on how to help manage it and make life a little bit easier. While it may be impossible to eliminate stress altogether, getting a handle on it can be a good start.

SSlow Down. Don’t try to do too much too fast. A great stress producer is trying to do too much in too little time. Take smaller steps and just do one thing at a time to get the pace to slow down. The idea is don’t bite off more than you can chew. If your life seems overwhelming it might be time to throw some things out, delegate responsibilities and don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family and colleagues to lighten the load.

T.  Task Management. A technique for managing tasks is to sit down the night before and write out a list of 10 items to get done the following day. Don’t fret if all of the tasks are not finished. Additional stress can often be created by trying to achieve unrealistic self-induced demands. Have a stop time and let it go and let the remaining items roll over to the next day. Do not add 10 more to it; let it be part of the next 10 items.

R. Relax. Find a way to relax by creating a distraction. After the task list has been put down for the day find something else to do, for example; read a book, journal, call a friend, go for a walk, go fishing, spend time with a pet, or meditate on God’s word. Creating a distraction from what is racing through our minds removes the burden of those things. Christ gave us a great example about worry and over thinking things in life in Matthew 6:25-34. Basically the idea is to let yesterday go, tomorrow has enough problems of its own and just focus on today.

E. Exercise. We don’t all like to do it but exercise can be a great way to get away from everything and it releases healthy feel good chemicals such as endorphins. Get creative as sometimes going to a gym can get monotonous. Walk, ride a bike, rent or borrow a kayak and spend part of the weekend out on the water. Exercise doesn’t have to be about getting on some machine and hammering out some routine, it can also be fun and relaxing.

S. Source it. Find out where the stress is coming from and deal with it at the root source. Ask probing questions about the validity of the stress such as what purpose is it serving and what can realistically be done about it. What is going to be achieved as a result of stressing? If it can be realistically changed think of ways to change it (think management) to reduce the stress.

S. Serenity Prayer. Sometimes the serenity prayer can be a real sanity saver in the long run. To be able to accept the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things that can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference. Those things in our lives that cannot be changed lift them up to God. Christ says His burden is light. Offer up the stressful things to God and let it go.

The idea with managing stress is to manage it rather than it managing us. When we become subjected to things in life that creates stress we take on unnecessary worry, doubt, fear and the feelings of loss of control in our lives. Take a look at the big picture, slow down and think about ways to reframe how your life is being lived out.

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